A road not taken

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Introduction

I posted my 1000th blog post on Clyde Street this month.

Even after this number of posts (since June 2008), each time I write I think about the lines in Robert Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken.

I keep coming back to the final verse:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

 

In the last three years I have become particularly interested in roads less traveled as physical and metaphorical journeys.

In a physical sense, I have become acutely aware of logging trails and fire trails, as I learn more about the craft of becoming a rural firefighter. Local knowledge, early maps and oral history hold keys to where these trails are. These became important during our recent Wirritin Fire.
In a metaphorical sense, I am passionately interested in finding ways to share narratives. I see considered, slow blogging as a way to share scholarly activity. If you have visited Clyde Street in the last few months you will have noticed that this has become an important theme in my writing.
This may have been the reason why I found a recent post by Kate Bowles (2013) so compelling.

Ratfarming

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Kate introduces her post (Bowles, 2013) with a quote from Inger Mewburn and Pat Thompson’s (2013) “Academic blogging is part of a complex attention economy leading to unprecedented readership”. Kate ‘started writing online secretively in 2011 because I was looking for somewhere to think for myself’.
She adds:

I didn’t want a platform; I didn’t want to promote my research or improve my profile. I didn’t even want people to know who I was, in case this troubled my employer. I wanted to make a bower for collecting things of value to me: thoughts, information, other people’s words that would amount to a better grasp of why higher education felt like a difficult place to be.

I really liked Kate’s use of ‘bower’ to describe a place for her activity. It is the kind of word that fits delightfully with her sense of engagement with and in social media … ‘it’s still possible to make a space within its generous and substantially ungovernable folds for practices of thinking, sharing and listening that are self-managed, and that work just because they work for you’.

Rather than work through Kate’s argument about the parallels between academic publishing , the attention economy and ratfarming, I do encourage you to read what she has to say and share. It is a very effective account of what Robert K Merton (1968) considered the manifest and latent consequences of social action.

Like Kate, I do think that ‘surreptitiously joined up networks of people thinking quietly, on their own time, now offer higher education a whole range of models for learning and discovering’ are central rather than peripheral to what is to count and be valued as scholarly activity.

I see these networks enriched by the humility of reciprocal altruism rather than the hedonism of the attention economy.

This has been brought into even clearer focus for me by a David Wiley (2013) post shared by Stephen Downes. In his post, David discusses his decision to leave his full-time, tenured position at Brigham Young University and to focus his professional time and energy on providing support for Open Educational Resource adoptions.

I was particularly interested in the way David proposes to blend his work:

I’m not leaving academia altogether, however. I’m very excited to have accepted an appointment as Scholar in Residence at the University of Utah, in the Teaching and Learning Technologies group, where I’ll be able to continue the research end of my work on using openness to increase the quality and affordability of education. I’m also hoping to continue my relationship with BYU as an adjunct. These arrangements allow me to achieve the right mix of research and teaching necessary to support the success of my broader OER adoption work. Without the research component, any claims of success in helping faculty use OER effectively would feel like empty hype. And without the ability to teach my Intro to Open Education course occasionally, I can’t evangelize, identify, and prepare the additional people the field of open education needs so desperately. The small number of people in the world with deep expertise in open education just isn’t sufficient to get the job done.

I imagine Kate and David would have a great deal to share and discuss about open environments.

Peeragogy

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Whilst thinking about Kate and David’s posts, I received a link to Howard Rheingold‘s (2013) Foreword to The Peeragogy Handbook.

Howard poses a very important question in his post “If you give more and more of your power as a teacher to the students, can’t you just eliminate the teacher all together, or can’t people take turns being the facilitator of the class?”

He notes that:

there’s been an explosion of people learning things together online via Wikipedia and YouTube, MOOCs and Quora, Twitter and Facebook, Google Docs and video chat, and I don’t really know what’s going to happen with the institutions, but I do know that this wild learning is happening and that some people are becoming more expert at it.

Describing learning as ‘wild’ resonates with me in the same way that ‘bower’ does about collecting and sharing ideas.

Like Harold I know there are great teachers and coaches and agree that:

What’s missing for learners outside formal institutions who know how to use social media is useful lore about how people learn together without a teacher. … Teachers should be trained, rewarded, and sought out. But it’s time to expand the focus on learners, particularly on self-learners whose hunger for learning hasn’t been schooled out of them.

The Peeragogy Project exemplifies how these communities of learners can be connected.

I sense this is happening with a community of practice linked to Darrel Cobner and his colleagues at Cardiff Met in Wales. The most recent post from this group is Matt Watkins’ (2013) discussion of the role of a performance analyst in player development. I am impressed with Matt’s decision to develop an online presence and note that he has used the Visual Performance Analysis platform to do this.

I have been fascinated by that community’s willingness to explore the road not taken. I have been delighted that Darrell has posted guest posts on Clyde Street this year.

What I get is their willingness to engage in fallible sharing that deserves to be regarded as a valid and valuable contribution to their occupational culture. I have a real sense that this approach will transform learning in ways that Kate, David and Howard would recognise and (I hope) laud.

2014

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One of my priorities in 2014 is to engage in open, co-operative and collaborative writing projects.

I aim to use slow blogging approaches through open sharing to support the rigour expected of scholarly publication as open educational resources. I think this is a characteristic of the slow scholarship proposed by John Lutz. I think it links to other forms of sharing discussed by Catherine Durose and Katherine Tonkiss (2013) too.

I am keen to be part of a discussion about the role journals play in our understanding of areas of study and how these can co-exist with other epistemologically and ontologically transparent narratives that adopt an open peer review process.

