Another line of flight from the lines of thought. As I was playing around with papier mache for the plate, I remembered the flippy clicky things we used to make when we were children – a bit of thinking and Googling revealed that these are called paper fortune tellers or chatterboxes. I found some simple instructions to help me remember how to fold one. These are often done with numbers and colours, so I looked at the words in the poem and found that there were exactly four colours that I could use: green, greens, silver and turquoise. I decided to use nouns instead of numbers, and allocate them randomly to number between 1-8: bird, child, cat, snowdrop, wings, human, seeds, trees. The final panels in the game are “fortunes”, so I looked back to the poem and chose some appropriate phrases:
hope springs eternal
you notice gratitude
you glide, introspective
your mind shifts to stars
invisibly lifted, you soar higher
will you help us fly?
will you knit our thoughts together?
I wrote those into the appropriate panels and folded the clicker together. I had planned, at the beginning, to draw this all on my PC, type in all of the words and print it out, but I like the retro look of this version. It now sits on my desk, in one of my in trays, reminding me to pause and ask my fortune.
T.S. Eliot wrote in his poem The Waste Land ‘You cannot say, or guess, for you know only / A heap of broken images…’. Add your line of thought to this Shared Google Doc #DS106 poem and see if we can get to 106 lines of thought that are a collection of images, not broken. Or tweet @wentale.
And then it took off. Kevin made a word cloud
People sampled the poem, a stanza echoed in my head:
Take this hammer, take this chisel Take some time to work alone Shatter the surface of intentions Surface this collaborative poem
I needed to make this tangible – why did I start thinking about papier mache? … And so the idea was born. I printed the poem and ripped it up. I found a saucer and diluted glue. Over a few days I pasted and pasted. I saved my favourite stanza and glued it to the middle. I painted with fountain pen ink, I sprayed with varnish.
Sometimes we don’t know what we need until it happens. This grounded me, relaxed me, took me out of myself. It’s on a shelf in my line of sight to remind me to pause sometimes and simply be.
Today I gave a presentation for the #SocMedHE20 conference. It was a conference with a difference as it was all online – presenters were asked to submit up to 5 tweets which we then scheduled to be tweeted from the conference account. Here’s mine – partly done to nudge myself to write a paper about it (the conference will have a special issue of the Journal of Social Media for Learning). Here’s what I said as a warm up:
My basic idea is that, at least for those of us who practice and share out in the open, learning can be seen as a performance – in a similar way to the thought that teaching is a performance (the sage on the stage). I’ll be using #CLMOOC and #DS106 to illustrate my answer.
This is my Granny, Constance May Hobbs. Her father had a soft furnishing company that went to the wall during WW1, so she left school at 14, but was fiercely proud of her teacher husband, her 14 children and all her grandchildren. She was so talented at crafts – she painted, knitted, embroidered. My favourite flower vase was made by her and I have two of her embroidered cushions on my sofa.
When Grandpa died I went to live with her – she taught me how to read cookery books and adapt recipes, how to love the evening skies, how to drive faster than my mum thought safe (she was like the Red Queen in a passenger seat – always urging me to “go faster”).
I’ve been involved in open learning for several years now. It started almost by accident, when some guy called Dave ran a crazy learning experience that we called rhizo14, carried on serendipitously into a sister experience called CLMOOC, and gradually became a part of my daily ritual as I started participating in Daily Creates. Much of what happens in these open, online experiences can appear to be random and unstructured, but beneath and behind them is a set of core principles and values and a tried and tested design. Those can be broadly summed up as belonging to an educational framework called connected learning. That’s helped me to learn some tricks to help all of us (staff and students) to teach and learn online. They’re at the end of this post, for those wanting to skip straight to the punchline.
Connected learning is a work in progress. It begins from an (intuitively plausible, I think) set of beliefs in the value of learning that is interest-driven, peer-supported and academically relevant, and harnesses the power of social media in order to make these types of learning better integrated into learners’ lives while attempting to make it accessible to anyone who wants to participate (equity is a core value). As such, it is platform and technology agnostic, although the values of open education are central to what practitioners do.
At the heart of connected learning is the thought that we live, nowadays, in a participatory culture. Sometimes people describe this as “Web 2.0”, but participatory culture is actually a richer concept than that. Henry Jenkins contrasts the concept of “interactivity”, which he describes as a relationship between a customer and a software company and a property of some social media platforms, and “participation” which is a relationship between people (which can be facilitated by use of social media). This means that we can’t take student engagement for granted, we have to explicitly design it into our courses. For those familiar with the terminology, I might use this distinction to explain the differences between xMOOCs and cMOOCs. I say this to note a difference, and not to imply that cMOOCs are always superior – knowledge acquisition and participation in learning are not, imo, contradictory concepts – each has its place. Anna Sfard makes this point better than I could.
