On Teaching and Learning

Diagrams by David Warlick

Diagrams by David Warlick

A few of us from the #Tiegrad group met up on Sunday morning to talk about all sorts of things: project updates, questions, and frustrations, the nature of personalized learning and education in the ‘open,’ and the unique moment each of us finds ourselves in: presently at the intersection between teacher and learner. Even Valerie Irvine, formally our leader in this process, is working out just what instruction might mean or entail in this open, personalized context.

The particular community of practice we have assembled in our aggregated blog posts, Twitter hashtag, and Blue Jeans video conferences is facilitating just the sort of learning experience around which many of our learning project inquiries revolve. The course ‘content’ is our own personally relevant and autonomous field research and reflection, all of which is aggregated in a supportive community of public inquiry.

But it is through the reflection on the process of learning itself that we may each have the most to learn as we seek to discover ways to provide this same type of empowering education in our own classrooms, and turn our own theories into practice.

Epistemology Groups

EdCamp style discussion groups in #Philosophy12

For me, the skills attending to student “ownership” of learning are essential elements in the ongoing creation and maintenance of a democratic society. A classroom in which students rely on a teacher to singularly construct the learning environment, content matter, manner of delivery, and means of assessment is providing an education in citizenship that instills a democratic helplessness.

In the wake of the unfolding Senate scandal playing out in the midst of Stephen Harper’s majority mandate, I asked my Philosophy 12 class what they thought about any of it: Mike Duffy’s explosive Senate addresses, the Prime Minister’s evolving take on the story’s finer points, or the state of the country in general.

“What’s it like to be young people in Canada today?”

To which a few offered brief responses before the room settled on the consensus that politics and democracy were concerns that would involve them ‘later.’ For the time being, each remain a vague and opaque streak of ‘adult business.’

I don’t think I’m alone in finding the sentiment troubling. But I am grateful to Gert Biesta, who explores the origins of this perspective in his paper, “Understanding Young People’s Citizenship Learning in Everyday Life: The Role of Contexts, Relationships and Dispositions,” where he explains that “Young people learn from the opportunities for action, participation and reflection that are afforded by the practices and communities in their everyday lives.”

Discussable Object in #Philosophy12

Discussable Object notes in #Philosophy12

And so despite being taught about government, our legal system, and the history of our inherited democracy, there is an implicit message in the context of our educational institutions that is presenting an exclusive version of democracy, rather than an inclusive and participatory incarnation “since It fails to recognize that young people always already participate in social life and that their lives are always already implicated in the wider social, economic, cultural and political order (see Smith et al, 2005; Faulks, 2006).”

Biesta writes that:

“Young people learn at least as much about democracy and citizenship – including their own citizenship – through their participation in a range of different practices that make up their lives, as they learn from that which is officially prescribed and formally taught.”

It is within this view and experience of the world that effective citizenship education must situate itself in the lives of young people if it seeks to be successful. Here, I am reminded of Paulo Freire:

“…the program content of the problem-posing method – dialogical par excellence – is constituted and organized by the students’ view of the world, where their own generative themes are found. The content thus constantly expands and renews itself. The task of the dialogical teacher in an interdisciplinary team working on the thematic universe revealed by their investigation is to “re-present” that universe to the people from whom she or he received it – and “re-present” is not as a lecture, but as a problem.”

But this is not the way it has been.

Discussable Object in #Philosophy12

Discussable Object Creation.

Students have been taught what is required that they know before graduation or articulation, and have performed the required tasks to demonstrate such knowledge. The range of choices and human interactions has been limited to a dynamic between teacher and students as separate, but identical relationships, and between students mostly as a counterculture within the institution. Nowhere emphasized is the importance of collaborative decision making, the negotiation of disagreement, or the skills required to bring about either.

Contemplating an epidemic of democratic apathy in the western world, and as our municipal, federal and world leaders growing ever more brazen in continued experiments of unchecked abuses of power, I think about the necessity of educating students to engage in educational discourse which:

“is based on finding agreement, welcoming different points of view, identifying the common good in the myriad of competing self-interests, searching for synthesis and consensus, promoting solidarity, and ultimately improving community life (Schugurensky).”

In his essay, “Transformative Learning and Transformative Politics,” Daniel Schugurensky describes a process of learning which “requires the presence of different viewpoints (especially those that challenge prevailing norms) and must allow (even encourage) the expression of dissent.” He quotes Henry Giroux (2001), who writes:

“The struggle over politics and democracy is inextricably linked to creating public spheres where individuals can be educated as political agents equipped with the skills, capacities, and knowledge they need not only to actually perform as autonomous political agents, but also to believe that such struggles are worth taking up.”

This type of experiential learning may help to create what Edmund O’Sullivan (1999:252) called “A new civic culture in which a sense of community and place are the basic empowering infrastructures for more extended involvement in wider communities of participation.”

It could even be seen to encompass the premise Bonnie Stewart recognizes as the potential for open online courses to help create such “new civic cultures”:

“The capacity for networked interaction may itself be subject to network effects and, therefore, scale and encourage a digital literacies ethos of distributed expertise, increased peer-to-peer participation, collaboration, and knowledge generation.”

But it is an idea that goes back to John Dewey as part of the essential elements in democratic social construction:

“This transmission occurs by means of communication of habits of doing, thinking, and feeling from the older to the younger. Without this communication of ideals, hopes, expectations, standards, opinions, from those members of society who are passing out of the group life to those who are coming into it, social life could not survive.”

It is something I think the #Tiegrad folks have particular insight into at this moment, perhaps, as we find ourselves both teachers and students reflecting on our experiences as each.

If we are to, as Freire compels us, to “reconcile the teacher-student contradiction,” we are entering educative waters indeed.

Social Media and Personalized Learning Project(s) Update

ThursdayRun

Given the way my own learning had unfolded this semester, it’s not surprising, perhaps, that I would be coming to identify (and experiment) with the idea of emergence in my classrooms and the extra-curricular projects I’ve undertaken. My goals of a month ago talked about my intentions:

“to create […] space to reflect on this year’s learning environments, and gradually engage in a manner that seems most appropriate to my own learning and thinking about teaching, facilitation, and collaboration.”

