Social Science and Catching Light

Webs

The other night in #tiegrad we found ourselves discussing the different paths of the graduate student in the so-called ‘hard’ and more social sciences. Our instructor – while extremely reluctant to paint with a broad brush, so leave the pitchforks where they are – noted that the ‘hard’ or natural sciences tend to direct their students’ reading and research toward the topic or question to be examined, whereas the social sciences (and perhaps education especially) encourage students to engage this process for themselves, charting their own course toward a unique research question.

Naturally there will be exceptions to either case, but the observation raised for me a tension in epistemology we have been looking at in Philosophy 12 this semester, between knowledge which can be discovered and knowledge that is created.

Again offering something of an oversimplification, the (applied) mathematician strives to explain the natural world by introducing theorems which correspond to observable phenomena. Engaged with Plato’s world of things, the classical “hard” scientist similarly seeks to discover knowledge about the world outside of the mind. While a total objectivity may be elusive, the general type of knowledge sought in these disciplines is viewed with a more objective air, in which case the tendency for graduate students – themselves looking to create knew knowledge in these fields with the publication of theses and dissertations – to be guided up to the edge of the gap needing to be crossed before being let loose on their own studies.

The social scientist, whose own subjectivity is impossible to separate from the phenomena being studied, attempts to bring an unbiased and unique eye to their field of research, and thus may benefit from supervising professors who are reluctant to guide ‘too much.’ Knowledge about poetry and history or economics and education cannot be considered neutral, and as such may be more willing to see its field of understanding as knowledge (or meaning) created rather than discovered. 

Now, this is all as I have tried to qualify a grossly oversimplified and binary view of a philosophy of science that may not hold much water beyond the sense of understanding it grants me for the moment. But the idea presented itself in a few-weeks old post from Alan Levine, who likes to take pictures:

But I’d been thinking about something I probably operate at a more instinctual level, from experience with the camera, there is a feeling when I am in certain places, or noticing the way light is highlighting vividly, or when it is absent, or when shadows and light have interplay. I cannot pinpoint it, but its a gut feeling in those moments that there is interesting light at work. And that means I then amplify my awareness and look more intently as to where I might find it.

You see, most of photography is done by figuring out how to remove most of what you see, that is composition by cropping out with just the camera view finder.

The idea of “composition by cropping” speaks to (my crude interpretation of) the social-scientist’s endeavour, to interpret a signal in the noise, something potentially made all the more difficult by the advent of “social scholarship,” which Kris Shaffer describes in a recent post:

But for me lately, Twitter has more specific problems. The signal-to-noise ratio is far from optimal: it’s becoming harder to sift through the stream to find the really good stuff. The trolls are also multiplying — even within communities that have for many years been quite amicable places to inhabit. Harassment and threats are headlining. And users are discovering the horror of trying to report (and have removed) illicit and violent materials that victimize children.[…]

Maybe this is just the world. Maybe wherever people are, both the best and the worst will come out. Maybe we were lucky for a few years as social-media-inclined academics breathed the fresh air of the “open” Web 2.0, while the trollish members of the academic breed fought their last vitriolic battles on email listservs. Now that the trolls found Twitter, and Twitter wants (needs) to monetize us all, the party’s over. I hope not, but maybe that’s just how it is.

I don’t want to discount the rest of the argument Kris makes, or drastically repurpose his words here for my own ends, as I find myself sympathetic to not only his sentiments but his solution, to write “in more open, more user-controlled domains, as well as in critiquing the corporate tools that we do make use of.”

But I do want to return to Alan’s idea of cropping, and catching light:

I have been noodling if there is a similar process at work when swimming among the firehose of information in a space like Connected Courses or the whole damn web in general. Is there a sense you get when just scanning, of something like “good” or “interesting” light in photography that takes you to interesting ideas?

Is it a clever title? a turn of a phrase? a provocative link? a vague link that does not indicate where it goes? The familiarity of the source url or the curiousness of it? What are the suggestions in the flow that help you clue in to what tends to be more interesting than not?

Because, I conjecture, if you can hone your senses for seeing nuanced suggestions of good/worthy/intriguing ideas out there in the information flow, you can get much more out of it than just getting soaked.

