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ReGeneration: What’s in a name?

April 20th, 2010

This posting is the second in a series that discusses ideas and themes from the recent NZCER report, Organising for Emergence (see the first posting here), an output from NZCER’s Future Focussed Issues project.  Organising for Emergence discusses a case study of the New Zealand-based, youth-led sustainability network called ReGeneration. Our interest in case studying the ReGeneration network stemmed from our goal of exploring the ways knowledge is constructed, shared, and used in what we’ve been calling: “self-generating networks for knowledge building, learning, and change in relation to future-focussed issues” *.

In this posting, I’d like to reflect on the name “ReGeneration” (and other language associated with this network) and some of the challenges that it presented for us as researchers who are used to describing teaching and learning within institutional contexts (i.e. within schools, early childhood centres, tertiary institutions, workplaces, etc).  For example, when we write about school-based research, we are able to draw on a large set of conceptual categories and labels that are familiar to most readers as “ideas and things that are part of schools”. These include labels to describe people’s roles (e.g., teacher, student, principal), physical objects and spaces (school, classrooms, staffrooms) and organising concepts associated with the daily practices of schooling (curriculum, teaching, learning, subject, assessment, lesson), and so on. Each of these conceptual categories implies a space with edges and boundaries that readers can easily fill based their own prior knowledge and experiences of these categories. Even though the edges and boundaries of these concepts may be more fluid in real life than they appear on the written page, they are at least simple to write about.

The final chapter of Organising for Emergence as a wordle: http://www.wordle.net/

As a “self-generating network for learning and social change” (our phrase), ReGeneration did not come with the same set of descriptive labels and categories. The roles that people play in the network, the things that happen within the network and the spaces in which these things occur all required description; but the language to describe these things is much less self-evident and more fluid—even when used by the participants in our research. For example, the name “ReGeneration” was carefully chosen by the organisers for its many layers of meaning and significance. We (the researchers) were first introduced to the word by one of the organisers, who gave us a full copy of this article . This (along with ongoing conversations with the organisers) gave us some sense of the idea of “regeneration” as a concept that seeks to move beyond “sustainability” thinking (i.e. trying to maintain things in the state they are currently in, or to keep doing what we are doing indefinitely, without degenerating the environment, or without depleting resources), towards the concept of actually designing systems, processes, and ways of being that have a positive impact, that is, making things better than they were before, generating new resources through our activities, and so on.

However, a significant aspect of the ReGeneration network (as we observed in our case study) was that word “ReGeneration” was not defined in any singular way, or presented as though there was one correct or best meaning. Rather, multiple, intertwined, and parallel meanings were constructed individually and collectively by participants. For participants, the word “regeneration” sparked metaphors of intergenerational connections, cycles of death and regrowth, nourishing the energies of themselves and other people, connections to people, places and communities. Overarching all of these ideas was a message of positivity and hope. (For example, many saw regeneration/ReGeneration as sitting in direct contrast to “old-school” approaches towards sustainability which, in their experience, could often lead to anger, frustration and despair).

We believe that what we observed in ReGeneration was an approach of emergence, in which both ReGeneration as a group of people, a process and a network, and “regeneration” as a meaningful concept, emerged as a living co-construction. (Likewise, Organising for Emergence pp. 20 – 22 describes the collaborative construction of meaning for other “touchstone concepts” within the network, such as: “organising”).

As researchers, this emergent approach presented us with considerable challenges. Research is a deliberative process of deciding what questions to ask, what kinds of data to collect to answer those questions and, finally, how to synthesise, interpret and represent those data, and an important dimension of this process relates to the kinds of words and language that are used to convey data and analyses.

In the report we adopted some of the language used by the participants in ReGeneration (or language drawn from relevant literature), while in other cases we chose words that we thought would help to simplify matters for readers. The report braids together multiple voices: our own, participants’ and other authors’. We purposefully developed it as a bricolage, presenting a range of data in their raw form, rather than attempting to present a single grand or linear narrative. In many chapters we used the technique of inset boxes to include participant quotes, or quotes from researchers and theorists alongside the main narrative thread. In other cases we include participant quotes in the main body of the text. Our choices were purposeful, but we also invite readers to bring their own interpretations to these layerings of text.

