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Friday, November 18, 2011

Much on blogging, technology and other things

As much as I know, I know this much: the more that I know, the more I know that I don’t know much.

I was trying to put my cumulative learning in this grand experiment into a single phrase and this is what I came up with.  Talk about incoherent intelligence.

Those that have followed my blogging from the get-go will recall that my idea was to explore the medium as a tool for critical reflection and learning.  Previously, my reflections in any learning event were contained in a journal of some sort.  Most often it was saved in a folder in my computer but sometimes it was saved in the messiest of file cabinets: my brain.  Sharing my reflections was limited to my instructor, my classmates, my colleagues and (God bless them) my family.  So, blogging would open up the audience considerably.  Or so I thought.  Turns out that blogging is more than just throwing some thoughts down on a webpage, adding some hyperlinks, the odd picture or video, and waiting for the responses of the masses.  Apparently, if you blog it, they won’t necessarily view it, read it, and comment on it.  In fact, most won’t even know that it’s there. No, you actually have to be equally adept at marketing your ideas.  Posting on other blogs, telling friends, colleagues, and acquaintances about your blog are just a few activities that you need to do in order to get readership.  You’re not just the author and idea-man; you are the publisher and ad-man.  Problem is, I’m more of an idea-man than an ad-man.   

So, in terms of obtaining feedback from the masses, making my blog a truly interactive critically reflective endeavour, I kind of didn’t succeed.  Actually, in the spirit of true unvarnished critical reflection, my experiment was a failure.  But it wasn’t an unmitigated disaster.  Let me explain why.

When I first decided to blog I made the decision knowing that I had some experience with technology.  I had read blogs, used the internet quite frequently for research purposes and had taken one online course. Heck, I even participated in a couple of social media sites (although my network resembled more of a campfire circle than a complex web).  But it was that most recent experience with an online course and my introduction to a learning management system that piqued my interest in technology and its use in developing and expanding learning.  So it was with this background that I approached my blog.  Eager to experiment but a little nervous about what I might experience.

Even though my blog entries didn’t get the engaged response that I’d hoped for, I did get some readership.  Or at least some viewers.   I can’t be sure that they read anything due to the lack of comments but they at least took a look.  And, for those that didn’t stumble upon my blog using the random selection tool, something that I said drew them to my pages.  This in and of itself was a success.  It gave me a viewership that encouraged me to continue writing.  My viewership also made me conscious about the quality of my writing as well. Now, I don’t just mean ensuring that my writing was free of spelling and grammatical errors and had a good flow, either.  I’m talking about the content, the ideas.  In a traditional journaling exercise in any course that I’ve taken, you typically have to complete a journal entry every week and submit it.  This structure sometimes means that you search for some artificial insight, some saccharine “eureka” moment (I prefer that term to “aha” – that’s just sooo 2010).  Having a viewership meant that I felt compelled to write something of substance, even if it was small, and it meant that I went days, sometimes weeks, without posting.  I simply didn’t have anything worthwhile to say.  I also had a number of unfinished blogs on the desktop.  Ideas that were fleeting, lacking the substance that I initially thought they had as I tried to develop them. This compulsion along with the ability of the medium to accept and assimilate other tools, such as hyperlinks and videos, also meant that my posts were often more creative, involving more research, in effect, more critical reflection.

While on the one hand my posts were more thought out and involved more critical reflection as a direct result of the medium, they also suffered a bit as well.  Not only did I reflect upon the substantiveness of my posts, but I also reflected on their legacy.  The possibility that anyone could read my posts brought with it a weight of responsibility.  I was very conscious of the fact that my posts could be read by anyone.  My reflections upon my learning, how I was openly applying learned concepts to my life meant that those in my life could be brought unwittingly into this public spectacle.  As such, I don’t think that I was as fulsome in my reflection as I would have been had it been off-line.  The extent of my confession was hampered by the lack of a screen and a sacred vow of secrecy, you might say.

So, my blogging experience wasn’t a failure, especially in terms of my learning about the strengths and limitations of the medium.  It gave me the kick in the ass that I hoped it would and in more ways than I had expected.  It also allowed me to explore the tools that are available via the world wide web and what they could mean to my practice and the role of adult education in the global political economy.   

