Embodied Learning: knowing with the whole body

 

Embodied learning is the final theme I want to explore in relation to Iain McGilchrist’s book The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. My interest is in how McGilchrist’s ideas might be significant for education.

The idea of embodied learning is not new. Philosophical discussion about the relationship between the mind and body has been ongoing from the time of The Buddha (480 – 400B.C.E.), and often centres around Descartes’ Cartesian dualism on the one hand, or the work of Merleau-Ponty on the problems of perception and embodiment on the other. In relation to philosophy all I want to say at this point is that, like many before me, I cannot align my educational philosophy with Descartes’ mind/body dualism. Merleau-Ponty’s (2004, p. 43) words (cited in Stolz, 2015), are nearer to my own thinking.

…rather than a mind and a body man is a mind with a body, a being who can only get to the truth of things because its body is, as it were, embedded in those things.

One of the earliest educators to recognise the importance of embodied learning was Maria Montessori, who wrote (as cited by Rathkunde, 2009b)

There is no description, no image in any book that is capable of replacing the sight of real trees . . . in a real forest. Something emanates from those trees which speaks to the soul, something no book, no museum is capable of giving (pp. 35-6).

Montessori encouraged a child-centred, holistic, place-based, experiential education, with a focus on hands-on activity. Teachers of infant children, children who cannot read or write, may never have thought of mind/body dualism, but they know intuitively that children learn with their whole bodies, They are daily surrounded, in their classrooms, by children playing in the sand tray, in the water, outdoors, dressing up, building with bricks and so on. In these activities, the children are learning without language. As we wrote in our paper ‘Synesthesia: From Cross-Modal to Modality-Free Learning and Knowledge (Williams et al., 2015)

What is most radical about the Montessori classroom is the lack of instruction or “linguistic scaffolding.” Instead the child is invited to explore the senses directly (p.50) (See also this previous post with comments on embodied learning).

Beyond the infant classroom, an understanding of the intimate connection between body and mind seems to get lost and education becomes increasingly disembodied.  Kevin Rathkunde (2009b) asks

‘How did we arrive at this alienating point of disembodiment in so many educational experiences?’

And further comments:

……. the disembodied view of the mind that is so ingrained in our technological society affects the daily practice of education. It lends itself to a fragmented view of learning where facts are taken out of context, and the personal experience and activity of the learner is seen as superfluous. It also lends itself to a production line view of schools that over-emphasize a business-like and efficient transfer of information and extrinsic rather than intrinsic student motivation. (Rathkunde, 2009a)

In a similar vein Stolz (2015, p.484) writes in the conclusion to his paper:

To some extent the former philosophical debates have either privileged the mind over the body (rationalism) or viewed the body as a type of sensorial instrument where knowledge is verified (empiricism). What is clear though is that neither viewpoint recognises the role of embodiment in how we come to understand and understand in a meaningful way.

The importance of the body in constituting reality is a theme that runs right through McGilchrist’s book, The Master and His Emissary. As Montessori knew, we see this clearly in how very young children acquire language in an embodied way, babbling and pointing at the same time, demonstrating the close connection between gesture and language. But embodied learning is not confined to young children. There is nothing that goes on in us that is not embodied. Most importantly, thinking and emotion are embodied. In 2015 on a course I attended I listened to McGilchrist discuss this:

“Our bodies are not assemblages of parts. There is a direct link between the heart and the brain via the vagal nerve. The heart feeds back to the brain, not just pain, as in the case of chest pain associated with heart conditions, but also in relation to other conditions such as epilepsy and depression. We talk about having a ‘heavy heart’. Depression is a condition of the heart as research has shown that after heart surgery there is an increase in the instance of depression. Thinking is thus embodied and so we should be mindful of our bodies and how we allow our thoughts to come to us. Thinking is distributed through the body, and there was reference here to the limbic system, which is primarily responsible for our emotional life; we know that emotion affects our immune system. This all relates to the embodied nature of thinking and emotion and the role of the right hemisphere, not only in emotion, but also in empathy and theory of mind” (quoted from a previous post (quoted from a previous post, The Divided Brain. What does it mean to think?).