As my previous posting stated: We see Organising for Emergence as an entry-point or a stepping stone into many of the ideas that we would like to continue to develop in the Future Focussed Issues project. The report is not an endpoint, but a beginning point for further thinking, research, and conversation. We would be overjoyed if you chose to respond to or engage with these ideas on this blogthread so we can continue to develop them together!

* Four future focussed issues specifically mentioned in the New Zealand Curriculum (Ministry of Education, 2007) are: Sustainability, Citizenship, Globalisation, and Enterprise.

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Organising for Emergence (a new NZCER report)

April 15th, 2010

Quite some time ago I blogged about the beginnings of NZCER’s “future-focussed issues” research project, explaining that one of our initial aims was:

…to look for examples of what we’re loosely labelling “self-generating networks for knowledge building, learning, and change”. We are interested in how such networks form around … future focussed issues in both formal and non-formal education, with particular emphasis on how new knowledge is generated in these networks, and in connection with learning beyond school (i.e. with business, communities, youth groups, web-based social networks, etc).

We’ve recently uploaded a research report on the NZCER website called Organising for Emergence. This exploratory study describes ReGeneration ’09, a four-day gathering held in February 2009 which brought together young adults and secondary-school-aged youth with an interest and involvement in sustainability and environmental issues within their schools, workplaces and communities. A long-term goal was to help inspire and build youth-initiated and youth-supported regenerative action in communities across New Zealand. We were approached by the organisers of ReGeneration to form a research partnership around the initiation of this network, and Organising for Emergence is the resulting report.  It aims to represent some of the important ideas, processes, points of view and outcomes that we noticed as researcher-participants in ReGeneration ’09. By reflecting back these ideas and outcomes to the people involved, we hoped to add to the ongoing learning and development that is occurring within the ReGeneration network. Naturally, we also hope that Organising for Emergence will be of interest to a wider audience interested in sustainability, youth learning and leadership, and social and educational change.

We see Organising for Emergence as an entry-point or a stepping stone into many of the ideas that we would like to continue to develop in the Future Focussed Issues project. The report is not an endpoint, but a beginning point for further thinking, research, and conversations. Over the next couple of weeks I hope to blog about some of the themes and concepts discussed in Organising for Emergence and I invite you to discuss these with me. You are, of course, welcome to download the full report, or simply follow the blogpostings and contribute your views as each new posting is added.

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Wondering what’s next

March 8th, 2010

Ally and I have finished up our current round of data collection on the Teachers’ Work project, and are just trying to decide what might be next for us. We thought maybe we’d bring some of our questions and our thinking to this group to see if anyone else wanted to think alongside us.

When this project began, we were interested in how teachers made sense of their work, especially how teachers who were interested in 21C ideas made sense of it. We wanted to know how real teachers were thinking about what 21C education might be, how they were teaching in their schools, how they made sense of having ideas in the first place. We’ve done some of that, decided other bits were too big, and been confused and enlightened along the way. Now we’re trying to figure out what might be next for us.

We’re interested in the way that individual teachers make sense of their context and their aspirations for the future, and we’re interested in how that sensemaking actually shapes the context and what is possible for the future. We’re interested in how leaders shape their school contexts—and are shaped by them. We’re interested in where the power lies in the system—where the shifting thinking could be most useful, most likely to make a big change in the way kids experience teaching and learning.

The question for us now is: what’s the question for us now? We know that we have not found answers to this big question about leverage points, and we know that very many other things are already known about teachers and how they think and work and schools and why they are so hard to change. But given all that we know, what would be useful for us to explore together? What’s the key missing question?

