TEL-People, language and poetry

social media icons pixabay

With regard to TEL-Tribes I’ve gone a bit anthropological. Not as in going back through the centuries because TEL-People are relatively new but other defining features of an anthropological study include physical characteristics, environmental and social relations, and above all, culture.

Two previous posts The Invisible Tribes and Territories of the TEL-People and Why don’t I speak French explored what it means to be afflicted blessed with the acronym TEL. The story continues and today’s post is about communication.

TEL people speak a number of languages.

There are layers of technology language starting with code and ending with Help-desk-speak. TEL-People might be positioned anywhere on this continuum. Then there are the languages of teaching and of how students learn from multiple perspectives i.e. staff who teach and support learning, everyone else and students themselves. TEL-People need to be multi-lingual and segue from one to another in chameleon fashion. The problem is how the language of technology tends to align to a positivist view of the world while everyone else tends towards more interpretative approaches.

Compare these.

  • Illegal object
  • Address violation
  • Bad Command
  • Abort – Retry – Fail

with

  • Well, it all depends what you mean by
    • technology enhanced learning
    • student engagement
    • pedagogic innovation
    • excellence in teaching

aw-snap

Where language complicates issues the TEL-People can get caught up in the misunderstandings of others.  In a sector where words matter, there is a tendency for some to seek out a more obscure vocabulary in order to demonstrate their academic significance. At a time when more people than ever are being offered the opportunity to experience a higher education, should we not be seeking to simplify communication. rather than complexify  it.

There’s an art and a skill to clear writing. Not dumbing down but looking for ways to transmit messages unambiguously which don’t have the reader reaching for a dictionary or simply giving up. TEL-People tread a fine line between the binary approach of technology, black or white, yes or no, and the endless shades and permutations of educational research.

creativehesimonlancaster
Image by Simon Rae 

Academia is an environment which is always looking for new ways to say old things. On the CreativeHE Community this week  the topic is Exploring Creative Pedagogies and Learning Ecologies. One question asked was the difference between ‘pedagogies‘ and ‘ecologies‘ compared to ‘creative teaching methods‘ and ‘learning environments‘. As a TEL-Person I thought they were different ways of saying the same things. Crossing disciplines in my work I see this often. Maybe by re-framing what we already have in new sets of clothes we can encourage people to review and rethink what has gone before. Or maybe it just alienates. This is the problem with language. Meaning and interpretation are not always the same and when it comes to learning and teaching the TEL-People have to be at home within the full range of potential possibilities.

It’s not too far a leap from the elitism of words to poetry. Yes, TEL-People can be poets too…

School nearly killed verse for me.  Alexander Pope did not translate well to an inner city comprehensive.  The curriculum today is more contemporary but for too many people school was the beginning and the end of poetry for pleasure and fun.

mouth1

Sam Illingworth and I aim to change this. Every Friday lunch time we will be bringing you a poem to have with your sandwiches or chips. Subscribe to our site https://poetryfeedhe.wordpress.com or find us on Twitter #poetryfeedHE for opportunities to read, reflect and share your thoughts. Yes, PoetryfeedHE begins today.

‘You could do much worse than have lunch with a verse.’

We hope you’re hungry!

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War of the Words #nationalpoetryday

Image of the tripod from H.G. Wells War of the Worlds

War of the Words

Now Barthes once said ‘The author is dead’
so I have to let go of my prose,
however redeeming, whatever the meaning,
it’s only the reader who knows

how words which are read (like things that are said)
can take on a whole different meaning,
as issues of who (and knowledge and truth)
depend on who’s doing the reading.

All writers will find, below each bottom line,
there’s a host of mixed interpretations,
with lots to be learned from the postmodern turn
and its crisis in representations.

As we start to unravel the roads we have travelled
which bring us to our destinations
we see how the ‘asks’ in our research-based tasks
are linked to our social locations;

but what matters more are the battles and wars
which are fought between structure and agency,
where so much depends how we manage this blend
between selfhood and who self might-want-to-be.

It’s the same for the poet and life as they know it,
reflected in all their renditions,
where words try to strive, to catch and describe
all the quirks of the human conditions,

so I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s not hard to see
how research and poetry blend,
how issues of seeing, of truth and believing,
are similar things in the end,

and the skillset to write what is clear and concise
is all part of the art of creation,
whether PhD thesis or poetry treatise
they both have the same motivation.

For wordsmiths and seers and text engineers
and dabblers in quests and hypothesis,
for teams of reformers or lonely explorers
of credence and theories of consciousness,

what your words mean (and how they are seen)
is based on the world we’re all living in,
and this knowing in turn depends how we’ve learned
to interpret our social conditioning

At the end of the day whatever you say
or do to express creativity,
people will moan, and grumble and groan,
for you can’t control their subjectivity.

