New metaphors for learning

Once you start thinking in terms of metaphors for learning, you find them everywhere.

At the beginning of this year Mariana Funes, Frances Bell and I had a paper published about the use of the rhizome as a metaphor for learning. Our research findings were that this can be a problematic metaphor for learning, depending on how it is understood and interpreted.

Mackness, J., Bell, F. & Funes, M. (2016). The Rhizome: a problematic metaphor for teaching and learning in a MOOC. 32(1), p.78-91 Australasian Journal of Educational Technology.

Then at the Networked Learning Conference in Lancaster last month, Caroline Haythornthwaite suggested that we need new metaphors for networked learning. She went through the many metaphors that are already used. I blogged about this at the time, but here is her presentation again from which these two images/slides below are taken.

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This week, or maybe it was last week, I noted on Twitter that Thomas Ryberg, one of the organisers of the Networked Learning Conference, used patchworking as a metaphor for learning in his PhD dissertation and Frances Bell has often written of knitting as a metaphor for learning and tweeted a link to her blog post. Donna Lanclos added to this discussion by tweeting a link to an article by Katie Collins who writes about needlecraft metaphors for academic writing. The Materiality of Research: Woven into the Fabric of the Text: Subversive material metaphors in academic writing.

Also at the Networked Learning Conference, Sian Bayne asked us to think about learning in terms of space. Although she didn’t use the word metaphor, there were plenty of them in her keynote, smooth and striated space, fluid and fire space, code/space. I blogged about this at the time too. 

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I have recognised space as a metaphor for learning before, when I visited the Sensing Spaces exhibition at the Royal Academy in 2014. At the time I felt we could learn a lot from how architects think about space.

This week Stephen Downes has used the metaphors of time and space to talk about how we might perceive changes in learning brought about by the internet, digital and connected learning.

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http://www.downes.ca/presentation/384 

This was an interesting talk. Stephen pointed out that our education system is geared to linear, time-oriented, objectives and outcomes driven ways of thinking and learning. He suggested that space metaphors might be more appropriate for learning in a digital age, referring us to Carrie Paechter’s metaphors of space in educational theory and practice.

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The space metaphor aligns well with my own interest in emergent learning and viewing learning environments as being on a spectrum between prescribed and emergent learning.

I can also see connections to Nick Sousanis’ and Ian McGilchrist’s work.

In his book Unflattening Nick Sousanis warns against becoming stuck in the ‘flatlands’ and not being able to see the whole picture. In a recent post about this book I wrote:

The book is about the narrowness and flatness of our vision and thereby of our understanding of the world around us. It is a plea for seeing beyond the boundaries of our current frames of reference, beyond the limitations of text, beyond the borders of the ‘flatlands’. It is a plea to imagine otherwise, to find different perspectives and new ways of seeing.

Ironically this week Nick Sousanis reported that a library in France couldn’t categorise his book.

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This is another example of the dominance of linear thinking which want to fix ideas into ordered categories. Matthias Melcher has developed a think tool for overcoming this categorisation problem where an idea/object must be allocated to just one category. In his tool it is possible to assign an idea to multiple categories. He explains how it works in this video and I have described how I have used it in another blog post.

Ian McGilchrist is also concerned with the narrowness or in Sousanis’ terms ‘flatness’ of our thinking. He puts this down to attentional asymmetry of the hemispheres of the brain and the dominance of the left hemisphere, which focuses attention, unlike the right hemisphere which sees the whole picture.

McGilchrist has also highlighted the importance of metaphor. In this article he is reported as arguing that

“…. metaphor is a primal facet of human thought, that it “is the only way of understanding anything.”

In August I will be attending a 4-day course  in which I am hoping to learn more about Ian McGilchrist’s views about the relationship between these different ways of thinking and the future of education. I know his next book will be about education and will have the Title – The Porcupine is a Monkey.  Like Stephen Downes, Caroline Haythornthwaite, Sian Bayne and Nick Sousanis, Ian McGilchrist writes about the need for new ways of thinking.

“My suggestion is that we need a whole new way of thinking about the nature of reality, one that understanding the way our brain works can help us achieve.” (McGilchrist, 2014, The Porcupine is a Monkey)

Thinking in terms of metaphors seems an interesting way forward.

Networked Learning 2016: Do we need new metaphors?

The question in the title of this post was raised by Caroline Haythornthwaite in her keynote presentation for the Networked Learning Conference 2016. Metaphor became a theme which ran through the conference, following this opening keynote.

