The importance of content as a myth

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Myth means ‘no author’. The reason why certain stories land so deeply within us is because they’ve been passed like water over dark stones through many different communities and many different people’s lives who’ve all dealt with seemingly hopeless causes. So the images have a resonance that one person alone cannot muster, no matter how brilliant.
(Dr Martin Shaw – West County School of Myth, UK)

Stumble into learning…

I was in my early 20s, in an unassuming second hand bookshop in surburban Adelaide. I was studying undegraduate literature and looking for some books I needed to read. My eye was distracted by the golden glint of the text on the spines of a plainly covered uniform series of books. I opened one and felt immediately, the mystery of finding something I had not even known I had been looking for. I had stumbled upon content – in this case – words in a book –  that connected me to something bigger, with what was to have a huge impact on my future and direction (which is a different story).

I didn’t need a complicated search algorithm to find it, I didn’t know that I was looking for it, no one selected that content on my behalf, it was accidental. I had found the relatively obscure poetic writings of Scottish writer, Fiona Macleod (aka William Sharp).

2015-05-01 12.07.50The series was incomplete, being sold separately at $18 per book. I had just started a part-time job in a bookshop to pay my way through my degree, and I couldn’t afford them all. So, I bought one every few months (I was too unsure of my finances to ask to hold them).  Then, one time when I went back,  the shop had closed down. Dissapeared.

Thankfully, this was the awakening of the internet and in the last 15 years I have not only tracked down the whole set, but picked up some incredible additional Fiona Macleod books. Some have the most fragile and beautiful art plates and prints. As content, they are physical treasure to me. These books are objects that contain the published words of my favourite writer and I love them, because they are a touchstone. Most of Fiona Macleod’s writings are now available online. You can read the entire texts.

So why I would I bother still seeking these obscure, fragile, musty little containers of words, when I can have all of Fiona Macleods words for free?

Dig underneath…

It’s because of what you get when you dig underneath. In so many pages of these books I have collected over the years, there are unwritten and even more intriguing stories than the ones published within. The traces of people and the never-ending questions about them.

Leave breadcrumbs…

In the pages, are traces of navigation. Bent corners, pencil marks. Annotations, handwritten notes, dedications in the cover, little mini-books that people have made, a pressed-flower, and my favourite,  the wonderful tiny Christmas card shown below.

2015-05-01 12.12.02

Dear Frank, who were you? 

2015-05-01 12.10.26Who was Miss Moss, or Miss Morse? Can I call you Miss M?

Is this card, nothing more than a useful bookmark, or did you give Miss M this book?

And you Miss M, did you perhaps place this little card from Frank, deliberately on the page that had the book plate for May?

Did this page symbolise your connection?  Did this book bring you together?

Make myth…

Content is our human platform for conversation, communication and connection – artifact. This is perhaps why we love content so much in online learning. The most passionate educators often collate and lay out huge collections in a single pathway of content, intending a specific journey based on their their choice, their voice. It is easy to dismiss that approach as restrictive, but seen for what it is – it is the art of collecting and sense making, born from generosity and a desire to share.  We naturally want to take each other on a journey of shared experience, of shared learning. However, within the boundary of learning within a period of time, with completion dates, having one voice only choosing the “core” content is a missed opportunity to learn holistically.  Prescriptiveness lessens exploration, stumbling, exploring, get lost, getting found, thinking upside-down and sideways, navigating or maybe more importantly, community-led annotation.

We know content sparks conversation, humour, art, friendship, and most of all – is homage to our desire to share. Pulling back from the desire to lead, and allowing every person in a community to be content, to annotate with their own voice, is a beautiful gateway to diversity.  An opportunity to explore how the same questions and desires are interpreted globally, in the context of different locations and cultures. For the person at the helm, they see the unique myth-making power of the cohort. Something unique, never to be exactly repeated. A truly unique and experimental learning experience every time. You get, in effect, mythic learning. A new resonance. A multitude of voices.

