March 2015 – A month of considerable learning

At the beginning of March we had an amazing fall of snow.

Snow March 1 2015 2

In the space of half an hour we had about four inches. A village friend said to me later that he had never seen snowflakes so big – he described them as being the shape and size of feathers – and this is from someone who has lived in this village for eons. The flakes certainly were bigger than any I have ever seen, and they were the shape of feathers, those downy feathers you get from chickens and ducks, and in no time at all the hill that I can see from my study window was covered with people sledging.

Snow March 1 2015

It was just as well that they took advantage of it, because within a few hours (unlike the incredible pictures that I have seen from the east coast of America and Canada this year), the snow was all gone. But it was quite magical while it lasted and also quite magical because it didn’t last.

Like February, March has been a month of sunshine and shade, both in terms of the weather and in terms of my life, although the month has definitely ended on a high.

The darker side of this month has been around my experience of and thinking about the meaning of ‘open’ in the online environment. I have always had reservations about how ‘open’ to be online, and this month’s happenings confirmed for me that ‘less is more’. I received some very good advice from a friend who said ‘…. everybody gets to have an opinion or ask a question, but they aren’t automatically entitled to a response’. I have remembered that many times this month, but I am also saddened by the increasing number of people who seem to be subject to online abuse. When I first started to work online, more than a decade ago, we always used to say to the students – ‘Remember that there is a human being on the end of your post and always believe, at least initially, in their best intentions’.

But of course every cloud has a silver lining, or some clouds have silver linings, i.e. along with the dark side comes the sunshine and this experience of having difficulties with ‘openness’ online is now feeding into three research papers, all with people I really respect and enjoy working with.

Also this month I have, with my friend and research colleague, Frances Bell, had a presentation proposal  accepted for Liverpool John Moore’s Teaching and Learning Conference in June. I expect we will be blogging about this nearer the time. I am really pleased about this, not least because Ron Barnett, who I have long admired, will be speaking on the second day of the conference.

But the highlight of this month has been the four-day course about the Divided Brain featuring Iain McGilchrist, that I attended this month in the Cotswolds, UK. I have written a series of blog posts about this. This was a wonderful course. I had already read McGilchrist’s book (some parts very slowly word for word, other parts more lightly), but the seminars over four days made it all fall into place. I could see many, many connections between Iain’s work and my own life, work and recent thinking. I am amazed that when I look back through this blog many of the posts relate to some of the ideas discussed in Iain’s seminars. It was really good for me, this month, to hear someone of Iain McGilchrist’s standing reaffirm my understanding that we need both dark and light experiences to have a full, rich and embodied view of the world. As I have written before on this blog, ‘dark’ experience is needed to clearly see the ‘light’. The overall message from the course was one of optimism. Iain McGilchrist was optimistic, feeling that despite our apparent increasing tendency to allow the left hemisphere to dominate our view of the world, (a manipulative, decontextualised, inanimate, abstract and static view), mankind has, in history, overcome this before and will again, allowing a more empathetic, understanding, holistic, open and embodied view of the world to come into being.

I too am feeling more optimistic as we move into April.

6 thoughts on “March 2015 – A month of considerable learning

  1. Glenyan April 1, 2015 / 2:42 pm

    I love these photos, Jenny. I’m a collector of “snow” photos…such images are my ‘rosebud’.

    I also really like your friend’s quote about everyone getting to have an opinion, but not entitled to a response. I’ve never heard that before, and it makes me think of the ‘open’ concept in a new light (which I’ve also had difficulty and reservations with).

    Reading that made me wonder, and maybe I can just drop this question here – In online environments, what do you think the relationship is between “open” and “potential”?

  2. jennymackness April 1, 2015 / 7:49 pm

    Hi Glen – thank you. I liked these photos too especially since they were both taken through glass and I was intrigued that the first one, taken through one window came out looking almost black and white, and the other one taken through another window, came out all blue. I have no idea why!

    The relationship between ‘open’ and ‘potential’? Interesting question. I think this depends on what we understand by ‘open’ and ‘potential’. But however you interpret them, I suspect they both have positives and negatives. So potential could be for increased connection, reputation, identity, status, support and so on – but the downside could be loss of privacy and being open to abuse.

    What do you think?

  3. Bev Wenger-Trayner April 9, 2015 / 2:02 am

    Hi Jenny, reading this article on HBR – “The subtle ways our screens are pushing us apart” by Karen Sobel-Lojeski brought me back to your blogpost. She quotes a story by a U.S. Navy Admiral in response to her question about how he felt about online communications:

    “I would never send a rookie pilot to land a fighter jet on a carrier deck in the middle of the night, in the middle of the ocean on a new moon. It’s pitch black. You can’t see your hand in front of your face. The pilot has all of his instruments at the ready. He always knows his exact altitude, speed, and distance from the ship. But he doesn’t have the one crucial thing he needs to land safely. He doesn’t have any depth perception. And that’s how I feel when I “talk” to people online — I have no depth perception.”

    Despite the story Karen is not all pessimistic about online communication, although she has some woesome research numbers about high levels of virtual distance.

    Anyway, I was interested in this idea of “depth perception” for context.

  4. jennymackness April 9, 2015 / 9:31 am

    Hi Bev – many thanks for sharing this with me. I also think the idea of ‘depth perception’ is an interesting one. I have always felt that it is difficult to achieve a good balance between breadth and depth in online communication. It’s not so difficult to connect and build up a broad and diverse network, if that is what you want to do. It’s a bit more difficult to build meaningful deeper relationships. I must think more about ‘depth perception’. Thanks Bev

  5. Glenyan April 9, 2015 / 8:28 pm

    Hi Jenny – The wonders of nature and light 🙂

    I’m really not sure what I think about the question I came up with. I think I started wondering about that from the ‘no guarantee’ part of your friend’s quote. Hrmmm, something along the lines that ‘open’ spaces are less about specific affordances, and more about increasing choices and options. I guess I mean ‘potential’ in a neutral way, because as you mention there’s also the potential for abuse and other negative behaviors.

    I’m still thinking about this, but it’s difficult to put into words. It comes off very generalized, which is maybe the nature of a word like ‘open’.

  6. jennymackness April 10, 2015 / 8:15 pm

    Hi Glen – thanks for the answer to my question. I’m interested in this comment you have made

    >‘open’ spaces are less about specific affordances, and more about increasing choices and options.

    It relates, I think, to the work I have done with Roy Williams and others on emergent learning, where we have looked at the relationship between structure/open and agency, amongst other things. I am currently interested in the constraints that a particular environment can put on agency.

    I too am still thinking about all this – very early thoughts at the moment 🙂

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