Category Archives: Learning design & libraries

What are the ethics of online learning?

When we design for online learning, I wonder if we care enough about the impact of the algorithms underneath?

Take group allocation as one example.

When I started out in learning design, I thought of random group allocation as a refreshingly easy solution. I would show how simply pressing a few buttons in a learning management system could allocate classes of hundreds of names into small groups together.  I would advise that it would be useful, to have a plan to approach the inevitable “I want to swap my group” request, but otherwise it’s a fully automated time saver.

The simplicity of hastening individuals into small groups and into private online group spaces and out-of-class meet-ups. A gentle stroll into social learning and group work.

Now imagine.

What if instead of names on a screen, you were grabbing those real people by the arm and pushing them together into small rooms?

Once they were away, they were invisible.

Would you perhaps look closer at the groups before they were put together?

Check in on them in person?

Be concerned about the dynamics?

Question and possibly intervene if you witnessed power and control problems.

Feel their awkwardness keenly.

Does reyling only on that random allocation put a student at risk?

What protections and escapes are there?

What are our responsibilities?

Can you begin to imagine what can go wrong if we don’t care?

How do I put ‘you’ into university?

When you enter higher education as a student, it can take a little while to realise that things aren’t what they seem. There’s a myth at play, cultural conjuring, that just being part of the course, following through, will yield something for you on completion.

It’s true, the award at the end can get you places. This is enough for some. But what if you want something else? What if you want transformation? To come out of the other side with a mind hatched-open, questioning who you even were before the journey?

There are secret spaces in between. Cracks and crevices in the concrete.

The myth exposed

In an ideal world, your passionate professors would have a freedom to challenge you to learn in a way that exactly stretches you into someone different. Truth be told, it’s getting harder for those teachers to unbind themselves from the policy and demands of higher education. Some of them feel lost and frustrated with the rote. Others can wriggle free and try and succeed. Most teachers want to offer you personalised paths of learning,  something beyond the lecture, tutorial and document-heavy learning management system, but many can’t. At least not yet. And maybe not ever. The layers of hierarchy are complex in our learning institutions world over.

That’s where you as a student can change something.

Personal and quiet acts of learning activism.

Many of these are things I have done, some I have thought of doing. Maybe they won’t work for everyone, but as quiet person, these things have helped me make learning a transforming and lifelong experience. You can’t sustain this energy permanently, life as a student is busy enough, but over the years of your studies, look for cracks in the concrete to plant these seeds.

Reclaim the question

If you’re putting your all into an assignment, it might as well mean something. Yet so often, you head straight to the assignment questions of a topic you have dreamed of taking. There it is. Somehow, the questions seem disappointing.  This topic is really important to you. What do you do?

Propose your own question. Make sure you demonstrate how it meets the same learning objectives as the set question, and if you can find a marking rubric show that too. Bring all the evidence you can muster and explain why you want to write it.

Demonstrate that you understand the system, but bend it in a way that makes that question relevant to you. Depending on the openness of your professor, perhaps show a draft of your question and ask your teacher to help shape it into one that fits into the grid, but bleeds out of the edges. Sometimes this won’t work, sometimes you will encounter laughter or hostility, or distrust – but keep trying. Sometimes you will get a crappy grade, but it will mean more to you than the string of HDs.

Reimagine community

“Finding community is a tricky thing. Community could live at least partially in the imagination, rather than continually forced into the literal. Our community should involved long dead poets, sharks teeth, the heavy frost of a Scottish glen, the erotic trim of a Bedouin tent. We could reach a wider perspective on the word on the word rather than attempting to wrest it always into concrete solutions, petitions, finger wagging, committees, living in a tiny house of comrades arguing over who last bought the toiletries and who stole the tofu from the back of the fridge.”

Martin Shaw, Branch on the Lightning Tree

Observe and interact with everything around you. Notice it. Discover the local social or political challenges knocking on the doorstep. Read free community newspapers and newsletters, loiter around public noticeboards with an intent to read. These may not seem like the world turning BIG issues, but solving local problems ripples out. Every time you write, make it matter locally, even if this includes imagining what could be. Start a learning journal that maps the ways you came and the way ahead. Save that for the future.Your community includes the voices that you read and listen to and what you write.

