Sunday, October 2, 2016

An indian summer.

"Do you want to stay here, or would you prefer to go outside over there?" I asked them.

"I'll follow you." I heard myself saying.

It was a beautiful afternoon of an "Indian Summer" on a grassy plateau in the Massif Central.

The people (students) sat down together in groups of various sizes and configurations and started to exchange.

A pair of them had come with food that they had prepared for the occasion, they shared their offerings with the newcomers.

I (an English teacher) moved from group to group stopping to listen and to speak with some of the people I knew (students) and with the newcomers who were from Nigeria, Columbia, Senegal, Finland, the USA, Ghana, China.

Dancing in the wild.

The newcomers, I had learnt the week before, had come from all around the world to study dance and anthropology together. I thought that the opportunity for an informal meeting of the minds would be mutually beneficial to everybody.

English would be the lingua franca for the might also be a useful means of communication and reflection, I thought to myself.

The people were all engaged in different conversations, some sitting, some standing, some speaking, some listening, some kneeling, some lying down.

None of the conversations were scripted, programmed or determined by myself (the teacher).

I pointed out that they might find some things in common...

As the afternoon went on the people moved changing the group compositions, changing the conversations.

Stories of resilience.

I spoke to a guy from Ghana and another from Senegal or Nigeria (I am not sure now) about their learning stories. They spoke to me of the difficulties they had had navigating classical expectations of parents or institutions to focus their attention on what some might consider a marginal activity - dance choreography and anthropology.

They spoke of the thousands of students in amphitheatres...

One spoke to me of trying to take law classes to dissimulate what he was really doing which was to follow dance anthropology classes at the university.

They had showed remarkable resilience in their desire to follow paths which they felt were essential to them.  I made a mental note of their stories for future reflection.

Emergent learning.

After a little while, the interaction in one group had mutated from conversation to a break dance battle.

On hearing the music, which was coming from someone's portable wireless speaker connected to a smartphone, all the other groups stopped conversing and stood up on the slopes to become an audience within an emergent, natural auditorium.

The dance had changed the nature of the space, the nature of the ritual.

There were whoops of delight, expressions of encouragement, cheers and clapping as the pair of dancers showed their moves.

After what seemed a good few minutes, the dancers stopped, some people grouped in pairs and started taking contact information, others were attracted by drumming coming from across the plateau, others went off to retrieve their belongings.

Massively Open Offline Class.

I moved with some of the people over to the other side of the plateau, passing a couple of girls with hijab attempting to walk across a slack line, a boy that I knew from one of my classes hanging upside down from a trapeze, a group of jugglers.

I stopped to speak with them and was greeted with a smile.

The activities had been organised as part of a festival to welcome new students to the university.

I overheard one student say to another:

"Why don't you tell your friends to tell the teacher that you had to miss class, this is much more interesting."

I looked back at concrete boxed classrooms and thought of those that they contained.

Once at the other side of the plateau, I was met with a group of African dancers in traditional dress who were acting as a magnet, attracting others to dance with them.

I recognised one or two of the dancers as those who had been with the class of students in the "English" class just before.

I spoke with the students watching the now active dancers of their meeting.

"Had that been a valuable learning experience?" I asked them.

The expression on their faces was eloquent, they all noted that it had indeed been both memorable and of interest to them.

I noted that some of them had been taking contact information from their new friends, had started organising times to meet.

They had at first oriented themselves.

They had shared declarations.

They had networked with these strangers.

Weak ties were being strengthened.

Now, they were clustering.

There had been clear focus on the spontaneous break-dance battle.

I shall remember this class as one with many connections from which to learn, an open space within which to roam. I thought of how this connected to my own experiences of (rhizomatic) learning online and offline.

Education for community

I thought of the street festival that had been organised by students I teach the weekend before.

I thought of the connections being made between them and the local community.

I thought of the wealth of the learning ecosystem within which they had been the actors.

I am fortunate working with people whose sporting, academic and professional activity takes them into so many diverse spaces.

Learner Resilience

I am wondering now about learner resilience.

Not all the students that I meet demonstrate the same determination as those African dancers.

Many need time to orient themselves.

Many have been so institutionalised that they are looking only to go through the minimal motions to get a grade.

Many classes, many spaces, many rituals, relations, reinforce such minimal transactions.

Strategies of school and deschooling.

Opening them up to imagining different relations, different activities or means to learn within the institution or outside of the institution is not straightforward - particularly when the institutional culture itself is the major obstacle.

