Deviation and self-determination #activelearning

A learning constellation

In a previous post I suggested that the art of teaching to an active learning philosophy is about creating loose structures so that each and every student has the space to bring their own knowledge, experience and imagination to their learning. Designing for learner deviation is about valuing learning as an ecology, therefore; the learner, whether they know it or not, brings value to the learning situation and the teaching challenge is to accommodate and orchestrate the riches that students bring. Students are not inert; each learner represents a wealth of knowledge, experience, motivation, ideas, and answers.

The learner is part of the assemblage of the learning environment; part of the dynamic constellation (Delander, 2016). They will find their own way.

Deviation – finding your own way

The use of ‘deviance’ to describe learning may grab your attention. I have selected it purposefully, not in its rebellious, oppositional or moralistic sense (though that is healthy too), but in its psyschogeographical sense; that is, to deviate or wander, perhaps aimlessly, and certainly without recourse to provided structure in the spirit of the flâneur. It is the most extreme form of self-determination reaching beyond intention, accepting the innate desire to observe and be part of life. It is where wander and wonder collide, and establishes a space to be curious.

Heutagogy and self-determination

In education, deviance is more often known as self-determined learning. Self-determination Theory (SDT) was developed by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan and provides a theory of motivation in psychology. It highlights three innate psychological needs of human beings: for competence, for autonomy and for relatedness. (Ackerman, 2021) It is sometimes referred to as heutagogy although, strictly speaking, this means the study of self-determined learning (Hase & Kenyon, 2015). In a heutagogical approach,

“Teachers don’t teach, I have long believed. Learners learn. ‘Teachers’ (the quotes are deliberate) provide a context within which learning is encouraged and enabled.”

Dick, 2015, p. 51

Heutagogy is “where the learner has the autonomy to determine and direct his/her own learning path and process.” (Hase & Kenyon, 2000, p. 86)

Blaschke looks at the web as a context for self-determination.

“the learner’s ability to be self-determined is inherent in the system: the web is non-linear, allowing the learner to decide in a random way what and how she will learn.”

Blaschke, 2013, p. 57

The routes beyond the confines of the classroom clarify and make prescient ideas about wandering as learning. It suggests a connective infinity, and makes digital and spatial fluency aa relevant and important matter for educators.

Creating a space for deviance

That space, for me, is encapsulated in the idea of studio: a place of connectivity and curiosity. A place to wonder/wander. Learning involves encountering problems and conducting inquiries, facing and embracing the challenge of inspiring your peers or ‘publics’ (people who represent an authentic audience) and your teachers. It involves making things: written, visual, time-based media, or events. It involves working in isolation, in collaboration, and through co-operation (‘learning alongside’). It involves negotiating and defining your own terms (and criteria). It involves being aware of (and open to be inspired by) your peers navigating similar territory, albeit in their own way.

“teachers do not play a less significant role; they play a different role and it is one that is at the heart of good teaching.”

Eberle, 2015, p. 149

As I work with academic teachers on developing active learning strategies, that point is so important. The role of the teacher is much more than the lecturer. It requires the knowledge and credibility that we associate with lecturing, but it also requires an artistry for designing learning situations and a commitment to the continuous exploration of knowledge.

The teacher, then is game-maker, guide and agitator. Deviant learning does not threaten formal learning: it recognises the value of curiosity, intrigue, and scratching an itch as part of the act of building one’s knowledge, as well as learning how to develop and use those important deviant tendencies wisely through life.


Ackerman, C. E. (2021, 15-02-2021). Self-Determination Theory of motivation: why intrinsic motivation matters. Blog post, online at:

Blaschke, L. M. (2012) ‘Heutagogy and lifelong learning: a review of heutagogical practice and self-determined learning. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, l(13), pp. 56-71.

Delander, M. (2016). Assemblage theory. Edinburgh University Press.

Dick, B. (2015). Crafting learner-centred processes using action research and action learning. In: S. Hase & C. Kenyon, eds., “Self-determined learning: Heutagogy in action.” London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Eberle, J. H. (2015). Lifelong learning. In: S. Hase & C. Kenyon, eds., “Self-determined learning: Heutagogy in action.” London: Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 145-15

Garnett, F. & O’Beirne, R. (2013). Putting heutagogy into learning Eberle, J. H. (2015). Lifelong learning. In: S. Hase & C. Kenyon, eds., “Self-determined learning: Heutagogy in action.” London: Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 131-143 .

Hase, S. & Kenyon, C. (2015). Heutagogy fundamentals. In: S. Hase & C. Kenyon, eds., “Self-determined learning: Heutagogy in action.” London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Narayan, V., Herrington, J. & Cochran’s, T. (2019). Design principles for heutagogical learning: Implementing student-determined Learning with mobile and social media tools. Australian Journal of Educational Technology, August 2018.

Posted in Active Learning, Creativity, Learner Engagement, Learning Space and Place, Studio and Studio-based Learning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vertical and horizontal learning networks: implications for #active learning

Slideshare presentation on Horizontal and Vertical networks

This presentation is useful for thinking about the difference between collaborative and co-operative learning. My interest in social media for learning, studio-based learning, and hybrid learning centres on how people work and learn together. They often return to ‘working alongside’ (co-operation) and purposefully working together (collaboration). It comes down to goals ultimately and the meaning of an association to those involved in it.

These distinctions help us to think about learning design and learner motivation in active learning.

Daniel Bassill presents a more global view as he discusses examples of horizontal and vertical networks, but I think the ideas help to clarify associative networks working in a more granular way too. It should be noted that the idea presents a binary. As is usually (always?) the case, binary presentations are useful for presenting ideas conceptually but, in reality, practice tends to exist on a continuum.

Horizontal networks

As I understand it, the unifying factor of a horizontal network is its common interest. The network becomes visible in an event or a place. People network around a topic, but are not focused on a specific goal. Horizontal networks consist of people who have different personal or organisational agendas, so there is sometimes verticality nested within the horizontal. In a horizontal network there may be vertical groupings, for example made up of people from a single organisation who attend a conference with the aim of learning something that will help them achieve their project by drawing upon ideas or experience from across a broader horizontal network. A special interest group is a good example of this where people may represent organisations and be involved in leading an organisational change, but they come together giving their respective work a common validity and accommodating serendipity, and sharing specific successes, and comparing different experiences.

In teaching and learning, people create a sense of place by being together and sharing ideas and commitment. A learning studio exemplifies this idea of learning alongside each other as co-operators. The art student’s goal is their picture, but their co-presence alongside their peers reinforces their cultural identity and personal motivation.

