My Map, Your Territory

This was the week what wuz. A week of strategy in the classroom that boils down to this:  my map, their territory.  Humbling.


My students asked me for a map of the semester and the image above is what I drew for them.  Then I pointed out to them that the map is not the territory.  We spent a few minutes messing up this flattened representation of the course timeline, noting waystations and places where tickets get punched.  Then began the acknowledging of the actual, stratified rhizomatic root ball of their territories.


Each of their other university courses are layered atop and through this map, each of their working lives interlaced, their personal lives fusing it all together. We discover that my map is not their territory. The smoke is not the fire: the wake is not the ship.   We talked a bit about this idea and then I asked them if we had done what needed to do with the map.  An eerie quiet descended.


Above are the notes I made to myself that morning before I taught.  They sustain me as I try to move from script to improv and back again. I never did get around to making the connection from the map to a “choose your own adventure game”, an allusion you can see in the pic above where it is cut off next to the arrow that points to the right from “SUMMARY”. I think that turning the map into a game board is worth considering–research project as game board.

The reference in the image above, “Presencing & Feedforwarding”, is an idea I have been playing with since last summer. I borrowed it from Otto Scharmer and Peter Senge as well as Marshall Goldsmith. They are now a guided journal exercise I do at the beginning of every semester for my composition classes.  Below is one that our community is using this semester. It is actually my response to the exercise I am asking them to do for Monday’s class.  I found it refreshing.  I plan on returning to this on a daily basis as I work through the semester.

The 2-D map above does need some cleaning up and some layers of explanation.  It could be the entire syllabus if I used something like Thinglink to add depth to it. As you wish.

On Friday I drew another “map” of sorts on the board as seen in the video below. I mapped it further with my digital friend, Thinglink, using their video annotation capabilities.  You can pause and click on the blue tags as they pop up if you wish.

Conclusions?  I realized something from this reflective exercise.  There is a delicate balance between my map and their territory.  As Nick Sousanis describes in his graphic philosophy text, Unflattening, I am seeking out not a single, distinct vantage point, but one that is joined in dialog with others and not merely side-by-side…


In a Google Hangout on Air a couple of weeks ago Daniel Bassill and Simon Ensor and I talked about mentoring and working with youth and the one charge we gave each other was to come back for our next “picnic” with some strategies.  This post is one of my attempts to be transparent about my strategies, about what I do and how I do it and why I do it and whether what I do engages or enrages or something else.  This has been fun.  In no way does it capture the territory that is my teaching, but it does throw down a map for others to check out and use if they wish as part of their own travels in the undiscovered country that is the Gordian rhizome of their lives. By the map, this map is a doozy to refold.



  1. // Reply

    A map can be inspiration for a quest.

    Let us dream of far off lands…

    “Everyday courage has few witnesses. But yours is no less noble because no drum beats for you and no crowds shout your name.”

    Robert Louis Stevenson

  2. // Reply

    Thanks for adding a new spark to our continuing conversation. The first map of your course inspires me to share this article that I posted on Jan. 22.

    Look at how I converted my own notes to a graphic using a concept map. I’m in the process of writing my monthly email newsletter, in which I’m describing the steps in the map.

    I see three challenges in what you’ve presented in your article.

    1) in the annotation and blog you point to three other resources, one of which is about 600 pages long. As we go through each other’s thinking every day, few people are going to find time to read long books or publications. We need to point to sites where others have created shorter versions, summarizing key points from the longer work. Hopefully, the authors are doing that via their own blogs.

    2. motivating students, or other learners, to take time to create their own maps, and to create them in multiple formats, as you have, will be an on-going challenge. In the Feb 3 Google hangout at the “letters to next president 2.0” was discussed. It’s anticipated that more than 10,000 students will participate. Unless there is some mapping or tagging, that helps visitors navigate to segments of this mass, too few people will get deeply involved in reading and reflecting on what others are offering.

    3. the Nick Sousanis graphic is great, but it describes a theoretical process. Your question is specific. It asks for comments about Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin’s proposed higher education budget. My work goes a step further and asks people to create their own map showing how they think we should get from where we are now, to where we want to be. I posted an article yesterday that points to this.

    Finally, as I looked at your description of a course assignment, I thought of this article and concept map, created by a Northwestern University fellow who was with me for one year after his graduation. It’s a map of departments and groups at NU who are in some way engaged with issues my organization focuses on. It’s an example that students could use to inspire mapping of the courses they take to graduate, or the people they need to connect with in order to solve a problem they care about.

    Lots to look at! Enjoy your weekend.

    1. // Reply

      I am so grateful for your thoughtful response from your point of view. Will give it the consideration it deserves and respond back. Been working at the barn because it’s lambing season and we are busy with that and repairing a very sad old barn that was quite broken down when we moved here some 28 years ago.

    2. // Reply


      1. Working my way through this. I agree with you about the reference to Guatari and Deleuze, too long, but that was from my compadre, nomadwarmachine. Your point is well taken though. I need to keep my audience in mind. I need to make shorter versions of my blog post or perhaps an abstract-like summing up in italics at the beginning.

      2. I think our biggest challenge as teachers, tutors, and mentors is to not generate noise. There is too much noise as it is and not enough signal. Tagging and mapping and sharing in careful ways that can be properly explored (databases, summaries, introductory materials) is absolutely critical to the prospect of generating more signal than noise. This can be done on both a personal level (making sense and creating learning signals in our own minds) and on a social level (creating and sharing clear signals with others in our communities). Sometimes I think that the best strategy here is to just back off and observe. Do nothing and do no harm are kissing cousins, I think to myself. You have touched on one of the threads in my web that I am attuned to. I am grateful you made that thread sing to me as a reminder to pay attention.

      (to be continued in comments and margins)

  3. // Reply

    We’re asked, quite often it seems, to make curriculum maps. These live in folders on Google Drive, seldom seen by anybody. For sure not kids. They’re not even maps, really–more like charts or graphic organizers. I love maps–seeing all the possible ways to get from one place to another. Of course, there’s usually the fastest way. The most direct route. But there are so many variations. So many entry points along the way. I don’t give my students “maps.” I don’t often talk about big picture and where we are heading. Partly, this is because I tend to be a bit looser. But this has me wondering about how I would map my courses. Even more so, I wonder how students would visualize it. Thanks for the post, Terry.

    1. // Reply

      Thanks for reading, Scott. My maps are more fluid than they might look. At least I want them to come to view them that way. I really want my classes to be more like choose your own adventure games than courses of study. This game would have self-generating wormholes or hyperlink transport facilities built in. You might get more health or mana by demonstrating your curiosity perhaps sharing with others. Maybe empathy points or network reciprocation jonesing badges. Play, you have got me thinking about the force that through the green fuse drives the flower. Thanks, Scott.

  4. // Reply

    returning to see the path still marked in the woods … maybe a bit overgrown with brush and flowers …

  5. // Reply

    I was drawn to this today by a post in my Twitter feed. I read all the way through before seeing that the article was from 3 years ago. Seems like brand new. Shows how timeless this message is.

    One thought I might add is to overlay this with a horizontal mode, a timeline, representing the daily events that keep reminding us of how important it is to try to solve this problem.

    The Twitter feed serves this purpose. We don’t see every Tweet, but we do see enough to be constantly drawn back into a conversation, even one that started several years ago.

    In my case I am trying to draw people back to conversation I started 25 years ago.

    1. // Reply

      Trying and succeeding. I don’t say that often enough. Yours is a special kind of facilitation, one born from that 25 years of doing and making. I depend upon that Dan. I really do.

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