Embodied learning is more than ensuring that learning is not ‘overly focused on abstract cognition at the expense of emotion, movement and processes rooted in body-environment interactions’ (Rathkunde, 2009a). It is a recognition that the body is the necessary context for all human experience (McGilchrist, 2009, p.118) and cannot be separated from its relationship with the world. McGilchrist feels that the importance of this for our being in the world has been lost.

The left hemisphere’s assault on our embodied nature is not just an assault on our bodies, but on the embodied nature of the world around us. Matter is what is recalcitrant to the will. The idea that the ‘material’ world is not just a lump of resource, but reaches into every part of the realm of value, including the spiritual, that through our embodied nature we can commune with it, that there are responses and responsibilities that need to be respected, has largely been lost by the dominant culture (McGilchrist, 2009, p.440).

Returning to Rathkunde’s question, ‘How did we arrive at this alienating point of disembodiment in so many educational experiences?’, I think McGilchrist’s answer would be that we have allowed our education systems to be dominated by the left hemisphere’s approach to being, which has lost sight of the whole, and separated the mind from the experience of the body.

References

McGilchrist, I. (2009). The Master and His Emissary. The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. Yale University Press

Merleau-Ponty, M. (2004). The world of perception. (O. Davis, Trans.). (T. Baldwin, Intro.). London and New York: Routledge. (Original work published 1948)

Montessori, M. (1973). From childhood to adolescence. Madras: Kalakshetra Publications.

Rathkunde, K. (2009a). Nature and Embodied Education, The Journal of Developmental Processes, 4(1), 70-80.

Rathkunde K. (2009b) Montessori and Embodied Education. In: Woods P.A., Woods G.J. (eds) Alternative Education for the 21st Century. Palgrave Macmillan, New York

Stolz, S. A. (2015). Embodied Learning. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 47(5), 474–487.

Williams, R., Gumtau, S. & Mackness, J. (2015).  Synesthesia: from cross-modal to modality-free learning and knowledge Leonardo Journal 

Source of image: https://www.simplypsychology.org/mindbodydebate.html

Creativity and experience on the distributed web

The topic for the penultimate week in the E-Learning 3.0 MOOC is ‘Experience’. We haven’t really started discussing this yet, but Stephen Downes, who is running this course, has posted a Synopsis to get us going. I am copying this below, with some initial thoughts/responses/questions inserted into his text in blue font. Stephen’s text is in italics.

“It is a truism that we learn from experience, and yet creating a role for experience in learning has been one of the most difficult problems in education.

When I think of experience in relation to learning the first thing that comes to mind is ‘field trips’. One my earliest strong memories is of a week-long field trip to Seahouses (Northumberland, UK) for my ‘A’ level Biology course. The week was spent gathering data on the beach and then recording it in a whole variety of ways in the evenings. I have had many such experiences in my ‘learning life’. My understanding of why these experiences are important and different is that they are ‘embodied’ and elicit an emotional response to a given topic. A photo of a Water Boatman on a pond-life chart might help you to recognise it, but won’t have the same impact as actually lifting one from the pond in your net, so that you can study it live under the microscope (in pond water of course!). My experience is that educators have to believe in the value of hands-on experience for it to be included in a curriculum.

But it is also a truism that we don’t always learn from experience. Some learners can make the same mistakes over and over again.

And so much of education continues to rely on indirect methods depending on knowledge transfer – reading, lectures, videos – rather than hands-on practice and knowledge creation.

This is true and I think stems from a belief that it is the ‘content to be covered’ that is important and there is ever more content; therefore time is short. Hands-on experience, for example field trips, take time. Just last week a friend was running a management game for a group of MSc students. The game takes a week to complete. Students are required to work in teams to solve simulated ‘real-world’ problems. In previous years the students have described this game as the most valuable learning experience of their course, but next year the game will be cut from the course. There is no time!

The emergence of the web, YouTube, Web 2.0 and social media was a great step forward, assigning a role for creativity in the learning experience. But experience, ultimately, requires an openness that media platforms were unable to provide.

The importance of creativity has long been recognised and the loss of emphasis on this in the curriculum (here in the UK) has long been a subject of concern. I remember in 1999 how stimulating it was to go to a conference on the newly published report – All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education. Ken Robinson who chaired the publication of this document has been pushing for more creativity in the curriculum ever since. But there is increasing evidence that creativity in the curriculum is being squeezed out. This theme was taken up by author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie when she awarded this year’s Turner Prize to Charlotte Prodger. The lack of creativity in the curriculum remains a concern.