Give something freely

Think about those younger than you, or older than you and from different cultural backgrounds and how your discipline connects across these spheres. What could you do?

English grad? – what about reading fantastic literature in an elderly care home, or audio readings for blind and visually impaired people, or in a local library?

Computing? – what about helping with digital skills at your local library, setting up databases for small non-profits, helping a small business or neighbourhood centre, a maker space in a school? Help a local wildlife conservation group with their computers and databases.

Law? – helping a local environment action group navigate the legal system

Arts? – help organise a public art sharing exhibition in a local cafe for kids with special needs.

Engineering? try sharing some design and problem solving concepts with preschoolers

The more people you interact with outside your discipline, and about your discpline will expand your learning in a way that no university class can re-enact.

Think backwards and forwards in time

Sometimes our first part time jobs when studying feel a million miles from where we want to be. It can be hard to balance everything and just plain wearying. Journey on, for this is learning that will only become apparent in future. Years later, always write back to your first employer and tell them how you grew. Even if it was a terrible experience, tell them how you grew.

Poke a hole in the box very early

Think of the organisations and places that you would love to work for. Don’t just send them a CV and covering letter, send a covering question. Invite a dialogue. Ask them early, what they are looking for, and tell them, at the end of  your studies, you want to have grown ready to work for them. Tell them, you’re not sure if your course will deliver that out of the box, and that you want to strive to make it happen. Ask them how? What do they need? Who are they looking for? Or even better, talk in person. So many will never reply, but you don’t need them all to. Feel rejection keenly, because it will visit you many times.

Never wait

Wherever you can, at every opportunity, stuff the corners of your learning with wandering. Sometimes things happen as serendipitously as the simple timing of a question, a random meeting or a timetable clash. Negotiate with open-minded teachers. Confront everything that comforts you. If you are good at writing, choose talking. Run from safe and comfortable.

Mark your own work

My success is not earning epic sums of money or speaking to millions of people or having a vast influence or audience. I have a modest professional job in higher education that I enjoy, volunteer where I can, have two young children and still love learning and growing. My small influences are important only to me. The self-made opportunities make me who I am beyond my ranking in my organisation. Quiet comments like “I did something that I had never done before because you inspired me to” make me rich and successful.

For me, these small ways are the only ways I know to make learning personalised, by the actual learner acting on their own learning.  Why do we capitalise the Teacher, but often not the Learner? Yet teaching erupts from the heart of being a passionate learner. In spite of the existing challenges in education, and whether or not technology comes into it, only you as a Learner can whittle away at the materials of formal education, and make it into a useful tool for your future. Bend it. Shape it. Make it.

[Orginally posted on my other blog.]

An unlearning activity Part 2

This is part 2 of an unlearning activity.

(see Part 1 which was about writing a comment about an image of the night sky)

What was seen?

The night sky image got us thinking about what we could see and brought out some beautiful expression about what we felt about what we could see, making connections with people, places and thoughts. In the jumble of a word cloud, look how the poetry is lost – just words:

word cloud night sky

So here it is, tangled up in beautiful human-ness, the night-sky conjurs:

People…

“holding my wife’s hand” (paul )

Places…

“long ago I lived in a place where the sky could be seen clearly” (Scott)

Scale…

“unimaginable scale” (Christopher)

Time…

“pasing of time and the joy of life”. (Liz)

Making…

near infinity of complex structures (Jim)

Looking for understanding…

i want to connect the dots (Terry)

All of this in the stars.

How on earth do stars help us to understand learning?

We feel lost when we don’t see patterns

This beautiful expression of vulnerability under the sky – of not-knowing from Rachel  who wrote:

“I admit that I never really learned the constellations. People have shown them to me, but I’ve never been able to have that sense of anchoring in the night sky, to know where to start looking.”

Me too. I really try to learn and see the constellations but I find this very hard and always wondered if I was alone with this difficulty.  How many of us also try and feel failure in this “lack of knowledge” and then, perhaps never try again? Or do we look and feel disorientated by the enormity of it.  Or even see everything from a different way up (in the southern hemisphere the constellations are upside down!).

Do so many of us feel so unfamiliar under the night sky that we just prefer to leave it to a domain of astronomers? Or amateur astronomers? What is an amateur astronomer? Is this like a non-scientist? What’s that anyway?