What might otherwise be seen as a failure to commit to any one thing in particular is something I’ve found aligning with emergent educationists Gert Biesta and Deborah Osberg:

“…if educators wish to encourage the emergence of meaning in the classroom, then the meanings that emerge in classrooms cannot and should not be pre-determined before the ‘event’ of their emergence.”

I’ve been thinking about how this type of emergence arrises in transformative learning on both an individual and a cultural level, and how the skills and behaviours required for this type of ongoing, lifelong learning might also be a requisite societal competency in maintaining a democratic society. Paulo Freire has added to these ideas, as has (again) Gert Biesta, who cites Wilfred Carr and Anthony Hartnett‘s assertion that citizenship education is a process by which

“individuals develop those intellectual dispositions which allow them to reconstruct themselves and their social institutions in ways which are conducive to the realization of their freedom and the reshaping of their society.”

These are a few of the ideas guiding me with the various threads I’ve been exploring in my classrooms and other learning spaces this semester as part of my personal learning project.

Philosophy 12 

While it might not qualify as Massive, my ‘open learning’ coursework this semester has found a natural home in critically reflecting on my work teaching and learning in the open with a group of grade eleven and twelve students (and occasionally Stephen Downes) in Philosophy 12. Setting out, my hope was

“that as we move[d] forward, both this semester and into future cycles of the class, we have an organic means of establishing a set of pathways for future exploration of the site, and the philosophical knowledge that is discussed, shared and stored on the site’s various pages and posts.”

But this direction didn’t seem inclusive of the – very real – hybrid nature of the classroom environment; Philosophy 12 has never been composed merely of its online components, but exists fundamentally between the connections of its daily face-to-face participants. In the class’ study of Metaphysics, I was particularly aware of Jesse Stommell’s post on Hybrid Pedagogy:

“When we build a hybrid class, we must consider how we’ll create pathways between the learning that happens in a room and the learning that happens on the web.”

Discussable Object in #Philosophy12

Here, the class’ personal studies went into the wild (with #PhilsDayOff), and returned to the classroom to be shared in a process that was both individually, and collectively, an act of synthesis. All of it was documented and ‘captured’ on the class site (and live on the web as it unfolded).

But this only accomplishes one aspect of the task: to cultivate – alongside the present artifacts of learning – a set of navigable pathways through the layers of annual learning ‘objects’ the course site will continue to house.

Screen shot 2013-10-26 at 3.43.29 PMOn the Philosophy site, there are already a number of means by which online participants and visitors (as well as for-credit face-to-face students) can locate content relevant and meaningful to their own exploration of philosophy. The Widgets sidebars on the home page have organized content by Recent Comments, Units of Inquiry, and a Tag Cloud of topics, themes and ideas generated over the course’s one full-semester.

This year I have looked to integrate ongoing class assignments into the connecting and filtering of course content by assigning for-credit students to act as members one another’s comment groups (so far either randomly drawn or organized by themes of inquiry). These groups are responsible for engaging one another in discussion and dialogue that will further the author’s exploration of the Screen shot 2013-10-26 at 12.11.11 PMoriginal topic, and help put each assigned post into context with larger class themes and ideas; we have also begun experimenting with a rating system of both posts and comments (corresponding to class-generated criteria) that introduces site visitors to a class-sourced collection of recommended site content.

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Finally, as we approach the course’s mid-term, and a unit on Epistemology, participants are preparing portfolios of their collected work throughout our units and various assigned or unassigned blog posts. While serving as individual records of progress that will allow for ongoing reflection and the synthesis of summative learning assessments, the linked and communally curated portfolios will allow future Philosophy 12 participants (from for-credit to one-time visitor) to navigate the complexities of knowledge archived from year to year.

TALONS.bc.ca 

My learning intentions with regards to the fall curriculum in my TALONS classes has shifted somewhat from the heights of maintaining personal cyberinfrastructure to the creation of awareness around Bonnie Stewart’s ideas of “an ethos of participation” in blended online spaces. In adopting a communications approach, Bonnie “focuses on the Internet not as a technology but as a medium for human engagement,” which is an idea I’ve incorporated into a redesigning of the TALONS’ Eminent Person Study this time around.

“Because we hope to be transformed positively from this experience, each of us. But if we are to make these journeys, and come to these new perceptions, there is an almost moral obligation to share that wisdom with others who might make the trip themselves, something I’ll be interested to see unfold in the coming weeks.”

Screen shot 2013-10-26 at 12.30.23 PMAlready, as the Yahoo Pipes have aggregated the class initial explorations of their selected Eminent People, the corresponding RSS feed of blog comments has ballooned with the back and forth discussion of Individual Education Plan goals, notable biographies, and reflections on research adventures in the heart of downtown Vancouver.

In the coming weeks, the TALONS will engage in a portfolio cultivation of their Eminent Study not unlike the undertaking in Philosophy 12; in reflection and curation, the present learning will become the pathways for future TALONS learners and collaborators.

The Lunchtime Jam

Lunchtime Jam on @105theHive

Alluvium live on @105theHive

While outside the realm of an ongoing curricular project, I’m no less enthused about the development of Gleneagle Music‘s Lunchtime Jams on K12 distributed web radio station 105 the Hive. Something in Biesta’s citizenship education strikes me as relevant here, where he discusses that

“it can be argued that citizenship learning pervades all aspects of young people’s lives because, in principle, any aspect of their lives can be relevant for their growth as democratic citizens.”

On the other hand, he admits,

“there are very few experiences and events in young people’s lives that are ‘labelled’ as opportunities for citizenship learning.”

Lunchtime Jam

So it is that as I’ve watched various players from our school’s musical community stop by the music wing to create some spur-of-the-moment live radio for anyone who wants to tune in, I think of Bonnie Stewart’s “Trojan Horse” for literacies of participation, and how the emergence I’m perhaps most concerned with helping to facilitate and participate in is that of a more participatory democracy.

It is here, I believe, that my various learning projects this semester find common ground in striving to create opportunities for:

“individuals [to] develop those intellectual dispositions which allow them to reconstruct themselves and their social institutions in ways which are conducive to the realization of their freedom and the reshaping of their society.”