Vertical networks

In a vertical network the unifying factor is a vision, shared purpose, or goal. People work together on a common problem towards a single solution in joint enterprise.

In such networks people are interested in the overarching topic and in applying ideas and knowledge as a collaboration for making a better world.

In teaching and learning, students enact vertical learning in group work, for example in project-based learning, problem-based learning, or team-based learning assignments. They collaborate to make a collective object (e.g. report, presentation, prototype).

Graphic showing vertical networks as focusing on common purposes and horizontal networks focusing on common interests
Vertical & Horizontal Networks

Crossing the boundaries – benchmarking

As noted, the convergence of the horizontal is interesting from a learning and teaching perspective. This is seen in acts of discussion and presentation for example, where one group asks another for feedback or where a ‘show and tell’ or ‘crit’ activity is used. Such connecting activities affect the motivation and reflective thinking of students as they compare their own ideas to those of their peers.

This crossing of the horizontal and vertical space should result in a race to the top in which competition finds spaces within a co-operative space.

Posted in Active Learning, Co-operative pedagogy, Learning Space and Place, Social Media for Learning, Studio and Studio-based Learning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Simulation – storyboarding and paper prototyping #activelearning

<img src="" alt="Photo by <a href="">Matt Popovich</a> on <a href="">Unsplash

Photo by Matt Popovich on Unsplash

Educational simulation is an interesting and, in my view, underutilised area of active learning. Often associated with technology-based approaches, educational simulation is in fact a broader field. In this broad sense it creates a space for authentic learning.

In this post I want to capture a few ideas about simulation techniques that I believe are valuable pedagogically and highly usable and accessible.

Paper prototyping

Paper prototyping can be used in educating students in any discipline where learning involves the application of knowledge to a given situation or problem.

This UXPin site provides an introduction to paper prototyping and notes that the benefits to paper prototyping include: rapid iteration of ideas, cost, increased creativity, team building, easy to learn, and documentation can be produced through the prototyping process. Familiar to computer scientists, especially those responsible for HCI (Human Computer Interface) design, paper prototyping aids rapid iterative development and testing of technologies. Why build, at great expense and taking considerable time, when you can achieve a very similar result by building early versions of devices or software using paper?

You can do the same for the design and construction of other tools and products – US design firm Ideo, for example, showed how the design of a shopping trolley, the first computer mouse, or other products could be rapidly progressed by rapidly building and adjusting full-scale workable models using cheap and recycled materials. (Kelley, 2001)

There are two ways (at least) educators can think about using prototyping for learning:

  1. Learn by designing a prototype
  2. Learn by using a prototype

In the latter, learning happens in a simulated environment or situation. In effect, the educator says, “I would like to have a budget of several £1Ks, but I haven’t. I can’t employ a software/media company to build the glossy tool I dream of. But I can design a very similar experience using cheap materials like paper to communicate instructions, options, or quotes to respond, etc).”

There are two reasons not to do this – 1. Because paper wasn’t in your dream, you dreamed your solution was a real phone app (etc). 2. Because you think your students will think this is ‘cheap’.

1. Now I have suggested it, dream it! 2. In fact, design the right experience (not tool) and the student experience will be very rich! I say this second point with confidence because, as with the Ideo approach, its real value is that you can design, evaluate and rapidly iterate based on student input or user feedback. And that can be educative too.

Role play

Role play is a form of simulation in which you ask people to enact and respond to a situation. Such role plays can be very short and create a wonderful stimulus for learning about the application of knowledge, e.g. learning by “demonstrating a process”, exploring possible outcomes in a situation by asking smalls groups to perform “what happens next?”, or asking small groups to generate multiple viable “alternative outcomes”, for example). Role plays can also be longer and more considered productions containing multiple acts in which the actors can be the students and/or the audience can be the students. In this longer Theatre of the Oppressed approach, interludes allow participants to reflect on and interact with the performance. Developed by Augusto Boal, Theatre of the Oppressed creates a powerfully immersive experience potentially.


Storyboarding is the technique used by film makers to prototype films. It’s a relatively familiar visual approach to setting out time-based episodes in a comic strip-type approach.

Such storyboard strips are often produced by talented artists who have what it takes to create very stylistic sequences. This is helpful for planning multi-million dollar blockbusters. But it doesn’t have to be so hard or perfect. There are plenty of sites that explain the essential steps of creating storyboards using paper, Powerpoint or photography.

Making or using simulation as a pedagogy

There are so many other ideas for using simulation techniques in education. It is easy to get distracted by preconceptions of what you already know about or have experienced yourself.

Explore the potential for designing learning activities that involve your students as designers or makers of simulations (etc) or the potential of them running simulations (being the performers). Between these two views of how simulation works educationally is the third space: as with Theatre of the Oppressed or scenario-based learning (which offers another set of approaches), consider giving your students enough information to start a performance and allow them to interact by changing ‘variables’. Imagine a role play, for example, in which a teacher or student facilitator pauses the performance to ask the audience questions like “What happens next?”, or “Which of the two options does the protagonist choose and why?”, or “What unexpected disaster happens that the cast should respond to?”

Simulation, paper prototyping, storyboarding and role play can provide rich and rewarding activities for stimulating learning. They can involve problem, design and scenario-based learning strategies that resonate with learners. They can be good fun, stimulating, authentic feeling, and highly immersive. Such activities do not have to be dependent on technology and media, and once you have an idea for using them, they can be great fun for the teacher too.


Kelley, T. (2001). The art of innovation. Currency Publishing.

Posted in Academic Innovation and Possibilities, Active Learning | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Conversation-based #activelearning – exploiting the differences between dialogue and debate

Photo by Olga Guryanova on Unsplash

Active learning is essentially conversational – a ‘to-ing and fro-ing’ of ideas, whether this is a collaborative exchange or personal cogitation and reflection. Pedagogically, there is a lot to exploit here.

I was recently involved in a discussion about the difference between dialogue and debate which referred to Daniel Yankelovich’s The Magic of Dialogue (1999). Yankelovich’s interest is conflict resolution and, in that context, debate is obviously confrontational and not the best strategy. However, from a pedagogical perspective, there is a lot to be said for debate.

First, let’s compare dialogue and debate as outlined by Yankelovich.

assumes there is a right answer – and I have it.assumes that many people have pieces of the answer and that together, they can craft a solution.
is combative – participants attempt to prove the other side collaborative – participants work together toward common understanding
is about about exploring common good.
entails listening to find flaws and make counter arguments.entails listening to understand and find meaning and agreement.
I defend my assumptions as truth.I reveal my assumptions for re-evaluation.
I critique the other side’s position.I re-examine all positions.
I defend my own views against those of others.I admit that others’ thinking can improve my own.
I search for weaknesses in others’ positions.I search for strength and value in other’s positions.
I seek a conclusion or vote that ratifies my position.I discover new options.
from The Magic of Dialogue by Daniel Yankelovich (1999)

I write about co-operative learning frequently on this blog. The ideas in the Dialogue column epitomise co-operation; a word that Yankelovich uses in the title of his book. Does that make Debate the bad guy, pedagogically?