And then, the array of technologies, the tools,  to view the night sky in more detail are daunting and confusing, expensive and seem only in reach of the lucky and learned.

Moving from patterns to details

One of the advantages of taking a photograph of the night-sky is there is more detail than you can see with the naked eye. So, after I took one of my first long exposure night sky photographs,  I tried joining the dots next to see if it would help find my way, next time I went out into the dark. Here are my wandering smudges:

constellations

And beautifully, in asking people to also look at my unmarked image, Terry Elliott, who had never seen my marked image – also felt drawn to naturally drawn to join the dots too. He added an image to the google doc, going beyond my tracings and even making his own constellations. Drawing his own maps. Making his own patterns and pathways.

And if we draw our own constellations,  name them and make up own stories, is this learning? Is this knowledge?

What are constellations?

“The constellations are totally imaginary things that poets, farmers and astronomers have made up over the past 6,000 years (and probably even more!). The real purpose for the constellations is to help us tell which stars are which, nothing more. On a really dark night, you can see about 1000 to 1500 stars. Trying to tell which is which is hard. The constellations help by breaking up the sky into more managable bits. They are used as mnemonics, or memory aids” (The Constellations and Their Stars UW Madison Astronomy)

The International Astronomical Union recognizes 88 constellations covering the entire northern and southern sky. (StarDate)

Nothing more?

There is always more.

Unlearn. Go back earlier. Before our tools of paper and pen and map and papyrus and parchment and scholarship.

Hidden in the world cloud, small, seemingly insignificant, is the word between. See it?

word cloud night sky

When we look with two eyes, what we see up there in the sky, is shrouded by what we feel we should see.

There is something more, and far far older…

Looking in between

Look:

The Incan View of the night sky

Constellations of the Inca

Incan astronomy

Emu in the Sky

The spaces in-between

How did we forget dark constellations?  How did our modern constellations and paper books so easily erase expert, experienced oral knowledge, cave walls, standing stones and sand-drawn sketches of the stars? Why did we turn from the darkness?

“By the 19th century the night sky had become crowded with overlapping and often contradictory constellation boundaries and names as different schools of astronomy prepared their own versions of star maps. To clear up the confusion, names and boundaries were “officially” assigned to 88 constellations by the International Astronomical Union in 1930, providing complete coverage of the entire sky.” (Stardate)

Globalised constellations. Scholarship of the skies referenced back as far as Rome, Egypt with constellation names, but somehow we went from a time where the everyday person – families, tribes, groups had local accessible versions of understanding and mapping and stories relevant to their experience –  to a global set of official constellations, which for half the world were upside down anyway.

So is this learning?

The scholarly return to the dark

At the fringe edges of quantum science, an area I love delving into because of it’s strangeness, the realisation is that the interesting quantum glue of entanglement, the very fabric of the universe, is probably in those dark spaces, those dark patterns whose stories we forgot about.

Hidden in those dark spaces, there is invisible dark matter, dark energy.  The exciting stuff is all along,  not in the spectacular bright hot fireball energies of birthing and dying stars. It’s in the dark.

It doesn’t shine. It’s invisible. It’s transparent. It doesn’t glow when it gets hot. Unfortunately, those are the ways astronomers usually study the universe; we usually follow the light

The above quote is from James Bullock, Dark Matter may be more complex that physicists thought in Quanta Magazine and no matter how many time I read it, and in how he explains theories of interaction and networks in quantum science, I feel that what I am reading, is also about learning.

Dark energy is called a “chameleon field” because nobody knows what it is, nor can it be reproduced in a lab and yet physics estimates that it is about 80% of the universe’s mass.

So…it’s the “stuff” that connects the stars, the dots, and not the stars themselves that build a universe?

Sounds uncannily like trying to define, measure and evidence learning to me with network visualisation maps, analytics, rubrics.  We might be missing where the learning is – where we aren’t looking – the informality of the in-between – the dark energy.

So, I encourage you to try a practical activity for Part 2.

Practical activity

When it is dark,find a spot to sit and look up at the night sky for at least 10 minutes. Look for the patterns in the dark spaces. Ignore as much as you can, the lure of joining the bright dots.

If you can’t do this in your location, or the clouds or light pollution obscure your view, or it’s dangerous to hang around at night, there is a beautiful piece of open source planetarium software Stellarium which gives you an wonderful  experience of the night sky.