Now, Ally and I enjoy theory enormously. But this is a practical undertaking we’re discussing here. We want a practical way to understand how schools can change, not a theoretical model of how change might possibly happen. Usually if you’re a researcher and you want to understand something practical, you need to go out and look at something. We’re not aware of schools that have really made it in this regard, schools that everyone knows have transformed teaching and learning so that younger people and older people (inside and outside the local school) experience a different kind of education. You readers might know about those schools, and might be able to say, School X has totally transformed. We’d like to hear from you about School X.

What we’re more familiar with, and we’re guessing you’re more familiar with, are schools that are trying to change. We could name dozens of schools with fantastic older and young people, who are trying to reshape the way teaching and learning and schooling happens. We know of communities where this is contentious, communities where this is invisible, communities where this is deeply supported. But all the ones we know would say that they’re on a journey, that 10% or 40% or 60% of the students/teachers/community members are on board. But we don’t know anyone who has arrived, and we don’t know anyone who isn’t fighting madly along the way.

So, if there are no models to say “this is where we’re going,” we can’t research those.  Indeed, what Ally and I think might be true is that we’re on a journey for which there is no “arrival,” no 100% on board.  We’re moving into an unknown future, trying to take a whole bunch of people who care a lot about schools along with us, and we don’t really know where we’re going. This makes for a tricky research question.

We wonder if you might help. We have an unresearchable question like: “How do you support yourself and others to move into an unknown future?” Now we wonder what questions you have about this whole topic that we might be able to engage with in order to figure out how we’re thinking about things and what we might do next. This is a question that needs a lot of heads thinking together for us to ask just the right question. Will you lend us your head, your questions?

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Future focussed issues (liveblogish)

November 4th, 2009

I’m blogging from the Future focussed issues stream: Josie, Rachel, Bob Frame, Stephanie Pride, Billy Matheson,  Fiona Beals
I’m trying to follow in Rachel’s footsteps on this but I have to say that she’s set a really high bar.
Josie is introducing people and letting us know about the ways the future focussed issues are running through the curriculum and asking what they mean:
Sustainability
Citizenship
Enterprise
Globalisation
She wants to know whether these are the most important words-these are the ones found in the curriculum.

Rachel talks about the research project she and Josie are running at NZCER. These future focussed issues aren’t well enough explored in education and so they’re looking outside education at what she calls:
“Self-generating knowledge building networks for knowledge building, learning and change.” Rachel plugs the future-focus issues space on the blog.

How do we describe these four issues—separate? Interlinked, stacked on top of each other? Or with sustainability as the big idea and the other ones all a subset of that?
She quotes Bob Frame who said something like:
In one way, these words are just empty signifiers. They are something which each individual populates with his or her own meaning: Who is using the word and why.

Bob Frame talks about what sustainability means to him from his many years of study.
For him future generations underpin: “Will our institutions act as an anchor or a sail?” Sustainability is a mindset. Critical issues—not just climate change but a perfect storm of other issues too which are interconnected.
Sustainability: of what? Of who? And why?
If we all do a little, we’ll get a little: we need to do something big.

Bob says we need to get some “early adaptation to new equilibriums”.
Now Stephanie Pride is talking about how important the both/and is now: if we want to have skills for sustainability, we all need futures capability. We need to figure futures capability—futuring—into everyone’s world. Needs to be distributed like literacy and numeracy across the whole population. Have to learn by doing, understand complex systems and your own values inside them, how to make decisions with other people. Educators have to be in the front showing how this works.

Can’t take these as content knowledge—we won’t make the changes.
Every day, all the time, every teacher needs to model adaptability and futures capability! Yikes! How will we do this!

But Stephanie says that teachers are already doing this—it’s not a NEW thing. Only connect (great line, from Howards End, I think). Connect to the way you already do all these things and just run them as a stream through everything. I think this idea about future-thinking as a new core competency is really cool. Now we have to figure out how to do it!