While I’ll leave it to the physicists to argue with their own supervisors about what their lit reviews need contain, I think this approach is what makes our grad work in education so equally baffling and beautiful. What is true of photography is also true of meaning made and knowledge constructed. To return once more to Alan’s post:

the approach of thinking about my photo approach, and then thinking about it again in reflection works as a process to refine my ideas. It’s not a matter of being “right” on a subject or touting your book/article/etc, it’s about a practice of the mind.

Because apart from the discovery of nature, the pursuit of mind is indeed a process to be engaged, and engaged again, in solitude and company.

Then engaged again.

“…not a class that teaches guitar, but one where you can learn guitar.”

#IntroGuitar Performance Day

I’m forever indebted to Alan Levine’s description of #IntroGuitar sometime last spring, where he included Gleneagle‘s Introduction to Guitar 11 in a list of experiments in Open Courses You Won’t Find in the New York Times, A Cheesy Edudemic Infographic, or Among Davos Champagne Sippers:  

In a basic hosted WordPress web site, he has a place for his high school students and anyone else interested to post their recordings, videos, and writings about elearning to play guitar. There is a loose curriculum, but open participants can jump in and out easily.

And a semantic distinction, it is not a class that teaches guitar but one where you can learn guitar.

Already people are sharing stories of their guitars, taking tracks recorded by one participant and layering their accompaniment on top.

How much easier could it be to open up a course? A free hosted platform, invite people in? Who needs $6,000,000?

Not that I would turn down the six million, but I am humbled to have played a part in creating something that so naturally and easily manifests so many of the things we talk about as 21st Century Educators: choice, flexibility and relevance, the blending of digital and physical collaborative spaces, and the building of communities of practice for our students and the wider world.Screen shot 2014-02-02 at 11.51.56 AM

As Alan introduced, the course itself consists of the 25 for-credit students that have enrolled in the class at Gleneagle, and a website I set up using the free WordPress.com site.  From there, I have tried to set the for-credit tasks in line with creating a blended learning community for folks beyond the class to engage with and benefit from: categorizing assignments and allowing anyone who fills out a Google Form to become a site author, offering feedback, creating their own assignments, or tackling existing tasks on the site.

For those enrolling as Open Online Participants, there are few rules, expectations, or guidelines to speak of:

There are no minimums, and no apologies for open-online learners in Introduction to Guitar: do as much or as little as you like.

With this lackadaisical invitation, some of the most profound and creative learning in last year’s cohort was contributed by folks – from around the world – joining in for fun. 

In a particular piece of open-serendipity documented in more length here, I took a poem written by one of Jabiz Raisdana’s students in Singapore and lent it some musical accompaniment that I shared as a Google Document.

From there, Nathan John Moes, in northern BC, recorded a gem of a cover – that has since disappeared from Soundcloud – which survives courtesy of an asynchronous jam provided by Keri-Lee Beasley (back in Singapore), who sings over Nathan’s version here:

Sylvano Bussotti, Rhizome, 1959 (Via MaryAnn Reilly)

But that’s not even all of it: Jabiz took his own swing at what had become of his student’s poem, and so did Colin Jagoe (in Ontario) , and Leslie Lindballe (while she was down in Peru).

In an example of truly rhizomatic learning, momentum gathered around a personally relevant course of study for those who found the assignment compelling; others were free to join in or pursue their own plans:

With the start of another semester of Introduction to Guitar at Gleneagle, I’m excited to build on our open experiences of last year, and have already begun the process of serving as tour guide to our prospective Open Online Participants (something I hope will help throughout this semester), and enculturing our new For-Credit Students into the blended online learning environment.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll hopefully be seeing the fruits of this initial infrastructure setup in the type of spontaneous creativity and learning many of our participants will benefit from in the coming months.

Want to join us? 

Visit TalonsRockBand.Wordpress.com and our invitation to Open Online Participants, drop your details in our registration form, and familiarize yourself with the course site.

You’ll find a variety of assignment possibilities categorized on the dropdown menu at the top of the page, and a host of student\participant examples to guide you in your first efforts. If you don’t find an assignment worth pursuing, make one up!

It is, after all, your course as much as it is anyone else’s.

Amazing Stories of Openness on the Web

It was a pleasure to share this story of openness that came out of #philosophy12 with Alan Levine‘s (aka @cogdog) newest incarnation of True Stories of Openness on the Web

We all start out in our educational careers (meaning when we were in kindergarten) knowing intrinsically the value of sharing. Somewhere between there and graduate school, we lose track of this simple concept, be it worrying about intellectual property rights or fearing theft.