Thursday, November 17, 2011

55 minutes of the final hour: Post-modernism invades the classroom

“There are those who see critical questioning as always leading to a relativistic freeze that prevents them from ever making full-blooded firm commitments” Stephen Brookfield in Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher.

I came across this little nugget late last night (or was it early this morning?), after posting my last blog.  You’ll recall in that post that I explored the “intellectual incoherence” that is a hallmark and danger of post-modernism.  We spend too much time thinking about, defining and discussing all of the complexities and intricacies of the world’s problems and in the face of all of that complexity, we simply cannot act. Global death by theory, you might say.  And it’s true, isn’t it?  We like to wrap ourselves in our analysis and our theory as if they were warm blankets.  They’re comfortable, reassuring, keeping out the harsh reality of what might happen, could happen, definitely will happen.  And, they do a pretty good job of covering our ass, too.

Brookfield goes on to say that, “from this viewpoint, critically reflective teachers are weak-kneed equivocators, always able to see two sides of an issue and therefore unable to have confidence in their own choices”.  So, not only are we, as a society, unable to tackle the most pressing developmental problems of our time because we are trapped in a clingy web of stasis, but even in the classroom, wherever that may be, we, as teachers, can’t make a decision or move an idea forward because we are too entangled in our journaling or our critical conversation circles.  So, if what Finger and Asun suggest is right, that adult education is the way to “learn our way out” of our developmental quagmire but adult educators are “weak-kneed equivocators”, then I guess we’re really screwed, huh?  Well, not really.

You’ll also recall that I suggested in my last post that technology could play a role in learning our way out, as evidenced in the Occupy Movement and the Arab Spring.  It serves to bring people together, clarify oppression and facilitate action.  What Brookfield suggests is that teachers who engage in critical reflection are not weak.  Rather, they have strength in their “commitment to people, beliefs, structures, movements or ideals and an acknowledgment that at some time in the future, [their] experience might lead [them] to amend or even abandon such commitments”.   Without the adult educators to guide the gathering of people, help clarify the oppression and coordinate the action, all the while through a critically reflective lens to ensure democracy in the ‘classroom’, the technology is just another bulletin board riddled with incoherent messages.  So, while teachers may spend 55 minutes of the final hour, as Einstein suggested, contemplating the problem, they are committed to praxis and engage in it just the same.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Beyond post-modernism: From throwing up our hands to throwing down the gauntlet

Wordle: learning our way out
Created in Wordle by me
Finger and Asun talk about the post-modern world in which we live.  They refer to it as a juncture of sorts.  Along the development road, we have left our modernist way of travel and we are reflecting upon our attempts to bring the lesser-developed along for the ride with a critical eye.  It’s through this reflection that we are coming to realize that trying to bring others into the capitalist fold, relying solely on capitalist forces to do so, has been an abysmal failure. What have we learned from the modernization experiment?  Capitalist forces serve the hegemony of the dominant class, the corporate class.  The inevitable facelessness of multi-nationalism has left a wake of ecological degradation and destruction, societal inequity and despair, and a convoluted and complex global political economy that more resembles a house of cards than a solid base for growth and prosperity.  It would seem that the current state of affairs in the world bears out Finger and Asun’s arguments.  And it’s this last conclusion, the tremulous house of cards on the brink of collapse, which is a key hangover feature that leads us into the post-modern era.  It’s also the most troubling characteristic and the single point of attack for adult education, Finger and Asun assert, if the new adult education is to become a force of reason and change in the new global political economy. 

Now, Finger and Asun don’t spend too much time focusing on the characteristics of the post-modern era that make it unique to any other in our history.  Much of the scholarly writing on this has been largely speculative up until this point in time and, although much has been written about it in recent years, I would suspect that it is largely still speculative and, I would argue, reactive.  So, after some encouragement from one of my classmates in response to post in her seminar discussion (thanks Colleen), I’ll attempt to provide my perspective here.