Assuming any pedagogy must first be consensual and that, ethically, all participants have their eyes open before immersing in any activity, I argue that debate is also a powerful learning framework.

Another look at Debate, as a conceit or constructed situation, presents several reasons for using debate pedagogically.

DebatePedagogic rationale
assumes there is a right answer – and I have it.As learners, it can be helpful to ‘try ideas on’ and see how far an argument can be sustained. Many people like to play devil’s advocate when considering a contentious idea conversationally. This deploys the same principle of putting an idea out there to test it – and possibly reveal flaws in accepted opinion.
is combative – participants attempt to prove the other side wrong.If you are going to test an idea, then it helps to do it with rigour and vigour. Being combative suggests an unhelpful attitude that should be avoided – slanging matches don’t help anyone – but being confident and committed to an idea in order to assess and defend it can add to the excitement of exchange.
is about winning.I always start from a commitment to co-operation. A competitive desire to win has always made me uneasy, but of course ego is an essential part of human nature and, ultimately, people compete with and against their own ideas to test their beliefs of what is good and bad or when re-assessing their personal goals. Ipsative assessment and competing against our personal goals can be very empowering.
More than this, friendly competition within a spirit of co-operation (cricket! Any sport?) shows how they are not the antithesis of each other.
entails listening to find flaws and make counter arguments.Simply, isn’t that a way of defining critical analysis? Again, it comes down to context, intent, and, in terms of teaching, how the conceit is presented.
I defend my assumptions as truth.I have already referred to the value of conviction, but within the conceit of debate it is critical to have a period of debriefing and reflection; to step away from the narrowness of positions that may have been taken to redraw personal conclusions ideally in a social setting in which debating protagonists are involved. I am reminded of the excellent BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The Reunion’ in which key players in headline-hitting news stories or cultural affairs are reunited many years later to retell and reflect on earlier events.
I critique the other side’s position.Learning how to critique positions taken by other people is an important skill. In a world of fake news we need to be able to challenge assumptions and lies propounded by others. Again, it comes down to how the conceit it framed by the teacher and the ground rules and etiquette that are put in place.
I defend my own views against those of others.If you have done your research it is one thing knowing and another thing to apply what you know. Often this comes down to a person having developed the skills of explaining and influencing; being leaderly. For example, being able to see a situation from another person’s perspective can help you to show that person what might be of interest to them in a way that is acceptable to them. These skills are learnt through practice. Debating is a way of practicing.
I search for weaknesses in others’ positions.I have addressed finding flaws and critiquing another person’s position, but this alludes to the art of active listening too. That idea of ‘search’ sounds antagonistic, but when reframed as ‘inquiry’ we can see that debate, to be useful, must open our inquiring mind. It cannot be a matter of taking turns to hail missiles at each other, it needs to be clever – an intellectual exchange. The legal pedagogy of mooting is a refined and highly structured enactment of debating in which arguments and counter arguments are prepared and presented. It is a constructive process.
I seek a conclusion or vote that ratifies my position.This can be part of the conceit, but is not at all desirable pedagogically. As the teacher frames a debate, space is needed to top and tail the activity to ensure safe and critical reflection happens.


In writing this post I have sought to present extreme positions and then reflect in more detail on their respective virtues. This, in effect, is what a well-framed debate should also achieve pedagogically. A debate is a conceit – an idea or tool that serves a purpose; just as an experiment serves a purpose. Good teaching, in both cases, creates a meta space in which to get closer to meanings and truths and their implications, and to discover the new options noted as the culmination of the dialogic model.


Yankelovich, D. (1999). The magic of dialogue: transforming conflict into cooperation. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Posted in Active Learning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Learning walks with awe are good for you

Intense colour captured on a #nightwalk

Awe walks boost emotional well-being according to a recent study conducted by researchers from UC San Francisco and Trinity College Dublin. The study looked at the effect of a weekly 15 minute walk on adults in which selected walkers reported positive effects on their emotional well-being and stress levels.

The walkers were asked to focus on their surroundings rather than themselves and this connects with several activities and studies that I have discussed here previously. I have not, however, presented the well-being benefits enough perhaps, though during the pandemic I have thought about the benefit of regular awe walking (it’s good to have a name for it) for myself and, if I’d had the time, I would have advocated using the Twalk method more during this time. In fact, I have done several workshops on Unified Active Learning in which I have promoted Twalks as one of several innovative approaches to ‘Creating Some Warmth Through Active Learning’ (Global Festival of Active Learning) – Twalks (social media semi-structed walking conversations) can bring students together even when they are geographically dispersed.

There are social benefits from learning walks, though the study on awe walks focuses on the individual. Being part of something provides the individual with a way to come to know themselves – that something can be the wonder of the material world or the social world. The study does not distinguish between the rural or urban landscape – awe is wherever we look for it. That is the message: walk purposefully and look out for things that may be common place but which, on further scrutiny, may surprise you. As an art student I was trained to do that, but I think there is a strong message here for any educator and student: learning to look deeply promotes creative and critical thinking habits.

I live in a West Yorkshire town that is neither simply urban nor rural. I walk every day. I do the minimum 10,000 steps and more during the week, although this often involves road walking. I take pictures and listen to podcasts on my walks. I have walked these roads so many times that you have to scour the landscape to find a new image. Often it will be the shadows, vibrant night colours, textures and the negative spaces, not only the objects, that catch my eye. At weekends I range across the Pennines feeling the awe of the hills, the moors, the reservoirs, canals, and cloudscapes and sunsets. During the week, after a long working day when the nights extend too far, it can be a struggle to work out where to go to find awe. I need an ulterior purpose. Ulterior, meaning being beyond what is seen or intentional, seems apt. If necessary I will just walk to tick off the steps, but I much prefer a purpose, a destination or an idea. As part of my walking routine I have the mission of taking at least one photograph and posting it to my Instagram account. Having an excellent smartphone camera that copes admirably with my #nightwalk scenes really helps.

Finding awe by being on your own in the middle of the world doing its thing

I notice that such walking has its risks and dangers. Being on the street at night on your own is not for everyone, to say the least. Being on the moors at night can also bring dangers. I nearly got stuck on Holme Moss recently having got lost in thought and wonder.