The open ecology of the internet can undermine this learned and limiting stinginess. In this session we want to celebrate the True Stories of things that happen to educators when they share something openly on the web. We asked colleagues to share with us a video of their own stories of something surprising, valuable, powerful, or just plain inspiring that happened when that piece of media, that document, that video, that blog post, became valuable to someone they did not know before.

 It was cool to see Inquiry Hub principal Dave Truss’ story of connectedness inspire Shawn White to share his own Open moment in a video, and I’m looking forward to seeing what others might contribute to this year’s collection.

You can share your own Amazing Story of Openness by recording a quick video and filling out the form here.

Slice of Life – Last Run of the Day

Inspired by the brilliant Scott Lockman‘s Slices of Life project, and wanting to begin this semester of Digital Storytelling 106 in a manner that would lead to an inspiring next few months spent blending pedagogy and creative expression, professional development and a variety of different learning communities – that is what this Life-Long Learning is all about, isn’t it? – I thought I would share a slice of life from last Saturday’s epic adventure at Whistler / Blackcomb.

Reunion with an old friend

Scott’s slice of life story is a perfect example of the #ds106 community in all of its authentic and on-the-fly glory: uncovering the power of relationships mediated (and empowered) by our digital tools, as brought about by a course that is everywhere and nowhere, connected seemingly by the strings of vibrating energy prophesied in theoretical physics. Though it’s been described (by Tom Woodward, though he is probably not the first) as “an online course meets Woodstock,” I think the string theory analogy may fit closer to the dream of DS106’s version of EduGlu-as-the-Unified-Theory-of-Everything (in pedagogy). Tom continues with his Woodstock comparison, “You take a guided online experience and mix it with both chaos and, more importantly, community.

At the core, this is all about community.”

During this same week of last year, I took a leap at Jim Groom’s call:

…to push yourself beyond your creative comfort zone, time for us to wrestle honestly with the future of education through praxis and engagement and, more than anything else in my book, it’s time to make some damned art already. Let’s go!!!!

To think that it’s only been a year…

It’s only been a year since I started recording music, spoken word experiments and podcasts as my own creative projects, and began weaving the same emphasis on the shared creation of (physical and digital) learning artifacts into the inquiry, assessment and reflection taking place in my classroom. It’s only been a year that I’ve begun to think about terms like personal cyber infrastructure, and begin to see the next horizon(s) of education as a means of preparing citizens to create a new, more hopeful world. It’s only been a year that I’ve been so completely surrounded by people who see their own path to becoming their best selves, and who are constantly challenging me to become mine.

This has all been on the one hand personally inspiring and meaningful in a transformative way, and on the other a challenge to see the chaos of the #ds106 as part of its ultimate aim, and Jim’s (along with a host of others who have brought this idea into being) genius as an educator.

Because he did all of this on purpose. Not by knowing where it would end up, but by knowing (suspecting, maybe?) how to encourage (again, borrowing from Tom Woodward): commenting, community, and creativity.

There was no way to know that I would hear Scott, a few months back, talking from his Japanese morning to my Canadian evening about an informal daily check in, or simple creative act. “I’m going to narrate my own life,” he promised the few of us assembled across the strands of DS106 Radio airwaves.

And even after that broadcast, there was no way to know that he’s go out and do it (45 times, as of this posting). Or that a year later he would be teaching his own sections of DS106 at Temple University, in Japan (or that Michael Branson Smith would be teaching the course at City College, in New York, either), taking the simplicity of Martha Burtis, Tim Owens, Alan Levine and Jim’s EduGlu setup, and bringing more stories and students into the wild frontier of online learning that strives to unleash potential than constrain it.

Which is what I hope to not only take away, but bring to #ds106 this semester. Last year a number of the TALONS spring assignments were created through the lens of the we jam econo motto, and at various times our grade nine/ten cohort took on the nick name #DS105, phoning in expert testimony to Jim’s DS106radio broadcast celebrating Songs to Grow By and crashing more than one of the open university course’s parties. I expect that the spring semester provides even greater impetus, and more avenues, to share the the learning in our classroom, as well as in the school beyond.