In his essay Transformative Learning and Transformative Politics Daniel Schugurensky talks about cultivating societies that

“generate public spaces of social interaction in which discourse is based on finding agreement, welcoming different points of view, identifying the common good in the myriad of competing self-interests, searching for synthesis and consensus, promoting solidarity, and ultimately improving community life.”

This potential creation of public space seems to mirror not only the implicit elements of the Philosophy 12 curriculum, but the aims of the TALONS blogged artifacts, and the shared rhythms of live jazz:


Metaphysics Unit Reflections and Feedback

Who do you think contributed to your study of Metaphysics?

Who / what do you think contributed positively to your study of Metaphysics?

Having come to the conclusion of our Metaphysics unit in Philosophy 12, I asked the group to respond to several reflection prompts in a Google Form posted on the class site. Some of the questions addressed individual growth and learning related to participants’ chosen philosopher and activities undertaken during the unit; others focused on the actual process of collective learning that emerged out of a growing investigation in metaphysics.

As we move from Metaphysics into Epistemology, I think this type of feedback will be particularly useful in adapting the course structure to its current participants: allowing us to tailor classroom (and blog) activities to the group’s strengths, abilities, and areas requiring further growth. Because even as the Discussable Object travels into our rearview, it is another piece of the class’ foundation as a collective built of individual strands of inquiry, one that will allow further deepening and richening of the class’ learning opportunities.

The survey-nature of the course – which moves from What is Philosophythrough Scientific Philosophy, Metaphysics, Epistemology, Ethics, Aesthetics, and Social & Political Philosophy in a matter of a few months – enables the development of just this sort of cultural creation and cultivation, where individuals are encouraged to create habits of mindfulness at the heart of philosophical inquiry. The ongoing inquiry process continues to establish new individual paradigms of thought about the self and its relationship to society; and in engaging this individual journey against those of a group of similarly dedicated peers, the implicit curriculum becomes rooted in the processes by which we each relate to the world, and one another.

Below are a selection of the participant responses to the reflection questions. I’ve created a few word clouds to aggregate responses to a few of the questions, which are linked from the headings; as well, I’ve highlighted the contributions recognized by peers in a post on the Philosophy site itself.

What were the main questions you set out to answer during the course of the unit

How do suffering and pleasure play a role together, individually, and synergistically?  What is it that makes up the world? How can we live to cope with the subjectivity of life?

Does sympathy connect everyone in life?

Is reality objective or something created within us?

Without the divine control and outright fate, why do we continue? What causes us to continue? Will we ever stop continuing? Do different time periods change these answers? Is essential human purpose objective or subjective?

Do you feel as though you have answered them to any satisfaction? 

 I think I’ve not so much answered these questions as these questions don’t really have an answer, but I’ve more clearly made sense of how I view them. From reading about philosophers, participating in group discussions, and individual research and reflection I’ve been able to sort out these questions in a way that they make sense in my mind.

Unfortunately with these sorts of questions, I do not believe that I will ever answer them to any sort of satisfaction; however, I now believe that I have a far greater understanding of metaphysics and will continue to think about these concepts for a long time. 

I do not think that these questions can ever be answered by anyone, however I have developed a personal “answer” to these questions throughout this unit. I believe that there are multiple realities, some that are external, and some that are internal. External realities are the truths that exist whether we like it or not, such as gravity and natural disasters. Internal reality is how we personally interpret and respond to the external realities. Both of these equally contribute to the make up of today’s world and society.

Agree or disagree with the statement, “Knowledge only exists in our participatory actions.”

I think before this unit I might have had a different view on this, having not really ever thought about it before, but through this unit I would have to say that I do agree with this statement. The various group discussions and blog comments I think showed me that knowledge isn’t something that can exist by itself as a thing. Knowledge isn’t an actual thing itself, but instead what we take away from something.

Education is always in a participatory manner. The act of learning is to gain foreign information. The only source of foreign information is gained from other sources. Whether you’re reading a book, blog, or looking at a painting, you’re having a discussion, the basic form of exchanging knowledge. Discussions or conversation is the exchange of ideas. You require two parties. It is regardless if the other party is a person, a painting or a blogpost. The exchange is happening. Knowledge cannot be shared, used, or exist if it is not participating in active thought. 

I agree with this statement to an extent, however if you want to get into technicality, the statement is false. Knowledge exists within all of us, but it is our choice to share that knowledge. For example, in our large group discussions, I’m sure that many of us had knowledge that we chose to keep to ourselves. Even though there was no participatory action in this situation, it doesn’t mean that the knowledge disappeared into thin air and ceased to exist. The knowledge just failed to be relayed to others.

I agree that knowledge only exists in our participatory actions. As my group discussed in our discussions and as some people alluded to during the discussable object creation, knowledge only exists when you show it and are able to fully explain something to someone else. It is only when you demonstrate your knowledge that it truly exists. When you engage on the blog and in the comments that you demonstrate and essentially create and show your knowledge therefore making it exist.

I think this is true to an extent; knowledge exists and is ameliorated by participatory actions but it is possible to acquire knowledge on one’s own. Knowledge is not synonymous with truth. Someone who lives alone in a cabin in the north pole is able to amass a wealth of knowledge about his surroundings which could be testable and observable but not necessarily true. He may understand that snow and blizzards exist, which is a form of knowledge, but he may be incorrect about what it is made out of, how vastly it exists, and how many people live in the world. This knowledge would have been ameliorated through participatory actions with other people.

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If you could keep one or more aspects of the Metaphysics unit, what would it / they be?

I would keep the idea of “Phil’s day off” and the final class discussion. To me, I highly enjoyed the freedom we had to go about this unit and the opportunity to basically act like our own philosophers when thinking about certain questions.

Phil’s Day Off and the whole concept of the object. I thought that this made the assignment personal and gave us all a chance to really reflect and be creative. I would not have done Phil’s Day Off had it not been for homework simply because I’m lazy. Making it homework made it necessary and ultimately I’m glad I had that experience.

Group discussion was excellent. It facilitated a deeper understanding of themes and objectives. I think doing a #philsdayoff with out groups included and maybe even mixing up groups would’ve made it interesting.