Now it’s Billy Matheson’s turn. “Layers of belonging”. Billy says that if you don’t help young people deal with belonging as a central issue of citizenship you’re missing it. Talks about becoming indigenous again: “Indigenous people to the planet” (he’s quoting William McDonough Cradle to Cradle)

Billy will share 4 layered models: from either/or to yes/and
The world can be simple, complicated, or complex: we need all three of these but need to be able to discern between these layers and move from one to the next—and to act on these layers, have simple, complex, and complicated conversation.

Model 2
Layers of time:
Fashion
Commerce
Infrastructure
Governance
Culture
Nature
Billy tells us that the top two are so much more easily accessed than the others.

Also of scale:
Universal
Global
National
Regional
Local
Billy asks: Why is our democracy so stuck at the local level?

How to we shift into a chapter that holds both the individual and a new sense of connectedness (maybe like what Keith was talking about yesterday?). Talks about the “Obama-model” of taking the skills we learn in the community and using them in larger and larger scales.

Then he shows a beautiful “diversity fern” (I’ll try to get a picture of this up at some point). How do we find the learning space necessary to cultivate the genuine experiences of cultural diversity?
Billy asks:
How do we develop “civic hardware and social software that holds this wonderful diversity”

Fiona Beals: Tells us that the thing that blew her away here was running into her biology teacher. She tells her personal story—that by the time she reached high school she was in bad shape. That Biology teacher made a big difference for her. Then later Jane Gilbert helped her get a PhD.  Lots of connections at this conference for Fiona! She understood that what was wrong in her schooling wasn’t the teachers or the people but the way school happened.
In order to be future focussed, I need to be outward focused. Need to grab people’s passions and turn them to good.
Futures focused education started with development education. We can not only learn about these countries but can learn from these countries.
How many of you take technology for granted—how many people actually write code? Or ask: what else can I do with my phone? In the developing world, people go into their cell phones and write code. In Africa they’ve been using cell phones for banking since the 1990s. This is a great example of global education.

Fiona is starting to take out the world “developing” to describe countries and talking about the word “majority” because people living in poverty are actually MORE of the world than not and we should start to understand that.

Rachel and Josie about E4E
The moral issues about E4E very important (some people say it’s E$E). Josie and Rachel have found that peoples’ experience in school is really local and maybe moves beyond a focus on the difference between education for enterprise and education as a social good. Still, they think that distinction is really important to talk about and understand, and they’ll help people do that in their longer session (which I can’t go to—bummer!). These all look SO good! Lots of food for thought here.

(I’ve also learnt that I can’t imagine how Rachel does this!)

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Future-focussed issues strand

October 28th, 2009

In this Day 2 strand of the Shifting Thinking conference a team of facilitators will unpack and explore the meaning and implications of the four “future focussed issues” highlighted in the New Zealand Curriculum: Sustainability, enterprise, globalisation, and citizenship.

Session 1: An introduction to the future focussed issues

Facilitators: Fiona Beals, Rachel Bolstad, Bob Frame, Billy Matheson, Stephanie Pride, Josie Roberts

In this session the facilitators will introduce the four future-focussed issues in the NZC. Each guest presenter will give the audience a small taste of their work/interests/actions/involvement in relation to each of the future focussed issues, and what they see as the challenges for 21st century learning in relation to these issues.

Sessions 2, 3, 4: Workshops

Three different workshops related to the future focussed issues will each repeat twice.

Only Connect: Futures Literacy and the New Zealand Curriculum. An experiential workshop

Facilitators: Bob Frame and Stephanie Pride

The 21st century demands a modal shift in teaching and learning and the principle of futures focus is central to this shift.  Using sustainability as both content and context, this session will explore teaching and learning futures thinking.  You’ll have the opportunity to explore your own futures literacy acquisition, connect this to values, competencies and content in the New Zealand Curriculum and consider ways to integrate futures literacy into your students’ learning.

