Frances Bell

home at last – for all the mes


Bobbing along – water as a medium of participation in learning

I spent yesterday finding and reading papers about community learning and MOOCs, and working on our lovely data from #rhizo14.  Eventually, I felt that I was going around in circles and decided to search for images to help me make some sense of what I was reading and thinking. I found lots of great ‘water’ images ( my Twitter network helped me to track down the wonderful resources and remind me that I had some images of my own that I could use).

I thought – what about thinking of water as a metaphor for participation in an online learning experience/ MOOC?  I didn’t come to any ground-breaking conclusions but it did open up my thinking.

People can have a lot of fun in water. They can splash around with friends, make a lot of noise, letting off steam.  Some people might sit at the side, or dip their toes in the water.  Someone might have a pool party and invite people along to their pool.

Pool party

by Max Mayorov CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Sometimes if everyone was splashing around and disturbing the water we could see the big and bright things but be unable to see much detail of what is going on under the surface.

Reflection on rippled water

by Richard Hurd CC BY 2.0

Or the sun may be shining so brightly that we see the reflected sky rather than the water itself.

Bobbing image 3

by Mark Power used with permission

If the sun was shining very brightly there might be a glare or dazzle that stopped us from seeing below the surface so we mainly see the sun’s glare.

by David Clow CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

by David Clow CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Why might people not get in the water?

It might be beautiful but too cold

by Frances Bell

Jokulsarlon by Frances Bell CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Or too hot

bobbing image 6

by Frances Bell CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Or too toxic

by Frances Bell

by Frances Bell CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

And how would it be if this image captured your learning experience?

bobbing image 8

by Mark Power used with permission

But the weird thing is that different people could simultaneously be experiencing ‘water’ as all of those images at the same time.  A ‘penguin’ learner could happily dive into Jokulsarlon, if only he were in the right hemisphere, whilst other warm-blooded learners shivered at the edge.

So can these images help us understand our experience and that of others as learners?

We are the Jacques Cousteau researchers who need to don their diving and breathing gear to explore under the surface

bobbing image 9

by ToM CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

or have magic powers like this family in Bedknobs and Broomsticks

Anyway just a bit of fun – I realise that there are gaping holes in the metaphor;)


francesbell • September 30, 2014

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  1. Maha Bali October 5, 2014 - 9:06 pm Reply

    Wow. This is possibly the best metaphor I’ve ever heard/seen to describe learning in a MOOC! May I add to it? Ppl enter water spaces with diff levels of inhibition (now they act, what they wear) and different levels of confidence (e.g. Skill to swim in deep water), as well as differing approaches to interacting with and helping strangers (and some take on life-guard duties without having official responsibility). I’ve gone too far, and that’s just your first picture. I love the ones about heat, cold, toxicity. Awesome!

  2. francesbell October 5, 2014 - 9:16 pm Reply

    Thanks Maha – I found the metaphor useful to me in my thinking that day. Your comment about lifeguards made me think about a poster that is commonly displayed in UK swimming pools
    The enduring part for me has been about the surface and what we see at and above the surface compared with diving underneath. That’s probably because I have been working with data and trying to get deeper/ hidden perspectives.

  3. Susan October 6, 2014 - 12:06 am Reply

    I LOVE the metaphor!

    • francesbell October 6, 2014 - 6:22 am Reply


  4. tsheko October 6, 2014 - 2:47 am Reply

    Love your exploration of the metaphor as it applies to people’s perception of online participation, Frances. I like the idea of the surface and what lies underneath. I think that I waded in when I started blogging 2008 but very soon started splashing about and making waves. Sometimes I feel I’m just scanning the surface but swimming deep under the water is what I intend to do in Connected Courses.

    • francesbell October 6, 2014 - 6:22 am Reply

      I am viewing Connected Courses from a distance but I get the impression that it offers support for a variety of modes of participation. So are you using diving gear or magic powers ?

  5. Mimi Ito October 6, 2014 - 5:25 am Reply

    I’ll build on the water metaphor too! I was just mulling over my next blog post for ccourses and thinking of tying it into my passion for surfing. I learned the hard way that a lot of what it takes to learn how to surf is the power of observation – of being able to look at an always-in-motion medium and interpret the underlying flows and dynamics. When I first starting surfing, waves all looked the same. Now I can look at a wave and read not only wave height, but direction, speed, period, tide, and other factors like current and wind that are shape its form. My daughter, who has grown up with the ocean and is a junior lifeguard, can point out even more subtleties, like where a rip current is building, or how the sandbars deep under water have shifted with the last storm. Yes, surfing requires agility, power, and balance to learn how to ride a fickle surface, but the ability to read, observe, and synchronize is an even more fundamental set of capacities that we need to develop to have fun in the water!

    • francesbell October 6, 2014 - 6:26 am Reply

      That is a great story Mimi. It has got me thinking about how your daughter learned those things and the family/wider community in which she did so. Please link to your post when you have written it.

      • Maha Bali October 6, 2014 - 10:57 pm Reply

        Yeah, I am really looking forward to that post, Mimi!

  6. lenandlar October 6, 2014 - 12:26 pm Reply

    And every now and again, with enough of a certain kind of energy applied, water turns to steam (and hot air?). I really like this metaphor.

    • francesbell October 6, 2014 - 4:34 pm Reply

      The ‘too hot’ image above is from an area of Iceland where the earth’s crust is thin, hence the heat and steam;) Nearby is an active geyser. I have a video of that I could have used;)

  7. paulsignorelli October 7, 2014 - 4:31 am Reply

    To continue the metaphor: Your article flowed over to Maha’s, from which it flowed into the combined stream of #ccourses and #oclmooc postings, which is where I became immersed in it. I don’t believe a day goes by without my encouraging colleagues and other learners to “dive into” what we’re exploring. So yes, what you have produced here–a wonderful, creative, navigable description of the wonderful world of connectivist learning via MOOCs–and I’m ready to take that ride with you and our other colleagues without worrying for a moment where it’s going to take us.

    • francesbell October 7, 2014 - 11:40 am Reply

      Thanks Paul. I am not following #ccourses but it looks fun from a distance. I do get a bit worried about some of what lies beneath the surface of MOOCs and this metaphor has been helping my thinking about that.

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