Caroline Haythornthwaite

I found this a difficult presentation to follow at the time. It was very densely packed with information, delivered fast and the slides contain a lot of text, so I am grateful to Caroline for immediately posting the link to her presentation, giving us an opportunity to go through it all again. https://haythorn.files.wordpress.com/2016/05/haythornthwaite_nlc2016-pptx.pdf

Caroline discussed many metaphors for networked learning including new ones that might help us reconsider where we are and where we are going next in terms of networked learning. By the end of her presentation after she had taken us through a whirlwind of many possibilities, she asked the question (Slide 52), ‘What are the implications for networked learning if we use metaphors that relate to new working conditions?’ e.g. Gig learning and Uber learning.

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A quick search on Google suggests that the implications might be that we see more posts like this ‘5 skills of the Gig Economy’ by Joseph Aoun.

Metaphors are powerful, even essential to our understanding. Iain McGilchrist in his book on how the left and right hemispheres of the brain influence how we perceive the world around us, has written:

Metaphoric thinking is fundamental to our understanding of the world, because it is the only way in which understanding can reach outside the system of signs to life itself. It is what links language to life. (McGilchrist, 2009, p.115)

Metaphors help us to think differently, see alternative perspectives and ‘unflatten’ our thinking (Sousanis, 2015). An example of a metaphor used by both Caroline (Slide 4) and Nick Sousanis (p.18 in his book) and taken from Lakoff and Johnson is reframing ‘argument as a dance rather than war’.

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In my own recent work, with Frances Bell and Mariana Funes (2016, p.80) we have written that metaphors need to be treated with caution.

Lakoff (1992) points out that metaphors are asymmetric and partial and Morgan (1997) writes of metaphors, “in creating ways of seeing they tend to create ways of not seeing” (p. 348). Metaphors shape the way we see and the way we act, they enact a particular view and can be “self-fulfilling prophecies” (Lakoff & Johnson, 2008, p. 132).

By using the Gig metaphor to create a list of skills, what skills do we exclude? What do we fail to see?

These questions about the pros and cons of metaphor relates to another theme that ran through the conference; the meaning of ‘open’. I hope to think about this in more depth in a further post, but Richard Edward’s work (referenced in Sian Bayne’s keynote and her presentation with Jen Ross) discusses the relationship between openness and closedness (Edwards, 2015). He writes:

….all forms of openness entail forms of closed-ness and that it is only through certain closings that certain openings become possible and vice versa (p.3)

So in any form of discussion about new metaphors it will be necessary to consider the limitations of the metaphor. These are complex issues. Roy Williams (@dustcube on Twitter), who was not at the conference but who has seen Caroline’s presentation, wonders if we avoid engaging sufficiently with complexity because it is too much for us; we are like people who are hungry for ideas, but keep walking quickly past the chocolate-ideas shop, because we think they might be ‘too rich’ for us.

Roy metaphor

I would have liked to have spent a bit more time in the chocolate shop, maybe with a workshop (or similar) after Caroline’s keynote to play and experiment ‘with possible metaphors to guide us on the way forward’ in these changing times (Haythornthwaite, 2016).

References

Bayne, S. (2016). Campus Codespaces for Networked Learning. (Keynote May 10, 2016, 10th Networked Learning Conference)

Edwards, R. (2015). Knowledge infrastructures and the inscrutability of openness in education. Learning, Media and Technology, (June), 1–14. doi:10.1080/17439884.2015.1006131

Haythornthwaite, C. (2016). New Metaphors for Networked Learning. (Keynote May 10, 2016, 10th Networked Learning Conference)

Mackness, J., Bell, F., & Funes, M. (2016). The Rhizome: a problematic metaphor for teaching and learning in a MOOC. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 32(1), 78–91. doi:10.14742/ajet.v0i0.2486

McGilchrist, I. (2009). The Master and his Emissary. The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. New Haven, London: Yale University Press

Sousanis, N. (2015). Unflattening. Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: Harvard University Press

The Rhizome: a problematic metaphor for teaching and learning in a MOOC

boypoolrhizome

(Source of image: https://socialdigitalelective.wordpress.com/groups/rhizomes/)

Drawing ‘boypoolrhuzome’ by Dr Mark Ingham, Reader in Critical and Nomadic Pedagogies at the University of the Arts London LCC

Our second paper which explores how the rhizome metaphor was understood in the Rhizo14 MOOC (Rhizomatic Learning. The Community is the Curriculum) has finally been published by The Australasian Journal of Educational Technology.

Mackness, J., Bell, F. & Funes, M. (2016). The Rhizome: a problematic metaphor for teaching and learning in a MOOC. 32(1), p.78-91 Australasian Journal of Educational Technology.

