The personal-political imaginary restructured by a universal-Turing-machine symbolic

The tools used in a personal learning environment (PLE) will to some extent determine the shape of that environment. The shape of the object made is always in some way a reflection of the tools used to make it. That is, there are no “universal” tools. Any tool operates only on a part of the whole. And as tools shape the object, so too will desire for the object shape the evolution of tools.

The imaginary is what we believe ordinary life to be. The symbolic is the apparatus of language, law, discourse and custom: the tools by which we express and regulate the imaginary. The tools of our symbolic order shape our imaginary. We think within the frames of our languages, cultures and experiences.

And our learning environments are shaped these days by digital technologies. Digital technologies are the contemporary apotheosis of the new-shiny symbolic, promising impossible universality while delivering grand narratives.

is restructured by the personal learning environment

Personal learning environments: everybody has one

A Personal Learning Environment (PLE) is for me, first of all a purpose, and then a place where I engage in activity with others. Only then do I look for tools to effect my participation in that activity with those other people. Whatever it is, it is not one thing.

A healthy personal learning environment and personal learning network is (or strives to be) a social learning network.

PLE 2010

Covid-19 has given me a little time to reflect on my past 10 or 15 years. One large multi-modal conference I participated in was the Personal Learning Environments (PLE) Conference (2010). In Barcelona and everywhere. (Graham Attwell’s account is still here). Graham’s “unkeynote”, partly crowd-sourced, asked us to imagine our own PLE. I went critical theoretical and wrote this, below. My aim in a few subsequent posts is to expand and explain. I said, my PLE is:

A progressive, emancipatory, democratic re-centering on the human other-space between community and identity where cultural capital accounts are balanced and the personal-political imaginary is restructured by a universal-Turing-machine symbolic, generating and regenerating tools and knowledge with which to build – in struggle if necessary – an unenclosed global commons of culture, nature, and  our geno-mimetic heritage;

A hyper-distributed mesh of universal, co-created, open community information and applications, on extremely local (even personal) infrastructure;

GPL-type, open-source, creative commons (attribution, share-alike) licensed; Powered by renewable, sustainable energy sources.

Return surplus value (material and symbolic) to the common-wealth;

Enable the free movement of economic, social and cultural capital, the free movement of cultural and economic goods, and the free movement of people;

Facilitate cultural mediation, creativity, learning and play;

Preserve, respect and protect human (and bio) diversity; Resist oppression, exploitation and hegemony.

A progressive, emancipatory, democratic re-centering

My Personal Learning Environment (PLE) first of all has purpose and principles. I enter into learning in order to foster progressive (Wikipedia), emancipatory (recognising and reorienting where power is drawn from) and democratic (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) relations between people and groups of people. My Personal learning environment is autonomist, supporting self-directed, purposeful learning and self-effective (Wikipedia) life practice.

As a teacher I try to re-center learning on the individual learner and their community in order that they can themselves become a reliable authority in their own life.

The human other-space between community and identity

With the Covid-19 rush to online, learning environments are suddenly of core concern. We each, student, teacher and staff need to be able to insert our personal learning environments into those of one another.

In an earlier post, I considered my Personal Learning Environment (PLE) first a purpose. Here I consider it as a place of a particular sort. A place between a real community “out there” and a real me “in here”. A place where I, who know (or doesn’t); I, who know how, or know that, or know what to do can acquire and practice that knowing with others.

I have always seen community and identity as two sides of a coin. The individual and society are co-constituted. The learning environment is a space between real communities and real individuals. It is a liminal space, which mediates between the self and others. The learning environment allows and facilitates the deconstruction, analysis and modelling of the real world, real community or real individual: psychometrics, for example, model the person. Such activity has a general aim of understanding and transforming the real “out there” or “in here” in some way.

Then, to acknowledge its own reality, the learning environment is itself a collection of real people, communities: schools, homes, disciplines, departments, institutions, professions engaged together in a project of creating liminal places: learning environments; other spaces between the real through which I learn.

The new normal in the arms of the old

Diversity of working practices must be one way of improving diversity of participation.

