Food for Thought

January 16, 2010

Last night I hosted a small DP (i.e. “Dinner Party” for the uninitiated). Suspecting that dessert would not be forthcoming unless feedback was received, my guests said very generous things about the fact that I was blogging. Their nervousness about IT, particularly the public nature of the new technologies, matched my own. They said nice things about the way the site looked and the interesting photos. But when asked about content, there was a nervous silence. It turns out what was absolutely clear to me made no sense to anyone else. It was a good reminder about the insular nature of this process. It’s very indulgent and all too easy to assume transparency and clarity that isn’t actually there.  It was invaluable feedback because as I thought it through overnight I realised that some of my project conceptualisation was wonky. I recall the adage: “People who think clearly, write clearly”. My writing isn’t clear because my thinking isn’t clear. The wonderful thing about recognising this is that it means I’m on the right track. The whole point of a cyclical process is to move from degrees of fuzziness to degrees of clarity.

I think where things are confusing are at the third and fourth layers of the project. I suspect I’m conflating the two. So I’m off to fix up the project description page. (Anything other than facing the washing up!)

Image source: “The Beautiful Ruin of a Table”, Lynda Shevellar

Opening Pandora’s Box

January 14, 2010

“Pandora” © Cyril Helnwein

I wandered into the staff tearoom this morning and I noticed that a new sticker was adorning our fridge. From www.unijobs.com it announces EDUCATION’S PURPOSE IS TO REPLACE EMPTY MINDS WITH OPEN ONES. I immediately bristled with indignation. What a horrid insult to anyone involved in the education process! Where are these poor mindless individuals? And what am I – a vending machine? Put your money in the slot, press a button and out pops a course to “replace” that empty mind. It showed me that for all our advances into participatory processes, we still view education largely in what Friere referred to all those years ago as the banking model of education.

In some ways this is not surprising. Our education context still centres the experience on the teacher – not the student – and separates the roles absolutely. We can run all the group experiences and outdoor activities we like, there are still all sorts of role communicators which construct and reinforce the student as passive and teacher as active. 

In “Can you hear the Heartbeat” Dave Andrews observes that “most formal meetings build walls of alienation rather than break them down. The formality of proceedings often holds people apart. People relate to each other, not on the basis of their common humanity, but on the basis of their formal roles”. Roles are obviously helpful: they tell us what to expect, how to behave, how to relate to each other, what to wear, where to go and even what to say and how to say it. Of course that’s immensely helpful – it would be exhausting to have to attend to every layer of process throughout every interaction. We need some helpful short cuts, and roles provide these.  And I use role theory a lot in my work to help develop and strengthen communities. However reflecting on Andrew’s quote I can see that there is an opportunity afforded by technology to interrupt some of those powerful social cues and potentially re-imagine students’ agency. Andrews goes on to say, that if we want to break down alienation, we need to intersperse formality with informality. It will be interesting to see how I can use technology in this course to create informal places to connect, without losing reflective deep, and respectful behaviour and the intent of the learning process.  

Photo from Cyril Helnwein’s Myths and Fairytales series, reproduced with the kind permission of Cyril Helnwein. www.cyrilhelnwein.com