Source of image

New technology is beginning to combine the ability of teachers and role models to model and demonstrate successful practice and the need for learners to practice and reflect on their learning in that environment. Content distribution networks and live streaming are transforming real-world events into hands-on learning experiences.

This is a course about the distributed web and so, of course, we are thinking about how the distributed web can promote hands-on learning experience. Hopefully this will not be confined to experiences through our screens, but will also promote experience of the real live world, as opposed to the virtual world.

A good example of this is the live-streaming platform Twitch and especially games like Fortnight, in which players become spectators, and back again, over and over. And using applications like xSplit or Open Broadcaster Software individuals can make their experiences part of the learning experience shared by others.

I have never played computer games, so I don’t know how individuals make their experience part of the learning experience shared by others works in these contexts. What would be the equivalent off the internet?

It is a model in which the creation of the content becomes a part of the content itself.

I interpret this to mean sharing the working processes that lead to content.

We see this with the recent self-shredding art by Banksy or the inside look at how the single-scene time-lapse sequence in Kidding was filmed. Some artists have made working openly part of the act – Deadmau5, for example, showing how electronic music is produced. Being able to see and experience how something is created is a key step on the way to becoming a creator oneself, and becoming a creator, in turn, becomes a key part of the learning experience.

Isn’t this what mathematicians, for example, have always done? Even small children in schools are encouraged to show their ‘workings’ – how they have arrived at a result. And artists frequently do this with their sketchbooks, but the difference is explained by Stephen below. We now have the possibility of creative activities becoming distributed and democratized. This has reminded me of Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir, but I don’t think this is quite what Stephen has in mind. Whilst the choir is distributed it is not democratized, in the sense that each singer cannot edit the final piece, but can only contribute to it. 

The difference between previous iterations of learning technology and that which we are experiencing with E-Learning 3.0 is that these creative activities become distributed and democratized. Just as multiple authors can edit Wikipedia articles or work on code in GitHub, participatory learning media enables learners to interact creatively without management or direction; the outcome is a consensus determined not by voting but by participation. Experience in learning changes the relation between teacher and student from one of persuasion (and even coercion) to one of creativity, co-work, and construction.

I’m wondering what effect this will have on an individual’s creative ability. If we take painters, for example, there are very, very few artists who work collaboratively on a painting. Off the top of my head I can think of the Singh Twins and Gilbert and George. Most painters create their work individually, even if they employ teams of people to produce their ideas. How will the fine arts change if they become a result of consensus. What will happen to ‘genius’?

Workplaces, and especially distributed workplaces, are beginning to create self-organizing consensus-based co-production networks. Early awkward and exploitative platform-based efforts such as Uber and Airbnb are giving way to more sophisticated and equitable network alternatives such as Steam, Koumbit and Medium.

Will consensus lead to a ‘dumbing down’ and loss of creativity, or to a different kind of creativity, or to increased creativity? And to what extent will this creativity be a result of embodied experience? What type of experience will it result from?

These are just some initial thoughts at the start of this topic.

Exploring the Divided Brain – a 4 day course with Iain McGilchrist. Day 1 (pm)

This is the second in a series of posts in which I am sharing the notes I took whilst attending a 4 day course – Exploring the Divided Brain- run by Field & Field and featuring Iain McGilchrist .

Here is a link to the first post. An Introduction to the Divided Brain – Part 1.

 

19th August 2016 pm – An Introduction to the Divided Brain – Part 2 (Embodied beings: language, thought, emotion, spirituality – and the brain, of course)

500,000 years ago man lived in social groups but how did he communicate? Language developed 80-40,000 years ago and written language developed 4000 years ago. So it can’t have been through speech.

There are two important things for speech, control of breathing and control of the tongue. Apes can do neither, but birds can control breathing which enables them to sing.

Whilst language is associated with both hemispheres (but it has different meanings in each hemisphere; an analogy is the paint box, left hemisphere and the picture, right hemisphere – p.99 the Master and his Emissary), there is every reason to suppose that language emerged from music, from the right hemisphere and that in infants language starts in the right hemisphere. New-born children communicate through music (squeals, howls, repetition, rhythm) and also through the face. Babies learn their mother’s voice in the womb and pay attention after birth to stories that were read to them in the womb.

