Social Artistry… A new idea?

Social artistry in the context of educational change was the subject of Nancy White’s presentation for changemooc this week.

I haven’t come across the term before – but everything I have heard this week and read suggests that the ideas are not necessarily new – just expressed differently to fit our changing context in relation to learning in a digital age.

So what is it? It’s interesting that when we can’t explain or define something, we end up with falling back on the argument that defining something can often destroy what you were trying to capture. This argument was put forward earlier in this Mooc in relation to defining Moocs – and was put forward again in the Friday online session this week. Half of me understands the dangers of pinning something down with a definition, especially too early in people’s understanding, but the other half says we need some common understanding or terms to be able to discuss it at all.

This is what I picked up from another rushed week.

A social artist is a person who creates a social space for learning – and is not the same as a social reporter.  A social artist invites you to engage – listens, empathises, values, validates, amplifies and most of all asks the questions that will create the social space needed for learning.  A social artist connects people and encourages participation, which in turn leads to reciprocity, reification of ideas and a developing shared history.

Jean Houston writes (in 2004) an interesting article about social artistry and Fleming Funch as long ago as 1995 summarises the key skills of a social artist having attended a talk by Jean Houston.

In 2008 David Wilcox talked to Bev Trayner and Josien Kapma about social reporting as opposed to social artistry and blogged about Etienne Wenger’s reference to social artists

In September of this year Etienne and Nancy were discussing the same ideas in their presentation at the Share Fair in Rome  – where the importance of social artists being able to work in both the vertical and horizontal systems of accountability in organizations was also discussed – i.e. with the hierarchy and with peers. This is significant for a social artist’s ability to influence change.

And then – this week Nancy talked with Giulia Forsythe, Zach Davis and Tim Owens in DTLT Today  as well as in changeMooc about these ideas.

The question came up – is this any different to what the best teaching or the best facilitating has always been? I am struggling to find a significant difference. There might be some differences in terms of the technologies we now use for connecting people and the scale (size) of the networks in which ‘social artists’ work, but my feeling is that the skills mentioned above – listening, connecting, questioning, empathising and so on are what the best teachers have always done (see for example, the work of Lisa Lane ) and the skills that Fleming Funch lists on his post are the skills of a good learner. So maybe a quality of a ‘social artist’ is also to be an effective learner.

I think Nancy’s right – focussing on the words ‘social artist’ does not help. It’s the process we need to be talking about and how this might be changing in our changing educational environments.

14-11-11 Postscript

I have just come across this blogpost by Jupidu – Are we Social Artists? – which is great not only for the thoughtful reflection on the question, but also reminding me that Etienne Wenger has written an essay on social artistry – which I know I have somewhere in my computer files. It obviously did not resonate at the time, but maybe it will now.

Blog aggregation

Did you follow the CCK08 course? You remember all that talking we did about how difficult it was to keep tabs on all the blogs you wanted to follow – well Nancy White (who I’m sure you’ll remember from the CCK08 course if you didn’t already know her from elsewhere) and Tony Karrer have obviously recognised the difficulties of lesser mortals like me and created a blog aggregation site – Communities and Networks Connections.  Just those 3 words, tells me its just what I need.

This is not a place to blog or network or hold conversations – it is simply somewhere to go to find out what bloggers are saying about communities and networks and hopefully feel more connected in the process.

I think it’s pretty self-explanatory, as it’s very clearly set out. And it is so easy to find things. I’m looking forward to spending more time, digging around on the site. It’s going to be great for the research project that John, Matthias and I have just embarked on, as a quick look has already shown me that there are loads of links to blogs that are talking about blogging!

Thanks Nancy and Tony for a great initiative!

Community, networks, reciprocity and responsibility

 I have just dipped in here tonight and come across Dave’s post on his blog. When the word community appears, my ears prick up, because throughout this course my perception is that what many people have been seeking is a learning community, whereas, in fact, what connectivism as explained by this course offers, is a learning network (please correct me if I am wrong, Stephen and others) and like Dave, I think there is a distinction between community and network. 

Also, like Dave and Nancy, I see this distinction as one of responsibility to the community, i.e. within a networked community we are responsible for each other’s learning and well-being.

