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Posts Tagged ‘#change11’

In which I leave it to others to consider the rhizomes

The connection between connective learning (connectivism, if you will) and complexity was, I think, obvious from the start. I seem to recall encountering the Cynefin framework very early on in connectivism explorations– perhaps even as a session in CCK08?

And it became equally obvious that, as one begins to try to explain the whole connective learning thing to others, complexity has to be part of the conversation. So as I catch up on some reading and see that Dave Cormier has mashed up rhizomes, connective learning, and the Cynefin framework, it makes perfect sense to me.

Cynefin framework

Except, I discovered a while back, apparently it doesn’t make total sense to others. In fact, I used the very same illustration Dave did in a presentation about implications of connectivism shortly after the conclusion of CCK08. And I wound up with the impression that it left the wrong impression. Not because the framework was wrong. Or that the presenter—then or now:-)– was wrong (although perhaps my powers of explanation or lack thereof may have played a role), but simply because the graphic didn’t lend itself as well to a conversation about learning as well as it did to a conversation about problem-solving.

Don’t get me wrong—“real” learning in my mind is ALL about problems and trying to solve them. And as I understand it, considerations of rhizomatic learning are related to but not the same as connectivism, so perhaps relevance is in question. But I offer my experience as an alternative perspective with the thought that maybe it’s a shortcut for anyone who wants to go this direction. The deal with the Cynefin graphic in this permutation is that it seems to get interpreted as bins for sorting things into, kind of like when you go to Ikea in hopes of solving your household storage problems. And the result seemed to be that people walked out with the idea that complex learning concerns are best (or could be) isolated in one corner and addressed with the best practice of not using best practices.

Which, you know, seemed kinda wrong.

Fortunately, by time another presentation opportunity rolled around, I had run into an alternative view, graphically speaking. And I hereby apologize about the sourcing of this, because I think it came from several directions, none for which I can now find appropriate links. The graphic was a nifty chart I saw in a presentation deck from Michael Quinn Patton, whereby I later saw a (subsequentally mentally filed) note somewhere that suggested that it somehow stemmed from Ralph D. Tracey’s conceptualization of complex responsive processes. (The differences and relationships between complex responsive processes and complex adaptive systems are worth consideration, but are well beyond today’s scope, and in part beyond what is essentially very basic knowledge on my part regarding this whole ball of wax. Yes, I’m probably in over my head here.)

In any case, in the interest of throwing out an alternative illustration about learning complexity, here’s the “original” chart as I encountered it:

Michael Quinn Patton, 2009

And here’s my interpretation of learning imposed upon it:

Michael Quinn Patton, 2009 - Modified: C. Tschofen, 10/2010

And, finally, here’s the reason why I think this has done a better job for me in communicating how complexity creates changes in learning and challenges for people:

Michael Quinn Patton, 2009 – Modified: C. Tschofen 2011

I admit to some trepidation about the somewhat implicitly progressive implications of such a graphic, which, worse case scenario, gets interpreted as a kind of “how wild and crazy are you” challenge. But I have found it works well in exploring people’s comfort zones and even worldviews. Do you sincerely believe that most things can be planned and the future reasonably accounted for? Then here’s a zone of understanding where perhaps only the outside edges are fuzzy. But maybe other folks don’t think that way. So here’s an idea of where they might reside and perhaps a few words describing how they think, and maybe there are some blurry lines you could share. It has been useful for seeing learning as not just about outcomes, categories and choices, but about processes, options, and opportunities.

I think this illustration has helped people understand that learning is not so much about sorting as it is about various continuums. In one example I cite, very specific disciplinary learning that is machine delivered lives down in the lower left hand corner. Much of the rest of life occupies space farther afield. And developing an understanding that, while problems might be usefully categorized, learning can be shifted within and between the simple, complicated, complex, and yes, the chaotic, with some level of personal agency, has been useful. (To be clear, I am not saying that Cynefin understanding doesn’t address this in some form– just that the above graphic seems to work better for me.)

In a recent and connectively related post, George Siemens notes: “It is important to realize that MOOCs are not (yet) an answer to any particular problem. They are an open and ongoing experiment.” This view of MOOCs might explain why there is tension about expectations, responsibilities and assessment in MOOCs, and perhaps this tension can be addressed by understanding that burgeoning MOOCs reside in various locations on the agreement/certainty graphic based on the nature of the learning they offer. (Whether MOOCs are ultimately the right unit of analysis for examining complexity and change in learning is a completely different question that has me somewhat distracted.)

 

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In which connections occur.

Following a quick note and blog posts from the unbelievably productive Jenny Mackness, I listened to my first (and to date only) ChangeMOOC recording in which Geetha Narayanan presented “dangerous ideas”—or “inconvenient truths”—about learning and education.

As I understood it, Geetha’s presentation offered a glimpse of experiential learning based in a local community, with an explicit recognition of the “expansion of the inner self” as a purpose of learning; the development of learning as tied to craft on a local and hands-on level; and an understated nod to curriculum content and measurement.

The presentation was packed with concepts that are clearly highly developed and detailed in their own right, and so I focused on ideas that resonated or dovetailed with my own experience while recognizing our different individual situations and responsibilities in our different parts of the world.

In particular, Geetha’s work focuses not just on adult learners, as does much of the conversation in the connectivist MOOC spaces (which, by the way, I see as different from MOOCs offered for content delivery/coverage purposes), but on young people. While still in the process of formulating questions that allow me to express tacit learning in this area, I think a critical point is my understanding that sustainable learning may be brought into being not by intentionally creating and trumpeting change (“before/after”) for those bridging two or more systems (adults), but in trying leapfrog to where that which might be “new” in a historically comparative perspective is quite normal and business as usual. Perhaps this needs to be a consideration for connectivism or networked learning where, when attempting to draw these ideas into “conventional” learning climates, there is a tremendous amount of energy expended on addressing skepticism and the need to prove its worth in comparison to “traditional” learning (in whatever sense that is understood).

