In my teaching I have been exploring the ways in which we can train our attention beyond the habitual – how to access what Francisco Varela called the Blind spot of cognitive science,
“I maintain that there is an irreducible core to the quality of experience that needs to be explored with a method. In other words, the problem is not that we don’t know enough about the brain or about biology, the problem is that we don’t know enough about experience… We have had a blind spot in the West for that kind of methodical approach, which I would now describe as a more straightforward phenomenological method. … Everybody thinks they know about experience, I claim we don’t.” Francisco Varela
I met Francisco at Schumacher College in the UK a year before his death. We talked as we walked by the river near the college and our conversations are imprinted in my mind to this day. He was a wise man, a buddhist, an academic, but most of all a warm and kind man who one could speak to easily.
After many years, I am coming back full circle to his work. It is helping me bring a secular way to describe to a wider audience what I live each day in my buddhist practice. As I help students find resources for their final papers, I come across a website with a list of publications by David Levy – the author of Mindful Tech.
I respect David’s work and his book was a joy to read, but the publication page gave us access to so much more. I was lost in it for some time…not just for my students, but for my own learning.
The contemplative construction of reality is a new theoretical framework for me. It is to be contrasted with the idea of the social construction of reality – used far too often to push an agenda of forced connection in education via the internet. It has given me a framework within which to position my current work in online insight dialogue and the use of contemplative pedagogies in online education.
What follows are reflections on how my own thinking has been challenged by what I have been reading and how these reflections are re-shaping my view of life online for both personal and educational purposes.
Open education tends to put much emphasis on digital literacy (or literacies) development as a way to benefit from internet use. Some authors boldly state that: “Digital literacy skills are essential for today’s citizens. These skills are expected for everyday personal use, learning and effective performance at work.” JISC defines digital literacies as, “the capabilities which fit someone for living, learning and working in a digital society” and The Oxford English dictionary defines a capability as the ‘power or ability to do something’. Digital Literacy research locates ‘success’ within individual self improvement, as seen by the use of terms like skill and capabilities. The estimated size of the US self-improvement market was $9.62 billion in 2014 (source: MarketDataEnterprises); and yet, some suggest, with little evidence of success when success is defined as effective functioning in a given situation rather than people accessing the self-improvement market.
Whilst open education practitioners have spent, and continue to spend, time defining and re-defining the kind of skill or capability the individual may need to learn to be effective in digital engagement, little attention is paid to psychological findings that clearly show capabilities, and other internal dispositions of the individual such as personality traits, are a very weak predictor of behaviour. Many studies since the publication of ‘Studies in the nature of deceit’ in 1928 show that a better predictor of how we act in the world is the situation we are in and its characteristics.
People do learn, but what we know or believe in is not the only factor that determines how we behave in a situation.
This post offers a counterpoint to the mainstream idea of self-improvement as a road to effective action by reviewing a classic psychology study on the role of situational factors in the way we act. It concludes that given the results of these studies and many that both followed it and preceded it, open education would do well to look beyond self improvement as a road for addressing shortcomings and learn to ask more often: What are the characteristics of an online situation likely to lead to effective action?
[originally published on another site in July 2015]
My response to Viv’s plea for an ethical commons and a 6th R of Open – Responsibly!
I am having to add another book to my already large pile! I love the distinction matter and manner of education. We spend so much time on the matter of education and so little in the manner of education.
The presence of absence. How do we get to choose to leave online life and leave behind a clean screen if not a clean slate? Jenny Mackness has been writing about absence as an essential element of presence from many interesting perspectives – art and metaphor, for example. I am also interested in silence as part of dialogue, disconnection as part of connection. It is so easy to forget the background in favour of the foreground of the moment.
“As we bring to the foreground new structures, we focus on them to understand them or destroy them…as we assimilate the new structure without sight of the whole but just those aspects that attract or repel us it becomes ‘normal’. What was figure becomes the ground, the way things are around here. New figures come to the fore including the seeing of the old as obsolete and to be shedded. What can our actions be in that interface of figure and ground almost instant and certainly not stable shapeshifting?” McLuhan
This post seeks to bring to the foreground resonances I found when reading Jenny’s posts.
In my new look blog, I have also worked on blog categories to help reframe my involvement in open online education. I put the blog on hold for a while as I reflected on my own motivations and my discomfort with some of what I have observed in the relational dynamics of the people I have come to know since starting to explore open online education 3 years ago.
I want to participate and I have to participate in a way where I am free to say what I notice without fear – this has not been the case of late. Closing comments here is intended to help me say what I want to say.