But plenty of animals communicate without language (whales and dolphins), and even some human groups can communicate without language. For example, whistled Turkish is still used to communicate across valleys.

We don’t need language for communication or thinking, as evidenced by crows that can perform sequential reasoning tasks (see this post about last year’s course – Two types of language ) and pigeons can distinguish between Monet and Picasso.

Left hemisphere stroke sufferers, who lose the power of speech are still able to communicate and do quite complicated reasoning such as needed for solving mathematical puzzles.

Robin Dunbar argued that the development of language was related to the inability to sustain communication through manual grooming, which we see in apes and other animals, as populations grew in size. We need language to administer large groups and to give us boundaries.

Whilst Dunbar’s research has been criticised, it supports Iain’s view that there is a close link between language and the hand, a strong connection between language and the body and that the whole of experience is, at some level, embodied.

Understanding is related to grasping, ‘grasping the meaning’. As we know, we can get meaning from ‘body language’. We also get meaning from metaphor. Language links us to the world through metaphor. It is not insignificant that Iain chose a metaphor for the title of his book. We use metaphor to talk about experience. Every word we have is rooted in the body. Meaning is always contextual and embodied, never detached and thinking is a deeply embodied process because it is related to action. It is about our relationship with the world. Language grows in us. Thinking is an aspect of the way we attend to the world and in most languages there are two words for knowing, which each has a different root in experience.

The right hemisphere is more attuned to spiritual experience, which is rooted in the body, involves bodily practices and integrates emotion with thought. (See Charles Foster – Wired for God. The Biology of Spiritual Experience). All thought originates in the right hemisphere and is processed in the left.

Iain also talked about thinking in last year’s course.

This year he seems to have put greater emphasis on thinking as an embodied process and perhaps we shall see why when his forthcoming books are published, which according to his profile in our course booklet will include:

  • a critique of contemporary society and culture from the standpoint of neuropsychology;
  • a study of the paintings of subjects with schizophrenia;
  • a series of essays about culture and the brain with subjects from Andrew Marvell to Serge Gainsbourgh;
  • a short book of reflections on spiritual experience.

For the rest of the session Iain talked about the two ways of being in the world.

  1. The way of the left hemisphere is the way of certainty where things are cut off from the environment, static, fixed, known and abstracted – a representation of the world.
  2. The way of the right hemisphere is where things are complex, uncertain, fluid, changing wholes (which does not mean anything goes) – a more real world.

From the Ancient Greeks to the early Renaissance, we have seen the rise and fall of civilization in the West three times, each time associated with flowering of both hemispheres in balance followed by left hemisphere dominance. This is laid out in detail in the second part of Iain’s book – The Master and his Emissary.

Iain believes that we are now in a hall of mirrors; we have cut ourselves off from what would lead us back into the right hemisphere:

  • the natural world – the ‘space’ offered by nature
  • culture – which used to be embodied and passed on in folk wisdom, but mobilisation changed this
  • the body, which is treated like a machine
  • art – twentieth century art has abandoned its role to play clever games
  • religion – which has become very left hemisphere dominated or abandoned all together.

Some of us had an interesting discussion on the third day about conceptual art, which Iain does not appreciate! He feels that art does not need text and should not need to be articulated. For him it should be visceral and embodied. My own perspective is that whether or not art is visceral can only be judged by the viewer and maybe for some people, conceptual art can evoke a visceral response. It may also depend on how you define conceptual art. A Google search for conceptual artists includes Marina Abramović. Her work can evoke a visceral response in me as can some architecture.