Yesterday a colleague, relatively new to distributed collaboration and diversity in working patterns asked what they had to “give up” in order to work in a distributed collaborative mode. We were on a departmental “coffee break” in one of the popular meeting applications.

My first thought was, “The nine to five!” But, strong consensus emerged for emulating the old normal. Some people argued that it was important to maintain routine. Many colleagues dressed for work. There were jokes about not being only dressed from the waist up. Children – and pets – should be presented briefly but be neither seen or heard during work.

I have spent my life trying not to work the nine to five. I love working “anti-social hours”. I hate commuting. I do not revel in avoidable shared misery.

I was an early adopter of distributed collaborative working. Never truly a pioneer, I helped implement Internet Relay Chat for teaching and learning in a global industry back in the late 1990s. I envied my friends who had “real email” in universities while I made do with CompuServe. I had a”web log” before they became “blogs”, a LiveJournal, a MySpace, and TypePad. When I moved into “proper” higher education and got an academic job I was 53 years old. I found colleagues similarly motivated by passion as much as reason, who didn’t all think they were doing the day job. Some kept routines in offices. Others lived in tele-cottages in rural Wales or the Outer Hebrides. Some lived on narrow boats. Some had children. All appeared to be enthusiastically productive, effective and influential, navigating senior corridors in universities and governments. We ran large and small-scale online distributed collaboration learning events. We made a MOOC that was among the first in the UK to be accredited. Some of the things we did have become business as usual. Much did not.

I understand routine. But, I also understand diversity. We declare how important diversity is. This post could become more of a discussion of diversity than I planned. I will observe that diversity of working practices must be one way of improving diversity of participation in the benefits of society, including higher education.

It may become a factor in survival.

I am concerned

I am 66 with a history of pneumonia x2, once with the nee naw up to the John Radcliffe and about 8 hours in A&E. And that was two years ago. I have had bronchitis many times until I started getting the flu jab: winter chest infection free for the past 2 years. I am very not keen to get Covid-19. But, life does go on and if this is my last week/month/season, I do not want it to be, even metaphorically, spent hiding behind the sofa trembling in isolation. But, I also respect those who want to stay out of harm’s way. I do not want to be on their vector of transmission.

Reflection in action: professional development study visits

How close to the moment can you get? “Be here now,”  urges 1960s psychologist Richard Alpert. A mythical Google aspires to a perfect concurrent rendering of this reality: in real-time, in software. How much rewinding can we do before anyone notices the pause for thought? Reflection in action often has the effect of: “Oops! Don’t do that again.” Have we all heard ourselves tell ourselves, “Don’t say that,” and then hear ourselves say it? The warning reverberates like a slow bell buoy. It fades until the next wave makes a ding! Good learning is sometimes referred to as “authentic”. What is this but being “in the moment”?

I have been invited to “Listen to and comment on” a number of presentations this morning. These presentations will be made by participants on a study tour for Chinese academics and higher education professional and student-support services staff.

I received the invitation yesterday morning in a hotel dining room in Cardiff, shortly before co-facilitating a workshop for newer academic staff at the University of Cardiff, who may be new to teaching and leading study modules.

So this is a note to myself, in the moment between. My colleagues at OCSLD and I use a phenomenographic approach to analysing learning events and the work of those who lead, teach or otherwise facilitate learning in higher education. Try to distinguish between event and judgement. There is data. And, there is analysis.

I have engaged with four one or two-day events organised by Oxford Prospects Programmes. Two events were for about 50 “senior academics” (n=100) from a number of Chinese Universities. One event was for about 45 professional and student-support services staff. One event was a symposium on “Education and Social Governance” jointly organised by Beijing Normal University and the Department of Education at the University of Oxford. At the symposium, academics from both institutions, eminent local government officers and representatives of the British Embassy in Beijing and the Chinese Embassy in London addressed contemporary socio-economic impacts of higher education and the role of education in social governance issues such as rural depopulation, industrial development and teacher education.

I am seeing these events all through a professional development eye as an authentic opportunity to consider where a globalising academy sees itself going next.