Lurking and platforms: old conversations in changing contexts

I have recently participated (after a fashion) in a Twitter conversation about lurking, with a sense of déjà vu. I feel as if I have been in so many of these conversations over the years, and familiar themes play out whilst social and technology contexts shift. So what are the useful ways of investigating lurking, or learning by onlooking,  in the present, and where and how?

lurk

Lurk by Betsy & Ian F-R CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I remember a discussion 20 years ago in the context of an online list server called ITForum (now defunct). Fortunately, a summary of the discussion was posted by Steve Draper.  This discussion played out similar themes to those I saw in the Twitter conversation but, of course, in different contexts.

As I recall, there were ca 850 members of the ITForum list server who posted (or not) to the server that sent all, or a digest of messages according to member preference. If all members had posted frequently or a few had posted daily, I would have immediately unsubscribed, this being an example of one of the ways in which sustainability in a virtual community is lost “when the cost of participation exceeds the willingness to participate” (Steinmuller 2002).  Mass participation by frequent posting is not necessarily feasible or sustainable for the group as a whole.

I thought of all of this during my experience on the recent Twitter thread at the #HEdigID #OEP discussion.  I ‘lurked’ on the thread once I realised it had become a snowball thread (partially through my own actions). I then posted a blog post linked to the Twitter thread and carried on a (for me) fruitful conversation there with two people. From a learning perspective, I made a contribution with links on Twitter to published work that may have encouraged reading and reflection by other participants – who knows?

For me, the missing element in the Twitter discussion was the agency and motivations of platforms.  Of course it matters how people engage and encourage others, how they share information but the platform is also shaping who and what is more likely to be seen and it certainly had an impact on my and others’ experiences (even if the impact was not always visible).

The second condition that Steinmueller gave for sustainability to fail was platform failure and that is an interesting consideration in ways that he may not have imagined in 2002. When do we have rich discussions about how platforms may be failing their members even if they are economically viable?

Why would we assume that social media platforms are a given as learning locations? I feel really uncomfortable with any suggestion that the more people contribute visibly, eg via posts and replies, the better; and that minimal/absent visible contributions is necessarily a problem. It’s much more complex than that. In our research (Bell, Mackness & Funes), we found that some experienced digital learners stood back in certain contexts for very good reason.

I’d love to hear other views on this.

References

Bell, F., Mackness, J., & Funes, M. (2016). Participant association and emergent curriculum in a MOOC: can the community be the curriculum? Research in Learning Technology, 24. https://doi.org/10.3402/rlt.v24.29927

Steinmueller, W. E. (2002). Virtual Communities and the New Economy. In R. Mansell (Ed.) (pp. 21–54). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Connectivism and Twitter snowball threads

This will be a quick post but I wanted to capture a few ideas sparked by a Twitter thread that probably started here.

I started reading at this point

I was on my phone on a car journey and didn’t notice that were already 4 people in the stream. I replied to Sue because I vividly remember my first encounter with the concept ‘legitimate peripheral participation’  (LPP). By this time there were 5 people in the thread. I was interested in what Sue Watling had to say about Jean Lave’s work on Situated Learning and went to look at the Wikipedia page that suggests that Wenger ‘moved on’ from LPP to dualities in his later work. As that work tends to focus on online communities of practice (CoP) it would be interesting to look back at how ideas from Situated Learning fed in to the initial concepts of CoP and LPP.

I then reflected on LPP in the context some work I did with Jenny Mackness and Mariana Funes a couple of years ago (Bell, Mackness & Funes 2016), and mused about how the affordances of algorithmic streams might impact on LPP and vice versa.

I included my co-authors Twitter handles for the purposes of attribution but as the stream grew very fast I slightly regretted it – sorry you two. Mariana and Jenny have written an article ( Funes & Mackness 2018 with open access preprint available here) that seems relevant to my experience on this thread. The discussion moved quickly on to Rhizomatic Learning and Connectivism, like a snowball getting bigger as it rolls. I decided to jump out of posting to the thread at this point, and to be honest that has happened quite a lot since Twitter changed to include all those mentioned in the reply. You can uncheck them one by one and/or mute the thread but I am not keen on the change myself.

via GIPHY

From that point on, I lurked on the thread and sighed a little as every like and reply of every post clogged up my notifications. There were posts on Rhizomatic Learning and Connectivism that I might have replied to at a blog or on a forum but for me the thread was too distracting.