Iain closed this session by saying that a left hemisphere dominated world looks bleak. It involves

  • loss of the broader picture
  • knowledge replaced by information, tokens or representations
  • loss of concepts of skill and judgment
  • abstraction and reification
  • bureaucracy (Berger):
    • procedures that are known
    • anonymity
    • organisability
    • predictability
    • justice reduced to mere equality
    • explicit abstraction
  • loss of the sense of uniqueness
  • quantity the only criterion
  • ‘either/or’
  • reasonableness replaced by rationality
  • failure of common sense
  • systems designed to maximise utility
  • loss of social cohesion
  • depersonalisation
  • paranoia and lack of trust
  • need for total control
  • anger and aggression
  • the passive victim
  • art conceptual
    • visual art lacks a sense of depth, and distorted or bizarre perspectives
    • music would be reduced to little more than rhythm
    • language diffuse, excessive, lacking in concrete referents
  • deliberate undercutting of the sense of awe or wonder
  • flow just the sum of an infinite series of ‘pieces’
  • discarding of tacit forms of knowing
    • ‘network of small complicated rules’
  • spectators rather than actors
  • dangerously unwarranted optimism

(Source of text in this list – Iain McGilchrist presentation slide. See also another post I made after hearing Iain talk in Edinburgh – The Divided Brain – Implications for Education).

This bleak view of a left hemisphere dominated world is outlined in detail in the conclusion of his book, The Master Betrayed, p.428-462.

Personal reflection

This session resonates with some work on embodied learning I did with my colleagues Roy Williams and Simone Gumtau, in which we explored learning, perception and action through the senses, with particular reference to synesthesia. In one of the ‘cases’ that we discuss in the published paper a child on the autism spectrum responds with his whole body to the colour purple.  In another, we discuss how infant children in Montessori classrooms engage in embodied learning to explore mathematical patterns. I think if you have worked with infant children (which I have) or children on the autism spectrum (which I have but not as a teacher, only as a researcher and observer) then the idea of embodied learning is very familiar. At what point in our education system does embodied learning become less important and why? Perhaps we spend too much time talking and not enough time making enough use of all the senses we have.

On a separate point, it is interesting that the bleak view of the left hemisphere’s world was presented as a bullet-point list, whereas the right hemisphere’s view of the world was presented with an image of a coral reef (see the first post in this series). Iain did not use many slides for this course and when he did use them they were usually images. This was the only session in which we were presented with a list. The bullet points seem to make the listed content even more bleak and of course they make a point, the point! But whilst this day ended with this pessimistic view, the overall message was thought-provoking rather than depressing.

Authors/people referred to during the session

Charles Foster (2010) Wired for God. The Biology of Spiritual Experience

Iain McGilchrist (1982) Against Criticism. Faber & Faber

Iain McGilchrist (2010). The Master and His Emissary. The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. Yale University Press.

David McNeill’s work on thought, gesture and language.

Williams, R., Gumtau, S. & Mackness, J. (2015).  Synesthesia: from cross-modal to modality-free learning and knowledge.  Leonardo Journal 

Learning about learning from Gertrude Stein

Gertrude_Stein_by_Alvin_Langdon_Coburn Link to source of image

ModPo moves on at a furious pace – a bit too fast for me!  Week 5 has started (with the theme of Anti-Modernist Doubts), but I am still thinking about Week 4 and Gertrude Stein –  and what I can learn from her about teaching and learning. Of course, this was not her objective. According to one of the poets who presented with Al Filreis in the great live webcast  this week….

Rachel Blau DuPlessis: http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/DuPlessis.php
Bob Perelman: http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/Perelman.php
Ron Silliman: http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/Silliman.php

….. I think it was Rachel Blau DuPlessis – Stein was the total proponent of discovery. ‘She was not concerned about the future and her legacy, instead her focus was on the excitement of an opening present’ – how refreshing.

But despite this I think Stein has a lot of messages for teachers and learners, never mind poets and authors – so a legacy in spite of herself.

I will try and gather my thoughts into some sort of order, although in doing this I contradict my first point and Gertrude Stein!

1. Thinking spatially, instead of linearly.

A ModPo participant phoned in to the live webcast to say that last year she couldn’t make sense of Stein’s work. This year she had an ‘epiphany’ when she realized that Stein’s work cannot be thought of linearly –  she realized she had to think of Stein’s poetry in terms of spatial relationships. According to one of the guest poets (apologies for not remembering who) Stein’s work proceeds rhythmically. Her writing is very clear but very abstract. For Stein the continual present is what is important – things don’t add up.

