Friday, 28 March 2014

W10: #rhizo14: Disrupting learning: Creativity in arid landscapes

Creativity and the art of thriving in arid environments (Mar 22 - 30)
And the Trickster spake: After a couple of days required for a creative break, here it is Week 10! In thinking about the topic that I would propose for Rhizo14, the mental image that came up was a desert, and Dave Cormier's evil Japanese plant that grows like crazy. Of course, I wasn't quite sure what to make of this mental image, until I asked the all powerful crowds in the facebook group and it seemed to be that creativity was a topic that many people wanted to tackle. So here we go, Creativity: The Art of Thriving in Arid Environments.
This topic is wide open, it can be about your own personal creativity in education, it can include face to face and online, it can be about any subject - not just art. For instance, how does one creatively move through obstacles in their own organization in order to improve that organization? How do students stay within confining rubrics yes exert their own creativity in their assignments? How do you, as a designer or instructor, act creatively to meet those institutionally mandated goals and objectives for you course while giving your learners something they can sink their teeth into and be engaged through creativity in their learning endeavors?
To bring this to the MOOC realm, xMOOC platforms seem like dry and arid places, all of the creativity has been seemingly sucked from these platforms in favor of video based education. How do you break those system? use them creatively to create engaging xMOOCs? Will they still be xMOOCs if you do something creative with them?
How do YOU see creativity, and how would you respond to a criticism of creativity?

Hey you – don’t touch that – touch this!
We are learning developers (LD) and educationalists teaching mostly F2F – so here’s a response from that perspective rather than from a MOOC one. A big aspect of LD work is to help especially ‘non-traditional’ (NT) students become familiar with and powerful within the exclusionary practices of HE. If we were being Deleuzian (1987, 2005) but critical – we might argue that we were re-territorialising that student to enable them to participate successfully in HE (see arguments about skills – socialization – academic literacies, Lea & Street 1998). More hopefully our new Year-Long Becoming an Educationalist module creates spaces, fissures and cracks for students not traditionally welcome in the academy – spaces for them to re-territorialise as educational nomads.

We wanted our course to both empower students and to critique the reductive nature of education per se. Our fish swim in educational currents composed of the over-riding narratives of assessment, SATs, League Tables, OFSTED and other inspection regimes, moral panics about plagiarism – and the ‘dumbing down’ of education (viz. that great Starkey quote on our University: there are Mickey Mouse students for whom Mickey Mouse degrees are quite appropriate). It is an education system moulded by neo-liberalism and, in the UK, the sense that the market will solve all our problems.

Our module was designed to empower in and of itself – and to act as a tool or lens to critique reductionist education and reductionist curricula. The module includes some direct didactic teaching alongside active and engaging learning: Role playing and simulations; Creative and visual learning strategies, see; Inquiry Based and Problem Based Learning; Reflective learning; Drawing, Poetry and Prose analysis and discussion; Analysis of Educational Policy documents; Research projects; Resource/artefact production; #ds106 and development of a digital self; Peer Mentoring; Contribution  to the University’s annual student-facing Get Ahead conference

Students are expected to talk, listen, discuss and be with (Jean Luc Nancy) each other; they are expected to attend Music improvisation and Dance workshops – and to design and present their own interactive workshops. They are expected to make notes, read actively and interactively and share their findings – and also to produce collages, blind drawings, conference presentations, real research and digital artefacts. We hope that they join in with energy and enthusiasm to all the different things that they are asked to do – and then to make the learning conscious… especially in their blogs.

Narratives of the self: a space for real writing
There is much research, both anecdotal and more formal, on the fear that academic writing holds for students. In a study at our own University Burn, Burns and Sinfield (2004) found that even successful PG students said:
‘I’m still not sure if my writing is academic. I still don’t know what makes one essay better than another.’
‘I’ve been humiliated in ways that I wouldn’t have put up with anywhere else.’
Arguably the academic essay as a genre exemplifies academic writing per se: non-polemical in form yet inviting certainty of argumentation whilst excluding the personal, the emphatic, the confused, the flippant and the humorous. But these traits can all be valued parts of the individual – needed especially when coping with the implicit threats inherent in transition (Winnicott 1971) into formal academic spaces that traditionally exclude people from certain social, economic and cultural backgrounds. It could therefore be said that writing in the academy acts as a metonym for the academic: implacable, reified, classed. It is the space where our students most feel like ‘a fish out of water’. They are, as with Bowstead’s (2011) student, ‘coming to writing’ passionate, opinionated and eloquent verbally; but ‘we can’t speak as we write’, especially not in an academic environment. This boundary-crossing module is designed to help students enter not only the academic world per se, but also that most tricky academic form - academic writing - including by the quasi-academic writing of the reflective learning log or blog.

Can you blog it?
We presented the reflective log and the Blog in particular to the students as quasi-academic and semi-public space. We wanted to invite ownership: this writing matters – because you have something to say. It is a space to perform one’s self as it becomes academic – and to perform that more wholly than in an academic essay. In both log and Blog you can be playful (Winnicott 1971) – and it is play we need to tackle the threat implicit in transitional spaces – those becoming spaces (Deleuze 1987, 2005) – and it is in play that we are wholly fiercely alive – and fiercely ourselves. We, as with Bowstead (2011) note that in our students all the passion – all that energy – all their power is deemed invalid in the academic essay: it becomes transgressive in and of itself. We hoped that the logs and the Blogs allowed the passion and the play – and that our students would utilize these lines of flight (Deleuze 1987, 2005) to narrate a more powerful self.

Lines of escape/Lines of flight
In stark contrast to the formality of the academic essay, narratives and more personal writing, and multimodal Blogs especially, can constitute the cracks – the boundaries – the borders - the space for disruption, irruptions and eruptions: the place of collision and encounter. Those representations become where space and time collapse – compressed – intensified – because finite – become finite – existing in a fixed placed and time. Their composition emerges from a compressed space, time and setting: meaning and communication become one narrative. And (as Deleuze might argue) this offers an opportunity not to re-trace the compilation of the sign – but a moment – just before it becomes fixed – when all the potential and possibilities still exist. A moment of and for transformation – for recognition of the self … A crack in space and time to re-territorialise educational spaces – to become educational nomads (or as we say in #rhizo14, Knowmads).

Check out Mo’s blog on that A-Maze-ing thing:

References (in progress)
Bowstead, H., 2011. Coming to writing. Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education, [online] Available at:
Brande, D., 1981/1934. Becoming a writer. Los Angeles: J. P. Tarcher.
Burn, Burns and Sinfield (2004) ‘Writing Resistance’ in Discourse Power Resistance Conference, Plymouth University 2004
Burns, T. & Sinfield, S., 2012. Essential study skills: The complete guide to success at university. 3rd ed. London: Sage.
Deleuze G and Guattari F (1987, 2005) A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia Minneapolis, London: University of Minnesota Press
Elbow, P., 1975. Writing without teachers. New York: Oxford University Press.
Herrmann, N., 1989. The creative brain. Lake Lure, NC: Brain Books.
Freire – mentoring
Freire and/or Giroux – emancipatory education
Kossak, S., 2011. Reaching in, reaching out: Reflections on reciprocal mentoring. Bloomington, IN: Balboa Press.
Lea and Street (1998)
Nancy J-L DATE
#rhizo14 (2014) MOOC: The Community is the Curriculum (Dave Cormier via P2PU )
Sinfield, Burns and Holley (2003)

Winnicott, D., W., 1971. Playing and reality. London: Tavistock.

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