AN ECOLOGY FORMED IN DIFFERENT PLACES
There are always contexts to an ecology for learning and one of these is place - where is an ecology learning created. I like the concept of creativity that says its about moving an idea from one place to another. I know what this idea must feel like! Over the four weeks that #creativeHE unfolded when this process has unfolded I have moved from one place to another. My pedagogical journey began when on holiday in Australia, then travelled to a conference in Singapore, them my home in autumnal Surrey, and on the N Kent coast (right). My thinking and actions accompanied me on my journeys on aeroplanes and trains .. the fantastic affordance of the internet and communications technology means that I don't have to be tied to a particular place to be part of this social learning process. The ecology I created for this #creativeHE conversation involved all of these places and they shaped my involvement and my thinking (see two previous posts). My experiences remind me that everyone else in this social learning project will also be inhabiting and journeying through different places in their life. In my earlier blog I mentioned two recent conferences I had attended in both cases I met people I had never met before, formed relationships and invited them to participate in the #creativeHE conversation and some of them did. In this way past ecologies for learning are connected to the present unfolding ecology. Such is the fluidity of living and learning in the Social Age.
I was bringing a lot of my recent past experience to this conversation on the idea of learning ecologies and also experience of facilitating #creativeHE conversations. Both of these things provided context for the conversation. My proximal goal was to facilitate a conversation that participants would find worthwhile and valuable, at the same time exploring and evaluating the idea of learning ecologies. These were set within the longer term goals of fulfilling the missions of Creative Academic and #creativeHE.
One of my goals was to encourage participants to use my ecological framework as a tool for reflecting on their own pedagogical narratives. I was disappointed that only a few examples emerged and I interpreted this to mean that the task was either too difficult and/or required too much effort, or the idea was either not understood or rejected as being useful. Probably a combination of all these things. In this respect I feel my ecology for learning failed to engage participants in the way I had hoped but not necessarily in the way they wanted to. Teachers rarely talk about these things but I have learnt through experience that disappointment, and other negative feelings like frustration and dissatisfaction are part and parcel of trying to build and animate an ecology for learning. In fact they are important because as long as these feelings don't overwhelm you they motivate you to do more or change what you are doing. Furthermore, feelings of negativity are nearly always counter balanced by other aspects of the conversation. For example, I was greatly impressed by the enthusiasm, insights and empathy in the posts made by many of the teachers who joined the process on the fourth day thanks to an invitation made by Nikos. Their active involvement was quite unexpected and much appreciated.
AFFORDANCE IS EVERYWHERE
From an ecological perspective the #creative conversation provided me with affordance for engaging people that I would not normally interact with. It provides a reason or context for contacting and involving people in a discursive process, a reason with an underlying purpose – in this case to explore and evaluate ideas that I'm interested in with people who share similar interests #creativeHE provides affordance for the creation of new resources and the sharing of existing resources. It provides affordance for the creation of spaces to encourage inquiry, exploration and the making and remaking of meaning. It provides affordance for renewing existing relationships and the formation of new relationships out of which new and unexpected things might grow. And it provided affordance for personal learning through the social learning process and affordance for me to use my own creativity to try and achieve the vision I had for the conversation. I hope it provided similar affordance for participants to represent and communicate their ideas and understandings.
Above all this project to facilitate an online conversation provided me with the affordance to learn and develop my own understandings about things I care about and I am interested in. This is the intrinsic motivation for me to devote time and effort to this area of my life.
My ecology for encouraging social learning through #creativeHE was the way I tried to enable myself and others to realise these affordances. The activities that were designed into the process were intended to facilitate exploration of ideas and tthe sharing of participants own experiences and perspectives (personal knowledge resources). A number of 'tools' were shared to encourage thinking about learning ecologies.