From Consumer Politics to Active Citizenship

Facilitator: Billy Matheson

Billy will give a brief introduction to his work developing ReGeneration, a learning network for young changemakers, and will then facilitate an interactive dialogue on citizenship in the 21st century. Using Bill Drayton’s vision of “everyone a changemaker” as a point of departure the group will explore a distinction between of passive and active citizenship. Participants in the dialogue will be asked to listen for potential insights into the following questions:

  • What would civics education look/feel/sound like in 21st Century education?
  • How could schools become generative partners in local, regional, and national governance?
  • What is the learning architecture that would support a self organising community of ‘public servants’?
  • How would the governance and management of schools change as a result of these practices?

Challenging the Brave New World Syndrome:  Global Education for Future Thinking

Facilitator: Dr Fiona Beals

In the 1930s, Aldous Huxley wrote about a world dominated by technology and consumerism. It was a world taken for granted; no one questioned it. Today we may just be living in Huxley’s world. So within education, how are we making the taken for granted visible? In this workshop, after taking the diagnostic test for Brave World Syndrome (BWS), participants will be introduced to Global Education as a pedagogical approach to exploring issues around globalisation; they will then experience two activities based on this pedagogy. The workshop is a mixture of theory and activity and is sure to be an antidote to BWS.

Conference: November 2009, Future focussed issues

Us Now (a documentary)

September 3rd, 2009

A few weeks ago Josie and I watched a documentary called Us Now. Good news – if you’ve got an hour or so to spare – you can watch it too (streaming over the Internet).

Briefly: Us Now is about how new social media technologies are enabling people to share, collaborate, help each other, and make stuff happen (in ways that significantly “scale-up” from our long human history of sharing, collaborating, helping each other, and making stuff happen). The documentary begins to go in the direction of asking if we are able to organise ourselves so efficiently and effectively, and if we are able to make things happen directly (rather than having intermediaries like organisations and institutions acting on our behalf), what does this mean for the future, particularly our ideas about governing and government? Is it about time we moved towards a more deliberative style of democracy with much more direct community engagement?

The documentary fits nicely into Josie’s and my ongoing exploration of the nature and potential of “self-generating networks for knowledge building, learning, and change”, and what these might have to teach us about learning and education for the 21st century. The documentary features a few famous faces, such as Clay Shirky (author of Here comes everybody, my favourite book of 2009) and Charles Leadbeter (author of The rise of the social entrepreneur and many other think-pieces on social innovation). If you don’t want to spend a whole hour watching Us Now you can get a taste of some of Leadbeter and Shirky’s ideas in these shorter YouTube clips

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Look, I drew a picture of you!

July 17th, 2009

(Yes, that’s right…I’m talking to you!)
Actually, I should say I drew a picture of us.

See? You, and me, and everyone else – we’re all represented in my diagram of the shiftingthinking community.

The Power Law Distribution

I drew this after reading Here Comes Everybody: The power of organizing without organizations by Clay Shirky. The book has influenced my thinking A LOT recently and I reckon I’ll probably write a few more blogpostings based on its ideas. In this posting I just want to share just one of these ideas, because I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately (No, don’t look over your shoulder, I’m still talking to Y-O-U ), and I want to show you exactly how you fit into this shiftingthinking community.

The curve in this diagram represents something called a “Power Law Distribution”, which I learned about in Here Comes Everybody. The vertical axis represents the number of comments posted on shiftingthinking, and the horizontal axis represents all of us, lined up in left to right order from the highest frequency to the lowest frequency of postings. What this curve shows is that the most frequent contributor (in this case, me) posts many times more often than the next most frequent contributors, and those people post many times more often than the next most frequent, and so on, and then we have this l-o-o-o-oong tail of people who contribute just a tiny little bit – let’s say, one comment or posting.  (Then there’s the folks who we sometimes call “lurkers”, who read shiftingthinking but haven’t posted comments – I’ll get back to them later…)

So what, I hear you ask? Is there a point to all this? Well I’m glad you asked, because there is, and here is the EXCITING bit. According to Shirky, this same distribution pattern is found in all kinds of social media. Wikipedia is a good example: Although anyone can edit wikipedia pages, it turns out that there are a tiny percentage of people who make hundreds or thousands of edits each, and thousands and millions of people who only ever make say, one or two edits (and millions more who simply read wikipedia entries without ever making a single edit). So if you graph wikipedia contributions, you’ll get an even more extreme version of this same curve.