Place another comment if you feel drawn to, on the original night sky image from Part 1.

Image of night sky (on Marqueed) or on Google docs.

Why?

I hope the night sky has been useful to explore. Keep exploring it and always think about whether you are seeing with your own eyes.

The sky is not just for scholars, for physicists, for astronomers. Learning is not just for teachers. Science is not just for scientists. Scholarship makes us clever, but it can also make us miss our oldest intelligence.

Use the night sky as a canvas for the art of your human thinking. It will tell you stories and help you tell stories.

You don’t need to know the history of its scholarship, to use it.

It will make you feel. It will make you think.

It is nature. Our nature. The most accessible learning tool in the universe.

#opensky 🙂

An unlearning activity Part 1

(This is an assignment experiment for a Digital Pedagogy Lab course I’m participating in. I would love you to give it a try)

“The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.”

― Carl Sagan

The night sky – we all know or can perhaps imagine what it looks like.  Representing the sun, moon and stars begins very in childhood with drawing, and can be a very symbolic and exciting presence in our lives when we are young. As we grow up, intellectualise and learn all that we know about the universe, and theorise about the bits that we don’t, we develop understanding, belief, questions, conundrums. We quest to understand and create our own sense of our world. In short, when we look up, we find ourselves facing big questions.

Title: Atlas Coelestis. Harmonia Macrocosmica seu Atlas Universalis et novus, totius universi creati Cosmographiam generalem, et novam exhibens Studio et labore Andreae Cellarii,
Title: Atlas Coelestis., Andreae Cellarii, Public domain British Library Flickr collection.

This led me to wondering – is the night sky one of our most complex and sophisticated thinking tools? It’s often visible with the naked eye, and, is free – but sometimes, strangely, overlooked?

So, this is an experiment to see if we can learn something about learning, using the whole cosmos.

A bit ambitious…but an adventure.

What do you know and feel?

The historical relationship that humans have had with the night sky, from navigational aid to storytelling by the stars, means that most of us are at least familiar with some of these:


Your assignment task – What do you see?

Add a comment to this this image of the night sky (on Marqueed) describing what you see in the picture.

(Having problems with the image displaying in Marqueed? – use this Night Sky google doc).


Part 2 of this challenge will be posted once there are a few comments on the image, as what you respond may change the shape of this activity….

Part 2 – it’s always where the adventure really begins…

Wildness

I read the opening chapters of Martin Shaw’s, A Branch from the Lightning Tree: Ecstatic Myth and the Grace in Wildness, at an altitude, speeding across the world in a jet plane.

Perhaps days of sleep interruption and exhaustion caught up with me, I found myself in tears with the beauty, not only of Martin Shaw’s writing, but at the foreword, written by Daniel Deardorff. In a few pages describing the essence of Shaw’s book, he manages to make me feel like I did not find this book, but that it may have found me.

However, if you, like me, desire a life filled with breathtaking and inexplicable meaning, then I implore you, read on.

It can happen to anyone: in silent midnight a migratory moth brushes a velvet wing across our skin and the soul is called out of the house and into the wide and starlit unknown.

And Shaw’s opening chapters are about the transition from childhood into adulthood, and the role that myth has through our teenage years.

I’m thinking of a poem I wrote about this feeling when I was 15 or 16 called “Suburban moth” and I wish I had it here to read alongside this book. I’m also thinking of my recent encounter with a white moth which I called “a ghost of autumn”, because one of my favourite Yeats poems is called into the foreword,

white moths are on the wing and moth like starts are flickering out

It has me thinking of moths as a myth symbol.

In stale, recycled air of the airplane cabin, one of the most artificial atmospheres possible,  and on my way to a part of the world where I explicably feel more connected to wildness and myth,  more keenly than my birth home,  Deardroff’s final words, call my attention to  the timing of this book having  fluttered into my life:

Distance does not make you falter
now, arriving in magic, flying,
and finally, insane for the light,
you are the butterfly and you are gone.

Imagination so clearly has to play in our connection to wild, and this is going to be in my thoughts as I traverse these woods and meadows.

Shaw says in his introduction

This is not a book purely about rites-of-passage. It’s more about wildness itself: how it flutters between language, landscape and ritual, and the wild…here you won’t find long lists of how-to’s. The gifts to work with are impacted in the images so as to activate your unconsciousness as well as your conscious mind.

