A few weeks ago I visited the home of Charles Darwin with my sister who was over from Australia. I discovered that it took him over 20 years to write his book Origin of the Species but that In 1842, seventeen years before he published The Origin, he sat down and wrote out a d230-page-long ‘abstract’. He returned to it in summer 1844, and expanded the script to 300-pages. Then spent the next 15 years refining his theory and turning it into a book. In his study I felt the weight of time he invested in his thinking and writing project which included many thousands of letters he wrote to people all over the world in his personal learning network.
My book project is tiny and inconsequential by comparison but in the process of writing it I probably experience some of the feelings he had. It began as a project to help me prepare for an International Seminar on the theme of Lifelong Learning Ecologies to be held in Barcelona in November 2015. But once initiated it has taken on a life of its own. Most days I submit to the discipline of writing - 8, 10 or more hours at a stretch with the odd break for lunch or a cup of tea. I know its not good for my health but the hours seem to fly by, at least when the ideas and words flow. My space is physical, virtual and emotional with my favourite tool (my battered vaio laptop hooked up to the internet and a pair speakers I am connected to what seem like infinite resources while listening to my favourite music for writing - currently Ludovico Einaudi and Olafur Arnalds.
I have already written quite a bit on the subject I have chosen to explore so I have a foundation on which to build. But I want to revisit and rework these pieces.It takes a while to go from the known (which is not so interesting or engaging) into the unknown (which is interesting and engaging) but when it happens a new feeling of energy, interest and enthusiasm for the project takes hold.
My aim is to finish the book in about 12 weeks, which will be the fastest I have every completed a book project, starting at the end of August and finishing at the end of November. I'm writing about learning ecologies and I am using my own process to imagine what an ecology for learning looks and feels like. This picture captures some of the features of my process.
At the heart of the learning ecology is the space I created for thinking, inquiring, developing, writing, sharing and discussing my ideas, and for finding and incorporating the ideas of other people through the book, which constitutes the principal (but not the only) mediating artifact created through the process. This thinking space is liminal or transitional - in the sense it represents the space 'betwixt and between' past ecologies through which I have developed my understandings and perceptions and the new representations that will be provided via the book which represents my emergent understandings. It's also a dialogic space - although so far the conversation is essentially between me an myself.
The most important activities throughout the process are thinking, writing and endless rewriting (books are not written they are rewritten) and the construction of illustrations mainly by remixing old illustrations produced in collaboration with talented illustrators Kiboko Hachyion and Andres Ayerbe. But I will also commission some new illustrations for this work including a cover for the book.
My thinking and writing process is greatly assisted by a range of technological tools - my laptop with word processing, powerpoint and picture editing software, email, google and of course the abundant resources of the interne.t. I also use my own website to post chapters and eventually I will publish using LULU the on-line publisher.
During the initial part of my process I abandoned social media like Twitter and LinkedIn in order to focus on the core writing task but after about three weeks I began to use social media - academia.edu, LinkedIn and Twitter to try to invite people into my project to make it more dialogical and gain feedback on drafts of chapters that I have posted on-line.
Eventually I reach a point where I want and need to share what I have written with people and peers to try to gain feedback. I try to create space for discussion and conversation. Whether ideas are accepted or not does not matter so much: although of course I hope that readers see value in them. What really matters to me is the feedback I receive and the conversations I have that enable me to think some more about these ideas or open up entirely new thinking. I began by inviting people I know and trust from my personal learning network to comment on my thinking, and posting my drafts online so that anyone can read and comment. But soon I began to circulate invitations more widely through the professional networking sites Linkedin and academia.edu and through invitations via Twitter. So far I have had relatively little feedback but I can see that the chapters have been viewed and downloaded.
The opportunities for me to talk about my ideas with interested peers are very limited. I was invited to facilitate a workshop at Manchester Met so I incorporated some of my ideas on learning ecologies into the presentation and workshop activities to gain feedback from a group of academics. The process of putting my powerpoint presentation together made me think about the way I am presenting the idea of a learning ecology and the presentation provided me with a useful mediating artifact to communicate and invite discussion about ideas. The person who organised the event (who happened to be an ecologist!) provided me with written feedback on two of my draft chapters and I have now approach him to see if he would like to create an institutional case study that would feature in the book.
I am now 4 weeks into my 12 project and I have done the bulk of the initial writing and posted my drafts. From now on it is mainly an exercise in thinking about what has been written, identifying ways of saying things better, making connections, finding and filling gaps and finding people who will give me a little of their time to read what I have written and give me feedback. I am hopeful that the seminar in November with a group of active and interested researchers will generate much discussion and enable me to share and test my ideas. This is my ecology - what has been and what is to come.
INVITATION TO THE READER
You can access my draft chapters here. I welcome feedback, suggestions for improvement, new perspectives and narratives that illuminate the concept of learning ecologies