View from Holme Moss – miles from anywhere at sunset

The sublime

Awe is an unusual word. Perhaps this is because we don’t tend to positively experience awe when we are caught up in the ‘day to day’ business of living. We don’t tend to talk about it. The study on awe walks implies we should be conscious of awe. Being awestruck is good for us.

Philosophize This!, presented by the excellent Stephen West, is one podcast I take with me. When walking on the hills around Peel Tower in Lancashire a few weekends ago I listened to the episode on Kant and the Sublime (connecting places to listening is a topic I have written on with my former colleague Anne Nortcliffe).

The sublime is a rare experience of the world at the extreme. It is more than awe, indeed it can be threatening, creating a sensation of humility that challenges the human tendencies of arrogance and omnipotence. In comparison, awe can be stupendous but commonplace and available to those who go looking with their senses open.

Bringing it back to learning

Good learning can be defined as that which satisfies curiosity. For good learning we need awe inspiring moments.

We can get these moments from excellent teachers, but as learners we should aspire to inspire too. Looking with the artist’s eye for both detail and that expansive sense of immersion, and becoming practised in navigating between these extremes, is something we can all develop and bring to our study and to our world views.

I have talked about looking deeply with the artist’s eye, but previously I have made similar points about using our aural senses and thinking about how we can use audio as active ‘learner gatherers’ (Middleton, 2011). Whether through isolated wandering psychogeographical expeditions or more purposeful or social meanderings such as learning walks and twalks, well-being can come from finding awe.


Middleton, A. (2011). Audio Active: Discovering Mobile Learner-Gatherers from Across the Formal-Informal Continuum. International Journal of Mobile and Blended Learning (IJMBL), 3(2), 31–42.

Nortcliffe, A. & Middleton, A. (2008). A three year case study of using audio to blend the engineer’s learning environment. Engineering Education: Journal of the Higher Education Academy Engineering Subject Centre, 3(2).

Posted in Active Learning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Playing with time and crossing boundaries: multichronicity #activelearning

Warped clock face based on Dali's painting 'The Persistence of Memory'
after DALI ‘The Persistence of Memory’

In Reimagining Spaces for Learning in Higher Education I examine the inadequacies of binary descriptions of space and time for representing contemporary learning experiences. Within the exploration I considered social media for learning and two of the case studies described tweetchats. An analysis of the tweetchats revealed that neither synchronicity nor asynchronicity are able to capture the essence of what goes on in such a conversational space. Neither get close to capturing the value of the learning experience.

Tweetchats disrupt the binary of synchronous-asynchronous communication and instead present a ‘multichronous’ multidimensional flow of live conversation. While the tweetchat epitomises an intense multi-participant and immersive conversation, it also lives on as a learner-generated resource.

Middleton, 2018

Unified active learning – a pedagogy of connections

Quite rightly, during the pandemic our attention has been given to the operational matters of ensuring our students can access their course irrespective of their situation. At Anglia Ruskin University I continue to engage colleagues in the concept of ‘unified active learning’ (UAL) – a principle-based articulation of a design ethos and supporting pedagogies in which active, inclusive and collaborative learning provides a learning framework.

UAL is people and engagement-centred – the starting point for the academic designer must be the need to connect with every student: any design that does not accept the challenge of engagement is prone to failure as a teaching strategy.

A critique of synchronous and asynchronous conceptualisations of learning design, therefore, sits within this context. Such a binary conception of learning focuses the teacher only on the practical; the doing. That would seem to make sense in an active learning paradigm. However, it is not enough. The danger is that the academic designer asks “What am I expecting the learner to do at this point in time?” with the implication that the acts stand alone with no history or consequence for each learner. They are portrayed as being disconnected. As noted in an earlier post, it is not the act but the consequence of the act that indicates where we should look for value in an active curriculum: the ‘so what?’ of reflection in and on learning.

Multichronicity, therefore, provides a way of looking at the design of experiential learning in settings that accommodate learning ecologies: the academic designer must consider the quality of time spent in and navigating through a learning experience.

An analysis of desirable acts of learning is helpful to understand the role of time and flow in the design of active learning.

Ekeblad (1999) makes observations about the value of pace and fluidity in consideration of engagement with mailing lists:

Discussions on a scholarly mailing list typically do not proceed at an even pace, but swing between phases where contributors converge on a new object of intense discussion and phases of topical divergence and diminishing interaction frequency

Ekeblad, 1999

Returning to the tweetchat scenario (a learning environment defined by its simple affordances), a breakdown of interaction patterns quickly indicates the significance of time to thoughts on engagement and learning: the Twitter environment acts as a conduit for faux synchronous discussion, in a process that co-produces a persistent archive of multiple concurrent conversations (‘multilogues’ [Shanke, 1993]) demarcated by the hashtag spatial signifier. The act of posting is an act of intervention, production, creation, contribution and participation. It is inherently active, inclusive and collaborative. The act of posting leaves traces of evidence in which thoughts are made real and left abandoned to be found or ignored like embers from a fire. Each ember has latent energy with the potential to ignite further embers or to metamorphose into sooty deposits. Ekeblad (1999) refers to these as patterns of ’emergence and decay’.

Let’s trace the life of a tweet to understand this ecology and observe how, rather than being binary or linear, time is multichronous.

The life of a tweet

A tweet is a posting full of potential to provoke reaction. It finds its space in the tweetchat by incorporating its shared hashtag. Inherently, tweeting is an act defined by its latency: it demands acknowledgement, but may go unnoticed or be overtaken by other events such as other tweets that may capture attention, or may be returned to as its meaning and value become clear.

A tweet is a message. Simply, its primary purpose is to be read and its meaning conveyed. While it may be ignored, in the instant that it occupies the limelight, one or more people may like the tweet, retweet it, or reply to it. Any such act draws attention to the tweet and its essence. This attention gives it more energy potentially – it is no longer only associated with the tweet’s originator, it acquires new provenance, value and association. For each association, the tweet has both an immediate presence and one or more future lifelines that create traces, embers, or hauntings: memories that may spark new life or fade, decay, and disappear.

The tweet exists within the context of other tweets. Once released, it has its own life and timeline, but for the originator and those who interact with the tweet, it may hold up proceedings as the centre of a micro-conversation. In a tweetchat, for example, other participants may keep up with the pace set by the tweetchat facilitator as they release more stimulus questions or, instead, participants may get side-tracked into new micro-conversations. Such micro-conversations are like eddies in the flow of a stream, having their own energy.