I think the freedom aspect of Phil’s Day Off really helped the class think more about the conversation that we had the following week. It’s really fresh to have such freedom in a class, and it kept me engaged in my topic. 

I really enjoyed the group discussion because it was very enlightening and approached the topic in a different way that was more engaging than just writing about it in the blog.

the collaborative unit planning.

If you could change one or more aspects of the Metaphysics unit, what would it / they be?

Thorough instructions, more expanded, straight forward.

I really find the idea of comments to be essential however I dislike the idea because sometimes it is hard to post some. If you are in a group were most of the blog posts are written up later than they were supposed to it makes it very difficult for me to go search for them and then comment on them. Also when your group mates don’t really comment on your post either its very discouraging.

I would have liked to see a little bit more structure in this unit. Because a lot of the things we were to do were up in the air, there were times where the unit got very confusing and hard to follow. Maybe next time, instead of giving us the full freedom to discover metaphysics on our own, it would be more effective to teach a lesson on the unit before letting us “be free” so all of us have a clear idea on what we are doing.

The amount of time we spent making a criteria / brainstorming exactly “what” it is we would be doing.

I think it would have been really cool if you did the whole thing with us. Chosen a Philosopher, contributed his theories to the discussions, been a part of the circle thing on the last day. If you’re really trying to step back from the whole teacher dictatorship role, the next step would be to get on our level.

I kind of thought the phil’s day off was redundant. the idea of thinking in a different view was good but the whole show and tell part was silly in my opinion because when it came to the discussion, the object we collected on phil’s day off was useless.

If I had to choose one, I would say that I would change it so that there was a little more time for a larger group discussion at the end. For example, making the discussable object activity maybe stretch out over two days, but that’s also only if there was enough content for that to be able to happen.

Discussable Object Creation

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Discussable Object Photo Set on Flickr

Today the #Philosophy12 bunch culminated a study of Metaphysics that has emerged slowly out of individual inquiry undertaken by members of the class. The group engaged one another in a discussion that left a recorded physical ‘tail‘ that could be seen, and held onto.

Indeed, it was an ‘object‘ that came into being only by virtue of being suspended between the class’ interrelated ideas, and whose creation facilitated a synthesis of collecting thinking and learning.

We began a little more than two weeks ago with the introduction of various philosopher’s metaphysicslearning about Shoepenhaur’s views on the Will, Epicurean paradoxes, and Wittenstein’s unspeakable coolness and arranging for small group discussions to coalesce around thematic ideas.

After having first imagined that I would engage in the assignment as a participant, I became (in that ‘lead-learner’ sort of way) consumed by questions at the heart of the constructivist learning experiment ahead of us, and drew on many ideas of Deborah Osberg and Gert Biesta, among them the notion that:

“…knowledge is neither a representation of something more ‘real’ than itself, nor an ‘object’ that can be transferred from one place to the next. Knowledge is understood, rather, to ‘emerge’ as we, as human beings, participate in the world. Knowledge, in other words, does not exist except in participatory actions.”

And so my own metaphysics project became the conceptualizing and contextualizing of the task at hand: to create a representative learning object within an emergent, constructivist classroom design. With all sincerity, I embraced Osberg and Biesta’s idea that:

“…to encourage the emergence of meaning in the classroom, then the meanings that emerge in classrooms cannot and should not be pre-determined before the ‘event’ of their emergence.”

 Here, I was led by Paulo Freire:

“The more active an attitude men and women take in regard to the exploration of their thematics, the more they deepen their critical awareness of reality and, in spelling out those thematics, take possession of that reality.”

Discussable Object in #Philosophy12

Julie at work on visual notes.

With this, more than one class meeting was organized around the generation of the contradiction at the root of each group’s metaphysical thematics; it is in the symbolic codification of such contradictions, Freire says, that such themes can become “cognizable objects[:] challenges towards which the critical reflection of the decoders should be directed.”

Having identified their philosopher’s major metaphysical ideas, and explored these ideas within the larger themes of their assembled groups, the class took advantage of last week’s school-based professional development day in the form of #PhilsDayOff, the requirements for which were spare:

    • Time must be spent consciously and deliberately engaged with a selected question of metaphysics;
    • This engagement can include activities, reflection, discussion, or other modes of inquiry, reflection and understanding; but it should not be time spent doing something participant’s ‘usually’ do;
    • Participants must create, discover, or record a meaningful artifact they think represents their metaphysical thinking, reflection, or understanding on Phil’s Day Off.

The learning went into the wild, and returned with lessons like the one Dylan offers here:

“I made a bus trek by bus up to household jam session as part of the Phils Day Off endeavor. I went up there to contemplate Schopenhauer’s ideas while enjoying some music (which, I’m sure, Schopenhauer would have been more than happy to participate in.) At the beginning of the night, a friend and fellow bass player took me over to the side to show me a trick that allowed the string’s on my bass life span to be extended, making it so that you wouldn’t have to buy strings as often.

“What he did was loosen the strings on the bass so that they were still on the instrument but loose enough that he could pull it up away from the fretboard a good distance. He loosened the string, and continue to pull the string up and then smack in back down onto the fretboard. He would do this over and over again on each string for a few minutes at a time.

“What this was doing, he later explained, was releasing all of the dead skin cells and extra debris that was caught in the strings, making it so that the strings became cleaner again, and thus could be repeated whenever the string would go dead or dull and wouldn’t need to be replaced as frequently. Other than being a sweet tip for a young-unemployed musician such as myself, it also came to be a great metaphor for all these talks of suffering and pleasure in my mind. You can look at life as a dead bass string, and you can view the debris as suffering. You can see it as Schopenhauer would, as something chokes life and ultimately makes life worthless. And no matter how much we clear up the debris temporarily, it will become dirty and dull again soon after.

“You can look at from one who would not worry about the suffering, and instead of focusing on the dirtiness of the string, would completely ignore it and go out and buy a new string right away. Or, you can look at it from the cleaning method that my friend taught me about the strings.

“Acknowledging the dirt and debris and how it’s affected you, and then turning it around and cleaning it up and turning it into something that is pleasurable.”

