Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Multidimensional connecting

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Reading Time: 4 minutes

The idea for this post came to me while reading Randy Bass’s piece “Disrupting Ourselves: the problem of learning in higher education” (which I plan to review critically once I finish it). On p. 24 he refers to how disciplinary courses and the way students take them at university are disconnected. He says explicitly that there is no planning for “connected learning”…

This got me thinking about the multidimensional ways in which we connect, and a discussion about inner and outer or inward and outward (can’t remember which) connections – was it Tellio? Simon? One of those cool dudes,

Anyway it all reminded me of the highly mentally stimulated state I am in when I need to focus on something really important (like when I was doing my PhD) while being unable to stop attending to other really stimulating stuff (like Egypt’s January 25 revolution in 2011) and how this provides fertile ground for incredible integration and connections. I remember even before that, there was a day when I was watching the film about Martin Luther, during the same week I was reading Freire’s Education for Critical Consciousness (which, being my first Freire book, I actually prefer to Pedagogy of the Oppressed)… And i created a “spark” in my mind: oh my God, what Freire is talking about is exactly what is happening in that historical non-fiction movie. When people who had been oppressed start to be liberated, the first thing that ensues is chaos and it can be violent chaos… Of course, this also has happened to an extent in Egypt after 2011. I did not actually intend to make that connection when I first started writing this piece. It just came together, spontaneously, like, right now. I mean, I had made the connection somewhere in my mind, but I was not planning to connect the two right this minute, in this post.

Back to the original purpose of this post – multidimensional connecting.

Lately, when I have used the term “connected learning”, i have been using it to refer to connecting people with each other, but it can also refer to connecting ideas, right? Of course, connecting people can connect ideas, but this can also occur internally, as in the way we (in our individual brains) connect ideas. Neural networks (which I studied in my undergrad, and my undergrad thesis was an evolving artificial neural network, really cool stuff) are complex and at the time I studied them (have not followed up on advances in the literature in the field of medicine, neuroscience or computer science says) incomprehensible.

Yes. You created a neural network, you nurtured it with parameters, you fed it data and you looked at the output and “taught” it to learn the correct answer. The WAY it achieved this was a total blackbox. You did not know about the details of the connections between one neuron or another; you did not know which pathway the data took coming in and going out, and how the network learned. You just focused on designing your inputs, evaluating the outputs, and giving it feedback to improve upon itself.

Now think of how this really mimics what happens in learning in general. When we teach, we don’t really know, not for sure how another person is learning; we only know what we can see in their behavior (i can’t blame the behaviorists for this; if they had a “sensing” vs “intuition” learning style, how can you blame them? – and this connection, btw, comes from a meeting i am about to have with a student who wants to do his thesis on learning styles) – we know what we as teachers have done to nurture the learning environment. What parameters we have put in place and tinkered with to help a students’ learning along. We ask them to reflect explicitly on how they’ve learned, and metacognition is a beautiful thing.

But we don’t really know. We cannot be absolutely certain how the connections are happening when someone learns. Can we?

The point, though, is this. There are different dimensions of connecting and they are all valuable to learning. Connecting with other humans (a 2-way or multi-way thing), with ideas, within our own memories and brains, with external environments and data and feelings. Connecting feelings with thoughts (oh my God have you seen Simon Ensor’s latest post? Reading it made me really emotional – triggered connections about how I talk to my dad although he is no longer alive; it triggered feelings about connecting with old friends online; it triggered my yearning to meet my online friends someday soon, but my happiness in knowing them nevertheless… I am looking at you, Bonnie!).

Y/day I was at a meeting for the #et4online conference steering committee. I don’t wanna reveal too much but there was a part where we were discussing doing something like the TV show “chopped” (connection: cooking, reality show, education conference) then someone said we don’t wanna “grill” people and I wrote, “chopped but not grilled?” (I should think chopping is worse? Funny someone thought the chopped show was about zombies, and that was hilarious). Anyway, that discussion moved towards possibilities of doing supportive peer review a la Hybrid Pedagogy, rather than “chopping” … And this all goes back to how our approach to teaching/education should fit our goals. I was later reading a novel where a character said “sometimes the journey id the destination”. I am sure it has been said more eloquently elsewhere.

Did you notice all those connections? And blogging helps me make them, and capture them, and take them beyond the black box of my own brain. Does it help you?

14 Comments

  1. @Bali_Maha: Multidimensional connecting wp.me/p4yLHG-hl cc @sensor63 @telliowkuwp @bonstewart@kwhamon Enchant learning environment

  2. You didn’t understand my reference to violence.
    http://tachesdesens.blogspot.fr/2014/09/uncritical-mass.html

    Apparently you just made the connection.

