Friday, February 7, 2014

Enabling the future?

I shall try to be prosaic. I have been studying for four weeks now with @Dave Cormier's #Rhizo14 online course.  I was keen to map out a myth. Instinctively I felt it was important. I signed up to #Change11 but never went further. I did similarly a couple of years before with a Downes course (maybe with #CCK08?). Until now, apparently the time was never right.

I was led naturally to following Stephen Downes, Steve  Wheeler, Graham Attwell through my aversion to 'Learning Management Systems' or 'Virtual Learning Systems' or 'Content Managment Systems.'  I had used internet technology early to break out of the box of course-books, resource books and all.

Technology was not really the key, nervous exhaustion was. Chronology is of no importance. A story written remixes time. When you have no time to prepare, to follow the rules, hell you either just don't turn up or you just turn up. Just turning up, on the edge, I can recommend. When nothing really matters, when you have no care for what anyone might think, then magic may happen.

I had a very difficult relationship with course-books right from the start of my one month accelerated TEFL course in London. I simply didn't understand them, their thinking, their rigidity. I got in trouble very quickly with some managers by not following their program.

I was fortunate to have done my early teaching in a progressive language school which allowed me sufficient freedom to deal with all sorts of uncertainty. I learnt the eclectic way: teaching blind and sighted students together, teaching an evolving group of mixed-level unemployed learners. Learners would arrive at different times, with completely different backgrounds, objectives,  levels. Frankly the idea of people turning up 'mid-course' was my normality, similarily the idea of community being the curriculum. The real issue here was not me (it was impossible to have a teacher-centred classroom) nor the books but the connections between learners, the organisation of events, plays, poetry-readings, karaokés, nights-out.

Coming to the university where now I teach, I was lucky on a number of levels, I had experience of learning language informally, I had virtually no formal teacher-training, I had ended up being a teacher as the result of an extraordinarily twisted path. All those life experiences enabled me to just see the next step as part of a wider adventure.

When you are the son of a clergyman, if you have no belief in God,  integration in the world of work is far from straight-forward. What on earth is work? My playground was the cemetery, I enjoyed grave-digging; closer than the beach and you got better spades. When your father started formal schooling at the age of 12 what on earth is schooling?  When you leave formal education and say to yourself, life is an adventure, you are on pretty healthy ground. When you are sacked from the first two proper jobs that you fall into, well taking risks is easier. On top of that I always got offered a last cup of coffee, a last meal.

#Rhizo14 came naturally at the right wrong time.  I am gaining great creative stimulation from an eclectic bunch of fellow-learners.  I have enjoyed the banter, the poetry, the intellectual gymnastics. I am getting a much clearer view of my own limits and strengths. I am reinforcing my learning of the lie of the land, the dynamic topography of Twitter compared to Google Plus, Facebook and P2PU's platform.  I am beginning to meet new potential allies.

Watching the unhangout from week 4, I am struck by the sensation of reaching a watershed...we are now beyond the book, beyond the page, beyond the word.

This is war.

When I think of my children, your children trying to negotiate their lives with book-bound adults, I am intensely unhappy. I am unhappy at my/our own impotence.

We have a new opportunity. We have a small window of opportunity.

We don't, they don't really know what we are doing at the dawn of a revolution which is far greater in its potential than the printing press which brought the renaissance.  We have the tools to enable our learners to develop real life skills using the leverage of globalized community. We have the means to overturn the times-tables which are keeping them down.

We live in uncertain times. We must be certain that we are able to meaningfully lead learners to connect beyond their constraints to build a new future together. At the heart of this are the literacies that we ourselves are toying with. Let the play-ground be widened.  This is a co-creation, a co-operation, a coincidence. This is our time.

"Your task is not to foresee the future, but to enable it."



  1. I can't quite get my head round what a book bound adult is. Do you consider yourself a book-bound adult? In relation to books and what you have learned on this course - what will you do differently in the future? Hope you don't mind these questions. Jenny

  2. Hi Jenny! Thanks for your action expressed by this comment and your questions - and for your work.

    Book-bound as I see it in this post may have the following meanings (not exhaustive)

    Mastery tied to books - Other forms of expression given less importance (dance/rap/slam/music/pottery/brick-laying/graffiti/videos etc)
    Tied to course books
    Tied to Publishers - as teachers or academics for status/power.
    Tied to Place of Book/Program - official Curriculum in a particular country/culture.