Finally, so much of Shaw’s opening chapters have phrases that link back to thinking about rhizomatic learning, where we began thinking about content as myth – that it feels like I am on a leafy path in the right forest.

Shaw’s phrases that flutter around me…

Leaving the village, finding the forest

The uncanny freshness of disorientation

Nomads

Boundaries, thresholds of initiation

Coming back changed after a descent into uncertainity

Waves not caught

The mythography of crossroads

Myth as subterraean 

The ability to change shape

Quiet design. Twelve simple design principles.

Reposted November 2017, orginally published on my other blog

In my purse, stashed in behind two photos of my children, is a scrap of paper with the only design principles that have ever made sense to me. Twelve simple principles as an antithesis, to a sea of educational and instructional design frameworks, some of which need maddening interrogation to explain or understand. Twelve simple principles that seem to work, whatever I throw at them.

They are understandable, no matter what your experience in life.

You can use them to approach anything. You can navigate them as a simple list, or delve deep into thick well-thumbed books and frequently cited journal articles.  There is probably even a waiting  list in your local public library for copies of these books.

They are design principles that you can intellectualise or philosophise as you please.

They can be the cleverest thinking tool and yet can also spawn you a robust do list.

You can skim the surface of them, and build immediately. Or, you can approach them as theory and dwell on them.

Flexible. Holistic. Adaptable. Sustainable. Usable. Accessible.

They have become my personal and professional principles – they seem to fit life and learning. Not perfectly, no, nothing is ever a perfect fit. But enough.

As thought principles, they were co-conceived, by two very different minds, with two vastly different personalities, who were not the wizened sages we sometimes expect such thinking to emerge from. They were relatively young, in their early 20s, in a young country, which is generally not seen as one of the historic intellectual powerhouses of the world.

Shared slowly and informally through community, these principles are still shared primarily on the energy of individual enthusiasm,  now right across the world.  They also can be navigated more formally in books, textbooks, and formal courses, as theory and practice, and alone or guided by various leaders bringing their own personalities into our explorations of the principles.  This continual cycle shares the fundamental ideas based on that thinking of those original co-creators. Sometimes these approaches are at odds with each other, but this is part of adaptability, growing almost in the underground – surviving and thriving in constant change and chaos, for new and perhaps, unexpected audiences.

So, ahem, yes, ok….it’s permaculture.

Emerging from the 1970s, and Australia, these principles are still sometimes viewed as a bit of a sub-culture, mostly for those seeking an alternative to modern life, but if you never look further because this doesn’t appeal to you, I think you are missing an opportunity to be surprised.  Despite the fact that permaculture “emerged from within academia  and suffers only from a perception of lack of intellectual rigour, and the populist image..”. (*), these principles are still mostly pigeon-holed as ecology or organic gardening.

If you have only seen the popular visible face of permaculture, and you think that digging soil and planting veggies is not your thing, please,  just urge and nudge that thread of thinking aside, the bit that says…outside of my sphere…not in my domain…not my scene… because that is just one side, the practical side of permaculture.

Have you delved much into its rich and fertile theory?

There is SO much beneath the surface, so very rhizomatic. These are not merely principles for growing vegetables.

Unfurl your mind, to the very frontiers of your thinking:

As a holographic thinker – being open to the idea that anything one observes anywhere is likely to have parallel expressions everywhere – I am led to go beyond the usual boundaries that are put around permaculture….I encourage you to similarly try applying these Permaculture Principles to any area that might benefit from such holistic design theory and practice. Areas that immediately come to mind include human settlements and business enterprises, political and economic systems, and the health field, child rearing and learning environments.

Professor Stuart B. Hill, Foundation Chair of Social Ecology, University of Western Sydney, NSW Australia in Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability

The 12 design principles

Try using the 12 design principles of permaculture. Don’t worry about reading the “official” definitions, yet., or dwelling on each individually. Shape them to your needs.

Just try them as a thinking tool, when you are thinking about something that ignites your mind and soul.  Did they work for you?

Permaculture Design Principles

  1. Observe and interact.

  2. Catch and store energy.

  3. Obtain a yield

  4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback.

