When we can’t see the trees for the wood

Frances Bell CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
I can see trees – Frances Bell CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Martin Weller posted a post on the role of personality in education that has attracted many comments. I could have written about many of the thoughts that the post and comments have sparked for me but I thought I would concentrate on one perspective- how we can view an educational experience, as either generalised or particular rather than both.
Martin argued quite powerfully that the OU (and as commenters pointed out, quality systems) try to  eliminate the personal author voice from course materials, and that this might be a bad thing. This seemed to me about creating generalised course materials and whilst the elimination of an author voice from materials can be seen as detrimental in some ways, I would argue that it does not need to be an obstacle to the subjective appreciation of learners (and may even offer them some freedom) as they experience learning. When we hear about the OU ( a brilliant UK institution, complementary to not a replacement for other HE institutions) we can tend to think of the central, the course materials, online resources whereas I suspect that many OU scholars might think also about their more distributed experiences, attending local face to face  study groups, small group interactions, private study. Aren’t these opportunities for tutors, but more importantly learners, to inject their own subjectivities, as they interpret materials, argue, re-present ideas, and hear about the subjectivities of others on the same course? These learners are able to see each other’s trees.
For me, in overly identifying Jim Groom with DS106 and Dave Cormier with rhizo14 (I know little of rhizo15) he is playing into the myths of the lone creator and innovation, as if any of these phenomena sprung fully-formed from the loins of their ‘creators’.  As Kate Bowles pointed out, there is something gendered about this view of personality as cult. For me, this focus on the personality of the leader/ inventor figure can hamper inventiveness and experimentation by freezing agency in a single personality, downplaying what went before and what goes after. It generalises the phenomenon in a way that obscures very important particulars such as learners’ behaviours and contributions.
We become so stuck on the wood, the naming, the labelling, the individualisation of a complex phenomenon, that we can’t see the beautiful trees. We are standing outside the wood, unable to hear the tree that falls – it makes a sound but not for us.