When I read about post-modernism and Finger and Asun's description of it as "intellectual incoherence" and a "fragmentation of social and individual life", I immediately thought of adult education as a natural response.  I think that at its core, adult education seeks to clarify concepts through social interaction.  I think that what we are seeing in the technological realm is a natural evolution of post-modernism, perhaps a post-post-modernism.  The rise of social media and the efforts made to bring people together on a global scale through this medium is evidence of this evolution.  I think that the Occupy movement is an example of this evolution.  I would also argue that much of the protests in the middle east were examples of this evolution as well. 

I recently attended some training on eLearning.  Well, it was billed as eLearning but the trainer, a true androgogue (and I mean that in the most sincere and positive way), spent the time allowing us to explore technology that was free or virtually free via the World Wide Web.  Each site that we visited, each application that we downloaded and explored was accompanied with the questions “How do you think this would be of use to you and work that you do within the social services?”, and “How do you think this would be of use to those that you serve?”  Now, I won’t suggest that each application or website was revolutionary for social service delivery or our clients, but most were at the very least helpful if not extraordinary (evident by the number of times that my jaw dropped and I muttered, “Coooooool”).  But, what struck me as we discussed the merits and limitations of what we were tinkering with was how much we have advanced in the past 15 years in terms of our relationship with technology and its role in how we relate to each other and our world.  So, while the post-modern era is delocalized, fragmented, complex, and contradictory with an eroded body politic, it is not necessarily going to result in a global throwing-up of hands in the air, a collective sigh of resignation and an apathetic chorus of, “Well, what can you do?”  It may just be that the way we relate, gather, and educate to liberate is changing and the technology that many say serves to isolate us will in fact bring us together and serve to facilitate our efforts to “learn our way out”.

If you want a snapshot of the growth and enormity social media, check out this video.  It's definitely got a corporate feel and agenda, but I think that you can imagine the implication for adult education.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Talking with books

Well, I have finished all of my readings for my two courses (cue the Peanuts theme music and begin dancing).  You’ll recall in an earlier post that I lamented on my slow reading ability.  The concept of speed reading is so far out of reach for me, so foreign a concept as to be almost magical.  When I see people skim through a text and give a cogent recollection of its meaning shortly thereafter, I find it to be as plausible an explanation that they absorbed the written words through some sort of neuropathic osmosis as opposed to actually reading them.  Like the words leapt off of the page and were sucked into their cranium through some sort of Dyson-designed literary wind tunnel technology.  I just don’t get it and I don’t think that I ever will.  I’ve learned a few tricks to speed up my reading, but I’m still slow. Painfully, sharp-stick-in-the-eye slow.  But I did get all of my reading done.  All of it.  All four books.  In less than 12 weeks.    And, I read a significant number of journal articles on top of the required reading.  So, you might have guessed that I’m pretty proud of myself.  And I’m okay with being a slow reader, I think. I spend a lot of time in critical contemplation upon my reading, remaking my own theory in the face of other.  I think that contributes to my slowness.  And, I think that that is okay.

Brookfield writes about having a conversation with books.  The more engaged conversations are earmarked by underlines, highlights, dog-eared pages, notes in the margins and broken spines – in the books, I mean (God, if reading were that painful, I think that I would have given up long ago!).  I’ve had some engaging conversations these last few months - with all of the books that I have read.  At times the conversations have become quite heated.  I’ll admit to throwing down a book in frustration a time or two.  At other times I have scrambled frantically, feverishly flipping through the pages in a book to recall a conversation that we had at some point in time that had only now made sense to me and developed meaning.  Indeed I think that it would be fair to say that I even developed relationships with my books.  They challenged me and affirmed me.  They gave me confidence and kicked me in the stomach (not that I’ve ever had a relationship with someone who literally kicked me in the stomach – well except for that kid in my neighbourhood back when I was 7, but he wasn’t much of a friend anyway).  So I am glad to have “met” my books, as Brookfield suggests.  And I am glad that our initial conversations are done and they were most fruitful.  I know that I’ll go back to converse with them in the remaining weeks of my current courses and likely again and again in the future.