Sunday, October 19, 2008

Stepping to the side to learn upon re entering-- CCK08

Sun shining --a fall walk and not appreciating the beauty of the red and yellow colors of the maples, the searing blue of the clear sky, the gentle but insistent chatter of the birds—

Instead brain churning –immersed in this notion of complexity—and seeking connections—

The fall season -- leaves down and brown and curled from many trees, yet maples still proudly strutting their colors –golden pine needles, once green and thick on evergreens, now cover driveways, paths, and the wood’s floor, yet others cling still to branches high above my head –and with each wind gust, no matter how slight, leaves and pine needles drifting sometimes slowly, often swiftly to join the others on the earth. A complex system—

The body of my soulmate -- fighting poison of cytoxan as it attempts to restore some balance to his system, to strengthen and repair some neural pathways so we can walk again together in the park, to halt or hinder the progression of MS -- his strong will and mind that rise and greet each day ready to deal with all challenges, to adapt to new refusals by his leg or foot to listen to his brain and move, to go beyond himself and always think of us. A complex system—

An aging, wise and loving German Shepherd – with great heart but no longer with great legs, with cortisol levels near raging but yet not at level for treatment once again, with a desire to run but unable as discs degenerate along his spine, with increased deafness -- yet an all abiding and extraordinary loyalty and loving for our home and for “his people”. A complex system—

A new, emerging online community of learners-- great enthusiasm of new members yet fearing transparency, the current sharing somewhat shallow, members connecting more in private group areas yet beginning the process of building trust and online identity, new discussions with no responses, yet acknowledged lurkers on the periphery – my seeking how best to encourage participation in a diverse community, to engage participants in process at this point as opposed to content. A complex system--

Economic turmoil – volatility following great uncertainty, announcements met with varying reactions, one institution following another and still more foreclosures, more unemployment, and the “r” word looming (at least in my country). A complex system--

The political arena – the ads, the innuendos, the misinformation, the fact checks, the debating, a country torn by misogyny and racism yet an opportunity, if taken, to rise above it all for love of country. A complex system--

A rather large open online course -- inviting yet so challenging to this learner, exhilarating with an “aha” moment yet so demanding, availing new strategies for learning yet still requiring all the lifelong learning strategies in my repertoire, offering new landscapes for my thinking yet so many views confound my brain-- the myriad of applicable resources to sift through, filter, make sense of and then connect -- the potential opportunities that may arise as a result of this learning. A complex system--

Shaking myself, stepping back and to the side, I stopped-- too much churning, too much chaos and complexity- And so for some few days, seeking balance, and trying a new approach, perspective if you will, I just enjoyed and reveled in the sunshine, the color and the falling leaves, and the company of loved ones. Back now to make connections to my learning and my practice with a new appreciation for the intricate, dynamic relationships and nuances in complex systems. Seeking coherence, “..rely(ing) on one’s learning network to filter out nonsense and to draw attention to key ideas.”

I’m wondering if recognition in and of itself of the features of complex systems isn’t of some value as I face the world and learning each day. I’m thinking, yes, at least for me, and these words of Harsbarger’s provided some guidance:
“The main feature that characterizes complex systems is the dynamic interaction of various elements of the system over time such that the results of these interactions are not entirely predictable or proportional. A complex system, due to its dynamic and sometimes chaotic and random self-interaction, cannot be reduced to simple parts which relate to each other in very predictable ways.” Chaos Complexity and Language
Next, as George Siemens guided me to turn to fluid structures to help me function in complex/chaotic environments:
“..Complexity and chaos are like this. They are too large to be grasped with a frame of reference that is founded on non-complex views of life. …we need to let go of the notion that we can know a field in its entirety. All knowledge is in the connections – how we’ve connected concepts and how we are connected to other people and sources of information. …our best opportunity to function in complex and chaotic environments is found in structures that adapt and respond to feedback. Change requires structures that also change. To this end, we turn to networks and ecologies as a model.. for learning… for managing complexity… ” Complexity, Chaos, and Emergence
I turned again to my expanding networks- medical (neurologist, neuro oncologist, primary care physician, nurse practitioners and nurses), canine (caring yet extremely knowledgeable veterinarian and technologists), virtual community (community organizers, leaders and community members), economic and political (somewhat trusted resources of information online, League of Women Voters), and CCK08 (a expanded list of resources in Delicious and connections through blogs). As Alec Courous suggested, the human filters, the humanizing of connections, my personal learning network-- has had enormous import in my dealing with complexity of the day.

From my CCK08 network, it became more evident that once again my “gut feelings and intuition”, (in this instance regarding current learning within a learning management system) were validated by “expert voices” in my ever expanding learning network who support non-linear, dynamic learning. With an excitement, I would imagine as great as Andreas’,
“Amazing, really. I read Developing Online From Simplicity toward Complexity: Going with the Flow of Non-Linear Learning and what I have found is a perfect description my experiences”
I eagerly continued my reading and listening.