For me thinking spatially instead of linearly describes the learning process. We like to think we are working through a curriculum/syllabus linearly, and pretty much everything in education is presented to us in this way (even ModPo!) – but in fact our learning, even the learning of very small children, does not proceed in a linear orderly fashion, but goes forwards and backwards and from side to side – in fact in every direction. This relates to Stephen Downes’ thoughts about learning being the recognition of patterns (connectivism) and Dave Cormier’s work on rhizomatic learning.

2. The role of multiple perspectives

Picasso and the Cubists wanted to see and present different sides of an object – to see the object from multiple perspectives. Stein tried to do the same with words.  Here is a video of her reading her Portrait of Picasso –

There is also a video in which we can see how she goes even further than Picasso. The video puts her poetry to dance (which relates to the point I make about embodied learning below). (This video has been made private, since I initially wrote this post).

For Stein each word was an event. Any word in Stein’s work is a frame. It could mean a lot of different things. Learning in MOOCs has exposed us to a greatly increased number of perspectives in terms of the people we could come in contact with (34 000 in ModPo), than was possible in the small classes and limited access to texts of the past.  It is interesting to think of the different ways in which learners can be exposed to multiple perspectives and the effect of multiple perspectives on learning. For Stein it was about liberation from traditional ways of thinking and writing – putting her mind through a different way of thinking.

3. Risk and transformative learning

It was suggested in the webcast that without the Cubists there would have been no Gertrude Stein as we know her. The effect of the Cubists was to completely disrupt her existing way of thinking and writing, moving her irreversibly into a new relationship with words. The Cubists changed her ‘frames of reference’. As Meyer and Land  would describe it, she passed through a portal

a threshold  has always demarcated that which belongs within, the place of familiarity and relative security, from what lies beyond that, the unfamiliar, the unknown, the potentially dangerous. It reminds us too that all journeys begin with leaving that familiar space and crossing over into the riskier space beyond the threshold. (p.ix)

Stein was seeking a new kind of community and meaning making. She embraced the unfamiliar riskier space. Learning is not always ‘safe’ .

4. Embodied learning

I have always thought of embodied learning in terms of using the whole body. Little children do this through play as a natural part of their every day learning and there are some disciplines, such as dance, sport and some of the arts subjects where embodied learning is an easily recognizable element. It is harder to think about embodied learning in relation to text-based disciplines, but I think Stein shows us how this might be done. Stein treats words as impressionist brush strokes. See for example

Water Raining – from Tender Buttons.  (scroll down to find it)

Water astonishing and difficult altogether makes a meadow and a stroke.

Stein paints poetry and writes poetry as music. It was suggested in the webcast that she uses words for self-pleasuring – a form of intellectual eroticism. She plays a game with herself, not a game with us – enjoying the mechanisms of her mind – pleasuring herself – enjoying herself. Stein threw herself into her world of words as Jackson Pollock threw paint onto a canvas.

There is more, much more, I could learn from Gertrude Stein, but I want to keep up with the linear flow of the ModPo syllabus 😉 – so I’ll have to come back to Stein another time. Would Stein have been a ModPo participant?  I wonder. Maybe too linear for her?

ModPo 2013 starts today

Al Filreis’ MOOC, Modern & Contemporary American Poetry has started today. This is the second run of this MOOC. It has a ‘big’ reputation as being a very successful MOOC which has managed to create a community of ‘ModPoers’, dedicated to poetry and Al Filreis!

I’m not new to MOOCs, but first impressions are that this will be a challenging course, maybe because I know nothing about poetry, although I do recognize the names of some of the poets who Al Filreis mentions in his introductory video.

But I wasn’t aware of John Yau and have never before heard the poem that Al Filreis read in the introductory video.

“830 Fireplace Road” John Yau  (Variations on a sentence by Jackson Pollock)

“When I am in my painting, I’m not aware of what I’m doing”
When aware of what I am in my painting, I’m not aware
When I am my painting, I’m not aware of what I am
When what, what when, what of, when in, I’m not painting my I
When painting, I am in what I’m doing, not doing what I am
When doing what I am, I’m not in my painting
When I am of my painting, I’m not aware of when, of what
Of what I’m doing, I am not aware, I’m painting
Of what, when, my, I, painting, in painting
When of, of what, in when, in what painting
Not aware, not in, not of, not doing, I’m in my I
In my am, not am in my, not of when I am, of what
Painting “what” when I am, of when I am, doing, painting.
When painting, I’m not doing. I am in my doing. I am painting.