Dylan’s is just one of the stories we heard today as the class related their philosopher’s biography and ideas, touched upon themes explored in #PhilsDayOff and their group discussions, and connected their thinking (agreeing and contrasting) by tracing the conversation with different colours of yarn (with gratitude to our home economics teacher Ms. Priestly!). While Julie sketched out themes and notable ideas as they took shape on the board, the class emerging understanding took shape.

The activity took us from:

Discussable Object in #Philosophy12To:

Discussable Object in #Philosophy12To:

Discussable Object in #Philosophy12Over the course of the next few days, I’ll be collecting reflections on individual learning, and the unit itself (both content and form, Aristotelians!), by way of this Google Form, and looking ahead at planning our Epistemology unit. The Discussable Object now behind us – wound back up into woolen balls and returned to the textiles classroom – I’m curious to know what the group thinks now of one of the quotes that brought us here:

“Knowledge […] does not exist except in our participatory actions.”  

Generative Themes, Emerging Subjectivity & the Discussable Object

The Map Evolves

Image courtesy of Andy Forgrave

“To investigate the generative theme is to investigate the people’s thinking about reality an people’s action upon reality, which is their praxis. For precisely this reason, the methodology proposed requires that the investigators and the people (who would normally be considered objects of that investigation) should act as co-investigators. The more active an attitude men and women take in regard to the exploration of their thematics, the more they deepen their critical awareness of reality and, in spelling out those thematics, take possession of that reality.”

Paulo Freire

It has seemed particularly fitting to be developing Philosophy 12‘s Metaphysics unit alongside my recent reading about critical pedagogy, epistemological emergence, and how they are each influencing my existing fascination with Gregory Bateson’s framework for transformative learning. As members of the class each go about discovering the ideas of a prominent metaphysician, I have waited to see how the group might approach the creation of a Discussable Object that will enable an authentic collective reflection of the group’s individual learning.

To Freire, this process of mutual engagement and reflection is central to the social construction of reality, showing a clear instance of the course’s own constructivist philosophy interacting with the course content to point to our emerging task(s):

“…the program content of the problem-posing method – dialogical par excellence – is constituted and organized by the students’ view of the world, where their own generative themes are found. The content thus constantly expands and renews itself. The task of the dialogical teacher in an interdisciplinary team working on the thematic universe revealed by their investigation is to “re-present” that universe to the people from whom she or he received it – and “re-present” is not as a lecture, but as a problem.”

For my part, I believe that much of this has been set in motion by virtue of the course environment and the unit assignment(s) thus far: to share initial findings on a metaphysical thinker’s life and ideas, isolate and reflect upon what can be interpreted of their “major” questions concerning reality, the self, and points in between, and to engage with peers’ ideas.

In the discussions following from last week’s blog posts, we see Dylan and Aman driving at the heart of one of Freire’s “limit situations:”

“I really like that example that you use, because I think that’s such a great way of thinking of the Will as more of a positive thing. Instead of something that suffocates us, as Schopenhauer would believe, we can view it as something that brings us more joy with the new experiences it could bring us, and just taking the unfulfilled desires as things to learn by. Or maybe we could see it somewhere in between the two?”

“It is with [this] apprehension of the complex of contradictions,” Freire says, “that the second stage of the investigation begins.”

“Always acting as a team, the investigators will select some of these contradictions to develop the codifications to be used in the thematic investigation. Since the codifications (sketches or photographs [or oral descriptions of an existential problem]) are the objects which mediate the decoders in their critical analysis, the preparation of these codifications must be guided by certain principles other than the usual ones for making visual aids.

[…]

“Since they represent existential situations, the codifications should be simple in their complexity and offer various decoding possibilities in order to avoid the brainwashing tendencies of propaganda. Codifications are not slogans; they are cognizable objects, challenges towards which the critical reflection of the decoders should be directed.”

In the coming days, the class will strive to represent these codifications as ‘cognizable objects’ that extend in a “thematic fan” from the contraries at the nucleus of each’s journey into metaphysics. Following from discussions on the blog, as well as the fruits of #PhilsDayOff, the week’s dialogue leading up to the creation of the Discussable Object will seek to employ the concept of emergence on two levels:

“We need emergence on the level of meaning itself, but because meaning is attached to human subjectivity we also (at the same time) need it at the level of human subjectivity. In other words, we need the concept of emergence in a double sense.”

This double sense of emergence is something I feel might be possible within the context of the Discussable Object, as the group’s individual revellations will inform the development of a collective awareness. “Nobody knows whom he reveals when he discloses himself in deed or word,” says Hannah Arendt, adding (by way of Osberg & Biesta):

“Because human subjectivity emerges only when one acts with others who are different (Arendt 1958, Biesta 2006), this means education only takes place where ‘otherness’ – being with others who are different from us – creates such a space. In this sense it is the plurality of the ‘space of emergence’ that educates, not the teacher (Biesta 2006).

Here it feels as though we might be on the verge of a learning opportunity that organically binds the teaching of subject material with an acknowledgement and integration with an ongoing search for the self that “stimulates the appearance of a new perception and the development of new knowledge (Freire).”

Limit Situations, Double Binds & Transformative Learning

Freire & Bateson

Freire & Bateson

Something familiar struck me about a passage I crossed in the Pedagogy of the Oppressed the other day:

Humans, however, because they are aware of themselves and thus of the world—because they are conscious beings—exist in a dialecti­cal relationship between the determination of limits and their own freedom. As they separate themselves from the world, which they objectify, as they separate themselves from their own activity, as they locate the seat of their decisions in themselves and in their relations with the world and others, people overcome the situations which limit them: the “limit-situations.”

Gregory Bateson talks about this moment of “transformative learning” (Level III Learning) arising out of the double bind:

“Bateson (1973:276) refers to being `driven to level III by `contraries’ generated at level II’; `The “problem” to which third-order learning is a “solution” consists of systematic contradictions in experience’ (Bredo 1989:35). This matches what we have called elsewhere `dilemmas of participation’ (Tosey et al 2005).”

To Dr. Paul Tosey, confronting the limit-situation is a confrontation with “the significance of metaphor at the root of perception, and the profound potential for learning should such metaphors change.”

