Growing a Network: A Declaration

Learning is a funny thing. Not “funny” as in “ha-ha,” but “funny” as in “intriguing.”

But it’s also messy. Or, at least, it can be.

Learning has a kind of growing quality about it. And, so, here I am, posting my first post to my own blogging page on my own website, which I started before the pandemic. It was hard to make blogging and reflecting a regular part of what I did on a regularly basis. Then again, I don’t think I thought much about my digital presence within a framework that went beyond “shouting” out into the “void” about silly things, stupid things, thinks that annoyed me, and, well…things. That said, I can say that I often thought and told friends and colleagues that the reason why I was on social media was because i felt it was like my own classroom; it was just another place where I learned.

I still find it odd that I just described my own learning in terms of a place – a “where.” And, “where am I?” sounds like a bizarre question to ask myself as I sit at my desk, typing this set of reflections…although I am also trying to process how I’m going to create two different blogs, i.e., reflections on two different pages on WP. (Clearly, I need to focus on one thing first.)

There are many things that I find odd about this little side trip I’m on right now. Am I just distracted? (yup.) Avoiding course planning and prep? (probably.) Taking a break? (fer sure.) But one thing I is for certain…this is my own “thing.” This is my website. These are my ideas that I am sharing. These are my connections that I building and initiating. In fact, it is kind of poetic…as the word, poiesis (ποιεῖν), suggests that I am making something that did not exist previously.

But what am I making? If a tree falls in a forest with no one around to hear it…or something like that…you may know that saying. How will I know that I have made anything?

For now, the best that I can do to answer that question is to say that I’m making me. A more-than-human me? A larger-than-life me? Or…”just” me?

#LiDA101

A Pandemic Pause

I suppose, like so many other people who write in personal blogs, that keeping up with posting entries to one’s own blog can be challenging. There are, after all, so many hours in a day and many things that could be going on to pause long enough to reflect and put down some thoughts, profound or otherwise.

To be sure, there is some ambiguity to the title of this entry. It could be a noun or an adjective. As the latter, and in the moment that I began to type the title, I actually was reminded of the phrase “pregnant pause.” And, I suppose that might make some sense. Except this is not some sort of comedy routine where you all are waiting for me to make some grand, comical remark. Although, I’d say, plenty of time has passed since my previous entry in these series of reflections. This pause, however, is followed followed by anything the least bit funny.

All the same, God may be laughing. The Yiddish phrase seems to be appropriate, here: “Der mentsh trakht un got lakht” (Man plans, God laughs.) I catch myself smiling as I type that but not laughing.

I’m a rather extreme introvert – although many people find that hard to believe. It isn’t hard for many introverts to believe that – and understand what it means. Personally, being an introvert is challenging for me in terms of “what I do for a living.’ I teach, of course. But, I tell you, it’s exhausting being in a classroom with lots of other people.

Now, so that I don’t lose you, here’s where I am going with this. Kinda.

For the past few months, I have been working at my dining room table preparing and planning to teach online for the coming year.

YEAH?!?!?

This move to online teaching and learning is, as many of you will know, for so many a shared response from educational institutions to the global COVID19 pandemic. (Wave 1…in case there are subsequent waves to come.)

And, so, to bring a bit of a break in my thinking about learning outcomes, learning activities, kinds of assessments, the need to be caring and ethical, worry less about technology and be more concerned about learning, and so on and so on, I’m doing the my WordPress updates and writing this entry.

But it is often challenging for me NOT to think about all manner of thing related to teaching and learning. On my walk, today, I was thinking about the place and importance of “communication.” And, this is how I shall end this post.

Communication. With every OER book that I download, teaching and learning video that I watch, and audio podcast that I listen to, I hear about how important “communication” is.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t think it’s important – and, especially important in the apparently “new world” of online teaching and learning. For so many of us, “pivoting” to online teaching is something we have never done before now! But I find this word – “communication” – troubling. That is, some of meanings and associations are troubling. Merely…conceptually troubling?

So – because I like etymologies – I look up the word.

COMMUNICATION

early 15c., “act of communicating, act of imparting, discussing, debating, conferring,” from Old French comunicacion (14c., Modern French communication) and directly from Latin communicationem (nominative communicatio) “a making common, imparting, communicating; a figure of speech,” noun of action from past-participle stem of communicare “to share, divide out; communicate, impart, inform; join, unite, participate in,” literally “to make common,” related to communis “common, public, general” (see common (adj.)). Meaning “that which is communicated” is from late 15c.; meaning “means of communication” is from 1715. Related: Communications; communicational. (https://www.etymonline.com/word/communication)

And, clearly, we can see a number of references to acts like “imparting,” “discussing,” “conferring” and “sharing.” And, yet, I see nothing about “transmitting.”

You see, I carry around with me a sense that “communication” is about “transmitting” something. And, metaphorically, transmitting does suggest something like taking the ideas that Person A has, re-presenting those words into sounds, words, or pictures and such, and finding those things entering into the very being that Person B. Somehow.

I shan’t use this space to critique such a concept – others have already done so, like Michael Reddy – and more recently George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. But I can help but feel that when one talks about “communication,” the act of communicating seems rather static and like it is about the actions of one person – the “sender.”

But, what about the “receiver,” the person at the other end of the metaphorical “conduit”?

I feel that this where my discomfort continues. not only is the metaphor problematic. Not only is the experience of being the “receiver” seemingly no where to be found, the whole experience of communicating with another person – to say nothing about this “online class of students” I will face this Fall – truly just falls short.

I am not lamenting the loss of being able to do what I do in a face-to-face environment: do not mistake me for being sentimental or any such thing. Or anything else, for that matter. But, rather, what is the experience that me and my students are going to have this Fall as we sit in front of computer screens or even smaller devices…READING!

I write. They read. They write. We read.

This to me, if I must relent to this kind of activity, related as they may be, is possibly a kind of communication. But, it is, most assuredly, different.

Well, this is all fine and dandy, some might say. “Stanley! You haven’t exactly written anything particularly novel…or interesting.”

Perhaps.

What I would like to argue, here, is that we might do well to think but a little differently about this thing so many others are calling “communication.” For the most part, we all will be doing a tremendous amount of writing and reading. That almost seems like a given.

So, when I am planning for – and latter engaged in – my “teaching” for this Fall, I am attempting to understand what that experience is going to be like for a group of people, distributed here and there, to be writing and reading. And, so, for me, as I continue to create even more bits of text – instructions, directions, responses to questions, feedback to assignments, etc. – what is this experience like for the readers in my class?

Because it is as “readers” that I can begin to imagine the people at the “other end”…even if they are thinking, “What is he is trying to say?!?!” or “What does he want me to do?!?!”