The paper was accepted following revision in response to reviewers’ comments last July, so it has felt like a long wait, but there have been some changes of the Journal’s staff and website so I think a bit of a backlog built up. The Editors were very patient with our ‘nagging’ 🙂

The body of work we have developed in relation to the Rhizo 14 MOOC is now growing. The first paper was published by Open Praxis.

Mackness, J. & Bell, F. (2015). Rhizo14: A Rhizomatic Learning cMOOC in Sunlight and in Shade. Open Praxis. 7(1), p. 25-38

We have also given a couple of presentations and written many blog posts

18-06-2015 Mackness, J. & Bell, F. Teaching and Learning in the Rhizome: challenges and possibilities. Mackness & Bell Conference Submission 2015 . Blog post about the presentation

27-6-2014 Mackness, J. & Bell, F. ALTMOOCSIG Conference The Rhizome as a Metaphor for Learning in a MOOC. See also Emerging ambiguities and concerns for blog posts about this presentation and the related Prezi.

A third paper has just today been returned by the reviewers and will hopefully be published within the next three months.

The second paper about the rhizome metaphor was really enjoyable to work on as it introduced us to new authors and presented us with many challenges. As always we worked on a private wiki to collect, share and discuss resources and our thoughts, as well as paper drafts.

At the beginning we were inspired by this website – Nomadology  – and wondered whether we could present our paper as an interactive document in this way (with no beginning and no end), but it was not to be. Even our attempt to present the paper as independent sections (mimicking Deleuze and Guattari’s plateaus) did not work. Ultimately, we shared the concerns expressed by Douglas-Jones and Sariola (2009):

– we are recognizing the academy’s need to communicate ideas in writing, in a linear format. Even if methodologically and theoretically we become more rhizomatic, the imparting of knowledge currently requires some arborescence. (p. 2) ( cited in Mackness, Bell and Funes, 2016, p.87)

For now, I’m OK with that, but it would be good to see the development of more creative, multi-media and interactive ways of presenting research and discussion papers. If nothing else, it could make the papers more fun to work on and multi-media might help to explain the work more effectively.

May 2015 – metaphor, meaning and motion

I have committed to writing a monthly blog post this year, rather like those who commit to posting a photo a day. I have resisted the photo a day – I hate routine. Even making a monthly blog post feels too prescriptive, but given that I seem to be lacking any motivation to blog recently, this commitment to a monthly post will hopefully keep me going until my motivation comes back.

But that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been writing. I have been writing a lot – just not in public!

The end of this month has seen a focus for me on the meaning of ‘metaphor’, in particular in relation to the rhizome metaphor. Frances Bell, Mariana Funes and I have been finalizing a paper about the rhizome, how it is understood and how it applies to teaching and learning. This is a Wordle composed from the content of our submitted paper.

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We have been working on this paper for more than a year. There was a lot to learn. What has been extremely enjoyable about this has been the number of authors I have become familiar with who write about the rhizome. I have so enjoyed the poetic imagery that some of their writing conjures up.

For those completely unfamiliar with the concept of the rhizome, then a good start is Chapter 1 of Deleuze and Guattari’s book. A Thousand Plateaus (1987, Bloombury) – and we have already published one paper about this. Our research is ongoing, but for our initial thoughts and findings see our paper in Open Praxis – Rhizo14 – A Rhizomatic Learning cMOOC in Sunlight and in Shade.

‘Meaning’ has also featured prominently in May for me, i.e. meaning in relation to what I have been doing and the meaning of my life as it relates to those around me. I think it’s something to do with age. My husband reached the age of 70 this month and for some reason that feels like a significant milestone and has brought with it lots of associated thoughts related to meaning. I bought him an Anthology of Emily Dickinson’s poems to mark this event (he is a fan!) and each day, he selects another poem to read, share and discuss. This week, this is the poem that has resonated most strongly with me:

 

A Thought went up my mind today –

That I have had before –

But did not finish – some way back –

I could not fix the Year –

 

Nor where it went – not why it came

The second time to me –

Nor definitely, what it was –

Have I to say –

 

But somewhere – in my Soul – I know –

I’ve met the Thing before –

It just reminded me – ‘twas all –

And came my way no more –

(Emily Dickinson, 701. Emily didn’t give her poems titles – she simply numbered them)

Finally, motion – what is that about? Well it’s about the motion of the wheels of my bike. At the start of the month we were cycling in Holland, through the tulip fields. This far exceeded my expectations of an enjoyable holiday. Of course I know we were so lucky – no rain, only one day of high winds, a fantastic hotel, amazingly safe cycle routes and lanes with good surfaces, and the stunning tulip fields.

Holland

Needless to say I took far too many photos of tulips which I have posted on my Flickr site.