So I have to conclude all meaning is skewed
as we all possess unique philosophies,
and what we receive and what we believe
helps build our creative ecologies.

Our epistemology and our ontology
all affect our observations,
so you might write the words but it’s clearly absurd
to expect to rule interpretations.

Researcher or poet it’s not how you know it,
it’s all about setting it free,
because Barthes spoke true and whatever you do…
the meaning is all down to me!

 

creativity as aerobic excercise for the brain #creativeHE

Creativeity takes courage blue badge

I was going to retire the Friday blog for the summer. Focus on the PhD I said. Do less social media and get back to my ‘…ologies’. But it’s been a #creativeHE week which deserves a blog. So here it is.

The #creativeHE  community is open for anyone interested in the subject of creativity in education. What is it? How does it manifest? In which ways can creative thought and action be embedded into curriculums and practice?

The week began with a request to offer an example of creativity.  But there is a question to be answered. What does ‘creativity’ mean?

creativity definition

Accepted interpretations include difference, innovation and originality. To step outside of the box of conventional thinking, be unrestrained by social expectations, demonstrate uniqueness of thought and action.  Lots to work with there! But then it gets more complex because where do our measures of diversity come from? How is difference defined? Who controls what is considered to be creative action in the first place? This rather beautifully segues into my Phd where I’m building a conceptual framework which seeks to explain how our attitudes and behaviours are influenced.

alert

PhD alert!!!  The teaching on my first MA was influenced by postmodernism’s insistence on the social construction of reality. At the time I found PM a useful explanation for diversity and difference. The limitations of language and power of cultural expectations fitted well with my research into parameters of gender. But there was philosophical trouble ahead.

Postmodernism was an intellectual attack on meta theory without seeming to realise the irony of  presenting an alternative meta-meta theory. Yet PM was all about irony so maybe it didn’t mind how within its single narrative around the validity of truth and knowledge (i.e. there wasn’t any) it carried within itself the weapons of its mass destruction.

Postmodernism was followed by critical realism. This conceded social structures were callable of generating discourse. Their causal effects had a realist quality but our knowledge of them would be forever fallible. Traditional conceptions of structure and agency were inseparable. They were linked in an invisible mesh of convention, expectation and belief. PhD alert end.

It’s a ‘good enough’ theory. We’re limited by social constraints and change requires an understanding of the forces which are preventing it from happening in the first place. You can apply this to creativity. The ability to solve problems through unique and innovative actions is partly what makes us human but we’re also capable of being creative for self-satisfaction. This is the internal creative drive seeking expression. However, we live within a society which is full of social conditioning and this includes behavioural expectations. It leaves two options. We offer creative action within culturally acceptable limits or apply the creative impulse to blow these limits apart. The ability to think so far outside the box it breaks all known rules seems to suggest we may be positioned in different places on a scale of creative thinking.

brain on a treadmill

The #creativeHE community is full of examples not only of creative thinking but of thinking about being creative. It’s good to sometimes step outside our boxes, practice some critical reflection and ask questions about the environments we live and work in. Taking part in something that exercises our creative muscles is as good for the brain as aerobic activity is for the heart. What we need to do is ask why we don’t all do a little bit more of it. Look out for #creativeHE the next time around!

brain on treadmill image from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201602/more-proof-aerobic-exercise-can-make-your-brain-bigger 
Alert image from https://pixabay.com/en/exclamation-mark-point-triangle-24144/ 

The #creativeHE team is led by Norman Jackson and Chrissie Nerantzi. It began as an extension of a PgCert/MA unit at MMU and sits within P2pU

digital resistance – a question of attitude or time?

#creativeHE week poster image shows dawing of a mountain with people climbing it

This week #creativeHE has been offering opportunities to reflect on creative approaches to learning and teaching. Before applying creativity to practice, it helps to explore what it means to be creative in the first place. Definitions include the use of imagination and challenging traditional ways of being and seeing. Be original. It reminds me of Imagist Ezra Pound’s call to ‘Make it new’. When it comes to the VLE, there’s scope for reviewing current approaches. Digital depository models show little evidence of creativity. They replicate transmissive style lectures which many staff seem welded to.  We need to ‘Make it new’ in TEL-world and rethink the promotion of blended approaches.