I think Freire would have agreed:

Once perceived by individuals as fetters, as obstacles to their liberation, these situations stand out in relief from the background, revealing their true nature as concrete historical dimensions of a given reality. Men and women respond to the challenge with actions which Vieira Pinto calls “limit-acts“: those directed at negating and overcoming, rather than passively ac­cepting, the “given.”

As critical percep­tion is embodied in action, a climate of hope and confidence devel­ops which leads men to attempt to overcome the limit-situations. As reality is transformed and these situations are superseded, new ones will appear, which in turn will evoke new limit-acts.

It is with the creation of the critical perception which is at the heart of progress, and where we may find the essence of the arts. As we move between Bateson’s Levels of Learning, he:

emphasise[s] the significance of the aesthetic in apprehending the patterning between levels; `I have suggested elsewhere… that art is commonly concerned with… bridging the gap between the more or less unconscious premises acquired by Learning II and the more episodic content of consciousness and immediate action’ (1973:279).

Creativity is necessary to participating in Freire’s critical consciousness:

It is as transforming and creative beings that humans, in their permanent relations with reality, produce not only material goods— tangible objects—but also social institutions, ideas, and concepts. Through their continuing praxis, men and women simultaneously create history and become historical-social beings. Because—in contrast to animals—people can tri-dimensionalize time into the past, the present, and the future, their history, in function of their own creations, develops as a constant process of transformation within which epochal units materialize.

For Freire, we must create a critical consciousness that can apprehend the themes that shape our present “epochal unit,” as well as imagine the conceptions that will allow us to transcend it:

An epoch is characterized by a complex of ideas, concepts, hopes, doubts, values, and challenges in dialectical interaction with their opposites, striving towards plenitude. The concrete representation of may of these ideas, values, concepts and hopes, as well as the obstacles which impede the people’s full humanization, constitute the themes of that epoch. These themes imply others which are opposing or even antithetical; they also indicate tasks to be carried out and fulfilled. Thus, historical themes are never isolated, independent, disconnected, or static; they are always interacting dialectically with their opposites.

With a number of different – historical, social, political, economic – forces driving local and global communities toward further and further polarization, it is easy to see the consequences of Freire’s “universe of themes in dialectical contradiction” in that:

persons take equally contradictory positions: some work to maintain the structures, others to change them. As antagonism deepens between themes which are the expression of reality, there is a tendency for the themes and for reality itself to be mythicized, establishing a climate of irrationality and sectarianism. This climate threatens to drain the themes of their deeper significance and to deprive them of their characteristically dynamic aspect. In such a  situation, myth-creating irrationality itself becomes a fundamental theme.

The solution perhaps lies in discovering our cultural moment’s “opposing theme,” and cultivating

the critical and dynamic view of the world, [which] strives to unveil reality, unmask its mythicization, and achieve a full realization of the human task: the permanent transformation of reality in favor of the liberation of people.

Metaphysical Emergence and the Discussable Object

Unplug'd 2012 Map Prep

Photo Courtesy of Alan Levine

This content was cross-posted on the Philosophy 12 course site

“It is to the reality which mediates [people], and to the perception of that reality held by educators and people, that we must go to find the program content of education.”

Paulo Freire

As we set out to encounter Metaphysics, my ambition as teacher is to help frame the creation of a learning object as an attempt at authentic social constructivism. Today we began with a conversation based on another Freire quote (about education being a ‘with’ transaction between teachers and students much more than a ‘to’ or ‘for’), and came away with a loose timeline and list of objectives and ambitions for the unit in the coming week.

“The investigation of […] people’s ‘thematic universe’ – the complex of their ‘generative themes’ – inaugurates the dialogue of education as the practice of freedom.”

Freire

Our task, in general terms, will be to encounter the lives and ideas of metaphysicians. And, in asking of ourselves what we can interpret of their essential guiding questions, to engage in the study of our own metaphysical thoughts and conceptions. This will happen in exposition on the class blog, connections made through comments and conversation, and inquiry through reflection and dialogue.

My hope is that these activities can be engaged in with the following in mind:

“…knowledge is neither a representation of something more ‘real’ than itself, nor an ‘object’ that can be transferred from one place to the next. Knowledge is understood, rather, to ’emerge’ as we, as human beings, participate in the world. Knowledge, in other words, does not exist except in participatory actions.”

Osberg and Biesta

Thus far the group has agreed to the following objectives:

    • Delve into a metaphysical thinker’s life and ideas
    • Put their ideas into the context of larger theory, culture and critique
    • Evaluate one of your philosopher’s questions, ideas, or arguments with your own ideas about validity, truth and soundness
    • Narrate and participate in the creation of a collective representation of our learning about Metaphysics, and metaphysicians

This will begin with a blog post, wherein participants will demonstrate research and introduction to a philosopher of Metaphysics, and strive to respond to the following questions:

    • How did the philosopher’s life or biography influence their philosophical development?
    • What ideas or concepts are they credited with, or notable for?
    • How have these ideas been built on or incorporated into our modern zeitgeist or mindset?
    • What personal response do you have to the topics your philosopher explored?
    • What do you find confusing or difficult to conceive of, in your philosopher’s thinking?

And from there work through individual reflections and assessments of our own ideas contrasted against those of notable metaphysicians, as well as one another. Over the course of the following week, these experiences, discussions, reflections and activities will culminate in the creation of what for now we will call the Discussable Object. The logic here is derived from Osberg and Biesta again:

“…if educators wish to encourage the emergence of meaning in the classroom, then the meanings that emerge in classrooms cannot and should not be pre-determined before the ‘event’ of their emergence.”

At present, the idea of the creation of the Discussable Object as an authentic constructivist summative assessment is unrefined; but the general intention is this: to create a collective representation of our individual journeys of understanding metaphysics.

This raises an interesting contradiction within emergentist epistemology that we will likely spend time in the coming week discussing, that:

“for the process of knowledge production to occur it is necessary to assume that the meaning of a particular ‘knowledge object’ exists in a stable form such that the ‘knowledge object’ can be used like a ‘building block’ in the production of new abstract knowledge objects. This idea, however, is precisely what an emergentist epistemology denies. Because the meaning of any new knowledge ’emerges’ would be highly specific to the complex system from which is emerged, it follows that no ‘knowledge object’ can retain its meaning in a different situation.”