The power law distribution is also called The Pareto principle or the “80-20 rule” which basically says that for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. So this distribution shape isn’t just limited to social media – it appears in all kinds of social phenomenon.

The cool thing – and the point of this posting -  is when we start to ask ourselves what value we get out of the collective contributions of all 100 percent of the contributors. In the business world, the 80-20 principle suggests that organisations should focus on the 20 percent (of people, activities, projects etc) that contribute 80 percent of the “productivity”. The “costs” of carrying that long tail, which tends to generate proportionally less, can be hard for an organisation to carry. But if you lop off the long tail, you lose out on all those potential contributions that, when added to the collective, could add up to something really great.

Is this youThe nice thing about social media is that there is really no “cost” involved in encouraging as many people as possible to contribute. By opening up wikipedia to everyone to edit, “we” (the users of Wikipedia) benefit from everyone’s contribution. Whether someone contributes thousands of edits, or only one, each adds value to the collective whole. It’s the same thing with shiftingthinking!

I’d like to end this posting with a couple of shout-outs. First to the members of our “long tail”. Guys, thank you. We love that you’ve stopped by and taken a moment to add your contribution to the shiftingthinking community.

Or is THIS you? (CC) http://www.flickr.com/photos/madflowr/3346345770/

Or is THIS you? (CC) www.flickr.com/photos/madflowr/3346345770

Second, to the “lurkers” – you know who you are. I want you to know that you’re welcome here too. I think I’m going to call you “foragers” from now on though. (I like to picture you as adorable little hedgehogs – shyly nosing around the edges of our community, nibbling surreptitiously from the cat’s dish, drinking water from the puddles of our drain-pipes, but leaving no trace of your presence). We promise not to shine a bright spotlight on you – but maybe just think about joining our long tail every once in a while? We’ll be here waiting, with a nice cup of tea and a gingernut biscuit.

**PS. I know time is a big factor making it hard to add comments. We’re still looking into other ways you can signal your presence without having to think too long and hard or compose the “perfect” comment – watch this space!

Shirky, C. (2008) Here comes everybody: The power of organizing without organizations. Penguin: New York.

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The Hidden Connections (Capra)

July 3rd, 2009
Leaf of surprise (c) Rachel Bolstad, 2006

Leaf of surprise (c) Rachel Bolstad, 2006

When you read a book by Fritjof Capra, you’re getting value for money. Though Capra is a physicist by training, his interests and knowledge span an enormous range of disciplines, and he is enviably well-connected; his friends and colleagues include leading thinkers from many fields, and his books draw together threads from fields as diverse as biochemistry, management theory, economics, cognitive science, feminism, design, and agroecology.

I just said he “draws together threads from areas as diverse as”… but as the title of his book The Hidden Connections (2002, Doubleday) suggests, perhaps our big mistake as a species is in continuing to think that these areas are all diverse, different, and disconnected, rather than recognising the persistent patterns, relationships, and connections between them. The aim of this book is (p. 216): “to develop a conceptual framework that integrates the biological, cognitive, and social dimensions of life; a framework that enables us to adopt a systemic approach to some of the critical issues of our time”. (These critical issues are, of course, all grounded in issues of sustainability).

For the purpose of this blogthread, I was interested in how Capra’s book could help develop my thinking about what it means to be a “self-generating network for knowledge building, learning, and change” (as part of our future focussed issues project).