Make it new slogan with black and white picture of imagist poet Ezra Pound

Each #creativeHE day began with a video and questions to consider. These can be viewed on the site. They are well worth a look. One core message from the week was how creative thinking needs time; a quality always in short supply. James Clay’s has examined the excuse ‘I haven’t got the time’ concluding it’s a question of priorities. But as an excuse, it implies ‘I would if I could’. True resistance is ‘even if I could I wouldn’t because I don’t want to’. This is the reality for many TEL workers and digital education developers, caught in the middle between institutional strategy and academic resistance to change, especially of the digital kind. I’ve come to the conclusion it isn’t a question of time. It’s a question of attitude.

How can creative thinking be applied to VLE adoption? My own solution has been an experiential approach. Digital CPD where staff are enrolled on the VLE with a student view. This does two things. It highlights low levels of digital capabilities. These are the norm in most HEIs but get rendered invisible to those accustomed to working with digi-tech on a daily basis. Like attracts like. Also staff will see how a digital depository model is little more than a text dump. Students need to read but you can get them searching and synthesising for themselves rather than throwing up a wall of hyperlinks. Creating activities which adopt social media techniques of user-generated content and file sharing will build on and extend existing practices. Talk to your TEL team about online pedagogies. Talk to your students. Make it an expectation the VLE constitutes a core part of their learning experience.

open watch showing inner movement

Don’t get me wrong. Time is an issue. I struggle too. A p/t creative writing degree, p/t Phd, full time job plus an allotment keep me time-poor and stressed while I’ve been an ‘online student’ enough to know it requires motivation to succeed. But the value of digital space is choice about where and when to access while affordances for communication and collaboration provide valuable extensions to face-to-face learning. Institutional support for digitally resistant staff, unwilling to adopt the VLE as part of their teaching toolkit, is essential.  As #creativeHE has shown this week, the first requirement is always time but when faced with resistance to using VLE in the first place then I suspect it’s attitude which matters most of all. The #creativeHE site offers free examples of how online learning can be interactive, meaningful and fun. This is the digital future of education and we should all aspire to be part of it.


Make it new image from
http://blog.ezinearticles.com/2013/03/new-ezinearticles-wallpapers-to-freshen-up-your-background.html 

clock image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mechanical_watch 

Lurking as valid learning

Lurking can be a valid form of learning. During @openeducationweek the #creativeHE team have been busy. As well as facilitate the #creativeHE google community I wanted to do all the activities. I took the ideas away to ponder on but that was as far as it went. I’m not sure if I’m a creative failure but I learned a lot from just being there.

Creativity uses all the senses. It can be cognitive like poetry and music or kinaesthetic like making and modelling. The C Word is often associated with producing something tangible. #creativeHE used jam jars and shared activities like ‘paperclips and rubber bands’. A simple idea with great results and non-messy so minimal clearing up was required afterwards!

A conversation developed around the role of messiness as an integral part of the creative process. Many crafts are messy occupations. Painting, potting, sculpting, cookery all involve splashes and spills. I don’t like mess and hate tidying up. One of the lessons I learned this week was how goal orientated I am. The concept of play with a specific output is fine. I’d be the first to advocate a different approach, to experiment and try something different – but am less likely to take on a free style activity myself.

Digital creativity is ok though!  For example Pic-collage  (App) and Photo-collage (Desktop) make it easy to be creative with photographs. Bitstrips is a cartoon strip maker  with enough options to make a recognisable avatar for yourself. Toondoo and Pixton also offer free cartoon constructions. It’s worth adding Powtoon to the list as well. I could play for hours with these (theory v practice!) and have recently been exploring the concept of Lego Serious Play, in particular the transfer of problem solving from head to hands. Thinking with your fingers is a lateral approach which appeals to me. I need to learn more.

I’ve taken a lot from the #creativeHE week. As a facilitator I read and commented but as a creative activity maker I lurked. The definition of lurk is two-fold; to wait, hidden, in order to ambush or as a ‘profitable stratagem’. With regard to online discussion forums, the word has developed negative connotations yet lurking can be a valuable on many levels.

The invisibility of online participation is something to accept as a valid learning mechanism, like the quiet student at the back of the class who produces 1st class assignments. Not everyone is comfortable with being centre stage. It’s no different online, where the permanence of digital contributions can be a deterrent stronger than the advantages of taking time to craft a thoughtful and meaningful response. Like face to face seminars, participation needs to be encouraged but reluctance can be justified.

Like the late laggard in Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations Model, the lurker has been unfairly maligned. Learning should not be defined by presence and there may be many good reasons motivating lurking and laggarding behaviours.