This marks I think a necessary crossroads in the creation of the blended open-online course, as 24 of our participants will engaged in something that may only create significance between themselves; I wonder about our ability – or the validity of the attempt – to share this process beyond the constructivism of our physical classroom. Here I am left thinking about Jesse Stommel‘s post on Hybrid PedagogyHow to Build an Ethical Online Course, and the idea that:

“We must consider how we’ll create pathways between the learning that happens in a room and the learning that happens on the web.”

Indeed.

Social Media & Personalized Learning Project Proposal Ideas

Tuesday Walk

As I’ve been blogging a little of late, I have spent September getting to know my various communities of learners once more. Whether the TALONS, this semester’s Philosophy 12 bunch, or my fellows in the #TIEGrad cohort, I feel lucky to have had the time and know-how to create enough space to reflect on this year’s learning environment and gradually engage in a manner that seems most appropriate to my own learning and thinking about teaching, facilitation, and collaboration.

I’ve been reading a lot, as well. Research papers and such; I’m building on a lot of ideas that began last year during the Philosophy class’ Epistemology unit with theories of Emergence, Enculturation, and Oppression

But more on that later, no doubt…

What I’ve come here to share today concerns the learning plan for my Personalized Learning & Social Media project this semester. At this point in September I have a few balls in the air, each of which could be construed as their own learning project. Or… all of which could fit nicely under a single topical umbrella that I’ve I’ve yet to open (though it is getting to be the season…).

A few things I’m kicking around, looking ahead at the coming months are:

Philosophy 12: An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course 

For the second time around, this semester I’m teaching Philosophy 12 at Gleneagle, and making as much of the goings on as possible publicly available to anyone who would like to join us as an Open Online Participant. And while there are differences between our face-to-face and online cohorts this year and last, there are innumerable things that excite me about the personalities in this year’s group, the course content and how so much of it aligns with aspects of social constructivism and other epistemological beliefs that I hold about teaching.

One of these aspects is the element of designing the course site to bring about a truly socially constructed knowledge of the course content. Having experimented with individual blogs, and a class blog in my TALONS teaching, I was pleasantly surprised last year to see the simplicity of a single class site become a hub of conversation for a community intent (for credit for amusement) on delving into the Big Ideas of Philosophy.

Coming back to the site this September, it is a little daunting (and a lot exciting) to see that each of the course’s units is already chalked full of posts by last year’s participants. This year we’re already adding exponentially to that total, and we will be again in successive years.

We are, quite literally, creating personalized and communal knowledge.

But one of the problems I’m looking to resolve this semester is how I might construct the site such that it will facilitate the sifting that so much of the Internet does (Reddit’s up-voting, for example, comes to mind) beyond the mere page-views and comments metrics the site’s statistics monitor offers.

My hope is that as we move forward, both this semester and into future cycles of the class, we have an organic means of establishing a set of pathways for future exploration of the site, and the philosophical knowledge that is discussed, shared and stored on the site’s various pages and posts.

TALONS.bc.ca 

I talked to Jim Groom a few weeks ago about working with the University of Mary Washington‘s Domain of One’s Own program to bring some of the collected TALONS digital workspaces together under one roof, so to speak. Currently we use many different online platforms to publish, share and collaborate around the classes’ learning:

All of which I would like to figure more prominently in the daily goings on in the TALONS classroom, both as a means of creating, sharing and preserving learning artifacts and reflections, as well as cultivating a positive digital culture at the school that will extend beyond our room.

With our school and district moving in the direction of employing social media to support student learning, I think that many educators, students and their families are left wondering just what it is exactly the public web offers education (beyond the threats of deplorable discourse, pornography, or predators of youth). With the blessing of unique technology, an engaged parent community, and a documented tradition of former TALONS who have experimented with taking their lives and learning online, we have a unique position in the school to explore and demonstrate the practical applications and potential of many of these technologies.

Part of this learning is tied up in the practice that comes with students (and teachers, and parents, and alumni) engaging in the online community created and maintained across these networks of blog posts, Twitter updates, Flickr photos and comments. Part of it is inseparable from Paulo Freire‘s metacognitive praxis of Engagement –> Reflection –> Reengagement, and parts ask that participants consider their thoughts and actions in the public sphere, both as benefits a community, and as detracts from its potential.

All of which adds up to asking How, in other words, do we employ and engage with these social tools in the most effective way possible?

The other major thread here is of technical application: how do we take ownership and control over the physical data of our online lives and learning?

Image courtesy of Blogs @ NTU.edu

I’ve long held in the back of my mind the privacy mantra, if you are not paying for a service, you aren’t the customer; you’re the product. But have had neither the time / knowhow / dire need to bring much of Gardner Campbell‘s notion of Personal CyberInfrastructure into school until…

…until they killed Google Reader.

But that’s a long and sad story that we can just agree to look forward from, and as an opportunity.

Suffice it to say that in addition to learning about how we might use these social tools, we are on the cusp of delving into how we might use these social tools, and that’s exciting.

#RadioForLearning 

This last one might be the most general, but may also benefit the most from the structure of an ongoing learning project in the coming months.

For the past three years, I’ve enjoyed bringing TALONS learning, musical performances, and a lot of stuff in between to the distributed web radio communities of #DS106Radio, as well as its younger sister-station 105 the Hive. And while this has mostly been a means of connecting my various classrooms and the occasional auditorium with folks hundreds or thousands of miles away, I am excited to think of the possibilities of supplementing our school’s burgeoning social media presence with the vibrant addition of live radio.

In the past few weeks, I’ve spoken with a few former TALONS and current music department seniors about resurrecting a tradition from our early experiments in web radio a few years back: the Lunchtime Jam. Our hope is that by creating and promoting a regular sharing of live music and conversation over the lunchtime airwaves, we’ll be able to bring our school a little closer together.

Through headphones, or iPhone screens, or the wondrous shared vibrations of musical sound.

Just like a campfire.