One of the beneficial side effects of my experience was that I reread my own work on CCK08 (one of the original MOOCs an Connectivism and Connective Knowledge) and Connectivism (Bell 201o, Bell 2011), a paper that compared blogs and forums on CCK (Mak, Williams & Mackness 2010), and a blog post shared by Stephen Downes on the thread.

“The actual physical descriptions of these theories vary from network to network – in human neurons, it’s a set of electrical-chemical reactions, in social networks, it’s communications between individual people, on computer networks it’s variable values sent to logical objects.” Downes blog post)

This reminded me of the issue that this (for me) conflation of these three sets of network descriptions  within Connectivism and its principles. It seems to me to impoverish experiences  – leaving a lot out. Since that time, I have read Mejias’ work who champions the paranodes, the space beyond the logic of the network, here’s my take.

In reading (Mak, Williams & Mackness 2010), I was reminded of an incident on CCK08 where the facilitors removed the ability of participants to unsubscribe from forum topics and posts to the justifed exasperation of participants,  many of whom left the MOOC in frustration. It occurred to me that this action has something in common with the Twitter thread functionality change – agency of humans and non-humans 🙂

References

Bell, F. (2011). Connectivism: Its place in theory-informed research and innovation in technology-enabled learning. IRRODL, 12. Retrieved from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/902/1664

Bell, F. (2010). Network theories for technology-enabled learning and social change: Connectivism and Actor Network theory. In L. Dirckinck-Holmfeld, V. Hodgson, C. Jones, M. de Laat, D. McConnell, & T. Ryberg (Eds.), Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Networked Learning 2010. Retrieved from http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/fss/organisations/netlc/past/nlc2010/abstracts/PDFs/Bell.pdf

Bell, F., Mackness, J., & Funes, M. (2016). Participant association and emergent curriculum in a MOOC: can the community be the curriculum? Research in Learning Technology, 24. https://doi.org/http://dx.doi.org/10.3402/rlt.v24.29927

Funes, M., & Mackness, J. (2018). When Inclusion Excludes: a counter narrative of open online education. Learning, Media & Technology, 43(2), 119–138.

Mak, S., Williams, R., & Mackness, J. (2010). Blogs and Forums as Communication and Learning Tools in a MOOC. In L. Dirckinck-Holmfeld, V. Hodgson, & D. McConnell (Eds.). Retrieved from http://www.lancs.ac.uk/fss/organisations/netlc/past/nlc2010/abstracts/Mak.html

 

Reflecting on death as a friend of life

 

New growth through dead leaves
New growth through dead leaves

Jenny Mackness wrote a beautiful blog post Death is a friend of life on her return from a 4 day course with Ian McGilchrist that explores the divided brain.

But Iain McGilchrist’s view is that life is literally on its way out in relation to the way in which we live our lives and behave as social animals in today’s society. Birth, sex, the body and death are all suffering.  Jenny’s post

Jenny’s own mother died recently and she says she hoped that this attendance on the course would provide some thinking space on this bereavement.

I have been profoundly moved by Jenny’s post and it got me thinking about my own experiences of death. My first significant bereavement experience was at 17 when my father died suddenly of a heart attack after returning from a walk. He was retired and when he died, I had been off school for four months with an illness that wasn’t life-threatening but required surgery (a few weeks after he died).  During this time we got know one another even better, talking about ‘adult’ topics like the General Election that was held that year. After his death, this time provided many precious memories. The way I became aware of his death was my mother coming downstairs and asking me to phone for the priest (to give my father the Last Rites). I was shocked by my mother’s request and asked if I shouldn’t call an ambulance first. She asked me to first phone the priest and then phone for the doctor. Knowing he was dead, she rejected the drama of the ambulance, and attended to his and her spiritual needs first.

