Ten years on, thinking about desire paths

This month, I will have been away from the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) for a decade.

The years seem to have raced by. My decade anniversary coincides with another AIS re-organisation.

I have tried to stay connected with my colleagues at the AIS but have stopped visiting the Bruce campus. Earlier this year (July), I wrote in response to Wayne Goldsmith’s Facebook post about the AIS.

My decade of absence, Wayne’s first line (“It’s breaking my heart’) and a visit to Sport Ireland for their High Performance Knowledge Exchange Conference have sent me off thinking about the place of the AIS in national and international sport.

There has been a consultation process in 2017 in Australia for a National Sport Plan that will be a long-term strategy for the whole of sport that will have four key pillars: participation, performance, prevention through physical activity, and integrity.

The Intergenerational Review of Australian Sport (2017) proposes a vision with four sub-components, and seven game-changers for the Australian sport community over the next twenty years.

My rewording of the vision uses strike through text:

For Australia to be the most an active sporting nation, known for its celebration of playinclusivity, integrity, thriving sports organisations, continued exceptional international success competitiveness in international competitions sport events, and a world-leading vibrant sports industry. (My emphases)

I am perplexed that we are aspiring to improve “our Summer Olympic performance from 10th in Rio to a top 5 place by 2036”. I had hoped that a visionary document for the 21st century might have gone beyond the sportive expressionism of a nineteenth century nation-state model.

Perhaps we might talk about optimising performance (at all levels) instead.

I could not find mention of ‘climate’ in the document. (It was not identified as one of the six megatrends in Australian sport in 2012.)

My decade away from the AIS and life in a rural community since 2007 have encouraged me to think about bottom up approaches to playful activity enriched by inclusivity and integrity. This to me is the essential transformation of a system that de-emphasises international success, celebrates personal growth  and acknowledges that performance at quadrennial festivals is a very small part of a much bigger task.

This task for me is to offer opportunities for young people to engage in physical activity and create desire paths one of which might lead to high performance sport. We can do this by valuing effort, championing integrity and inclusivity, and accepting that we are not defined by medal outcomes.

I am hopeful that the National Sport Plan in 2018 will provide an organic, long-term plan for the flourishing of play, games and sport in mid-21st century Australia … replete with expressive joy.

Postscript

I am using ‘desire paths’ in the way that Kate Bowles does:

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.

Photo Credits

No limits (Keith Lyons, CC BY 4.0)

The parsnip field home (Steve, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Presence, Structured Exposure and Desire

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Introduction

Two years ago, Clay Shirky wrote about asking students in his class to put their laptops away. A recent Medium alert brought my attention to the post.

I had not seen it before the alert.

I have had the post open in a browser tab for two days … disappointed to have missed the original post and provoked by the content.

I am fortunate that I have had lots of driving to do at the moment to give me time to think about Clay’s points.

Presence

Clay notes:

  • The practical effects of my decision to allow technology use in class grew worse over time.
  • The level of distraction in my classes seemed to grow, even though it was the same professor and largely the same set of topics, taught to a group of students selected using roughly the same criteria every year.
  • The change seemed to correlate more with the rising ubiquity and utility of the devices themselves, rather than any change in me, the students, or the rest of the classroom encounter.

This led to Clay moving from recommending students set aside laptops and phones to requiring it.

His blog post shares evidence about attention and focus. He writes:

I’ve stopped thinking of students as people who simply make choices about whether to pay attention, and started thinking of them as people trying to pay attention but having to compete with various influences, the largest of which is their own propensity towards involuntary and emotional reaction.

He makes a powerful point with this observation:

screens generate distraction in a manner akin to second-hand smoke.

In his classrooms:

It’s me and them (the students) working to create a classroom where the students who want to focus have the best shot at it, in a world increasingly hostile to that goal.

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Structured Exposure

Clay’s post disturbed me in the best possible way. It encouraged me to reflect on the importance I attach to bring your own device classrooms.

I have flipped most of my content for many years and have used classroom environments to explore how students can become produsers of this content.

My experience has been that my classes are negotiable inductions to digital scholarship and learning to deal with the perturbations that information and communications technology bring.

I took a lead from Alan Levine to change my pedagogy to address structured exposure. He defined this as “meeting in a physical space in synchronous time”.

I thought this exposure gave opportunities to deal with the presence and distraction of the devices. It seemed to me to resonate with ways we all have continuous partial attention.

My rationale for devices in my classroom has been informed by the objectives for Alan and his colleagues’ ds106 course:

    • Develop skills in using technology as a tool for networking, sharing, narrating, and creative self-expression.
    • Frame a digital identity wherein you become both a practitioner in and interrogator of various new modes of networking.
    • Critically examine the digital landscape of communication technologies as emergent narrative forms and genres.

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Desire

I am hopeful that my approach to digital scholarship enables students to make choices about attention and the management of distraction.

I am always relieved when students arrive at my classes. My invitational approach offers them a choice about remote connection and structured exposure.