So, I do think content is a myth, and myth is necessary and should be encouraged.   Content is how we conjure and trigger our stories, in ourselves, and each other.

Maybe we should all be myth makers with content,  and even if we struggle to be great story tellers, we can always be story carriers. Here’s the incredible mythologist Martin Shaw, (West Country School of Myth, UK) explaining that idea (story carriers) far better than I can.

This post was written in reponse to Week 3 of #rhizo15 –The Myth of Content – Dave Cormier but also because I opened one of my favourite books today, to the page for May, and found a Christmas card from Frank.

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14 thoughts on “The importance of content as a myth”

  1. This is a lovely story. “Stories arising from the ground” is a wonderful image (and of course, so rhizomatic). I also love that I am sitting at my desk at Glasgow Uni finding out about a Scottish poet who studied at this Uni. Serendipitous. I’ll come back and listen to Martin Shaw again when I am not at work 🙂

    1. Yes, you probably have volumes of William Sharp treasures in the library collection there! He has a connection with Australia, with a brief trip here to recover from illness, and one of the things I would love to have known is who originally had these books in Adelaide. It fascinates me because it has always been harder to find people that have heard of Fiona Macleod – less so these days, and even today only a few scattered books available in Australia. I was learning Scottish Gaelic at the time with a teacher here in Adelaide, and she had never heard of either Sharp/Macleod, but the gaelic stories and snippets of poetry and song are beautiful. I obtained most of my Macleod books when I lived in the UK (they turn up in Oxfam book shops now and then), so much easier to find them now. Although I love books, I do set a very modest limit in what I will spend for an object. 😉

  2. “Content is our human platform for conversation, communication and connection – artifact.” So it’s an enabling space for human interaction. The way you’ve described it is far from the cold, disconnected definition conjured by Dave.

  3. At present, my self-appointed online role is more informationist rather than planned for classroom or teaching space ~ occasionally but not always planned ~ so content can takes a different hue. Sometimes content is sought out, set traps for but other times it is what serendipity fetches (or leaves in my mailbox)

  4. I love this and definitely agree that “having one voice only choosing the “core” content is a missed opportunity to learn holistically.” and probably not a good way to prepare students for lifelong learning. Down with the textbooks that are often not just chosen by one teacher but written by one writer! Sooooo narrow a way to learn. Makes it too organized to be realistic if we are learning a complex subject. It’s ok for calculus 1 courses tho 🙂 which thankfully i don’t teach

  5. what a gorgeous narrative and a beautiful, allusive description of the changes we’re making as we move from negotiating paper texts to virtual ones… i love the idea that the markings / page turnings in the books become part of the content (evidence of community).

    1. Thanks Aaron, it’s something that is maybe will always be missing from ebooks as somehow it seems odd to think of an ebook with scribbles in the margin from the previous reader or a love note on the title page. It’s just not as nostalgic to know who had a file in cloud storage before you. 😉

      1. yeah… though on the other hand it’s easier and more democratic to see who else liked which passages on a kindle edition, and see shared notes on different parts and ideas through amazon, goodreads and a couple of other e-reader sites…. i have started a new course of studies and realized a couple of things. first, that i’m privileging virtual books and papers – i have a whole stack of books on my subject area that i can’t quite bring myself to read, whereas i’ve got this great, growing body of information all collected, searchable, highlightable. second, i am having trouble even reading and editing my own work in a whole new way. or i feel like i am having trouble… it’s taking me a couple of months to do what i’d previously have done in a couple of weeks on a new paper. but i think the results are better and more collaborative…. they just seem always to be in process. on the other hand, this difficulty in processing / editing is also reflective of my actual life in a new way. some things are quite challenging – and usually i’d have just divorced myself from that human part and got on with the job. something in my new relationship with tech and people online invites a distracting but comforting community. hmmm….

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