Active learning as a multichronous learning ecology

At the Active Learning Conference 2021 ( #activelearningnetwork #ARUalc which I had the privilege of Chairing last week, I ran a session titled “Playing with time and crossing boundaries: beyond synchronous and asynchronous active learning” in which I began to explore some of these ideas and demonstrate how multichronicity characterises the real value found in many active learning designs, including in the hybrid UAL methods.

An analysis of activity patterns in flipped learning pedagogies, learning walks and twalks, co-created educational podcasting methods, crowdsourcing and curation activities, co-writing assignments, for example, all reveal the value of multichronicity in understanding why such methods work.

Undoubtedly, I will return to this idea of multichronicity and how we value it in active learning.


Ekeblad, E. (1999). The emergence of multilogue. Self-regulation of a scholarly mailing list (revised version). Symposium proceedings, ‘Time and coordination in a virtual community of learners. European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction conference (EARLI 99): Advancing Learning Communities In The New Millennium’, Guttenborg, Sweden, August 24-28 1999. Online at:

Shank, G. (1993). Abductive multiloguing. The semiotic dynamics of navigating the Net. Arachnet Electronic Journal on Virtual Culture v1n01 (March 22, 1993). Online at

Posted in Active Learning, Digital Placemaking, Learner Engagement, Learning Space and Place, Media-enhanced learning, Polycontextuality, Scholarship and Research, Social Media for Learning, Walking | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Learning with consequence #activelearning

Evening walk following the campfire session

It’s the Global Festival of Active Learning this week. Our secret question in the organising group is ‘so how do we make this a festival and not a conference?’ It’s got to be about people and attitude. Just feeling good with each other!

It’s really put me in a reflective mood. All sorts of ideas buzzing around my head on the back of conversations. So, having been for an evening walk after my campfire conversation, and enjoyed another fantastic April sunset, it occurs to me that we focus on the action when we talk about active learning, but of course it’s much more useful to focus on the consequence – for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction. Leaving the word opposite to one side for a moment, let’s just note that the AL teacher needs to think about the intended reaction of their activity.

One answer is the student’s reflection. So for me this evening I am reflecting on the nightmare I’m having with technology this week. I can hardly work. Everything is on a wing and a prayer, so when I turned up for my session I couldn’t run my PowerPoint. I really needed those graphics to talk about Unified Active Learning. Very conceptual stuff!

Well, of course, all you need really is experienced people ready to enter into a conversation (‘experienced’ here is a redundant word – all you need is people!). And some decent questions.

So I led our conversation. It was ‘my’ session/workshop. But a successful conversation is one that has parity. I loved listening to people talking about their practice. Whatever I may have had planned, it was the stimulating examples of practice that I will take away. All I did was to bring some really interesting people together. Thank you for getting me thinking and reflecting on my sunset walk – the consequence of a good session in which I played just my part.

What about ‘opposite’ reaction? Is it the to and fro of conversation, how we reflect back, contradict, challenge, echo, find complementary anecdotes and examples?

Posted in Active Learning, Co-operative pedagogy, Learner Engagement, Walking | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Fluency – standing, walking, dancing

Photo by Ahmad Odeh on Unsplash

Being able to distinguish between skills, literacy and fluency is a perennial part of my job as an educational developer. This is most visible in thinking about how to communicate and engage people in conversations to do with digital capabilities, as is the case for me again now. However, it is more fundamental than that – it comes down to how we think about educational development, learning, employability, professional development, and the academic ecosystem in its entirety.

Fluency first

In this post I explain why ‘fluency’ is the right discourse for framing any educational or professional development conversation. Skills and literacies have their rightful places within that discourse, but attention to fluency means attention is given to the agility and agency of the subject, whether academic or student, or the organisation itself. Let us begin by breaking things down. What do we mean by skills, literacy and fluency?

Skills, literacy, and fluency – what do we want?

A skills discourse is the most straightforward – a skill describes the ability to perform a given task. To perform a function. As such, we can see what we have achieved if we have learnt a skill, and it is easy to evaluate whether we can successfully perform that skill at a point in time and in a specific context. It is easy to certificate skills therefore, and this is gratifying for all concerned, especially people who we do not know yet but who, in the future, will seek proof of our abilities. There’s a lot going for a skills discourse, but that’s not with a higher education is about. Graduates and academics need to be more than that. Skills are limited and, after a while, their values diminishes as specific context change and new contexts become apparent. Still, certification also demonstrates that we are capable of acquiring skills and there is some value in that.

Literacy, or being literate, is a good term, especially in the academic world. Being literate suggests we are knowledgeable and well-read. It implies a degree of critical and creative engagement with the subject. It suggests we can interpret and apply some knowledge to what we have to do. However, there is a lot of implication and ambiguity in all that – the literate person is certainly aware of a knowledge domain, but there is no real sense that this awareness will cause the individual think through the implications of what having that knowledge means for their practice or that how it will help them to respond to contexts that are not yet clear. There is still too much suggestion that the knowledge is received rather than something to be considered and owned. Literacy promotes a laisse-faire attitude – we are allowed to engage with the knowledge, but the knowledge is not presented as having significant consequences that must be addressed. Knowledge exists within the intellectual domain.

Fluency, on the other hand, presents knowledge as something that is defined by its ambiguity. The knowledge exists within a complexity that can’t, and mustn’t, be defined or contained. It demands that strategies (e.g. skills) and critical lens is applied to the subject matter. However, what really matters is having a depth of personal knowledge that leads to the individual being able to respond wisely, almost without having to think. Fluency is about self-efficacy therefore.

What do we want? – We (in my case ‘education’) want people who are fluent and therefore relatively autonomous; people who are more than (‘more than’ is important) capable of making wise decisions in a given situation.

Postdigital fluency

As noted, developing digital fluency is an important focus for me in my work at the moment. However, this agenda exists within the context of the postdigital world (Fawns, 2019). This helps and adds to the complexity of how to address this.

The postdigital context refers to ‘the digital’ as being ubiquitous, pervasive, and integral to the lived experience. If we stop talking now about ‘the digital age’ and instead pay attention to our reality of ‘everyware’ ubiquitous technology (Greenfield, 2006), then a skills-led discourse shows itself to be a hinderance to what we really need to develop. It represents a pretence that we are equipping staff or students for the foreseeable future. Whereas the future can’t be foreseen, but we do know it will be significantly different.

Look back 10 years – how has your digital landscape changed since then? What are the implications of this to your life, then, now and the future? We cannot be satisfied simply if someone (academic, student or other) has learnt a new skill. That skill only has meaning and value now and if its acquisition is understood as evidence of a habitual engagement with a fluid context.

Any development activity needs to be labelled: “Use with Caution!” (and criticality).