Next, I thought of the only two deaths at which I have been present. In 1981, I found out, relatively late in my pregnancy, that I was expecting 2 babies, one of whom would die before or shortly after birth:  I have described the background in this post. I had 8 weeks to come to terms with the idea that I was carrying a baby I hadn’t known about and wouldn’t know for very long. I was very relieved that my baby Martin lived to be born so we could love him and say hello and goodbye to him. The unexpected event was the discovery that both twins had cleft lip and palates, and I spent the next four days coming to terms with what this meant practically in terms of feeding and in future surgery and treatment for the twin who lived. I very soon realised that Martin’s brief life and death really helped me to come to terms with his twin’s less serious condition. Martin had no aggressive medical intervention and I can honestly say that I regard being with him while he died to be a privilege. This was helped by the lovely agency nurse who cared for us all and allowed us to acknowledge his death when it happened.

I was also present at the death of one of my brothers a few years ago. He had a heart attack, was resuscitated and put on life support but tests revealed that he had suffered brain death. It was a terrible shock to his family and all of us, and I was privileged to be invited to be present when he died.

When I read what Jenny said about death, it chimed with my experience of my brother’s death surrounded by machines.  They can intrude, I think- tolerable when saving a life but out of place in a death that is inevitable.

Now death is often surrounded by machines. Unlike elephants and other animals who know how to mourn death (https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/08/elephants-mourning-video-animal-grief/), Iain McGilchrist believes that we no longer honour the reality of coming face-to-face with death, as we did in the past. Elephants seem to know and understand the reality of death.  Jenny’s post

We hear about the sad cases of decisions on babies’ life support when they come to court.  We don’t know how the medical staff and parents got to that point and it would be difficult to lay down rules I think.  In an earlier draft of the this post I wrote “The less said about the obstetrician the better” but on reflection, I want to say more about the role of medical professionals in my experiences of death. I was, I think, fortunate that at my 30 week hospital  check-up when the midwife detected more body parts than would be indicated by a single foetus, my double-barrelled name consultant was on holiday. The alternative consultant who supervised my scan gently helped me understand that though I would actually give birth to two babies, I would only go home with the one I had expected all along. In subsequent appointments , Mr double- barrelled name was reluctant to talk through the process of  Martin’s likely life and death – it seemed to make him uncomfortable.  He met me in the corridor after the twins were born, and spluttered something about ‘babies like that’ being put on ventilators in Liverpool, not something that I had ever requested.  I was fortunate in already knowing and trusting the paediatrician caring for my twins, from her care of my first son, whose life was saved with a ventilator. It must be very difficult for medical staff to predict outcomes when a baby is born with a disease that reveals itself later, and life support may be given then turn out not to be in the best interests of the child. Parents will naturally and rightly want their child to have the best life possible and it may be very difficult to relinquish hope.  Obviously, everyone wants to strive to heal a sick baby, but when healing is not possible, then quality of life becomes paramount.  I really believe that the dignified life and death that Martin and we experienced is a beautiful thing but it was fragile and depended on enough of the right people being around.

In the case of my father’s death, my mother chose to avoid the medicalisation of my father’s death by not calling for an ambulance.  Our GP arrived and certified my father’s death (though the Coroner’s office was later involved) without the need for him to be transported to hospital and medicalised in death.

How can death can be as good as it possibly can be in medical contexts?

There is a heroic narrative present in medical care that can get in the way of the humanity and trust needed for families and medical staff to act and make decisions on the care of the sick and disabled. Reading Jenny’s post, and reflecting on our experiences, it seems to me that not only can death be a friend to life but life can also be a friend to death.

Digital Trespass and Critical Literacy #OER17

Peter Riley explains the Kinder Scout Trespass that took place in 1932 as a protest against the permanent closure of all the wild uplands of Derbyshire for about 12 days of grouse shooting in the year. It has been described as “the most successful direct action in British history” Lord Roy Hattersley, 2007.

Cover of The Ascent of Kinder Scout
Cover of The Ascent of Kinder Scout

The other day I read a review by Billy Mills of the narrative poem The Ascent of Kinder Scout by Peter Riley. What Billy said made me think about the relevance of the Kinder Scout Trespass for us today and how the poem can help us understand more about the purpose and experience of education then and now. The pamphlet arrived in the post today to my joy.

Extract from Billy Mills’ review

These radicals, both working class activists and middle-class poets, had lived through one World War and its aftermath and were about to see a second. As the first generation to benefit from the 1918 Education Act, they had the tools needed to engage in a process of learning about power and its implications. As Riley writes early in this work, ‘The foundation of the state is not violence but education.’ This statement, apparently straightforward on first reading, gains in complexity as Riley questions the role and value of the state a few paragraphs later, concluding that it ‘makes everything possible, and makes strangers of us all.’