Kate Bowles helped me think about the space for desire to learn in my classrooms. A few months before Clay’s post, she wrote that 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.

Conclusion

It has taken me almost 500 miles of driving to compile my thoughts about Clay’s post.

It has made me acutely aware of the role I play as a meddler in students’ learning experiences.

Ultimately, I hope to be a good enough teacher to engage students in qualitative experiences that encourage them, perhaps even compel them, to engage with the ideas and resources shared openly in digital habitats.

The process has brought me closer to reflecting on a recent observation from Michael Wesch:

You can’t just think your way into a new way of living; you have to live your way into a new way of thinking.

Thank you for reading this post amidst all the distractions you face.

Photo Credits

The parsnip field home (Steve, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The Times They Are A’Changing (Brett Jordan, CC BY 2.0)

It is always a miracle (Ib Aarmo, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Flutterings

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I have been reflecting on some of the issues raised in my A road not taken post.

In particular, I have been thinking about a comment left by Kate Bowles. She brought desire paths to my attention. Kate observes that 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.

I noticed that Scott Berkun had written about desire paths too. I liked his apocryphal story about a campus that did not put any paths in until after the first year. ‘They looked to see the paths the students had made, and put paths in the second year.’

I wondered if Kate would concur with Scott that ‘The natural behavior among people shows you where the optimal path should be.’ I am hopeful that this is relevant t narrative too. Paths and lines change.

Today’s content creation links brought me further food for thought.

Julia Molinari has written a guest post about academic writing on Pat Thomson’s Patter blog. I noticed that Julia observed that we need ‘an Academic Writing pedagogy that critically examines established conventions by looking at the extent to which these may be preventing new knowledge and voices from emerging’. I liked her discussion of holism and her conclusion that the holistic nature of academic writing ‘involves our (multiple) identities and our physical and psychological beings (from finding a voice and having something to say to looking after our writing body)’.

After concluding reading Julia’s post, I was delighted to find Pat’s account of the writing process for her Studies in Higher Education paper with Inger Mewburn. I think this is an excellent example of the transparency of academic writing in a changing digital domain. Pat is able to link to an an Open Access Copy of her paper.

Daniel Miller provides an interesting insight into when some writing goes viral. In his introduction to his post, he observes

For a professional academic the foundation of reputation must be scholarship and integrity. Academic studies are interpretations, and even what our informants tell us are their interpretations, and may not equate with the underlying reasons for their actions. Nevertheless, we can and should strive for our writing to be well informed, and authoritative as the basis for original insights.

Daniel’s post follows up on the response to his ‘The Fall of Facebook‘ (24 November, 2013). He writes of that post

I don’t think anyone reading my original blog post would be misinformed. I don’t ever suggest that Facebook is doomed. I state clearly that Facebook is expanding in other field-sites and age groups and that these same teens retain Facebook for family purposes. My data overwhelmingly made the case for this loss of cool. The phrase ‘dead and buried’ unambiguously only refers to the way Facebook is never going to be cool again for this age group.

My reading of Daniel’s reflection underscores for me the importance of primary source data. I am convinced that it is possible to do this in a blog format … particularly if the source data are qualitative. I liked the opportunity Daniel has identified for his work

our field method is participant observation. So being a participant in ‘going viral’ is quite a useful experience. This response has of necessity been immediate, but I will reflect on it over the longer term and hopefully will learn some useful lessons about the nature of viral spread. Going viral just became part of what we study.

I think that the use of social media transforms the tempo of discussion and gives formative structure to the research.

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Which brings me to a delightful way to share the ‘bottom line’ of research activity. I am grateful to Laura Pasquini for a link to a Slate post about students’ thesis topics. Will Oremus suggests

Even the most ardent academic must concede that there’s something darkly funny about devoting years of one’s life to a thesis question so abstruse that no one else had ever cared enough to ask it—and then answering it at such great length that few will ever care to read it.

Will introduced me to Lol My Thesis … summing up years of work in one sentence. A recent addition to the site gave an insight into the formative nature of research.

Sometimes the center of the Galaxy creates a burst of radiation that looks like positron-annihilation gamma-rays bounced backwards off something (addendum from my postdoc years: it doesn’t).

This from a Chemical Engineering student at the University of Minnesota gave me great hope

Einstein left lots of low-hanging fruit. I picked some.

Lol My Thesis is a Tumblr site founded in early December by Angie F., a senior at Harvard College. She indicates that the blog was

Initially intended as a means of procrastination from my own thesis, this blog has documented some of the stress, hilarity, and chaos associated with undergraduate (and some post-graduate) theses.

It will be fascinating to see how Angie shares her research in Human Development and Regeneration Biology.

I hope she continues to explore the desire paths that were the prompt for this post.

Photo Credits

The parsnip field home (Steve, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Discovering desire lines: How to break down barriers and let paths emerge (opensource.com, CC BY-SA 2.0)