  5. Use and value renewable resources

  6. Produce no waste

  7. Design from patterns to detail.

  8. Integrate rather than segregate

  9. Use small and slow solutions.

  10. Use and value diversity.

  11. Use edges and value the marginals.

  12. Creatively use and respond to change.

 


(*) Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability by David Holmgren.

Co-founders of Permaculture: 

 

 

 

Quiet design. 12 simple design principles.

In my purse, stashed in behind two photos of my children, is a scrap of paper with the only design principles that have ever made sense to me. Twelve simple principles as an antithesis, to a sea of educational and instructional design frameworks, some of which need maddening interrogation to explain or understand. Twelve simple principles that seem to work, whatever I throw at them.

They are understandable, no matter what your experience in life.

You can use them to approach anything. You can navigate them as a simple list, or delve deep into thick well-thumbed books and frequently cited journal articles.  There is probably even a waiting  list in your local public library for copies of these books.

They are design principles that you can intellectualise or philosophise as you please.

They can be the cleverest thinking tool and yet can also spawn you a robust do list.

You can skim the surface of them, and build immediately. Or, you can approach them as theory and dwell on them.

Flexible. Holistic. Adaptable. Sustainable. Usable. Accessible.

They have become my personal and professional principles – they seem to fit life and learning. Not perfectly, no, nothing is ever a perfect fit. But enough.

As thought principles, they were co-conceived, by two very different minds, with two vastly different personalities, who were not the wizened sages we sometimes expect such thinking to emerge from. They were relatively young, in their early 20s, in a young country, which is generally not seen as one of the historic intellectual powerhouses of the world.

Shared slowly and informally through community, these principles are still shared primarily on the energy of individual enthusiasm,  now right across the world.  They also can be navigated more formally in books, textbooks, and formal courses, as theory and practice, and alone or guided by various leaders bringing their own personalities into our explorations of the principles.  This continual cycle shares the fundamental ideas based on that thinking of those original co-creators. Sometimes these approaches are at odds with each other, but this is part of adaptability, growing almost in the underground – surviving and thriving in constant change and chaos, for new and perhaps, unexpected audiences.

So, ahem, yes, ok….it’s permaculture.

Emerging from the 1970s, and Australia, these principles are still sometimes viewed as a bit of a sub-culture, mostly for those seeking an alternative to modern life, but if you never look further because this doesn’t appeal to you, I think you are missing an opportunity to be surprised.  Despite the fact that permaculture “emerged from within academia  and suffers only from a perception of lack of intellectual rigour, and the populist image..”. (*), these principles are still mostly pigeon-holed as ecology or organic gardening.

If you have only seen the popular visible face of permaculture, and you think that digging soil and planting veggies is not your thing, please,  just urge and nudge that thread of thinking aside, the bit that says…outside of my sphere…not in my domain…not my scene… because that is just one side, the practical side of permaculture.

Have you delved much into its rich and fertile theory?

There is SO much beneath the surface, so very rhizomatic. These are not merely principles for growing vegetables.

Unfurl your mind, to the very frontiers of your thinking:

As a holographic thinker – being open to the idea that anything one observes anywhere is likely to have parallel expressions everywhere – I am led to go beyond the usual boundaries that are put around permaculture….I encourage you to similarly try applying these Permaculture Principles to any area that might benefit from such holistic design theory and practice. Areas that immediately come to mind include human settlements and business enterprises, political and economic systems, and the health field, child rearing and learning environments.

Professor Stuart B. Hill, Foundation Chair of Social Ecology, University of Western Sydney, NSW Australia in Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability

The 12 design principles

Try using the 12 design principles of permaculture. Don’t worry about reading the “official” definitions, yet., or dwelling on each individually. Shape them to your needs.

Just try them as a thinking tool, when you are thinking about something that ignites your mind and soul.  Did they work for you?

Permaculture Design Principles

  1. Observe and interact.

  2. Catch and store energy.

  3. Obtain a yield

  4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback.

  5. Use and value renewable resources

  6. Produce no waste

  7. Design from patterns to detail.

  8. Integrate rather than segregate

  9. Use small and slow solutions.

  10. Use and value diversity.

  11. Use edges and value the marginals.

  12. Creatively use and respond to change.

 


(*) Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability by David Holmgren.