Jackson Pollock wrote: “When I am in my painting, I’m not aware of what I’m doing. It’s only after a sort of ‘get acquainted’ period that I see what I have been about. I have no fears about making changes, destroying the image, etc., because the painting has a life of its own.”

Source of poem: http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88v/yau.html

Evidently this poetic form is called a Pollock

A Pollock is a sonnet whose first line is a quotation. The remaining lines are comprised solely of words and punctuation found in the first line.

Whilst I haven’t before heard of John Yau, I do know Jackson Pollock’s work, so straight away I have a point of connection with the poem. For me the poem is about identity and immediately brought to mind Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s work on Flow and Education. http://www.ppc.sas.upenn.edu/csikszentmihalyipowerpoint.pdf

jackson-pollock

Another thought is that Jackson Pollock for me is an artist who embraces embodied learning. This is something that my colleagues Roy Williams, Simone Gumtau and I have tentatively been exploring – we have a paper in press with the Leonardo Journal

Williams, R., Gumtau, S. & Mackness, J. (2014).  Synesthesia: from cross-modality to modality-free learning and knowledge. (Accepted for publication in Leonardo Journal)

So a question I will be thinking about during ModPo is, to what extent is reading/writing poetry a cross-modal and embodied learning experience.

SEAD: Describing Changing Curricula

This is the title of an Abstract for a white paper that Roy Williams, Simone Gumtau and I recently submitted to SEAD.

SEAD is a working group that is looking to report on and

address new opportunities or roadblocks to improve collaboration between science and engineering and arts and design. The report will also analyze existing reports issued internationally over the last ten years and develop a meta-analysis of these previous reports. http://seadnetwork.wordpress.com/about/

Here is a link to the Abstract

We now have until November 15th to submit our White Paper, which must include a summary section with suggested actions. The more specific the Suggested Actions the better:

a) Identify the STAKEHOLDER (people or organizations in a position to take an action, or who will benefit from the success of your work).

b) Describe briefly the roadblock or problem you have learned in your own work, and suggest actions that others can take to help overcome such problems.

c) Identify new important opportunities that you feel should be made a priority.’

Our thinking for this submission is influenced by two recent papers we have worked on and submitted for publication.

1. Williams, R., Mackness, J. & Gumtau, S. (2012) Footprints of Emergence. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning

  • this has been accepted and hopefully will be published in the next edition of IRRODL

2.  Williams, R., Mackness, J. & Gumtau, S. (2012) Synaesthesia and Embodied Learning.

In the Footprints of Emergence paper we expand the ideas we developed in an earlier paper on  emergent learning Emergent Learning and Learning Ecologies in Web 2.0  , with a particular focus on developing a framework for designing curricula for emergent learning.

In the  Synaesthesia and Embodied Learning paper,  we explore how synaesthesic enactive perception can underpin innovative learning design.

Since writing and submitting these two papers we have begun to think more deeply about how they inform each other and the implications for enhancing creativity and innovation across the disciplines through considerations of emergent, prescriptive, synaesthesic and embodied learning in relation to curriculum design.

For further information see also Roy’s blog post of Friday 17th August – also with the title ‘Describing Changing Curricula’

​Learn by unlearning; see by unseeing

I am just back from a couple of days at a conference at Stirling University  Scotland.

Roy Williams, Simone Gumtau and I presented a paper and ran a theory clinic (see  here for details)

As with all conferences for me – it’s difficult to come away and clearly articulate the conference’s value, or what I have learned, or been provoked into thinking about and exploring further (at least in the short term). And as with all conferences, I went to some sessions that ‘left me cold’, but to others which left me knowing that there is lots I need to think about further. The Stirling conference (overall) fulfilled the latter more than the former. I was introduced to lots of new ideas.

Recently I wrote a post about being a glass half empty person . After this conference I realize that is not quite correct – but that my interest in learning is stimulated by ‘unlearning’ and by ‘unseeing’ – an idea further stimulated by a paper presented by Jason Thomas Wozniak, Teachers College, Colombia University, USA.