The way I designed my ecology was described in a previous post. I followed the pattern established in previous #creativeHE conversations of a daily theme and supporting readings (existing knowledge resources) to trigger thoughtful responses. There were also some challenges - to produce a pedagogic narrative, to talk to students to gain their views on how teachers enabled them to use their creativity and an invitation to re-write the end of the story about The Little Boy. There was nothing novel or innovative in my design.
The way I engaged with the ecology I created (or relaised the affordance in the #creativeHE conversation) was described in a previous post: its in the thinking and actions relating to engagement that my creativity emerged from these particular circumstances of my life (to quote Rogers' concept of creativity).
One of the representations of an ecology for learning I really liked was the one posted by Ellie Hannan (right) who highlighted how a teacher's ecology for learning also included all the learners' ecologies for learning and achievement. She posed the question, 'I'd be interested to know what people think the role of the 'other stuff' is in creativity, and whether it is a teacher's right or responsibility to try and reach it? Or does a learning ecology already factor in all aspects of a person's life?'
Ellie is absolutely right in representing a teacher's ecology for learning in this way. Every person who engages in the ecology a teacher creates for learning brings with them their identities, capabilities and every aspect of their being, their past history and experiences, interests and everything in their current life. But there is an enormous filtering process so that only things that are relevant to the context and purposes of the teacher's ecology for learning are considered within it. The teacher's pedagogical practices determine how much of students' own ecologies for learning are incorporated into the ecology that the teacher is constructing. They have the power to incorporate or exclude any aspect of learners' own ecologies. For example, in the pedagogic narrative written by Hiie Saumaa and Michael Cennamo which featured in the #creativeHE conversation, their pedagogical practices encouraged students to collaborate on self-determined learning projects that took them beyond the classroom and encouraged/permitted more of their own learning ecologies to be included in the ecology the teachers had created for learning.
So to what extent did the ecology for learning that I created include or exclude the learning ecologies of participants? My intention was not to exclude anything. I wanted individuals to bring all of themselves and their pasts into the process and share what they felt was relevant to the conversation. Some of the posts reveal this but more reveal past experiences and ecologies in individual's lives.
The wisdom in Ellie's illustration is that it explains how my self-determined ecology for the explicit purpose of helping others learn is the product of my pedagogical (I would say ecological) ways of thinking and behaving. AND in the voluntary world of adult learning we are inhabiting, participants connect their own self-determined and self-directed learning ecologies to the affordance I have created with the assistance of the #creativeHE platform. There is no compulsion to participate - every participant has their own competing interests and priorities in ther life to juggle and the only pulls are to feel a sense of belonging to a transient conversation with people who clearly care about the ideas and practices being discussed.
I also like the musical analogies, especially the idea of improvising jazz musicians playing and listening to each other, feeding off each other, taking a lead when they sense it is right to do so and stepping back to let others lead the music in another direction. The idea appeals because of its fluidity and organic ecological nature, and because ever since the flight back from Singapore when I discovered Go Go Penguine their amazing music has been in my head as I have been involved in this conversation.
One final thought on this type of pedagogic situation there is an element of watching, listening and sensing. Once a process for learning and creativity is set in motion it unfolds in a natural organic way: the teacher's role is to listen, encourage, prompt and question gently, it is definitely not to meddle or interfere or guide or instruct. Perhaps it's to wait with, what Richard Seel calls, 'watchful anticipation', in the certain knowledge that if you involve and engage intelligent people who care about students' and their learning, in this sort of self-directed process, they will be creative. Perhaps, at this stage in this type of ecology for learning and creativity, the role of the 'teacher' is to witness, recognise and value when something interesting, novel, profound emerges and try to share that wisdom in ways that might be of value to others.
To illustrate this very point I think I witnessed a fantastic example of emergence in the #creativeHE conversdation. It wasn't planned, rather it emerged through participants sharing and being involved in a simple creative challenge - to provide an alternative ending to 'The Liittle Boy' story which I created in this article for CAM7
I guess all these thoughts show me that most ecologies created to support the learning of others are likely to include many different conceptions of pedagogy and affordance for learning and creativity of the teacher.