He also calls into question the value of education, specifically literacy:

They taught us to read and we thought we were so grand as to join heaven and earth. But all we did was wallpaper over the crack between myth and science and lose our homes. The farmer’s wife sang a truer song, told a sweeter story, of hope and despair hand in hand walking back into society.

This last word forming an integrative counterbalance to the divisive state. It is no coincidence that the verse excursus, which echoes the song Goodnight Irene, follows on immediately after the prose paragraph from which I have just quoted. This interlude sits in the twin shadows of war and emigration, of ‘promise betrayed’ and ‘all the bathos of the modern state’.

I know that comparisons with the 1930s are a little overblown at present but I found that the poem and review are very thought-provoking in my ongoing consideration of critical and digital literacy in public and open education.  I submitted an abstract recently for #OER17, a conference with the theme Politics of Open. My abstract looks at the role of criticality in Open Educational Practice, and how paying attention to the sociomaterial, as Fenwick(2014) encourages students and educators, can focus on the political as well as the instrumental nature of education, and critique the digital tools and platforms through which it is increasingly mediated.

So here is my proposal:

What if the critical and digital literacies that educators and students practice and share could help focus attention on the wider implications of using proprietary social networking systems and other platforms in learning, and activism and education?

What if these literacies helped bring about a digital trespass that was more like the Kinder Scout Trespass than a concern of cyber-security?

I’ll leave you with the words of the late Ewan McColl in one of my Favourite songs The Manchester Rambler.

I’m a rambler, I’m a rambler from Manchester way
I get all me pleasure the hard moorland way
I may be a wageslave on Monday
But I am a free man on Sunday

Fenwick, T., 2014. Social media, professionalism and higher education: a sociomaterial consideration. Studies in Higher Education, 5079(March 2015), pp.1–14. Available at: http://www.scopus.com/inward/record.url?eid=2-s2.0-84904850004&partnerID=tZOtx3y1\n .

Note: I should have said that there is no guarantee that the abstract will be accepted 🙂 I have plans to write a longer piece, maybe with a.n.other so this is definitely an ongoing writing project.

Note 2: Just heard that abstract has been accepted – Yay! So I can prepare my presentation to include added Kinder Scout goodness – abstract here – hope to see some of you there to hear your ideas.

 

A balanced complaint

I caught part of a BBC2 documentary, Trump’s America a Newsnight Special, last night and was appalled by what I saw.

From my armchair I tweeted, and it seems a few people saw my tweets but they didn’t seem to make much of a difference except that I probably felt a bit better for having tweeted, as part of the general head-shaking in this post-election period. Tweeting was marginally better than laughing at Have I Got News for you? but still pretty passive.

Frances Bell's tweets about Newsnight documentary
Frances Bell’s tweets about Newsnight documentary

Today I plan to watch the whole documentary on iPlayer (sorry that won’t be available to all of you). Then this morning on Facebook, I noticed that George Roberts was making a complaint to the BBC about an item on the Today radio programme.

As a tiny step towards action, I compiled my first ever complaint to the BBC, and I have included the text of it below the video.


“Last night I watched the segment of the Newsnight Documentary where Emily Maitlis interviewed Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and the editor in chief of the American Spectator, R Emmett Tyrrell. Emily did her best to raise the issue of Donald Trump’s racism with both interviewees. Chimamanda was articulate and addressed the points that Emily raised but Emmett Tyrrell was an embarrassment to watch. He rambled, tried to compare KKK with the Knights of St Columba to justify why we need not be concerned about Trump being supported by them, rejected Chimamanda’s valid point on why oppressed people may vote for oppressors. He clearly forgot, or couldn’t cope with the strangeness to him of, Chimamanda’s name at one point. He rejected what he interpreted as Chimamanda’s use of false consciousness as ‘Marxist’ and completely failed to address what she said about his inability to define racism.
My complaint is about the decision to include Emmett Tyrrell in this segment. Was it for reasons of ‘balance’? Surely you could have found a Trump supporter capable of reasoned argument. Even if no such person exists, you could have found someone who didn’t necessarily agree with her to listen and respond to Chimamanda. How fortunate you were to have her on the show, and her contribution was diminished by the presence of someone unsuited to documentary debate.
Please could you tell me:
why Tyrell was invited?
Is there a policy in place that requires balance at the expense of the quality of the exploration of issue?
What role does an interviewer play in choice of interviewees? ”