Co-founders of Permaculture: 

The mythmaker of academia

I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
W. B. Yeats 

This must be the most self-indulgent writing I’ve ever done, but I had to write it. For me, but perhaps also for anyone, who thinks they don’t belong.

An unexpected side effect of taking a recent open online course, exploring rhizomatic learning, was for me, a startling realisation that what I thought was my ultimate objective,  something I needed to prove to myself –  or maybe to others, was a complete antithesis to everything I believe in.

I had made a mythic cloak for myself. Very comfortable indeed. Swishy.

I was not born into an an academic life and it’s fair to say that I almost missed it. One term into a course at a small further ed college attached to a high school, one teacher did something unexpected. She told me I was her best student and that I didn’t belong on that course.  I felt like I had been slapped in the face.

She asked me why I was not  “going to University”-  “This – the way you write – why are you not pursuing university?”

I mumbled something pithy like “I don’t think I would fit in” and she replied with pure genius: “Have you ever been?”.

She had a point. I had never been. My parents had never been. No one I knew had ever been. Everything I knew about university in Australia,  I am embarrassed now to admit, was based on 1980s American films. She bundled me home with a uni course guide and I returned to her with preferences chosen.  In short, I ditched the vocational course and at her suggestion, I took some high school subjects “for interest” (I already had the grades from the previous year to apply with).  It was a truly wonderful year of transition, studying religion (philosophy, buddhism, islam, christianity), modern history and English “for fun” with no pressure, with adults. The best gap year ever.

No one had ever told me I was university material, and for some reason, I needed to be told.  They told me I could write beyond my years, but then they would force me up in front of groups to share my writing. They would make an example of me. Without permission they would read my poetry to the class,  raw things that I had submitted as an assignment, in a dialogue that I thought would be read and assessed by one, were often shared and paraded in a large group.  I shrank. They gave me certificates for academic excellence, awards for writing, but they also told me I was far too shy, I needed to speak up more and my career guidance sessions seemed to focus on my deficient personality. Yes, I seriously struggled in front of groups. I did things to try to fix myself, I took drama. Drama was fun, but it didn’t help by pretending to be someone else. I took alcohol in my senior school years. Again, it did not help to pretend to be someone else, but I began to believe that these mythic me’s patched the holes.

So, why on earth would I run to a university, when my perceptions were of a loudly social place, based on American college films, where I thought social interest groups were compulsory, and campus life was for the extroverted? Why would I run to that fearsome environment?

I did it though. I went because I was told I should. I got through university, well more than that, excelled. In the beginning there were panic attacks. The first and only of my life. Travelling on buses for hours to get onto campus, I would sometimes walk up to a tutorial room, turn around and catch the next bus home.

I took on extra literature subjects so that I had more than a full time load, because I LOVED study, despite not feeling like I belonged on campus.  I worked part time in a bookshop in the city and I would often cry after closing the shop,  after incidents with pushy customers as I often worked there alone.  I spent Saturday nights in computer labs. University was not a party, it was absolute work all of the time, often staying awake all night and going to uni and work on no sleep. It really was bloody exhausting chaos. I adored it.

Some people befriended me somehow, and I grew more confident. I did not wait for jobs to be advertised when I graduated, I wrote and wrote and wrote to places I wanted to work, I sought out my own jobs, and my career began based on such an unsolicited approach. By then, I had also moved overseas and grew and and grew and then, to my surprise, I ended up back at university as an employee. Me, on campus. Weird. 🙂

I became punch-drunk on a feeling that I belonged somewhere finally, and I feel like I want to work in higher education forever. So,  I did my Masters, and since then I’ve been waiting for the “right time” to start my PhD.  I felt excitement seeing colleagues and friends embarking on their PhDs. So,  I have thought about it a lot, honed the ideas, I was poised on the brink of the commitment, just waiting for the planets to align. This was, I thought, what I wanted to take this passionate inquiring mind with an imagination that sometimes feels like a curse, and get those three letters. To really make it. To complete it. A better cloak to swish about in,

Then, only very recently, in the midst of #rhizo15, this mythic cloak I had been wearing, on me, started to unravel, to look shabby, ill-fitting.  I looked at how large my already large student debt was, and how much larger it would be, post PhD. I thought about the impact on my family.  With two young children, I would likely have to leave my job to pursue study full time. I thought and I thought and I thought.

