Wrapping up #Rhizo14

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I don’t know where to start this week, so I begin with someone else and then as the King said to the White Rabbit I shall, “go on till [I] come to the end: then stop”. So here’s a point made by Jenny, that got me thinking: “[t]he difficulty is that open spaces attract a diversity of learners. What is a negatively risky space to one will be a positively challenging space to another.  But whichever way you look at it, risk is a factor of open learning spaces.” I’m unsure about what this statement means to me. I have to ask if diversity is really so risky. All of this is depending of course, on what you mean on diversity too, slavery was a diverse space too I would argue the cost is far greater if you lack diversity, but possibly less noticeable if you already have centralized power, such as in a boardroom, or a classroom.

We learn from places that are considered open only if we ignore many privileges. We do deal with risk and vulnerability in these spaces too. Though for me, if you are going to write about vulnerability and expect it to matter, you must show vulnerability. To write risk we must be taking risk. I believe there needs to be a distinction between what is risky, and what is just talking about risk.

As Jesse Stommel says, “[h]igher education pushes out the exact wrong people. Those wrong people are about to rise up. We need more right leaders of wrong”. We have to look for the outsiders, and pull them in for panda bear hugs. We can pull people into our own learning communities or, like we often are in open education, we can all be drawn towards the gravitational pull of our own bright suns.

And speaking of suns, that reminds me of a poem I learned during my Masters residency. It is by William Stafford:

A Ritual To Read To Each Other

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider–
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give–yes or no, or maybe–
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

For me our greatest risk in social learning is that of perpetuating sameness. This is why, as Dave Cormier notes in the week 6 video, we must plan in the obsolescence of ourselves and make sure that, “we don’t become the central point of the conversation”. As we wrap up Rhizo14 we see first hand the importance of enforcing independence, encouraging connections, or privileging community over individualism. If we do not work to form connection we may follow the wrong god home.

If we teach people from the beginning that a network means people who do not look like them, who do not sound like them, is the only community worth having I think we actually help to mitigate risk. With a wider safety net cast we have the ability to fall in more spaces and still land safely.

The risk factor of an open course is not vulnerability, that risk is beginning to be outdated as we have better understandings of privacy and the Internet. Like wondering out too far on thin ice, If you’re only beginning to be concerned about it when you hear the ice crack, it’s much too late.

I have no interest in Coursera—its successes or failures and yet I note that it is not open to students in Cuba, Iran, or Sudan because of the US trade embargoes. Considering the barrier that others face makes me feel quite safe by comparison. It makes me feel that I must take risks in order to matter.

I feel like an outsider a lot, not a marginalized one, but the type that can have trouble making connection with other people. I’m neurotic and nervous. Working on building a community is always going to be a challenge to me. I’ve lived on the sidelines too much to feel comfortable in the spotlight. But discomfort is good. For me, the biggest risk I can take is tied to that feeling of outsider-ness. It helps me in understanding that I am not the center of any topic. It can be hard, especially as a writer, to cultivate a group of readers and yet continue to send them to other spaces and other people, but my ability to do so is what makes me valuable. I think you end things by beginning to end them when you get started.

I leave you with some stormscapes, because they are beautiful and random just like this course. Hope to hear from you again.

Stormscapes from Nicolaus Wegner on Vimeo.

Is Books Making Us Stupid?! #RHIZO14

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“There’s something in print I’ve never trusted. There’s something in print that encourages objectivity” and “it moves towards the definite and not the relational”.  When Dave first spoke those words my eyes widened with disbelief, but my heart twinged that way it does when I want to not believe something but sense there’s a truth in it.  This is the way a writer feels when you challenge something really big about her identity. Because of that, I introduce you to a post that is a scrambled mixture of what it is to write, to read, to argue, and an oral tradition that is leading people back to the light.

“To write is to step or stumble over the edge of the known into that category of desire that defined itself, always just a hair’s breadth short of fulfillment”  Robert Kroetsch

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To confuse myself I will speak about what it is to write, and write about what it is to speak.

In the article from which this week playfully takes its name, Nicholas Carr laments the ease of access for information which makes us fidgety with longer pieces of work. This idea that test is little more than data to be neatly organized into accessible bits of information is true, when talking about how computers think, but not humans we don’t work that way. So much of this conversation hinges on ideas that are found in the basis of rhetorical delivery. I’m thrilled I get a chance to talk about rhetoric because I studied it in my undergrad and I use the knowledge gleaned from those classes every day.

Memoria: the term for aspects involving memory. It was one of the five canons of classical rhetoric. Oratory debate was the dental medium for intellectual and political life in Ancient Greece. A part of memoria was memorization including mnemonic devices to assist speakers. However, the sole focus is not route memorization and recitation. There’s fluidity expected from an orator—and it goes beyond carefully prepared arguments. One must have a wide body of knowledge in order to improvise.

We lament memoria though it was never that large of a topic in rhetoric, partially because not as much is written about it. We lament the short attention spans that people have in reading while ignoring the reality that most of our attentions spans max out at ten minutes technology or no technology. We lament that people do not read, that they read the wrongs things and surely we are going to hell in a hand-basket. We’re not. We’ll be ok. Charles Dickens wrote verbosely because he was paid by the word, and the writing on the Internet is sleek and efficient because that’s what we demand.

I put out this gem in the middle of an inflammatory discussion around Stephen King and Woody Allen. I’m a media critic and sometimes that means ruffling some feathers on Facebook or Twitter rather than writing until one of my editors emails me and tells me to stop it. It’s fun, you should try it sometime. What do I mean by this comment (SK stands for Stephen King by the way). I mean that in a written medium of 140 characters the people wishing to stand up for a man they’ve never met will make a lot of assumption about you while also claiming the maximum amount of objectivity for themselves. They might even link to something they’ve read as proof. They don’t want to hear your side however. None of this has anything to do with Stephen King’s books, of course, (or does it?).

It isn’t books, or online spaces that are making us dumb it is a lack to believe in the intentions and humanity of those around us, and ourselves. Meeting face-to-face is a great way to have to recognize another humanity.

While I don’t think books are to blame I would like to point you towards indigenous knowledge systems. I’m Métis and though my family was late in embracing our first nations status I grew up with a close friend who is aboriginal. Even as teenagers one of our favorite things was to sit and listen to her father’s stories. He was the most natural storyteller I’ve ever heard. This is not meant to bring forth the trope of the Mystical Indian but a lot of heritage on his mother’s side was passed down through story. We have Eurocentric myths about the inferiority of indigenous pedagogy positioning the oral history as quaint and antiquated. Where I live, children were removed from homes and put into colonial school systems that forced them to not speak their own language or practice their own religion. A part of the reclamation of humanity around this is to reclaim space and voice, and this is not something that books provide. Instead we gain this knowledge in the circles of our elders, and through their stories we can see more of the world than we could before.

Just some thoughts.