I also have decided to do a Humpty Dumpty and redefine words a bit. This post is about that.
I have been on many back channel conversations of late that have led me to reflect on Bateson’s idea that only ‘a difference which makes a difference’ is information. It makes me smile to think that so much of what I read and write may be just noise and not information.
Let me explain.
Just this week a paper that looked at the light and shade of one MOOC was extensively discussed on the web. Jenny offers a balanced view of the discussion in answering some of the commentary. I must say that her description of the reaction to their paper is much kinder than mine would be – I have seen a great deal more defensiveness and unwarranted personal attacks than her post may indicate to the casual reader. Of course, unless you have a Facebook account, you will be unable to see the full conversation. The joys of the not so open web. I digress.
What I see foregrounded in these interactions are categories and the application of those categories to a given idea. Interaction is about whether the reported research applies cMOOCs, or to xMOOCs, but not to our MOOC because it is different. Ah! but this research applies to networks not communities, communities have people and networks have nodes. Networks lack caring, no they don’t. Each position taken can, of course, be defended (and I chose the word purposefully) with a long list of references depending on what your particular perspective and interest might be. Clearly there is value in making distinctions that map a territory. Perhaps there is less value in arguing if my food map is truer than your road map of the same territory. I am not interested in taking a position on the issue here, I learn each day from the wisdom with which Jenny and Frances deal with dialogue online. Read their article and make up your own mind about the value of some of the commentary about the paper.
Personally, I have been led back to an old idea in my knowledge map, that of the expert linchpin. A facilitator role to support individuals navigating the tacit seems an important element in any conversation of what can make these open educational spaces safer for us all.
This is what this post is about and the above is offered only by way of context. It feels to me that, sometimes, after we create our ideal structures, procedures and technologies we start to wonder about where and how people might fit in. Do networks have nodes or people? Do communities care about people or not? To me this reasoning is a little back to front.
What is a difference that has made a difference to me in my journey into open education?
The dream behind the Web is of a common information space in which we communicate by sharing information. Its universality is essential: the fact that a hypertext link can point to anything, be it personal, local or global, be it draft or highly polished. There was a second part of the dream, too, dependent on the Web being so generally used that it became a realistic mirror of the ways in which we work and play and socialize. […] Once the state of our interactions was on line, we could then use computers to help us analyse it, make sense of what we are doing, where we individually fit in, and how we can better work together. The potential of the mixture of humans and machines working together and communicating through the web could be immense. Tim Berners-Lee (in 1998)
I love the ‘webness of the web’ for learning, I love the relationships I am building and am full of wonder about the kindness and gentle nature of the people in my network. Yet there is a dark side to it all that makes me wonder what role I want to play as I engage in online dialogue with others going forward. Each day I learn a little more about the implicit norms of behaviour a given collection of individuals shapes as they come together online. Decisions about belonging or ‘liking’ are often made on the basis of unstated group norms. I have spent my life offline noticing these patterns and the web does ‘make sense of what we are doing and where we individually fit in’. It is easy for me to see pattern even without engaging in fancy analytics.
As I reflect on my role I notice a world where acronyms abound. This is similar to the insular organisational cultures I visit offline in my consulting work. They are a marker of belonging as much as a marker of exclusion.
I learn about OER, about the OpenEd, about MOOCs of assorted varieties, about the pros and cons of the LMS, I observe confused metaphors about what it means to teach online – is it a course, it is the open web, is it the platform, is it blended or BYOD or all of the above? Am I a teacher, a learner, a peer learner, part of personal or professional learning network? Am I part of a community, a group, a CoP or a network? Can we measure my BC (between centrality) to see if my life is worth living? I can go on. All of this has felt quite unsatisfactory to me as I reflect on how to engage those people who have not made the transition to working in the open web. It is not self-evident that this is a ‘good’ thing and historically it is often just thought a ‘good’ thing by those who stand to benefit from it.
In this post I clarify an online role for me personally that aligns with evolving values and beliefs about open practices.
I have been reflecting for a long time now on what is the online voice that is emerging as I navigate open education practices on the web outside my ‘home’ space in ‘DS106’. What has been lovely about joining #ccourses is to work with educators who really care about ‘this learning stuff’. I have enjoyed adding to the flow and helping get things started. I realise this is the thing I enjoy the most about open online experiences. For me it is less about the content and more about seeing the interactions and the sub groups under a hashtag form.