I was lucky that this was the last session I attended, as for me it pulled together ideas from some of the other presentations that had been simmering in my depths somewhere and also related to our own papers in unexpected ways and particularly to the idea that what is not present is as important as what is present – which I first began to think about after reading a paper about 6 months ago by Terrence W. Deacon (2011).

This idea of ‘The Other’, learning not from what is, but from what is not, also seems critical to avoiding echo chambers and ‘group think’, a topic which has been discussed many times by MOOC followers. Jason Wozniac reminds us that

‘There is a long history of ancient and modern philosophers like Seneca and Foucault who sought to defamiliarise themselves with habitual manners of perceiving and thinking in order to acquire new approaches to reality.”

Wozniac’s work with learners in Brazil has sought to encourage learning through ‘making the world strange’. Paul Standish, another speaker at the conference, seemed to be aligned to this idea, albeit through different expression, when he urged us to ‘reclaim the concept of the amateur in a positive way’. I take this to mean that we have much to learn from the amateur and unexpected ways of thinking. Standish pointed out that teachers often close down dialogue and said that teachers need to learn how to be an authority without being in authority.

Wozniac also writes “Habitual perception conceals or makes us numb to many aspects of the world. We become in essence de-sensitized, and our participation in the world is impoverished’ … and he quotes Ginzburg, 2001, p.13) ‘To understand less, to be ingenuous, to remain stupefied: these are reactions that may lead us to see more’.”

Wozniac’s team attempted this with Brazilian learners, i.e. to encourage learning through unlearning and seeing through unseeing, through a series of exercises involving art, poetry and dialogue. This reminded me of when (years ago) I attended life drawing classes and for weeks we were not allowed to draw the figure as we saw her, but instead each week had to draw her from different perspectives, e.g. the figure as a mathematical representation, the figure as a landscape and so on. We, along with Wozniac’s adult teachers and students, were developing ‘negative capability’ (Keats 1935, p.72, quoted by Wozniac) .

‘That is to say that these teachers were ‘capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, and doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason” (Wozniac, 2012).

This idea of promoting uncertainty and mystery in learning is very closely related to the work I have been doing with Roy Williams and Simone Gumtau on emergent and embodied learning ….. And it seems to me that a focus on uncertainty necessitates consideration of what is not there, or ‘The Other’.

For Julie Allan (keynote speaker) this ‘Other’ was expressed as ‘Aporias’. She encouraged us to think in terms of expressions of doubt, e.g. How can we raise achievement and promote inclusiveness , or how can we promote autonomy and support collaboration (which seems very relevant to the FSLT12 MOOC ).

And our second keynote speaker Tom Popkewitz  talked of ‘double gesture’ i.e. by considering what is – you also necessarily identify what is not. For example he writes:

Today’s the “urban” family and child has new classifications of “troubled youth” and “the dropout”. Without too much effort, it is easy to realize that there is no “troubled” or “dropout” without theories about the child who is not troubled and who is different from the child “drop-in”.

According to Popkewitz you can’t understand the self without understanding ‘The Other” and trying to control the future has never worked.

As Paul Standish said, the aim of education is to lead to freedom. What I learned from the conference, is that this is the freedom to see things as we have never seen them before, to think things we have never dreamed possible, to embrace uncertainty and ‘strangeness’ and to welcome defamiliarisation. This freedom will no doubt feel like strange and unfamiliar territory, but to quote Michel Foucault

‘There are times in life when the question of knowing if one can think differently than one thinks, and perceive differently than one sees, is absolutely necessary if one is to go on looking and reflecting at all.’

References

Deacon, T.W. (2011) Consciousness is a matter of constraint- My New Scientist
Magazine issue 2840.

Ginzburg, C. (2001) Making it strange: The prehistory of a literary device. In Wooden Eyes: Nine Reflections on Distance (pp. 1-23). (Martin Ryle & Kate Soper, Trans.). New York: Columbia University Press)

Keats, J. (1935) The Letters of John Keats (p.72) New York: Oxford University Press

Popkewitz, T.S. (2012) Is there an Option: Theory as an Empirical Fact. http://www.stir.ac.uk/education/future-of-theory-in-education/

Wozniak, J.T. (2012) Exercises in Making the World Strange: Cultivating new ways of perceiving the world in teacher education programs and adult literacy and philosophy classes. http://www.stir.ac.uk/education/future-of-theory-in-education/