Whilst I was compiling my complaint, I saw that someone had posted a youtube video of the subject of my complaint which allows me to share it with those who can’t get iplayer. I contributed to the Facebook thread with this comment

My Facebook Comment
My Facebook Comment

I won’t reproduce the conversation from the semi-private space of Facebook but happy for others involved to comment here. I mentioned my guess about a white male as that was relevant to the original post. One response to me was strange. Whilst decrying people looking everywhere for someone to blame for the Trump, he appeared (in his response to  me a white woman) to blame the demographic of white women for Clinton not being elected.  What I have learned from painful reflection on my own white privilege has strengthened my feminism.

So here is what I think:

Any black or brown person who reads this post is perfectly entitled to ignore or mock my thoughts and actions. They can, but don’t have to, point out any inevitable misconceptions that stem from my white privilege because it isn’t their responsibility to educate me – I have to do that for myself. Black and brown Americans have every right to be angry about the way others voted, the Democrats for failing to deliver and the (in)actions of others, not least because it is the black and brown people who will most affected by this electoral result.

But what I learned from watching Chimamanda when she told Emmett Tyrell that he had no right to define racism, is that I don’t have to take being told by a white man that the demographic of white women prevented Hillary Clinton being elected. Because a white man being angry at white women for this is sexist.  I don’t feel anger at his comments – I’m grateful that he helped to improve my complaint, and my resolve to learn and take action (that goes beyond social media).

I will let you know of any outcome of the complaint in the comments, so subscribe to the post if you are interested. This is a tiny piece of activity but one thing that my network has shown me this week is that we need to work together and support others, particularly those who are disproportionately damaged by an outcome they voted against.

Acknowledgements
Thanks to something George Roberts said on Facebook about another BBC programme, I actually got my act together to make a formal complaint. Check out the page if you feel moved to complain about BBC programmes in future.

Welcome to Frances Bell – home at last for all the mes

How I got here

I started blogging in 2006 with Elgg and moved to my own hosted site at francesbell.com when elgg.net disappeared, but with enough warning for me to back up. All was well for 5 years, except that I wasn’t good at backing up and my ISP was a crook. One day, my blog disappeared and I felt bereaved – 5 years of blogging gone, and I still miss those posts.

I started again at francesbell.wordpress.com my temporary resting place where I felt my posts were safe and it’s been really difficult to pluck up the courage to return to francesbell.com. It’s only joining Reclaim Hosting that’s given me the confidence to make this step, and I have taken quite some time to make this site live.

The mes that are here

When I started blogging, my posts reflected my professional interests but since retiring, the balance of my life has changed.  For the first year of my retirement, I was not sure that I wanted to do anything more than spend time on knitting, sewing, gardening and visiting new places but since then and being treated for underactive thyroid, I have combined those with an identity that I saw once on a conference badge, itinerant scholar, that nicely captures my institution-free status. I was thinking about my changing identity in January 2013 before I retired and again in January 2015 when I asked my network for help in how to perform the multiple mes here at francesbell.com. So thanks to Catherine Cronin, Kate Bowles, Pat Thomson, Bon Stewart, Doug Belshaw and Donald Clark who helped me think through what to do in conversations like this one.

 

At last, with great help from Jim Groom and the crew at Reclaim Hosting, I have made a start (there is more to come). So you can have any or all of the mes: slices of the blog or the whole pie; knitting pictures or academic outputs.

All that I have learned from being and working in technology and education is still with me but what has changed is my perspective.  I am now looking at the education system from the outside while experiencing learning and technology from the inside.  What grabs my attention are the (im)possibilities of learning and being on the web in the whole of life. The change of perspective has been quite a revelation for me.

Measuring and Correction

my first task at quilting class
Log Cabin – my first task at quilting class

I attended my first quilting class today at the Quilting Box and this is what I achieved. I have done some quilting over the years, and been quite pleased with what I have achieved but I knew I had a lot more to learn – I just didn’t quite know what. Textile crafts have so much to tell us about learning in general.

