attending to the shadow of living and learning on the web


online communities

We can’t break the spell

'Will you all shut up?!' by @mdvfunes CCBY
‘Will you all shut up?!’ by @mdvfunes CCBY

It has been a difficult two years.

The last incident left me ready to start pressing that button 24 hours a day.

'One of those days' by Michael Branson Smith CCBY
‘One of those days’ by Michael Branson Smith CCBY

I wrote a pointy finger blog post. It did not help me feel better. I decided it was time to go. I had visited the internet, and it just had not lived up to its expectations.

Meme by @mdvfunes CCBY
Meme by @mdvfunes CCBY (see sources)

The cartoon that opens this post is populated with statements that have been directed at me during the last 2 years. I have followed the usual advice ‘don’t feed the troll’ and have remained silent…except when I haven’t.  When I haven’t I have tried to be smart. This has not made me feel better. I had had enough and I saw no solution but to leave.


I have written before about the idea that my troll is your friend and vice versa. What I have not included in those reflections is the temporal dimension, people shift roles on a dime. All of the comments on the cartoon come from a supposedly supportive community that values learners who  create own path – so difference of opinion should be welcomed. Yes, I thought that too.

The rest of this post is about the wonderful people who convinced me to stay and who helped me learn that it is really possible to see the troll as a gift.  Continue reading “We can’t break the spell”


I thank Viv Rolfe for the title of this post! Her post helped me reflect on my own motivations and role what I have been labelling ‘open online education’ in this blog. I responded to Viv’s post with a comment published in Known that I titled Virtues and Vices. In that post I reflected on how sad it was that we had to apologise for asking questions that challenged conventional wisdom and the importance of making ourselves keep asking them,

I am thinking about all of those things, Viv. I also find myself ‘questioning not just openness but my motives behind wanting to contribute to it.’ Some people have already said adios. If we do not take time to consider the vices as well as the virtues, in the spirit of inquiry rather than self-righteousness, many more more might say adios in the not too distant future. Is this how we want it to be?

It is not how I want it to be. My first step in taking action to feel free to say what I want to say is to close comments on this blog. This post talks about how I hope my decision might help me tackle virtues, vices and heffalumps.

Continue reading “What’s not being said and where’s that elephant?”

Social Networks then and now

As is often the case with my learning online many paths start with a tweet.

In my digital storytelling work I have of late become interested in Twitter Bots. There are wonderful bots as well as crappy spam ones. Just as in the rest of life amongst humans. Some make art for you, others poetry, and yet others make a fine go at sounding wise mediated by text at least, like @everyadage above. I have made several posters illustrating the sayings as they are in that uncanny valley space of almost making sense and that interests me.

The saying made me stop and reflect. The sense it made for me was in connection with the light and shadow side of groups of people who come together to learn (apologies for the long description but other terms such as communities, connections or networks come with too much baggage for my purpose here) in open online learning events. I have written before and often about the implications of a free-for-all ethos where no social or psychological contract is agreed upon or followed through by participants or facilitators.

Continue reading “Social Networks then and now”

The expert linchpin

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?

Continue reading “The expert linchpin”

Show, don’t tell!

It seems I have spent my life talking about stuff. My job as a research psychologist and academic was about finding out and writing about it. It strikes me that since choosing to end my full time academic career in 2010 I have entered a different stage in my development. This post is about that; reflecting on the obvious, that becomes obvious only when we are part way down the new road. I have been reminded of a favourite book by Arthur Koestler, ‘The act of creation’. In Koestler’s bisociation theory of creativity the link with analogy is a central focus. All creative activity is viewed as a kind of analogy-formation. He uses the image of a triptych to explore creative domains.

“The three panels of the rounded triptych … indicate three domains of creativity which shade into each other without sharp boundaries: Humour, Discovery, and Art… Each horizontal line across the triptych stands for a pattern of creative activity which is represented on all three panels; … The first is intended to make us laugh; the second to make us understand; the third to make us marvel.” (Koestler, The Act of Creation, p. 27).

The Koestler creativity triptych
The Koestler creativity triptych

The first he calls the Jester, the second the Sage and the third the Artist.  One can view these as unconscious archetypes in the creative process. The sage searches for the ‘ah-ha!’ moment in the world. The jester searches for incongruence or the ‘Ha-Ha!’ moments. The artist searches for that moment when something feels just right, that ‘ah-hh!’ moment.

Continue reading “Show, don’t tell!”

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