In terms of complexity, then, an educational discourse requires the development of spatial fluency – that is, each of us must be able to critically and creatively assess the situations in which we exist and respond wisely, as though we have not had to analyse the situation, before participating effectively. Our attention, as developers must be given, therefore to positive ‘agency’ and ‘placemaking’.

Before moving on, spatial fluency allows us to think about other big, bold questions of our times too (Sparrow, 2018).

Dancing is the answer!

I don’t mind writing and thinking here if it sometimes means me tying myself up in knots! This is what this space is primarily for in many ways. However, top of my mind is how to communicate a shift towards fluency, and beyond skills and literacy. How can we all grasp and deal with a university experience as being a space in time to develop complexity strategies? How can I frame this discussion with academics, students and managers in a straightforward way that makes sense to anyone?

My immediate thoughts are to visualise the ideas and to use metaphors. I must acknowledge the excellent podcast Philosophize This! and the second episode on the philosopher John Locke in which the idea of dancing, not standing, was discussed.

Digital fluency reflects the innate agency at the heart of learning – especially in an active learning paradigm in which we have respect for the learner and their own motivations.

While we might be able to teach someone how to stand up straight, that is all we are teaching. Being able to stand up straight is a specific skill. It is a function that can be performed and checked. We can use that skill, but it is difficult to apply it with any versatility or confidence to any other situation that we may encounter. If we learn to stand up from a chair, or on a slope, for example, to what extent can we confidently say we can also stand up in a moving vehicle, or when the slope is down instead of up, when there is or isn’t something to hold on to? A particular skill, and its value, are necessarily limited. We can always teach those other skills, but when do we stop? As parents, we know that standing up is not the ‘be all and end all’ to a small child – they have greater purpose and curiosity that gives them resilience. Focusing on developing curiosity is a clue to how we teach in complex situations and, in fact, an individual’s own, unique context (their part of the ecosystem) is critical to their sense making.

So clearly, thinking about teaching the different skill of walking, rather than standing, would be a better idea. There’s more in it. But what are we teaching the nascent walker? We are still teaching them to stand, but we are also teaching them how to move their legs in the the ‘right’ order so as to move forward, or even backwards. And necessarily we are teaching them to balance and to stop. Of course, we must teach the walker some other basics including how to decide on what direction to travel in and for how long. And to not run before you can walk! Then, we need to consider when to introduce ideas about travelling. Travelling causes their sensory context to change because of the actions they are taking, so that they must be able to respond to that change. It goes without saying that the walker must begin to interpret their context and respond to it. As parents, we know that we don’t sit our child down with a script and go through the ‘how to walk’ manual ‘step by step’ (though this is an interesting thought -there may be a book opportunity there for the unscrupulous teacher!). No, we allow for a few scrapes and bruises and try to put reasonable safeguards in place, but also create a supportive and constructive learning experience. The teacher parent helps the learner walker to reflect on the decisions they made – and then we quickly move on.

Let us now consider dancing and why learning to dance might be more useful than learning to walk or stand up! It is about context, motivation, and agility. Fundamentally it is about agency though.

Dancing is such a joyous act. It is about life itself. It is about who we want to be and how we want to feel. It is that bigger, bolder picture of memorable moments. It is about the freedom, even in or especially in, a social situation that we desire. [nb. anyone who knows me may be surprised to hear me effuse about dancing – just enjoy the moment! ;-)]

Dancing conveys a fluency that is not necessarily so obvious in the functional act of walking. Walking is an intellectual act (usually – but also see ideas of wandering and psychogeography). We tend to approach walking as a perfunctory act that enables us to get things done. We have focus and purpose and, for most of us, we know how to do it and we don’t pay too much attention to it. We know its limitations and will turn to other forms of being ambulant when walking is not going to achieve what we need to do. We have walking literacy.

Dancing, on the other hand, is us at our joyous best – when we are able to respond to any situation with utter confidence and fluidity. We have a sense of flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 2002) and being. Dancing, as an enactment of fluency, involves us in self-demonstrations of exuberance and deep engagement with life. Physically, this dancing fluency is a matter of audacious balance, especially when this involves dancing with a partner.

Balance as a dimension of dancing and movement, perhaps epitomises fluency. Our bodies are dynamic containers of energy in motion and the physical space around us is in a continual ‘split second’ flux. It only goes wrong when we stop to think – when we become too literate and so too conscious of the world around us: I heard the athlete Kelly Holmes on the radio yesterday describe how she lost a podium place by looking up to check her timing as she approached the winning line. Fluency would have carried her over – and later in her career it did.

Balance and fluency, underpinned by technique and a sure knowledge of one’s skills and ability to deploy them, mean that the dancer, the skater, the artist, the musician, the athlete, the theoretician, indeed any of us, all excel when we ‘know’ without having to stop and think.

I argue, then, we should aspire to fluency by focusing on the agency we desire within our learning ecosystem. This takes skills, awareness, and opportunities in which to positively apply ourselves as we explore our worlds being driven by our respective curiosities.


Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2002). Flow: the classic work on how to achieve happiness. London: Rider.

Fawns, T. (2019). Postdigital education in design and practice. Postdigital Science and Education, 1,

Greenfield, A. (2006). Everyware: the dawning age of ubiquitous computing. ‘Voices that matter’, CA: New Riders.

Sparrow, J. (2018). Digital fluency: preparing student to create big, bold problems. New Horizons: EDUCAUSE. Online at:, 132–145.

Posted in Active Learning, Applied Learning, Creativity, Learner Engagement, Learning Space and Place, Literacies and Intelligence, Walking | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Lifewide learning domains: rich intersections or contested spaces

Deerhill in the snow. One of the moor top walks I take to wonder and wander

I noted in my previous post on mapping our learning that I would be engaging in the collaborative inquiry ‘Towards a Better Understanding of Our Own Learning Lives’ led by Norman Jackson, Rob Ward and Jenny Willis. I have just about managed to engage with this in week one (increasingly finding any space in my wide life feels tricky!) and I look forward to reflecting on how we compartmentalise or connect our learning lives across various domains as I pay attention to my own intentional and incidental learning.

This is essentially the focus of the study as I understand it. It coincides so well with my own thinking and questioning, and this blog space is one important strand in my own lifewide learning narrative.