To an outsider, learning in the open can look unstructured and random, and those new to this type of learning and teaching can feel overwhelmed, out of their depth, unsure of their own abilities, frustrated, scared or even angry. This goes for both learners (often called participants) and educators (often called facilitators). This is why it is so important to design these experiences carefully, and to think carefully about the types of support that can be provided. I think, in the interesting times that lie ahead of us, we are all going to need all the support we can get – both to keep ourselves going, and to help our learners. Teaching and learning online can be an isolated experience, as those of us who do it know only too well.
So how can all of this help us now? First of all I should stress that I’m not suggesting that everybody immediately abandons whatever they are doing and redesign their courses so that they are connected learning experiences – I’m not trying to make more work for anyone. What I am going to tell you about is some tried and tested strategies that have helped the community that I am a part of to emerge and continue. I’m not pretending to have invented any of these strategies either – just to have used or experienced them for myself.
Remember that your learners will be in many different time zones, some of which will have better connectivity than others. People who can’t participate are likely to feel very left out and uncared for. Think about asynchronous activities as well as synchronous ones.
Some learners will have state of the art technology, others … won’t. Think about designing activities/resources that can load on different devices.
Realise that there is no such thing as a digital native: some (staff and students) will find it easy to adapt to this new way of teaching and learning others … won’t. We can’t predict who will and won’t adapt. Think about how to support staff and students who just can’t work out how to log in/submit/engage.
Don’t rely on one platform or one mode of delivery. Systems could be overloaded, or not available for a particular device, or not available in a geographical area (YouTube content, for example, can be restricted by geographical area). Yes, this could mean duplicating important content/messages in order to ensure that everyone who needs can access them.
Don’t force anyone to use a particular platform (other than official, institutionally supported ones). Your students might well have ethical objections to using a particular one. Respect those. Never require anyone to sign up to a (non-institutionally supported/“official”) platform in order to participate. Data rights are human rights.
Tap into the altruism of others. Nurture a community that helps each other (both staff and students). Model this yourself, watch for others doing it and publicly thank them. Think about the types of roles that might be needed to build a learning community: as well as you (the teacher), you might look for particularly active and/or knowledgeable students to become mentors.
Structure informal activities that people can engage in if they want. These don’t have to take a lot of time to design – you might ask students to share something unique about where they are living, to tell others about their hobbies, pets, or family. You could ask them to do this by sharing a small image, a link to a website, or a forum post. These help participants to feel that they belong and can build a sense of community over time.
And, finally, reach out to others around you. Use your networks and don’t be afraid of saying that you are finding something hard. My initial experiences of all of this was a baptism of fire. Those who watch me nowadays often think that I always find it easy to participate, and have always found it easy, but that’s not true. In fact, I nearly dropped out of an early connected learning experience (CLMOOC 2015) because I was feeling lost, confused and overwhelmed. What happened next was, I realise, due to the carefully designed support structure that was in place. I shouted out into the void and someone answered. The rest, as they say, is history.
It took me a long time to start doing the Daily Create. I wanted to participate, but I was not sure I should, or could. Although it’s an open community, I still felt that I’d be an interloper, rudely bursting into a private conversation (and I’ve heard others say this about similar situations, so I know that this is an issue for open educators, but I am going to side step this for today). And the people participating all seemed so proficient – they seemed to do it all so expertly and effortlessly that I was sure that my feeble efforts would not be worthy (again, there’s lots here to tease out that I will pass over for now). Still, I finally took the plunge on March 19th 2016, and now I have 1148 submissions under my belt. For the last couple of years I have made sure to submit something every single day. Sometimes it takes me a few minutes to submit my daily create, other days it takes a few hours, but every day I make sure that I do something – it’s now part of my everyday practice. Sometimes it’s a real struggle to find the time, and sometimes I feel that I am not putting in the effort that I should, but doing something every day helps me in ways I don’t always recall at the time.
So this is my resolution for 2020 – to keep on keeping on. To submit to the daily create every day, to continue with my doodling challenges, and to rejoice in playful learning.
I’ve been enjoying micro.blog. it is a community of disparate bloggers, writing in their own spaces. A sort of community RSS reader that smooths out the process of blogging & commenting without being a silo. An example of ideal community technology.