I joined an ongoing class where participants make a series of 12 inch squares, each one from a different quilting pattern.  It was social and inspiring to see what others had achieved.  I started with log cabin that I had done many years ago.  Prior to the class, I had chosen fabrics to use for this square and subsequent ones in my quilt.

Violet's quilt in progress
Violet’s quilt in progress

Something I have learned from my recent baby quilt projects that are all about colour and fabric, was to be bold in choosing fabrics to go next to each other. Other people at the class commented on the strong colours I had chosen and liked the finished effect.

 

I brought my own sewing machine and bits and pieces to class but I did encounter some new technology – a square transparent ruler that helped me measure what I had done, a sewing machine foot that helped  me make 1/4 inch seams and flat-headed pins to mark places where I had gone wrong. But what I really learned from dear Edna, the teacher, was how to make a perfect 12 inch square by measuring and correction. So I measured and cut the fabric pieces and sewed the seams as accurately as I could, and then Edna showed me how to press and measure at each second round so that errors could be marked with a flat headed pin and corrected on the next seam.

The measuring was under my control, for improvement not for a final judgement, and Edna was around for advice.  That gave me the confidence to achieve a 12 inch square, knowing that I can also apply the measuring/correction technique to other projects. And I was delighted with the finished effect of the fabric combination. So checking, measuring and correcting are all part of learning, with a teacher to support learners’ development of confidence and resilience in a social setting with other learners. Even things that can’t be measured such as choosing fabric combinations are learned by individuals in social settings.

Connection and Locus of Control

These are some very half-formed thoughts that I want to capture so I can re-connect and learn more later.

I have just read a post by Laura Goglia about an experience she had in school from reading part of a textbook when she was supposed to be reading Beowulf. She saw a picture that fascinated her so much that she learned about its purpose and its location (Prado) , and yesterday she brought her children to see it and told them her story. Reading her post reminded me of a related experience I had when visiting Manchester City Art Gallery as student over forty years ago. I saw a picture that I interpreted in a rather disturbing way (but that’s another story) and only recently did I discover the artist’s ideas behind the painting. Maybe if we had the Internet and smart phones in the 1970s I would have learned that at the time but I was too lazy to check it out in the library. What our stories have in common is a visual impression that stuck in our minds: Laura went across time from the text to seeing the actual painting and I went in the opposite direction.

Fragment of Twitter conversation
Fragment of Twitter conversation

The connection that brought me to Laura’s post was a Twitter conversation about whether or not teaching/learning needs to be entertaining. I was intrigued by the Twitter exchange, and understood more about what Laura meant after I had read her blog post. I am still pondering though. We talk a lot about teaching and learning – sometimes meaning the activity and sometimes meaning the outcome but that’s the English language for you.
Laura's blog
Whilst I was at Laura’s blog, I read her previous post about the questions she needed to answer at a mid term PhD assessment. Just after I read “Connectedness is the state of being able to recognize, understand, and act on connections across content, people, space, and time”, I glanced up the screen and noticed the Google cookie message. It offered me the chance to “learn more” and wanted me to click “got it”.  “Pfft” I thought – it’s Google that wants to learn more about me so that it can connect ads to me across time and multiple locations. That sort of fitted with Laura’s sentence that I had just read but then I re-read Laura’s questions and realised that her concern was with human learning. Her story in the first post was about learning something outside of the lesson plan, and that seems uplifting and ever more possible when learners have access to the Internet to connect to people and ‘content’.

So is ‘connection’ an unequivocal good in human learning? and in machine learning?

Google (like other well-connected technology services) learns more about me every time I use it. Its active listening doesn’t seem quite as benign as the active listening of a human teacher in class.    I don’t know if Laura’s teacher was aware of her distraction from Beowulf and was just happy that she was learning something. To learn about the painting, Laura had to disconnect from Beowulf.
Good teachers set up learning activities that offer a variety of possibilities and don’t seek a uniform outcome for all learners, for learning to be in one place or time (unless there are problems, they don’t go home or into the playground with their students).

Google’s knowledge is simultaneously partial and pervasive, following me around and trying to influence what I do. The difference between Google and the ‘good teacher’ is that Google wants to sell ads and demonstrate its influence on my purchasing (so it can sell more ads), whereas the ‘good teacher’ wants us to learn more than they want to teach.  They want to help the learner shift the locus of control from the teacher to the learner.