My first task in the exercise has been to devise a Lifewide Learning Domain Map which I share below. I did it really quickly, believing that this cannot be a science and a rough and ready mapping will be as revealing as anything else. Indeed, I have added ‘connections and crossings’ to my map’s title because I think the intersections and contested nature of the domains will reveal more to me as I participate in this study – my role being mostly as a subject. Note, I have also used the word ’emphasises’ as I introduce each domain to again indicate the fuzziness and changing, ambiguous nature of (my) life: ‘If I say [domain name], then it is mostly to do with…, but note entirely or exclusively.’ And for me, this fuzziness is especially relevant to how I/we learn. That cliché of ‘I have my best ideas in the shower’ makes the point well – I find space to think and learn in apparently disconnected spaces and this gives us the concepts of third space and third place, as in the hairdresser’s fire escape fag break (Shortt, 2014).

Psychogeography is a surprising high level domain for me, and I may decide it is too much of a passing interest, however I see it as a broad set of ideas that connect and make sense of a lot of my life. This is quite ironic, because the literature on psychogeography, as far as I can tell, really caricatures it through the aimless nature of the lone wonderer. Obviously, for me, it turns out being aimless is an important dimension in my life, contrasting with the intense purposeful nature of pretty much everything else I do. My waking hours do feel as though I am on an intense mission most of the time. And that is the way I like it. I will return to psychogeography in a future post.

Colliding and compressing domains

In the introductory presentation given by Norman, he asked whether the domains in our lives had lost their distinctiveness during the pandemic. In these days of lockdown everything seems to happen at home. Being online happens at home – hence polycontextuality. The only time I leave the house is to walk or shop for groceries. I don’t expect this to change for a long time. If I’m right, there is an urgency for each of us to reflect on and develop new life strategies.

I think for most of us, this compression of domains will be most evident in those areas of life we have created to do with friends, family and leisure. Simply, friendship feels very different in Zoom. It’s the wrong place, because friendship is often quiet: friendship is about the space between words, being acceptant of social signals, doing things together for no other purpose than doing things with people just feels good. That’s much more difficult than the focused and purposeful activities we undertake at work or when we are being intentionally creative and productive.

Therein lies the crisis of schooling: the primary learning outcome of a formal education is to become a social being – it is not the ‘stuff’ we’re assessed on.

Quiet personal bubbles

And then, even though we are generally experiencing great social isolation during the pandemic, to what extent are we managing to find and protect those transitory dwelling places each of us needs? I get it in walking, taking photographs and posting them to Instagram, playing the guitar, writing, doing a lot of Skill Share courses, and watching a lot of YouTube videos (some ‘serious’, some not).

Often this could induce feelings of guilt though, given that a lot of this involves switching off in my bubble demarcated by my Bluetooth headphones. I can’t really imagine how on earth this plays out in families. Fortunately, I just live with my partner and we navigate our spaces pretty well! (I think?!)

Boundary crossing

As indicated, identifying domains feels somewhat arbitrary to me. It will be interesting to see how it works out for me over the next five weeks of the study. So much of what I think and write about is to do with experiential crossing points – I suggest it is the intersections of our lives in which we come across our meaning, when things get in the way (collisions) or when things add up or multiply (connections).

In terms of learning and what I am doing at work as an educational developer, this is informing what I am doing on Building Learning Communities: developments around non-formal learning space to enrich the student’s experience in a time of great alienation.


Shortt, H. (2014). Liminality, space and the importance of ‘transitory dwelling places’ at work. Human Relations, 6, 1-26. DOI: 10.1177/0018726714536938

Posted in Belonging, Digital Placemaking, Learner Engagement, Learning Space and Place, Personal & Professional Development Planning, Polycontextuality, Scholarship and Research, Social Media for Learning, Walking | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mapping my learning: visualising not just being visual

The echo of people moving within the display of Jackson Pollock’s paintings at MOMA, New York

A few posts ago I thought through some ideas about using metaphorical maps as a way of navigating learning. I want to pursue this here to discover further intersections and connections, especially as we gear up for the collaborative inquiry ‘Towards a Better Understanding of Our Own Learning Lives’ led by Norman Jackson, Rob Ward and Jenny Willis. I expect this series of online engagements, running over six weeks from 1st February, will challenge us to think further about the significance of lifewide learning and, fundamentally, learning ecologies.

This post begins by focusing on the aesthetics of learning – the way we visually make sense of the world by reconstructing ‘good enough’ representations that stimulate our critical faculties. We begin in the gallery…

Immediately my mind turns to visual metaphors of spaghetti-like organic networks as I think about learning ecologies and networks; so solid and about structure in any snapshot, yet so fluid, incidental and self-directed in reality. There is an incongruity in this which we need to understand if we are to understand active learning (as in a formal conception of how learning is designed and offered) and how it is situated within the more significant space of lifewide learning and personal and social histories and trajectories. To some extent I think I captured this incongruity in the photograph I took at MOMA above. Let’s examine this.

Here we see the work of Jackson Pollock, the doyen of action painting. It would be ridiculous to explain his work, but my interpretation of it is it being a momentary snapshot of movement conveyed through sweeping lines and splashes using a readily available palette combined with traces of the artist’s own state of being as he interacted with the ‘world’ he was creating around him (‘the painting’).

In the foreground of ‘my painting’ (my photograph) we see the same action presented in other media – the people in the foreground who are blurred, moving, in the way, entangled. Who are these people? What are their missions? How did they get here and to what extent will this event actually affect their respective futures? Did I know, as photographer, that later I would have these thoughts and write this post? Did I know what I was capturing? No and no. But I knew something. As one of the people in the room I had my own part to play and my own reasons for being there. I may have had things in common with many co-participants, especially as we briefly intersected on that day. I was a tourist. I have a long backstory of valuing art in my life and a strong desire and curiosity to keep that as part of my lifeline. I had opinions that affected my perception in that moment and the decision to take the photograph in the way I did. Why was making a photograph something I should do – was it simply to remember? No, the photograph is too well framed to be just ‘a capture to look back on’. It is a solid artefact, but like Pollock’s painting, there is little value in its stagnant solidity. I was making a statement to myself (as the likely future viewer – I didn’t know about you then) about who I think I am. And in the act of making the photograph, I was making a statement to all those other people – “Look! I am taking a photo people! I must know something about this cultural stuff!” So, the ego is important in this. And as you listen to yourself talking and to others talking in galleries, self-aggrandisement is never far away.

But there are much more endearing qualities portrayed here: we chose to be here; we know there is more to life than the mere mundane and superficial things we mostly do; we are curious and we haven’t given up/in yet! We know that the essential ambiguity of ‘art’ more closely explains our lives and our futures than the certainties we receive and construct in order to get by each day. I am sure I should cite John Berger at this point or Susan Sontag (though those readings are buried in my ecology somewhere in the region of 30 years back) and many, many others; never mind referring to what the artists themselves may have thought or had to say. I don’t think I’ve heard Pollock talking about his own work, for example. Well, I probably have but it just gets soaked up along the way – and that is kind of the point.