TALONS Panel: Open High School Learning

I had the great pleasure this morning to speak with TALONS alumni Liam St. Louis, Jonathan Toews, Clayton Dowdell, Megan Edmunds, Zoe Fajber and Iris Hung (along with Verena Roberts & the #ETMOOC crowd via Google Hangout) about the experiments and experiences in Open Learning we’ve embarked on in their four years at Gleneagle.

We mostly worked chronologically from the introduction of the TALONS blogs and RSS feeds (which coincided with Jonathan & Liam’s arrival in grade nine more than four years ago), to the creation of the class blog, Defying Normality, and how these publishing channels contributed to learning in and around the classroom. We talked about publishing work in public, the other mediums that could ‘work’ in lieu of text-only posts, and what it means to blog ‘authentically,’ before moving into a discussion about Philosophy 12’s open structure, Stephen Downes, and the value (and drawbacks) to learning on the open web.

Many thanks to Verena for moderating and inviting us into the #ETMOOC conversation, and to the TALONS who brought their incredible insight and voices to the discussion.

Opening K12 Education

Coming Soon to a Future Presentation
Photo courtesy of @CogDog

Having been exploring technology in the classroom for a few years now, I’ve seen more than a few passing trends in pedagogical circles come and go: blogs, wikis, podcasts; flipped classes, pe(a)rsonalized learning, Twitter, SharePoint, Edublogs, Youtube. Each has garnered momentary Klout clout in the Pedablogisphere before giving way to the Next Big Thing, a trend D’Arcy Norman pointed out in his recently completed masters thesis:

…educational technology can be prone to cycles of hype and fetishism, where new tools and applications are rapidly adopted by individuals who are seen as innovators in the field, with little time for thorough or rigorous investigation of the pedagogical strategies that may be enabled by the affordances of these new tools.

As I’ve seen the timeline of some of these technologies stretch beyond the horizons both ahead and behind us, I’ve sought to synthesize some of what I’ve found meaningful as a classroom teacher, outdoor leader, and an adult learner in physical and digital spheres into a sense of pedagogy that is in line with the rest of my views of teaching, and education.

When it comes to digital technology supporting learning, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the premise of Michael Wesch‘s seminal talk, The Machine is (Changing) Us, where he posits that:

We know ourselves by knowing others. 

New ways of knowing others creates new ways of knowing ourselves.

New ways of knowing ourselves create new possibilities of the very idea of the self, and its pursuit.  

As an English and History teacher who has helped develop and teach locally developed guitar and philosophy courses at our school, and as someone who has spent six years teaching a gifted program that emphasizes experiential, outdoor education as well as collaborative, social-emotional learning, I have often thought that creating just such possibilities of new ways of knowing ourselves and one another has been the chief concern of education through the ages.

He not busy being born, Bob Dylan tells us, is busy dying, and I have to agree with him and Gardner Campbell, who cites this compulsion to learn, to grow and expand our notions of ourselves and our place in the world as part of the evolutionary purpose of humanity itself. Beginning with Felix Baumgartner’s leap from the edge of space, and building on TS Eliot and the Music of the Spheres, Campbell’s keynote at the Open Education Conference in Vancouver last fall, The Ecologies of Yearning, helped me see the course of action toward Wesch’s call to envision new horizons as one central to the educational trust: to become open, and to be involved in opening oneself, one’s classroom, and one’s mind, to the possibility of building beyond our potential.

Each of these openings, I have to think, is indivisible from the others. An open mind is an open class is an open society. Some might say we are duty bound to go about creating the open society.

“This is what we say we want,” Campbell says of education: “Life long learning, critical thinking, adaptation.”

But in practice, he notes, “In this model, all the bets are off. Even the bets about the bets being off.”

The type of learning Campbell and Wesch are talking about, in other words, is risky business, especially when institutions are concerned, institutions which are bound by one responsibility to the will of the participant, but by another to the upholding of the order of the system itself, a paradox that confronts many stakeholders in modern education systems – K12, Higher Ed, Public, and Independent alike.

But Campbell introduces the work of Gregory Bateson, an “English anthropologist, social scientist, linguist, visual anthropologist, semiotician and cyberneticist,” whose work with schizophrenia focused on just this sort of paradoxical “Double Bind,” and for which his Hierarchy of Learning serves as a sort of road map that I’ve written about before. Progressing forward from “Learning Zero,” the sort of critical thinking and adaptation included in mission statements and commencement speeches harkens Bateson’s

Learning III, and [the} bringing about [of the] possibility of Learning IV, must be concerned then with what the contexts of learning communicate – in where and how learning is carried out, what is motivating the learner, how the facilitating teacher interacts with the process, etc – but also with providing safe and authentic opportunities to “experience[] breaches in the weave of contextual structure.”

Without wandering headlong into Bateson’s work, I will recommend the paper by Dr. Paul Tosey (2006), Bateson’s Levels Of Learning: a Framework For Transformative Learning? and focus on that last idea there:

Breaches in the weave of contextual structure…

How else to describe our fascination with Google Earth? Chris Hadfield’s Twitter stream? Or Miles Davis & LCD Soundsystem’s perfect harmony?

It is a sort of yearning, that Campbell speaks about, and which elements of digitization put us in touch with, that offer what he calls “some deep experience of the richness, the complexity, the ecologies of yearning that inform our desire to make meaning of our experience, which we must do together.”

And so whether it’s blogs, wikis, podcasts or campfires; videos, GIFs, or walks in the woods, the story of human progress, and knowledge, is about learning to adapt to these “breaches in the weave of contextual structure,” something that the Internet has brought us in spades. That we should be using it to capitalize on the greatest capacities we possess – creativity and self-expression, community-building and collaboration – seems the most genuine of purposes for classroom learning to take on, and something I’ve found in educational opportunities that thrive because of an attitude of openness. 

Shotgun style, here are a few places that I think I’ve managed to create digital workplaces that are on the web, true, but are also of the web, itself.

TALONS Class BlogTALONS Flickr \ @talonsblog 

TALONS Blogs RSS \ Comments RSS

TALONS Socials, Science, English, Math, Planning & Leadership wikis

Late Slips at Awards Night

Music at Gleneagle

THE BEARS Flyer

#Economooc

#Philosophy12

#IntroGuitar