Instead of asking “How can we change what we have and make people do something different?” my question is more along the lines of: “What happens when we are (largely) embedded in a different worldview of the purposes and processes of learning from the start?” This difference may seem impossibly subtle, but I think it’s important.

I was also struck by the somewhat wistful comments of the session participants–“ I wish I had a school like that.”  I do often wonder, having heard similar comments quite often, whether this expresses a desire for a different school, or is more an expression of a desire for the opportunity to experience/facilitate different learning. I think these are ultimately two very different questions or wishes. The assumption of school structures as essential may on one hand be viewed as obviously practical or economically necessary in terms of scale, but on the other hand seems to be a “legacy future,” in which the way things are and have been have so colonized our minds that we have lost the ability to image anything else. Additionally, such comments raise a question of agency. Perception of personal agency is exactly that– personal, as well as complex– meaning agency is not something to be judged by others. I would note  that deviating from a status quo in any context, including learning endeavors, requires serious decision-making with a slate of both clear and completely unknown long-term consequences for all involved, and the strategies available are regarded by many as “high risk.” (An understanding of emergence, complexity and resilience goes far in mitigating the perceived risks and addressing the actual ones, and, in a neat circle, I would suggest that learners who have learned to navigate uncertainty early on are much better at doing so.)

Uncertain waters

This recognition of the difference between school and learning also relates to the issue of scale brought up in the presentation. Geetha referred to the idea of Clayton Christenson’s “disruptive innovation” as a bottom-up effort that would spread and scale. And indeed, scaling the school model she is working with – with the paradox of the small and local as a focus within individual schools—was identified as an explicit goal.

While I do not know the circumstances and parameters involved in Geetha’s work, I do feel that some generic assumptions about scale might need to be examined, both in the idea that scale, meaning large numbers, must absolutely occur as an indicator of success, and in how scale might be confused with sweep, meaning that when people look for scaled results, they expect to see many instantiations of the same thing in one place—district-wide, state-wide, nationwide in “schoolish” terms.

Scale in terms of increasing numbers seems a bit of a throwback to an industrial, production-based perspective, whereas sustainability and the development of the self rests much more in quality and enduring presence than on more, more, more.  And as an example, if MOOCs have been evidence of anything, it may be the idea of what I seem to want to call disaggregated scale, where “sweep” is not in evidence. By this I mean the presence of individuals or small clusters scattered across wide distances (however we wish to define “distance,” whether geographic, temporal, or cultural). Indeed, I was struck by the fact that among the participants in Geetha’s session were names familiar to me from previous connectivist MOOCs, many from CCK08. Each one of those participants, I would hazard, represents a “node” that facilitates or expresses ideas gained in and through the connectivist environment—creating a form of networked “scale” over four years (!) that is not evidenced by the participant numbers, or perhaps even network mapping, and is certainly not that solid blanket or sweep of sheer numbers in contiguous space.

By the same token, I wonder if youth learning represented through experiential self development is a “movement” (the “newness” of which probably depends on personal and cultural history, as Jenny indicates) best viewed and “scaled” not as a program to be implemented on a school-by-school basis, but through an understanding of such endeavors as the outgrowth and potential of a more disaggregated, self-identified/identifying and flexibly sustainable network or connective activity.

Finally, I would note that Geetha follows another principle of disruptive innovation, in focusing her efforts on populations (in this case of young people) that might otherwise evoke reactions of indifference, helplessness, or even desperation among school officials or the culture at large. Where populations are already underserved or when “best practices” are clearly inadequate or irrelevant, there is room for new visions. But the often subsequent idea that any program, or any new vision of learning, is going to be appropriate for or desired by all young learners—and/or their parents or others—over time may be another “legacy future” stumbling block. While new ideas are often implemented with the assumption that, once proven, it will be the responsibility of authorities or even community members to “get people on board” and convince others of the need for change, this effort to “scale up” may well be a draining effort that takes energy away from the actual act or emerging result of leapfrogging that is critical for those who are most prepared for and need the “new and different” to be their own, sustainable “normal.” (The issues of voluntary participation and resulting questions about equality in learning are too large to address here, but fresh perspectives may be needed here as well.)

Perhaps one of the best ways to rephrase my understanding of experiential learning which allows growth of the inner self is to return to the concept of “craft,” which, while a minor point in Geetha’s presentation, is one very worthy of consideration and embedded in my reflections on learning. As Geetha noted, there must be an understanding of the hand and not just the mind. I have found that viewing learning as a form and expression of craft, both in its connection to physical presence and activity, and in the idea of “crafting” or creating on that broad and fuzzy cusp merging tradition, improvisation and innovation, seems to remove many of the inappropriate burdens that are currently placed upon education.

Crochet in the tent

If  “awakening, discovery, recovery and revitalization” of the self, rather than the acquisition of testable knowledge (and the idea of this as a dichotomy is a simplification and shortcut here) should be the outcome or emerging vision for learning, then the processes that lead to it seem to demand different visions as well.

Richard Sennett notes that the act of craft and resulting crafted products serve entirely different purposes than those of machine production and products. Craft is embedded in culture, tradition, and connection—creative unity, perhaps, as Geetha phrased it– rather than some idealized goal of perfection. So too, it seems, would education focused on the growth of the inner self contain the paradox of the both local and individual within a connective context, and the inherent understanding of experience and engagement as the point of learning, rather than learning as a means to an externalized and idealized “perfect” end.

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