But then, this painting isn’t Pollock’s work. It is my work hanging in an international gallery. Yes! The artist is only mediator or agitator. The only value in the work is the value we individually assign it as we intersect with it, and then the social exchange or influence that comes out of us as we intersect there and then, or subsequently.

I would like to mention psychogeography in passing at this point and quickly move on. Coverley’s book Psychogeography is a great read. For the moment, it describes the history and essentiality of the lone wanderer. I am one of those people – very happy to wonder and wander, walk, gaze, and think with no conscious purpose or intent. To soak it all up! Actually, photography is a wandering ‘crutch’ in my walking (apologies for the Instagram self-aggrandisement). I lean and rest upon photography as I walk and think – with the camera inviting me to pause, analyse, construct and move on (for example, that explains the ‘why’ of the picture above). The camera, for me, is an intersectional device like (small ‘a’) art itself.

Merlin Coverley (2018) Psychogeography book cover
Merlin Coverley (2018) Psychogeography book cover

What’s any of this to do with learning?

There’s a lot going on in the first part of this post. Turning to the post’s title, ‘visualising’ is used as a synonym for constructing or forming, in this case the mental maps that help us make sense, orientate, navigate and self-direct ourselves. I often use the words ‘navigate and negotiate’ as a single phrase when writing about learning: we need to assume agency over our learning and build and revise our personal plan for where we go next. This is about involving the learner as negotiator of their inner monologue but also as actant within their social learning mediating their learning with peers, tutors and friends. In this way we enact our sentience – our being. Philosophically, we could deviate at this point to people like Heidegger and Sartre – but I won’t go there today (I have a walk to go on! And photographs to make!).

The idea of spaghetti-like representations of learning echo the notion of rhizomatic ecosystems: forms which can be represented, but only inadequately because such things are living and open to positive and adverse influence and interference. Learning may be intended, but ultimately it is unpredictable and surprising, we hope. After all, how can we predict what we have not concluded yet. Art and ambiguity have a lot to say about learning (Orr & Shreeve, 2018).

Yet learning, like art, is experienced as being subjective and fascinating. It is always primarily experiential. Learning happens at the moment of intersection: personal and social histories and respective histories and trajectories collide, coalesce or fall apart. Like magnets we tug and push at each other. Intersections and clashes of knowledge and other paradigms too.

I like my choice of Pollock. Initially I was scouring images for motorway intersections, but then I thought about the so-called ‘abstract’ patterns in a painting such as Pollock’s (but actually any painting when you look at its plastic human application beyond any superficial attempt to represent the world ‘realistically’). The lines of Pollock’s swirling liquid paint capture his movement. Pollock, of course, stands over his work dripping and throwing paint and (importantly) standing back momentarily to reflect and make decisions before taking or making the next action. This is learning personified. We respond, make, consider, adjust, assess, commit in a personal continuous noise of action. Now imagine four or five extra Pollocks crashing into each other over the canvas responding to each other’s movements: learning as social performance and happenings!

Above, I mention the apparent subject of my painting foregrounded by people who, if you viewed them from above and traced their steps, would be creating something very similar to what we viewed hanging on the wall. For learning, let us consider the acts of joint endeavour in which we are involved and which we don’t need to think about too much, but which nevertheless do have significance – now or later. Our social, unspoken contract as co-learners is essentially affirming. Our essential human magnetism shifts our relative perspectives as we try to occupy the same space.

I write about status and ego. When we talk we expose ourselves as vulnerable thinkers while being conscious, to differing degrees, of how our contributions are received. We live within the tension of being imposters, co-operators, wise and foolhardy people. When we think about ‘learner engagement’ (as I often do), it is as well to remember that learning is a brave and necessary act. Those people in the gallery understand there is value in the space – but they probably have little real clarity about what that value is. It’s the same with learning. Galleries and education are ‘good things’, it is enough to start there.

There is little value in the artefact itself: it is stagnant and solid I suggest; essentially inert but with affordances. That brings us back to action, reflection, reconstruction. The value is not in what we hold, but in why we find value in what we hold and what this means for our futures; therefore, giving us clues to our intrinsic motivations. Connecting this to teaching, the devices or artifices we have used may be disrupted (e.g. by the pandemic or by bad teaching experiences or lack of currency and ignorance of context, etc), but the value is in how we reimagine and attempt to reconstruct what we do next. Simply, active learning/teaching is essentially productive, reflective and experiential.

The well-framing of a photograph speaks to: doing our best to communicate; attempting to use conforming jargon and language; ‘putting it out there’ – that is, being clear you are trying to make a statement or contribution. These are all things we expect of each other as co-learners and teachers in the active classroom. We should be empathic, even where we see loud, eager, opinionated voices, but certainly as we think about learning as lurking – a discourse which has re-emerged through discussions about ‘cameras on/off’ in educations response to learner engagement in the pandemic.

Let’s refocus on those endearing qualities observed in the gallery-going situation. As learners we have elected to be here – our initial motivations and expectations may not be so ambiguous, but teaching is about openning up ambiguity so that we engage in acts of negotiating trajectories, developing a sense of curiosity and helping each other to reconstruct our identities, now and for the future. As with the gallery-goers, we know there is more to life than the mere mundane and superficial things we are mostly asked to do and, when learning and teaching ‘click’, it is because we make connection by stimulating curiosity. We learn to appreciate the essential ambiguity of knowledge as an opportunity to work things out and make sense of our lives. Which, by the way, is why I blog – it’s not what I know, it’s what I want to know.

Let’s finish with that, and bring us back to visualising rather than being visual, or being engaged in a lifewide experience of perpetual reconstruction rather than in being satisfied with the static/stagnant representation of knowledge. Learning is a matter of ‘trying ideas on’ and seeing how they fit with who we are and who we want to be. The teacher’s role in this is to construct the space and play with the paradox and ambiguity: the canvas, the book; the paint, the text; the movement, the thesis.

As discussed in the previous post on structure, framing learning by offering metaphorical maps to help the learner navigate their learning means that the learner is given space, as colourist, to develop lifelong critical habits that will hold them in good stead.


Coverley, M. (2018). Psychogeography. Harpenden: Pocket Essentials.

Orr, S. & Shreeve, A. (2018). Art and design pedagogy in higher education: Knowledge, values and ambiguity in the creative curriculum. London & New York: Routledge.

Posted in Active Learning, Co-operative pedagogy, Learner Engagement, Learning Space and Place, Studio and Studio-based Learning, Walking | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments