It has taken me a week of slow motion reading to get halfway through an hour long video by Dave Snowden about complexity theory and narrative research. Usually I watch the whole video or I scrub through it, skimming in here and there to decide whether or not to continue, but this video came highly recommended so I just used my favorite video annotation tool, Vialogues, to ease my way into the presentation one minute at a time.
One aspect of annotating this way is the realization that I can comment on voice quality and body language as part of the context/subtext/pretext of the video’s text message. For example, at one point in the talk (28:35) I note,
Check out the body language here. Point…point…point….point. This is what I love about video annotation–there is so much more context, so much embodied cognition to reflect upon and deepen the text and voice.
Another aspect of annotating this way is that as you make discoveries in the “text” you can stop, explore, add references (links), and edit what you have already written. As I said, this makes for a glacial read, but that is what is necessary when you are trying to re-think out loud over your author’s work of a lifetime as represented by one hour of talk. Expert knowledge is layered knowing. That tacit knowledge was hard won by Snowden and it is a matter of respect to give that narrative its due.
For example, I was watching the section of the presentation about “fitness landscapes” that prompted me to restate Snowden,
Fitness landscapes within which live thousands of micro-narratives.
What he is talking about is his own research he has done in health care and military intelligence that involve the human interpretation of raw data. He is not saying that the raw data is a narrative, but that the story it tells on a micro level, one person at a time, is a narrative. That prompted me to recall,
I am reminded of the work I did last summer with CLMOOC about facilitation and how to improve it in MOOCs. “Facilitation” is the fitness landscape and every facilitated response was a micronarrative. Every post and comment was a narrative of facilitation.
There is a profound statement hidden behind what Snowden says and I am trying to tease it out in my professional teaching and learning context as well as in a pedagogical one. Every student tells a micro-narrative. A grade is not a narrative. It is a data point. A reflection by the student upon the grade might be a narrative. An assessment by the teacher is a narrative, perhaps a mistaken one, but still the story of how an assignment was evaluated.
I need to re-think the fitness landscape of my classroom and how it might be disposed to produce better learning.
Snowden then introduces the idea of hollows, saddle points, and peaks.
The hollows in the landscape represent stability, gravity wells where stuff gathers. The saddle points represent potentiality, a place where stuff can change. The peaks represents instability.
This makes me want to re-evaluate the entire map of a semester’s composition course and analyze what I am doing in terms of ‘hills, hollars, and peaks’. For example, what does a research paper within the discipine represent? I ask each of my students to write a research paper on a topic within their major or discipline. I do not insist that they all look like a traditional paper within that discipline, but many students end up writing in the ‘hollar’ because it is their default. My assignment is disposed to create a traditional paper for many of my students.
I try to get my students to live on the ‘peaks and saddles’ by showing them many ways to seek, make sense of, and share what they write. I openly advocate for new presentation modes like pechakucha or tools like Storify that for many students represent risky and unstable landscapes. I assess in ways that make those risky places relatively more safe to fail in. The stable, default writing places (traditional research paper) on the other hand are, paradoxically, riskier in assessment and grading.
Everything I do in the classroom can be analyzed with this lens. I don’t think I would have ever discovered this without the time-lapse annotations I undertook.
The slow work also jogged loose some old memories I had about Madagascar. I know that sounds like the beginning of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez short story, but that is the way this video amble, this feldgang idyll works. You get slow. You turn over rocks. Your magnificent parallel processing mind brings up matching patterns to consider. Up pops this observation triggered by Snowden’s further discussion of fitness landscapes and how terrorist networks are disposed to behave in complex systems where communities are sympathetic to their causes. Snowden and company ended up doing work that enabled them to map out potential behavior not only in terrorist networks but in health care and bereavement among others. I remarked,
This is the same kind of work that is used by biologists to map places where endangered species might live. This was done in Madagascar to predict ecological niche models for Madagascar’s chameleons using existing data (what Snowden might call a micro-narrative) and a GARP (Genetic Algorithm for Rule-set Prediction). 85% correct for predicting chameleon habitat. 75% correct when less good data was used!
We are beginning to generate “human interpretation of raw narrative”. How could we do this in learning ecosystems both formal and informal?
Can I use this in my classroom or is it so disposed to be indisposed to generating the kind of data that simply can’t be a micro-narrative. I suppose that I am drawn to this because everything comes down to story–our story in the classroom or online or in the hallways or on the digital byways.
This kind of question begs us to reconsider how learning gets done wherever we happen to live. For example, how can we generate raw narrative in informal learning ecosystems? How do we do the same in the classroom or other formal settings like meetings? Practically speaking, how do we do this in a zero-sum time game when the demands of the system seem all-encompassing? All wicked questions. Wicked questions all.
Join me in looking over Snowden’s talk if you are interested in these questions.