    Bound - to a family/band
    Bound in allegiance to a guild which celebrates book wielding

    I do not consider myself book-bound.

    In relation to this course, I have learnt that giving up status which is tied to books results in defensive/aggressive reactions.

    I will be working more widely with other people/communities/networks of learners/teachers/researchers/others around the world who share my concern that we need to develop new forms of education in the light of a revolution the like of which we have never seen.

    I shall be reading your articles, your blog posts, to glean as much as I can. I hope that through this course I will be able to learn more from/with people like yourself with the aim of guiding our future actions.

    I shall remember again these lines which travel with me:

    First to possess his books; for without them
    He's but a sot, as I am.."

    I look forward to more of your comments and questions.

  3. I am surrounded by book-bound adults and text-bound, too. Tangled up in the preordained magical thinking that books represent the real power of life. If you want a nice image, Jenny, howsabout this one? I want to be a snake charmer, to draw out the powerful creature that truly is my non book bound learner. Yet I am surrounded by mongooses.

  4. This is a grand narrative. It is text-bound and Internet context bound, is only part of the rhizomatic complex that is your story. Words are not the issue. It is the valorizing of them that is. There is nothing inherently wrong with words except perhaps that they are reified lies that we do our best to use. I see in your story that words are just part of the mix. And I appreciate your struggle to not simplify that story too much with words. What a tragically difficult task to be prosaic about a rhizome. It demands poets and crazy prophets like Blake and musicians singing the body electric and scuptors who aren't afraid of molten bronze as a medium. Keep on. "Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. Those who think themselves the masters of others are indeed greater slaves than they." so sayeth Rousseau. I say even throw off what he says if it runs counter to your story. You are an inspiration. Keep on!

    1. Hi Terry
      Even when I get fed up of myself, I iron a few shirts, fill in a few forms and let renewed enthusiasm take me wherever.

      I have been taking a holiday from construction but I feel that I will be getting down to 'real work' for a moment (he says in rather unconvincing direct speech).

      I can feel the urge to run, to climb, coming back, that is reassuring, I had lost that part for too long. It swings back unexpectantly.

      No idea how the wind will blow but I much appreciate your comments which bring comfort. Being out on a rung get tiresome. I love company.

  5. Hi Simon and Terry

    Terry I like the snake charmer and mongoose image. It would be beyond me to even dream up a thought like that.

    Which brings me to Simon's comment that we give less importance to dance/rap/slam/music/pottery/brick-laying/graffiti/videos

    Which brings me to a thought that has just popped into my head and almost fear to raise - the question of learning styles. Of course I know the research that has thrown this out of the window, but equally I have had plenty of experience of learners who have 'flowered' in different modes of learning. For some books are the way - I won't say book-bound because that is not necessarily the case - for others its music, dance or whatever.

    Could we also say that a learner is music bound?

    Despite this question, I do know what you are talking about Simon when you talk about being book bound.

  6. Hi Jenny!
    I feel that the challenge is to be in the moment and to reassure learners of their abilities to make meaning their way. The means of expression with which we feel most comfortable may be a means of joy but also a lure, our role, I feel is to prompt and to nurture experiment.

    Many of us have a tendency to fill the void our way in little boxes which may be detrimental to more fragile flowers, particularly if a particular way of functionning is sanctionned by the power-structure in place.

    Much of the more spectacular learning I have witnessed over the years has appeared underground and appears un-capturable in artificial conditions. Alchemists overstretch themselves. Gardeners risk trampling nature.

    I would say that we are all music-borne rather than bound. This brings me to a breath of Coetzee:
    “His own opinion, which he does not air, is that the origin of speech lie in song, and the origins of song in the need to fill out with sound the overlarge and rather empty human soul.”
    ― J.M. Coetzee, Disgrace