What are my subjectives, I began to ask myself?. When I look into my future, and the future for my children, what is it that I could yield from a PhD in my particular field (educational design & technology) that would change their world for the better?

The cloak, and with it, what I thought were my dreams, began to unravel.

With the experience of such a rich learning experience recently with an unstructured online course, when my passion is open education, when I’m constantly throwing myself challenges to draw myself out of my maddeningly shy personality, which defies my inner fire to connect and change things, to be the quiet activist – why on earth would I run to the safe cocoon of writing a PhD?

For me, writing is safe. Academic writing is so safe. For me.

What would those three letters yield?

These questions are not to belittle others on this path. I am asking them only for me. Subjectively.

What goals would give me a greater practical understanding of the design processes that I believe works well as an educational designer, and in my quest for a more sustainable life?

I just had the wrong three letters.

So, I am ditching my PhD for a practical PDC.

A permaculture design certificate.

That’s the formal learning, sometime in future,  that will challenge me and I will patch the holes in my cloak with the experience of learning new practical skills, on a food forest property, with a group of strangers from diverse pathways.

Permaculture and more widely ecology, I believe is more widely relevant to how we learn, than we know yet. No one have ever said this with a deeper clarion call, for me, than Satish Kumar in his Tedx talk Education with Hands, Hearts and Heads:

So that leaves my other dream. The one I have ignored and made excuses for not pursuing. The one I have never worn on the outside, even when I meet those living that dream.

What I have always wanted to be. I fear success, and I fear failure.

I. want. to. be. a   ******

So it is, that post #rhizo15, I gather my interests around me as a patchwork shred of what recently was a cloak and understand that it can only be more fitting, if weave into it, everything I fear.

Perhaps this is our deepest terror, of wearing our true subjectives, on the outside,  for the world to see?

I hope this humble story is an example of why I think it is important to speak more subjectively about the different pathways in education and how we learn. Outside of the language of career. These conversations with our students, and our children, should happen in the years of formal education, when the myths of their self are being written based on the feedback they receive within the walls of one institution.

At some point, we stop asking the question “What do I want to be when I grow up?” and what if this question became  “What do I want to be when I grow out?”. It could nuture our rhizomatic nature.

Rewilding the rhizome

My small, slow contribution for the final week of #rhizo15 is an invitation to none, one, and many, laid in a public library copy of A Thousand Plateaus by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, within the Introduction: Rhizome within pages.

 Written on a treasured last piece of writing paper I bought in India in 2001 and now released into the wilderness of the public library. Entanglement. I hope.      

The Fence Sitting Preservation Society

Sitting on the fence – Michael Leunig Source: http://www.writeawaywithme.com Beth Gregan

Our education system seems to loves nothing more than the hearty debate. Our ability to express our learned opinion on a two-sided argument crops up time and time again in formal assessment.

Opinion and our ability to communicate it succinctly, gains us power within a community. In education, perhaps it is supposed to demonstrate that we have grasped the domain.

We argue, and we polarise. North and South. East and West. We love our poles.

We cement our minds. Take a stand. Build our foundations.

Backtracking, communicating that you have changed your mind is sometimes respected, but most often ridiculed as a sign of absolute weakness.

Neutrality can be seen as disengagement, at worse total apathy, lack of commitment, even fear. Hesitate, and you lose credibility.

Sometimes, if a community is lucky, there might be some sort of mediating cluster in the grey zone. The peace keepers., the negotiators, the counsellors, the diffusers., the shape-shifters.

They smooth the borders of opinion, create the commons.

They shake their heads and conclude with “I don’t know” and mean it.

Could part of a rhizomatic approach to learning, be to reimagine:  the open mind.

Should we be constantly running towards the ideas that infuriate us, that tangle us up, that make us want to throw books into the fire? To run to these, do we need to stop asking about opinion and critical thinking, and looking for ways of asking questions that seek only to cross-pollinate, not to conclude? How can we fight the urge to categorisation and labelling and make ultimate decisions, that only fence us into our neat fields of our making? Can we forever be questing?

How else can we rewild our thinking, if not by running to the wild beasts of thought that cause us fear of unknowing?

If we could smash and remix every discipline we know up against each other, mountains would form, and in those new heights and valleys, might we discover something so far untold?

The truth is, I don’t know. I just don’t know.