It may be  better to be there quietly or arrive late than not be involved at all.

inviting digital digits to dance #creativeHE #openeducationwk

Postr for Open Education Week

This week was #Digifest16. It looked good but my view was remote. Following online just isn’t the same as being there. We learn more from absence than presence. Like my OU experience. Two years and four virtual modules for the MA in Open and Distance Learning, then a final year with modules from Psychology and Social Science. Taught through traditional OU methods. A courier arrived with a box of books, papers and a CD. That was it! You had to book a telephone call with a tutor  while peer contact was non-existent. It was a pivotal year. I learned more about the affordances of online learning by not having digital collaboration than I did with it!

Next week (7-11 March) is #openeducationweek. #creativeHE are taking part and this is an invitation to a digital digits dance.   #creativeHE facilitators

The course is open to anyone involved in teaching or supporting learning in higher education. Using games, models and stories, #creativeHE represents a unique CPD journey, one which fosters curiosity and discovery modes of learning, alongside critical reflection on the value of imaginative approaches to teaching practice.

If open education or the concept of play feels strange, this in itself is a useful reason for taking part. Putting ourselves into the unknown is a reminder of how students feel when asked to face unfamiliar teaching methods or concepts. Comfortable in our spaces, it’s easy to forget what it’s like to be confronted with something different. Strange situations offer useful learning curves. If you’ve always wanted to try an open educational course but haven’t been sure where to begin, take a look at #creativeHE. The friendly atmosphere offers a great starting point and engaging in a range of different online environments can intrinsically enhance your digital ways of working.

Creativeity takes courage blue badge

Check out this Slideshare presentation http://www.slideshare.net/chrissi/creativehe-is-back-for-5-days-during-open-education-week-join-us

The Course site (including recommended reading). Sections used during Open Education Week starti with OEW. https://courses.p2pu.org/en/courses/2615/creativity-for-learning-in-higher-education/

The Course Community (where all the online communications take place) https://plus.google.com/communities/110898703741307769041

Plan for the Week

  • 7th March: Creativity in HE
  • 8th March: Play and games
  • 9th March: Using story
  • 10th March: Learning through making
  • 11th March: Celebrating open creativity

Drop by, dip in and out, try something new, tweet using #creativeHE and let us know your thoughts on creativity in learning and teaching.

The course is supported by CREATIVE ACADEMIC @academiccreator a social enterprise aimed at encouraging creativity in higher education teaching and learning. Additional resources can be found on this website http://www.creativeacademic.uk/

Solvitur ambulando – it is solved by walking #www16

poster about labyrinths for the Wondering While Walking project

Solvitur ambulando, attributed to Diogenes (@400 BC), St Augustine (@400 AD) and advocated by Nietzsche who (depending on the translation) wrote ‘All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking‘ or ‘Only thoughts reached by walking have value’. When Chrissi Nerantzi  invited representations of Wondering While Walking I straight away thought of labyrinths. My Walking the Labyrinth blog had followed the concept as a tool for learning development, in particular reflection and stress relief before exams. Walkers reported feeling calmer after their labyrinth experience. It’s hard to explain unless you’ve tried it. Although the process will always be individual, the best way to describe it is probably as ‘time out’; something it can be hard to make time for!

There are few rules to labyrinth walking but it helps to be silent and focus attention outwards on the twisting path into the centre and out again, while keeping the inner attention quiet. Concentrate on each step, like a walking meditation or practising mindfulness.

instructions for drawing a labyrinth
image from http://whttp://www.labyrinthina.com/labyrinths-myth-history.htmlww.labyrinthina.com/labyrinths-myth-history.html

You can create a labyrinth yourself, on the beach, on grass, on paper, then walk it or trace it with your finger. Original turf labyrinths exist in England, some of which are maintained and can still be walked. Julian’s Bower at Akeborough in North Lincolnshire and Walls of Troy near Dalby in North Yorkshire are the two nearest to Hull.

Labyrinths can also be explored in books or online. Around the turn of the 21st century there was a revival in interest and there are now a number of labyrinth societies supported with research and publications. Although there are many different theories around their origin and use, the truth remains veiled in mystery.

Chalk Labyrinth in the nave of Lincoln Cathedral
Chalk Labyrinth in the nave of Lincoln Cathedral

In 2014 I was invited to write the texts for the University of Lincoln Labyrinth Festival. A large 13 ring medieval Chartres style labyrinth was chalked onto the nave of the cathedral and visitors invited to walk. Exhibition panels were mounted within the arches down the side. Each panel contained a labyrinth image and my words which aimed to provide a synthesis of what is known. An edited version is below.

solvitur ambulando from a Labyrinth Festival poster

Introduction

To walk a labyrinth can be a form of meditation, offering stillness in a busy world. The experience can be whatever you want; contemplative, healing, mindful, prayerful or simply fun. The origin of the labyrinth is unknown. Today is it a ritual where past and present come together. Labyrinths are for everyone. All you need to walk a labyrinth is yourself.