I understand that the pressures of the attention economy require very clear codes of conduct. It is the main reason why I believe open scholarship with open peer review will be fundamental to the flourishing of learning and teaching inside and outside formal education settings. It will involve substantial debates about intellectual property and the open licensing of content.

Rick Anderson (2013) had added to this discussion with his consideration of new and innovative ways that create and present scholarship to the world. He asks ‘can we figure out a way to ensure the rigor of such products, and having done so, can we get the academy to acknowledge the scholarly legitimacy of these unconventionally-rigorous products—and if so, how quickly?’

A comment on his post shared a link to Robert Darnton‘s (1999) discussion of The New Age of the Book.

Robert concludes his essay with this observation:

The world of learning is changing so rapidly that no one can predict what it will look like ten years from now. But I believe it will remain within the Gutenberg galaxy—though the galaxy will expand, thanks to a new source of energy, the electronic book, which will act as a supplement to, not a substitute for, Gutenberg’s great machine.

I like the idea of an expanded galaxy in which slow scholarship on open collaborative platforms is valued as much as other constituents of the academic galaxy.

I do apologise that this wayfinding has moved from a road not taken to galactic travel. As ever I hope that if there are any issues with the ideas here you will comment upon them.

Thank you for reading the post.

(I have been thinking about writing this post since reading Kate’s post on 18 December. I have spent two days researching other items discussed here. It took me eight hours to draft, proof read and re-draft the post.)

References

Anderson, R. (2013, December 23). “The future (?) of the scholarly (?) monograph (?).” [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2013/12/23/the-future-of-the-scholarly-monograph/

Bowles, K. (2013, December 18). “Ratfarming: let’s not.” [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://musicfordeckchairs.wordpress.com/2013/12/18/ratfarming-lets-not/

Darnton, R. (1999, March 18). “The new age of the book.” [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1999/mar/18/the-new-age-of-the-book/

Durose, C., & Tonkiss, K. (2013). “Fast scholarship is not always good scholarship: relevant research requires more than an online presence.” [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2013/10/11/fast-scholarship-is-not-always-good-scholarship/

Merton, R. K. (1968). Social theory and social structure. New York: Free Press.

Mewburn, I., & Thompson, P. (2013, December 12). “Academic blogging is part of a complex online academic attention economy, leading to unprecedented readership.” [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2013/12/12/academic-attention-economy/

Rheingold, H. (2013, December 19). “Foreword”. [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://peeragogy.org/forward/

Watkins, M. (2013, December 24). “The role of analysis for player development.” [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.visualperformanceanalysis.com/sports-blogs/role-analysis-player-development/

Wiley, D. (2013, December 18). “Taking a leap of faith.” [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://opencontent.org/blog/archives/3068

Photo Credits

Two roads diverged in a wood (Garrett Coakley, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Over the fence (Ari Bakker, CC BY 2.0)

Helping Hands (Sterling College, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Starry Starry Night (John K, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

7 thoughts on “A road not taken”

  1. …..and the two days of research along with the eight hours of drafting, typing and proof reading have provided (yet) another first class post. Thank you for taking the time to do all this.

    I shall look forward to reading many more thought provoking articles in 2014

    G

    1. Hello, Gordon

      I am delighted you found the post. You are one of the readers I have in mind when I write.

      I hope you have had a great coaching year.

      I do look forward to being in touch in 2014.

      Best wishes

      Keith

      1. Thanks! (All your posts get read; some get a bit more read than others!)

        I use use Robert Frost’s poem in some of my tutoring – making the point that successful coaches tend to be those who make their own pathway rather than just blindly following others.

        G

  2. Hi Keith

    First, thanks so much for the mention and quote. I really enjoyed reading this post, and I just want to pop in a note about desire paths (sometimes also called vernacular paths), in the context of your interest in logging trails. You may already be thinking about these. I’m interested in desire paths as metaphors for the ways in which learners and writers both make their own ways around and through ideas, and your post has helped me to see that this is a useful way of thinking about how learners operate together in the absence of formal waymarking or route planning.

    The essence of a successful desire path is that it represents shared decision-making between separate users who don’t formally cooperate. So a desire path is both a coherent expression of collective effort, and completely unplanned — in fact, it’s the opposite of planning. Simply, each one puts her or his foot where it feels most sensible, and the result is a useful informal path that’s sensitive to gradient, destination, weather, terrain, and built through unspoken collaboration among strangers. Desire paths are often subject to discipline: they get roped off, or blocked, by planners for whom their informality is a kind of affront. And typically, they prove quite persistent, which means that planners move to Plan B and incorporate them, turning them into formal pathways.

    For me, blogging in the gift economy tugs at this question of how we work together, slowly and capably; academic writing does this much less well. Its function as a series of quite individualistic performances is already shaped by goals we don’t set for ourselves. So I find it a problematic use (waste) of time. And I’m really worried that we are on the brink of Plan B, the recuperation of what has been both spontaneous and coherent into something that is quantifiable and able to be thought of as a form of productivity.

    This is a lovely post, so much to think about.

    1. Hello, Kate

      I am so delighted that you have read the post. Your writing was the trigger for the post … and now thanks to your insight I see it as an exploration of a desire path.

      Like you, I am nervous that desire will be routinised and be used in ways that are antithetical to the essence of different forms of expression. My hope is that whatever form our expression takes it becomes part of our portfolio of learning and sharing, valued for itself.

      I am very taken by correspondence and have marveled at the relationships (desires) established in The Republic of Letters. I wonder if co-responding is key to the flourishing of desire.

      I have waited some hours before responding … you sent me off thinking on a different path. I am so pleased you have commented, particularly at this time. I do hope my reply finds you well.

      I am off to think about desire and the flourishing of treasure writing.

      Best wishes

      Keith

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