A while ago (I don’t quite remember when and haven’t the energy or time to look it up – sorry), I noticed that Keith was discussing reciprocity on his blog and if I remember correctly we had a brief discussion about it – or it may have been by email. Keith, Maru , Matthias and John are for me people who have really enacted the spirit of reciprocity within the blogging community of this course. There are of course many others, but my ties with others are at the moment slightly weaker. Although it would be great to have stronger ties I know that we are all busy with the many connections that we are trying to keep alive through reciprocity, both on and offline, so I have no expectations of anyone at all. Apologies to anyone who I have excluded through my comments. Despite my inability to be as responsible to the community as I would like, my feeling is that community and responsibility to each other is more important for learning than simple networking. I am still not completely clear where connectivism stands in relation to this.

So back to Dave’s point and Stephen’s response in the form of a question about whether responsibility to a community is voluntary or not and the meaning of voluntary responsibility.

I see responsibiity to the community as being voluntary, but if you want to be part of the core community, a leader, an influencer, or simply a voice that is heard, then I think there is an unspoken requirement that this responsiblity be taken seriously and that it involves reciprocity. If you are happy to be, or your circumstances dictate that you be only an observer or a legitimate peripheral participator, then responsibility to the community is not such a necessary requirement.

To follow up on Stephen’s response to Dave’s blog – I don’t think responsibility can be imposed, nor do I think it is a contract. But, like Stephen,  I do wonder on what basis responsibility evolves?

What makes one person take this responsibility more seriously than another? Is it in order to fulfil a personal need rather than to benefit the community?  And how do notions of responsibility to a network of learners fit with ‘connectivism’?

This is my question for Stephen. If you venture here Stephen and have time, I would be really interested to hear your thoughts about this.

A good teacher …..

…… can be personified by many of the qualities demonstrated by Nancy White in tonight’s Elluminate session. I think Nancy said at one point that she was not a teacher, but she showed so many of the qualities of not just a teacher – but a really good teacher. She modelled and demonstrated this from start to finish.

First there was the fantastic start to the session – I thought the idea of having a slide with a ring of chairs which we could all occupy by typing our names into the screen was not only a wonderfully welcoming act, but also showed us how a technical tool such as offered by Elluminate can be used in creatively imaginative and effective ways. It was a motivating, fun and friendly way to start the session. That is the first time I have typed into the screen. The activity was so non-threatening that I never thought twice about it.

Her slides were bright, colourful and attractive to look at. Not too much on them, but with plenty of interest. Visually stimulating and accompanied by an enthusiastic and lively voice. Nancy’s enthusiasm is infective. She is passionate about her work and it shows.

Then there was Nancy’s lovely chatty non-threatening way of talking. Did you notice how many times she talked herself down? As Stephen said, she is recognised world-wide, but her humility and obvious desire to be one of the learning group and not apart from it, is the mark of a good teacher.

Nancy was also so inclusive. She named people she was speaking to, I assume whether or not she knew them. She said hello to people arriving and goodbye to people who had to leave early. She made a wonderfully warm comment to Maru who had to leave early. She took time to read back through the chat and to pick up on what people were saying. How she managed to keep her eye on everything that was going on I don’t know. This reminds me of when the children I taught believed that I had ‘eyes in the back of my head’. They could never understand how I knew what was going on even when I had my back to them. I think Nancy exemplified this by ‘having an eye on everything’ in this online environment. I haven’t mastered this in the online environment. At the beginning of the session I was so intent on the chat that I didn’t notice that people were posting their names next to chairs! By the time I noticed all the chairs were taken!

Nancy was interested in what everyone had to say and encouraged people to speak. (I still haven’t had the courage to do this, but there were a few new people speaking in this session which was great to hear). I loved hearing Maru’s voice; I have had blog contact with her, but it makes a difference to hear a voice. Nancy stopped a number of times to allow people time to gather their thoughts and ask questions, but she didn’t push if there weren’t any. She went with the flow – and she also asked questions herself.

Then near the end, she started summarising by putting up key points on the whiteboard. She didn’t dominate this – others joined in.

She let everyone know how much time she had and when she would have to leave. The whole tone of the session was very relaxed, but at the same time there was loads of interesting discussion in the chat room all provoked by Nancy’s presentation.

I think we can all learn a lot from this session. For me, it just proves that good teaching is not really anything to do with the technology. A good teacher is a good teacher. These qualities will transfer into the online environment. A good teacher is one who wants to connect with learners. This can be face-to-face or online. Online offers the potential to work with more learners, but I think tonight’s session showed that it’s the personal connection that is important.

I really enjoyed the session and I think it showed how the principles of connectivism can be put to good use.