I am now faced with two quandaries,which in effect are similar:

How do I go about facilitating the development of resilient learning networks and communites from within an institution in the most effective way?

How do I go about enabling learners to view the people around them - classmates, people in the street, in the town, on the internet as potential members of their learning networks?

How do I go about enabling learners to benefit from paths trodden and links made (online or offline)without overwhelming them with my own paths, links, conclusions, beliefs, culture?

One problem for me concerns digital literacies, the need (or not) to develop the desire/skills/competences necessary to be able to learn effectively. In order to do this, it is essential that I build alliances and find convergences with my colleagues who may not necessarily see the interest themselves in developing those digital literacies which I would consider essential for some if not all of the students that I work with. I am thinking of the work of Ken Bauer, Gardner Campbell, Alan Levine and Jim Groom here...

I shall follow my curiosity...
Another problem concerns the visual organisation of existing learning opportunities, activities offline and online.  It is essential to use learner generated 'slug trails' to point to new possibilities within those over familiar boxes.

Photos, videos, personal testimonies, stories, demonstrations, all must play their part, I have been curating those over the past few years.

I have been teaching students how to create digitally, to research critically, to curate, and share, to network offline and online with CLAVIER.

I suppose what is essential now is to make those connections with other colleagues to enable that ecosystem to really weave deeper and wider. I am seeing more and more convergences in ways of thinking, and ways of teaching.

I must invest time on key nodes.

I must map, I think of Daniel Bassill.

I suppose that is what I have been doing with my research.

(idiot - you have been mapping continuously for bloody years - he says to himself).

I am collecting the bits, now I need to find the most effective ways to enable learners to access them.

I must find time, I must find time.

I think of Daniel Bassill.

It's not that I must.

It's that I want to.

I want to.

I have for some time been working towards setting up some sort of "learning bank/make bank".

I must develop connections further. I must map.  I must map.

Priorities, priorities.

Time is precious, my resources and influence are limited, the pressure to fit students, teachers and learning into 'managed paths' and standardised outcomes, in predictable rectangular boxes, with interchangeable teacher operatives is considerable.

I have already seen promising projects killed this year through lack of support...

It is no time to be a nobody.

Fuck that.

I shall enjoy my time as this nobody.

I am heartened by the idea that for the moment at least, in France, university is seen as a public service where students are not to be endebted for years thereafter.

How long will this last?

Fuck that.

We can only do what we can do, with our feeble means...

Learning in an age of abundance?

I think for a -moment of the term: "learning in an age of abundance".

I think we need to reassess what we mean by abundance.

I think of the term 'Indian Summer'.

I make a few mental notes to address

  • the idea of learning, the idea of colonisation in "the wild" and the notion of "wilderness"
  • conflicting notions of enlightenment and transcendence. (Note to self: Les Maux Des Mots.)
  • conflict between capitalism and sustainable ecosystems.

What is it that Dave Cormier says?

Content is people?

I can never remember.

An age of abundance can surely not be reduced to people, even less to bloody information, or data.

I rather hope now that he is thinking of inviting people to reflect on learning/learner resilience now.

I rather suspect that I am ready for that now.

He probably isn't.


Looking back, looking around, looking forward, looking around.

I look at the presentations that I was doing earlier in the year when I was in Poland.

Suddenly, they take on renewed importance.

I shall study them again.

I shall reorient.

Well that was an  unexpected flurry of typing.


Special note: Terry Elliott's recent posts sparked enthusiasm to review this post and to extend it.

Fuck knows why.

Footnote to self.

Note Cynefin Framework and Dave Snowden's Party Organisation. 

How not to manage complexity.


  1. I need to sit on this post a bit, dwell, dig, delve. Yes, I will.

  2. The video with Snowden had a lot of value to me. Such as

    "We have to see the system as a whole" - I heard a retired US Army
    General talk about systems last year, and he was concerned about how few junior and senior officers were looking at the whole system, rather than just pieces of it. My maps and graphics focus on the whole system of supports needed in many places to help kids grow up.

    "validation of information we receive" is a real problem.

    "look at outliers for opportunities and disruptors"

    Toward the end he talked about the value of networks for gaining real-world understanding and for responding to emergencies and showed how technology can be used to support the process of gathering, organizing, analyzing and sharing information that supports present day activities, not just future shaping efforts.

    Conclusion. My personal network's too small, but is made much larger by the people I'm meeting via cMOOCs, social media, etc.