So I am thinking that one of the things that good teachers will be concerned with is how they can help learners (partially) disconnect from services – how they can shift the locus of control from Google to themselves. And that is not easy.

The tea cosy that taught me – a story about knitting and learning

Saartje bootees
Saartje bootees
8059202995_4ed5a6ae77_m
Berry hat

 

 

 

 

 

I am a fairly unprolific knitter who loves knitting. I do knit repeats of things I have knitted before, like the berry hat and Saartje bootees that I have knitted for many babies of those connected to me.

But what I really like in a new knitting project is a challenge, that it pushes me to learn new things. My most recently completed project is a the very lovely “I’m a little Teapot” tea cosy designed by June Dickinson of Simply Shetland. Here is the finished article in use today.

Cosied tea and biscuits
Cosied tea and biscuits

I discovered the pattern through my Twitter friend, a great knitter, @glittrgirl who tweeted her finished teacosy last year.   I was also attracted by the promise from the pattern that it’s “a good small project for learning Fair Isle knitting and steeking”.  Steeking – what a fabulous word – I wanted some of that even though I didn’t know what it was.  Having had a slightly disastrous Fair Isle experience earlier, I wanted to make a fresh start and learn to do it better with the authentic yarn .

Steeking is a scary knitting concept as it involves cutting vertically through knitting – I can imagine knitters wincing if this is the first time they have heard of it – I know I did. Steeking is the strange twin of knitting in the round, a wonderful technique done using circular or sets of double-pointed needles that enables you to knit a tube with no seams. That works well for hats and socks but in sweaters, we need slits for our arms to go through, or in tea cosies, slits for the spout and handle of the tea pot. Here’s how Eunny Jang explains it:

In practice, setting, knitting, and slicing a steek is just a handy way to knit an entire sweater in the round by creating a bridge of waste stitches wherever a separation would be, i.e. between front and back for an armhole, or between the right and left sides of the neck, or all the way up the front of a cardigan.

I started the project in December, and it’s fair to say there have been ups and downs. I made several mistakes with the Fair Isle for the lettering. Eventually, after many froggings (ripping back to the error) I completed the basic knitting. I added the corrugated rib to the bottom of the cosy, and the Shale lace to the top, then I knitted the iCord drawstring. Now there was nothing left to do but to steek – I had to cut this knitting that had taken me months – it was terrifying!  I had knitted the cosy in the recommended Shetland Spindrift, a ‘sticky’ yarn that I was promised would not unravel when I cut it.

Here is my unsteeked teacosy.

Teacosy - before steeking
Teacosy – before steeking

Fortunately @glittrgirl was at hand, she gave me a Skype tutorial in seeking that was one part technical information to nine parts confidence-building. I didn’t follow the pattern exactly – I just went with a cobbled together approach that we came up with.  And then we had a nice juicy gossip about ed tech stuff.

So now, there was nothing else for it – I had to steek. I did ….. and all went well. The last steps were to knit around the turned back and stitched steeks; to finish off the lettering, as per the pattern; and also to correct my errors that I only spotted  later. Can you spot them?

Where are the errors?
Where are the errors?

So how do I feel now that it’s finished?

First, I feel a massive sense of achievement – despite all of the mistakes and ripping back, I have produced a thing of beauty and no-one except me will be aware of the mistakes and recoveries.  They will see, as I do, a delightful tea cosy, that will be used in lovely social situations involving tea, and possibly cakes and biscuits.

So that’s one product but what about learning?

I have learned to do Fair Isle knitting better than I could do before. I have learned to steek. I have learned to do knitting in the round with the two-circulars method.

But the more important learning for me is the possibility of recovery from mistakes; that doing the knitting and making mistakes can be pleasurable; that the learning in a project can hinge on mistakes;  that the fragile and imperfect beauty of the end product can eclipse the mistakes; and that those enjoying the tea and admiring the cosy that kept it warm for the second cup won’t be a bit bothered about the mistakes.

What does that have to tell us about the experiences of learners in formal educational contexts?  Can they call on more experienced others to help them through scary challenges? Do they feel safe to embrace mistakes and believe that they can recover from them? Are they proud of what they produce?