I came to life online at the end of a successful academic career. I no longer work full-time, I only teach courses I want to teach and write as much or as little as I want. I am an independent learner and educator with weak links to many organisations but not one organisation can determine how or what I teach. I have also made a choice to live life as an 8-precept contemplative with a possible future of life in a monastery. This implies many things but one thing that is relevant here is this: I am an honest broker with no personal agenda as my work online is simply one of service and personal interest. No more publication targets, climbing career ladders, no need to work at hard at being Someone as my practice is now one of ‘being nobody and going nowhere’
In reflecting on #whyIteach over the last few days, I realise that I am no longer teaching in the sense I would have understood it when I was affiliated full time to an academic institution. I realise that the reason I am drawn to being an open educator, learner and researcher is that open practices enable me to do the one and only thing I have ever been motivated to do wether I am teaching or learning – ask why. Mike Wesch calls it ‘soul making’ and I resonate with that.
To be honest, I now feel that this distinction between my ‘why’ in the classroom or outside is a little artificial. Every conversation I have, if attended to, is soul making for all involved. This is my intent with every tweet and every blog comment. I see myself as a human open educational resource (OER) in relation to the people I meet online. I also keep asking more high nerd questions such as: How can we better use the web to augment our intellect? How do we best interact to shape the notion of the distributed mind or ‘inter-being’?
Our answers come from the domains we have expertise in. For some, it is about how technology can augment mind. I am more interested in exploring how the psyche gets in the way of the augmented mind. We humans have individual agendas and blind spots. It is this very selectivity that make us valuable as human OERs. We wonder, we have passions, we have hobbies….And we also have views we keep seeking to confirm; some of us know this is true of all of us and others of us still believe ‘it’s not me but the person sitting next to me’ that is a slave to her cognitive biases.
A lifetime of meditation practice has taught me a little humility. I know that mental patterns are hard to shift and that technology can only augment mind if I am able to disagree with myself often – that is, be self critical. What technology does more often is ‘collude’ with our dysfunctional patterns and allow us to play them out in a distributed virtual space. Our project over at the still web aims to offer a resource to help people who see this side of reality and want to learn more about digital contemplation. It is only just starting.
Here is the thing. I like depth. I like to find sources. I like to understand what people need and get to know them as people. This takes time and I have the time. But if and only if I let go of self-imposed dysfunctional patterns such as the pressure to respond or the fear of missing out or my need to behave like a rat on a variable intermittent reinforcement protocol pressing that lever for one more +1. I am a little uncomfortable with learning spaces set up to ‘gamify’ life. Are we designing learning systems to test positive for addiction? Is being addicted to cMOOCs any better or worse than being addicted to heroine? I need to reflect on my own part in this.
I have been feeling pressured to move on from looking under the hood. After all, there is such abundance of riches under the #ccourses hashtag. And Jonathan is next and he is so dreamy 🙂 And there is the un-conference where many a great conversation will be had and an anonymous board to heckle Howard 🙂 And….
I have decided to stay under the hood for a while. As I have listened to Blog Talk over the last few days, I have stopped arguing with myself for and against having a domain of my own. I now hear a different thread in the Brothers’ conversations.
Whatever we decide to do about a domain, it is our responsibility as online educators to understand what is under the hood. Or, perhaps less starkly, as Alan puts it,
I said to Howard in a comment the other day when he asked us ‘How is it going?’:
I think you are all doing a great job and I love the role modelling I see around the team of educators involved in the facilitation of #ccourses. It has motivated me to create a WP multisite, export/import various blogs, play with php files, install Known and create my own site there, even if I may conclude after the experiments that I do not want to spend my days doing this type of work. The great value is having embodied experience of what it means to be the sys admin of your own domain (shamefully <smile> I admit I have the technical skills, have had my own domain for many years yet have always paid others to do the implementing). But then I only recently made the decision to work as an open educator – to be ‘of’ the web rather than just ‘on’ it.
I will be over at my garage in marianafun.es building my car, learning how to be a mechanic and working on letting go of my dysfunctional patterns. Feel free to drop in for chat there and do ask if there is something specific you want me to do to help #ccourses. But forgive me if, in needing time to absorb this content before I move on, I do not get around to commenting on the content everyone is crafting as much as I would like.
I am going back ‘home’ to DS106 to develop my understanding of telling ‘the story of me’ through a sandbox domain. So what is next for me? A sequential read of WordPress tutorials as I enjoy breaking things in my new virtual home.
And by the way, how stunning is that domain name I found thanks to the Blog Brothers insistence that I get my own car?