Raising the Signal to Noise Ratio: A Digital Feldgang

Venkatesh Rao called it a ‘frankenstack’.  He defined it as,

An assemblage of information technologies duct-taped together with a mess of protocols, and forming what philosophers call a rhizomatic structure.

Everybody has his or her own frankenstack, so which one am I referring to ?  The #Digciz.

The Storify embedded below arises directly from the #4wordstory hashtag and indirectly from the gathering of folks into #digciz ,part of the frankenstack rhizome.  And the common plaint is one shared by @teachercreates (Emily Page Oh)

So I try to curate a path through to a main course and away from the chocolate fountain–

#4wordstory (with images, tweets) · tellio

Break the digital ice.

I call this trail a “feldgang” which roughly translated means “field walk”. I am a sheep farmer and I do feldgang’s every day. I have been doing them here for 30 years. I check the grass in the paddock where the sheep are to see if they need to be moved onto fresh grass. That is a very direct feldgang with a purpose. Sometimes I do general feldgangs. For example, I will scan a field for the green haze of growth that indicates good news for ruminants. Or I just turn over stuff and see what is there.

A few years ago I discovered you can do digital feldgangs as well. They can be particular or general. My storify above is both.
Part of the feldgang is intended to address those in #digciz who have been a part of #4wordstories. Storify is dead simple as a gathering tool to make this possible. Once I have created a ‘field’ then I can walk in it. Here are some of my discoveries:

1. #4wordstories are rarely concrete. There are exceptions.
2. #4wordstories are not poetic.
3. #4wordstories are abstract.
4. #4wordstories are often vague and de-contextualized.
5. #4wordstories might not arguably be stories at all in a fictive sense (plot, character, setting)
6. #4wordstories sometimes are more like zen koans than narratives, puzzles in service to the larger #digciz context
7. #4wordstories can (and did) inspire more creation
8. #4wordstories are invitations, implicit or explicit. Very few seem to regard them as invitations judging by the lack of response.
9. #4wordstories can be both examples and non-examples. (Note: Bonnie citing George Seimens’problems.)

10. I have some serious blindspots about the abstract, the adverbial, the lack of context.

So…the blog post is just a thinking out loud about what is in the digital field.

I started talking about the frankenstack at the beginning of this post and ended in the digital field.  The rhizomatic nature of modern digital discourse is so apparent to me (and @teachercreates, too).  Venkatesh Rao’s newsletter piece about rhizomes is a must read. I want to quote stuff, but it isn’t a hierarchical post so you gotta go for it all.

He is right on when he says,

43/ In a rhizomatic world, if your expectations and work habits are built around architectural cleanliness, you will get deeply frustrated and be perennially frozen.

44/ If you can only navigate well-paved paths and clean, well-lit spaces, you’ll likely spend a lot of time in low-value, or even futile, ritualized behaviors while getting nothing done.

45/ You must be willing to adopt an opportunistic approach to navigating complexity, and switch from ugly hack to elegant beauty, from amateurish fumble to expert flourish, in an instant.

The world he describes is most definitely #digciz.  Get over it.




Hayfields in March

Haytime in March

Kevin and I have been to and fro today with some raw materials, words for play like legos.  Here is how it went.
First, I did a freewrite as part of a post I wrote describing a couple of tools for minimal distraction writing
Here is a raw freewrite I put in the post.

Hulk no like.  That is how I feel sometimes [image of Hulk hanging over my writing space]. I know some folks won’t read because I don’t mince my words. I am not going to brightside you unless I really feel my subject is an optimistic one. Realistically optimistic.  

But I really don’t want to be like those Silicon Valley freaks who seek to destroy for the sake of their products and to make money.  They are killing our country.

I look down at my screen and think about the bloviations of despair that have flowed from my digital bleedings and wonder if really understand how the world works.I subscribe to the belief that the biggest cynics are also the strongest idealists.  I think the cynic’s acid tongue is the direct result of gap between what they see in the world and the way it might be.  I have seen stuff work in education, but mostly I have seen it fail.  And not just in an experimental way, I have seen it fail all of its principals in so many different ways.  We keep foisting the same failures on our students. I don’t mind failing, but failing in the same ways over and over and over again. That I cannot abide. And we all know, the dude abides.

The failures are often very pedestrian. A lesson plan that sort of worked for vanguard but not the most. An experiment that sated my voyeuristic desire to see if my ideas hold water. Mostly not out and out failures. Mostly just null results.

That is the unforgiveable gap that the cynical side of me engenders every day I teach. That is the problem, isn’t it. I teach, they learn. The power dynamics are all fucked up. Students should have most of the power when it comes to learning. They can share that power even to the point of handing over some of that just like an apprentice gives power to a master, but it is their’s to hand over and their’s to revoke.

These are messy, potentially abusive relationships.  I can’t even imagine how we could make this work in an institutional setting. One on one?  Yes, I can imagine it.

I consider this freewriting above to be the ‘hayfield’, full of grass and forbs and herbs and diverse eating.
Kevin cleaned up the metes and bounds of the pasture with his Notegraphy poem.
I took the first cutting from his “poem hayfield” here.
Then I took a second cutting, what farmers of old called “the aftermath” (very interesting etymology).
And finally all that is left are ‘staubs and stubble‘ for the beasts to graze down.
Below was the original ‘field’ as ‘mapped’ using SnagIt. I started by grabbing a screenshot of Kevin’s Notegraphy poem. Then I simply cut words from that and made “First Cutting”. Next I did the same ‘cutting’ to “Aftermath” by subtracting words.  What I was left with was “Staubs and Stubble” Maybe ready to grow again?
It is haytime on the internet. Get the barn ready.
I think that this is what connected learning means. This is a little slice from a timeline extending back and forward. It has alternate timelines built in if others choose to grab this open seed. 
It is a powerful metaphor for the kind of learning I want my students to grab with both fists.  It is only possible as a world of small pieces loosely joined as Kevin and I have been over recent years. 
It is complex, messy, and not amenable to being reproduced. Not intended to be reproduced. It is a unique form all its own and that is what I strive for with my students.
Which brings me back to the original force that drove the freewrite seed to send down roots and true leaves:  the power to grow one’s own learning in one’s own way must live mostly in the learner.  Any system or institution that does not midwife and husband that growth is not worth the calling of ‘teaching’.
I am including a Hackpad version here for anyone who wants to carry on.  Just click on the link and there is an open pasture for you to do with what you will.  It has lots of stuff growing there, but you can dig in as you wish and as you will.