Seven things we know about labyrinths

1. we know labyrinths are mysterious

The absence of knowledge around the origin and purpose of the labyrinth encourages individual meanings. Walking a labyrinth can symbolise an act of celebration, prayer, reflection, remembrance, solace or simply time out of a busy day. Some believe they are merely patterns while others say they represent the archetypal journey from birth to death; the twisting and turning path indicative of life’s challenges. The interpretations attached to labyrinths are adjustable. They can be as shallow or as deep as anyone wants or needs them to be.

2. we know labyrinths have an ancient past

Circles carved onto rocks and spirals scratched on stone could be precursors of the labyrinth design. The three and seven ring ‘classical’ labyrinths pre-date more complex 12-circuit medieval designs. Even the origin of the word labyrinth is obscure. Some say it derives from Labrys, a double headed axe from Minoa, or the Greek laburinthos but no one knows for sure. Both function and meaning of the labyrinth are lost in time, which is part of their mystery and attraction.

3. we know labyrinths appear in history and religion

Lucca’s Duomo di San Martino in Tuscany contains a 12th century finger labyrinth on the wall by the entrance with the Latin inscription This is the labyrinth built by Daedalus of Crete; all who entered therein were lost, save Theseus, thanks to Ariadne’s thread. The story of Theseus tells how the prince entered a labyrinth to slay the Cretan Minotaur, a monster who devoured humans. Deadelus, the master architect of the labyrinth, is said to have also built a special labyrinthine floor for the princess Ariadne to dance on. Labyrinths have been found on mosaics in roman villas, on coins, manuscripts, churches. There is one in the 13th century Chartres Cathedral in northern France. Church records show others were built at this time but later destroyed. References to Easter processions by priests, and a distant law preventing congregations from dancing, suggest an association with rites long forgotten.  Today the past and present come together in Lincoln Cathedral and visitors invited to take time out to experience the labyrinth for themselves.

4. we know labyrinths are not mazes

There is widespread confusion between mazes and labyrinths. Mazes are designed to disconcert and deceive; to be puzzles and sometimes places of frustration and fear. A labyrinth is different. It has a single unicursal path.Yet dictionary and encyclopedia definitions repeatedly describe labyrinths as mazes. This is incorrect. You can’t get lost in a labyrinth. It has one single, winding path into the centre and out again. The only choice needed is to walk over the threshold and take the first step.

5. we know labyrinths imitate nature

Circles and spirals can be found in the natural world. The curve of an ammonite, the winding tendrils of climbing beans, the twist of hazel and the delicate fronds of bracken as they open to the light. A labyrinth path mimics the mathematics of circles and circumferences, of beautiful and sacred geometry.  Our lack of knowledge about their origin only reaffirms what is not known sometimes doesn’t matter. We don’t need definitive answers to experience the labyrinth journey. It is for all seasons and all people.

6. we know labyrinths can be made from stone, sand, chalk, grass

Turf labyrinths have been cut from the earth beneath our feet. There is uncertainty about their exact age or purpose. There are a number of public turf labyrinths in the UK, all well maintained with edges cut and grass trimmed each year. You can find them at Akeborough, North Lincolnshire; Dalby, North Yorkshire; Wing, Rutland; Hilton, Cambridgeshire and Saffron Walden in Essex. Their fresh grass paths carry the imprints of generations of children and adults. They link centuries of people through a shared experience of walking, running, dancing into the centre and out again.

7. we know labyrinths are enduring symbols

A resurgence of interest has resulted in labyrinths being used for workshops and conferences in health care, education, counselling, spirituality, retreats. Portable labyrinths have been painted onto canvas. Temporary ones constructed on beaches or made with sticks and stones in parks and woodlands. They can be made of leaves, bird seed, masking tape, grass paint. Wherever there is space and time a labyrinth can be constructed. Always leave them for others to find before the tide comes in, before the wind blows or the rain washes them away. Draw your own labyrinth on paper or card. Stitch or knit one.  Explore the meandering, wandering path with your finger. The circuits are rhythmic and soothing. This will never change. Labyrinths have endured for millennia and will continue to do so. They are sources of creativity for us all.

sunlight through the stained glass at the Labyrinth Festival
Sunlight through the stained glass on the floor of Lincoln Cathedral during the Labyrinth Festival

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Twilight of the Idols (various translations) Friedrich Nietzsche (1888)

Visit Wondering While Walking to contribute to the #www16 project