As Grant Casey mentioned:
Phelps’ article really sparked some more thoughts on how the whole paradigm of teaching must change as a result of the non linear opportunities presented by the new technologies.”
The underlying belief of the one organization with whom I’ve served as an instructional designer is one of simplistic, structured linear learning; in another post I noted a desire to impact their thinking and sense that if I draw from the Phelps’s paper, there might be a greater willingness to at least consider a more dynamic, fluid, non linear learning environment. Phelps notes:
"Complexity represents a recognition that the world is irreducibly complex, not determinist and predictable, and that the task before us is no longer to identify the simple elements of reality underlying complex appearances, but to work out how to study complexity in its own right (Gare, 2000).
Complexity provides a perspective on learning based on non-linearity of thought and on variation as a source and outcome of thinking (Bloom, 1998; 2000). Such a view leads to an emphasis on meaning rather than decontextalised content, an emphasis on creativity, a sense of connection to learners’ worlds and the development of a sense of ownership over what is learned (Bloom, 2000). Complexity views student thinking and learning as an emergent process where ideas and concepts arise from specific contexts in inherently non-linear and unpredictable ways..”

“Complexity-based educationalists (for example, Doll, 1989a; 1989b; Iannone, 1995; Sawada & Caley, 1985) see the contemporary focus on objectives and learning outcomes as representative of an obsession with domination, control and reductionism and an undermining of emergent learning. Complexity’s perspective is that teachers need to accept students’ ability to organise, construct and structure learning, combining supportive and challenging behaviour; equilibrium with disequilibrium.”

Jenny’s comment:
“I have always thought about learning objectives as being about clarity of forward thinking and about knowing what to assess. I don’t see that learning objectives need to control or undermine emergent learning.”
suggests perhaps a background and experience that differs from my own on both a teaching k12 and professional development level. With the “No Child Left Behind” legislation in this country for k12 schooling, many school districts expect teachers and their learners to work with discrete learning outcomes in strictly linear manner on designated days-- no going with the flow in many classrooms, no time to answer unexpected questions; it’s hard for any youngster to engage in messy, emergent and passion based learning. Some believe this linear, objective based learning has diminished deeper understanding of important concepts and contributed to fewer youngsters whose problem solving skills are well developed.

At TeachWeb2, Wendy wonders:
“Can we even create specific learning objectives within a framework of complexity? (Framework of complexity...Is that an oxymoron?) Phelps points out that real life is not ordered or structured, but I submit that's the reason we humans try so hard to put structure and order around it. Order facilitates our understanding. If we took Phelps' study to the next level, we might find that students learn more from a free, open, complex content environment. But, I wonder if we would also find (as I am experiencing with this course) a motivation to impose our own individual structure around the chaos. So, maybe it's not about a lack of structure, but more about who's imposing the structure. Do we learn from artificially imposed structure conceived by the teacher, or self-imposed structure that meets our unique individual learning needs? How can teachers help students build those individual learning structures? Is that possible or practical?”
Those questions resonate with me as it seems to me they are about process and lifelong learning. And I’m wondering, can learners in seeking the framework and/or structure (patterns as mentioned in the comments to Wendy’s post) that engender understanding find that with their personal participation in a network? I’m sensing that may now be happening for me; that in some way in the blog postings and readings I’m finding patterns that help deepen my understanding—and from those patterns emerge outcomes I’d like to see occur from my participation. Hmmm, with this writing that realization, and some deeper exploration on my part in the weeks to follow.

I’d like to see teachers have the opportunities to find perhaps a middle ground, one different from the one they grown in and to which they’ve become accustomed—I’m wondering if a model grounded in non linear learning that accommodates a district’s need to show accountability for learning and incorporates more “process” learning might be of value? And then employ that as a model for teacher learning in online professional development – one they might transfer then to their classrooms. Until that model, I anticipate Phelps’s resource may be of benefit in my conversations as I seek to nudge, cajole, and persuade folks to consider aspects of non linear and complex learning as a basis for course design and development.

John found an additional resource, the Harsbarger paper compelling as did I, in expanding my understanding, first with his summation of Jonassen’s discussion of a “traditional linear, computational paradigm” and conclusion that “Learning is much more complex and much less certain than these assumptions infer.” And next with his own assertions that:
“Adopting a dynamic systems model of learning will support and promote several fundamental changes in education: Emphasis on individual learning processes, Teachers as resources and models, Holistic engagement levels and proficiency change over time as the basis for program, teacher and student assessment.”
In my very humble opinion, these fundamental changes are in the best interests of all learners; although the third, on my part, warrants deeper investigation and consideration of how that might look within a classroom or in the current online environment in which I’m working.

Where I’ve come-- from a sense of brain racing, overwhelming information overload – to a feeling of some sense of peace given this writing and participation in various networks, to development of a novice understanding of complex systems – to a realization that potential here for continued learning is enormous – to a hope to impact adoption/adaption of a model that moves away from linear learning toward unpredictability and more “aha” moments.

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1 comment:

Jenny Mackness said...

I have really enjoyed reading this post. It is so wonderfully reflective. The UK also has a very linear rigid national curriculum, probably not unlike the one you describe for the US. But from my observations, the most inspiring and effective teachers are those who start from a learner persepctive rather than a curriculum perspective. I think this takes confidence and courage on the part of the teacher, but these teachers still get very good results despite not following the curriculum to the letter.