    And i created a “spark” in my mind: oh my God, what Freire is talking about is exactly what is happening in that historical non-fiction movie. When people who had been oppressed start to be liberated, the first thing that ensues is chaos and it can be violent chaos… Of course, this also has happened to an extent in Egypt after 2011. I did not actually intend to make that connection when I first started writing this piece. It just came together, spontaneously, like, right now. I mean, I had made the connection somewhere in my mind, but I was not planning to connect the two right this minute, in this post.

    Impressive rhizome.

  3. “When people who had been oppressed start to be liberated, the first thing that ensues is chaos and it can be violent chaos…”
    That’s a great quote, one that I put in the context of a large class where an online instructor would purposefully ignite all kind of brushfires in all kinds of subcommunities in the class, and watch where it is going and how those communities would make sense of it. Most likely it would create chaos, and leads to the question of the responsibilities of the instructor then: should they s/he help those subcommunities make sense of things (probably to wildly different degrees), should s/he make sure to bring about a sense of peace at the end, if there is such a thing? That question of responsibilities needs to be addressed by considering also the chaos brought about to the instructor him/herself, and the possible need for time to set him/herself in a better situation.

  4. One of the biggest problems I have with connected learning as a particular theory (and with theories in general) is that like words themselves have hidden agendum. The poet Ted Hughes puts it this way, “Words tend to shut out the simplest things we wish to say. In a way, words are continually trying to displace our experience. And in so far as they are stronger than the raw life our our experience, and full of themselves and all the dictionaries they have digested, they do displace it.” Theories do likewise. I have not given up on words, but let’s just say I question their motives. I think you are right about what you say about connection above but I am also worried that our words about connection are like planetariums. They are analogous to the night sky, but they are not the night sky. That’s why I love stories, tales of action, goings on and doings described. Your stories about the conditions of connection and learning during January 2011 mean more to me than the phrase ‘multidimensional connection’ does.

    I think I get what you mean by the phrase, but it seems to me in the end to displace your experience of that multidimensionality. That’s eight syllables of blurred and approximate, displaced meaning. I suppose this is why I love poetry–experience approached at a slant. Simon’s poetic post makes multidimensional connections, but I think that if someone summed up one of my zeegas in such an abstract way, well…them’s fightin’ words. I know that this comment is a rant against the paucity of words as a measure of experience. I just want us to be aware always that this is not really about digital connecting in digital space, it is about words themselves as a measure of what we really know. It is a cautionary tale. I fear as I write this that I am not getting across how much I appreciate what you have written or that I really find what you say is…convivial.

    I want to call on Ted Hughes again because his words fail less spectacularly than mine. Here is a shared link to a scanned page of his from the relatively unknown collection of his essays, “Poetry in the Making”: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B_eRY5QJvXyqZEhXRUJucnZicVk/edit?usp=sharing

    Or perhaps listen here: http://ipad.io/tAQM

    • Looooved his Terry. Not sure if i am now replying to ur comment on my blog, or to your blog 😉 the iPad WordPress app is confusing me. But I will respond later in more detail, “connecting” your post with a couple of other things that happened and I read today… Thanks for this. Theory as analogy to words, as both being proxies but not replacements of our experience… Loved it

  5. What happens in our brains when something becomes “obvious”? Does it become trapped in words that force it into an understanding? Would this change were the obvious to occur in a group where word meaning and understandings differ. The imperfection of language is best found when people use this tool they invented to communicate and all puzzle over how imperfect it is.

    I vote for Jack Kerouac wrote “the journey is the destination” it was Freud who said “the journey id the destination.” And also, “sometimes a journey is just a journey.”

    • I think there is never a guarantee that the words we utter or write really represent what we meant them to, let alone that others get it how we intend them to…

  6. I have a piece I’m working on that will hopefully state what I tried to say the other day less clearly, but it relates to this idea of yours. It’s not just about connections as a static design — connections are sterile if they aren’t allowed to impact one another — if node A is not allowed to change in reaction to node B you end with this thing that looks like design, but is really lifeless hunk of metal. It has no spark. It’s an imitation of life.

    And what I see in education is we’re all about connecting, but we don’t leave any room for the connection to change us, or our direction, or our objectives, or our assessment. So it’s a parody of connection. It’s an Edwardian House repackaged as factory-built Edwardian Modular Home.

    • Hey Mike, I like where you’re going with this. Are you referring to your post about architecture? I think you are 🙂
      I like the static/dynamic/changing each other discourse… I’ll look out for that blogpost

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