In the first few chapters, Capra begins to develop a systems-level way of describing “life”. Since I majored in biological science, I was immediately hooked in by the way he begins by looking at contemporary theories about how life got started. How on Earth did something as complex as a cell come into being? You’ll have to read for yourself to find out, but a key idea from this section is that, with the emergence of metabolism comes the ability of a cell (which is in fact a tiny network) to become self-generating, or “autopoeitic” (from autopoeisis –self-making1). That’s because (pp.9-10) “the function of each component in this network is to transform or replace other components, so that the entire network continually generates itself….[the living network undergoes] continual structural changes while preserving their weblike patterns of organisation.” Cells are also “open systems” materially and energetically. While the cell continually replaces, fixes, changes, and regenerates itself, stuff has to come into the system (food), and stuff has to go out (waste). This leads Capra to discuss the theory of “dissipative structures2” – defined as “an open system that maintains itself in a state far from equilibrium, yet is nevertheless stable: the same overall structure is maintained in spite of an ongoing flow and change of components”.

(p.13) The dynamics of these dissipative structures specifically include the spontaneous emergence of new forms of order. When the flow of energy increases, the system may encounter a point of instability, known as a “bifurcation point”, at which it can branch off into an entirely new state where new structures and new forms of order may emerge.

In short, what we are talking about here is emergence, “the creation of novelty that is often qualitatively different from the phenomena out of which it emerged” (p.117)
I’m now going to skip ahead past the section of the book where Capra applies these ideas to understanding the nature of mind, consciousness, and learning. (Though these are actually some of my favourite chapters). Where I wanted to get to in this posting was Capra’s ideas about how these concepts and ways of thinking apply to social reality – and in particular, to social networks and human organisations. In chapter 3 he talks about the role of communication as an essential part of the metabolism of social networks:

(p.83) These networks of communication are self-generating. Each communication creates thoughts and meaning, which give rise to further communications, and thus the entire network generates itself – it is autopoeitic. As communications recur in multiple feedback loops, they produce a shared system of beliefs, explanations, and values – a common context of meaning – that is continually sustained by further communications. Through this shared context of meaning individuals acquire identities as members of the social network, and in this way the network generates its own boundary. It is not a physical boundary but a boundary of expectations, of confidentiality and loyalty, which is continually maintained and renegotiated by the network itself”

I’ll skip ahead again and bypass the chapters where he discusses how social networks, through communication, create culture and a “shared body of knowledge – including information, ideas, and skills – that shapes the culture’s distinctive way of life in addition to its values and beliefs”. (p. 87), and how knowledge can’t be treated as an entity independent of people and their social context…. (Though again, these are fascinating chapters). I want to get back to this idea of emergence.

In chapter 4 he talks about how emergence happens in human organisations. He argues that emergence often occurs at “critical points of instability that arise from fluctuations in the environment, amplified by feedback loops”.

(p.117) “In a human organization, the event triggering the process of emergence may be an offhand comment, which may not even seem important to the person who made it but is meaningful to some people in a community of practice. Because it is meaningful to them, they choose to be disturbed and circulate the information rapidly through the organization’s networks. As it circulates through various feedback loops, the information may get amplified and expanded, even to such an extent that the organization can no longer absorb it in its present state. When that happens, a point of instability has been reached. The system….is forced to abandon some of its structures, behaviours, or beliefs. The result is a state of chaos, confusion, uncertainty and doubt; and out of that chaotic state a new form of order, organized around new meaning, emerges. The new order was not desgned by any individual but emerged as a result of the organization’s collective creativity.”

The quote above inspires me as I think about the shift to 21st century thinking about learning and education. I think about Jennifer’s posting . I think right now we are in the state of chaos, confusion, uncertainty and doubt. But I’m looking forward to the bit where a new form of order emerges from our collective creativity!

There’s a lot more in this book which I won’t discuss here – maybe in a future posting – but suffice to say that it’s given me a whole new bunch of new concepts to think with, regarding “self-generating networks for knowledge building, learning, and change”. I wonder what you make of it?

Capra, Fritjof (2002) The Hidden Connections: Integrating the biological, cognitive and social dimensions of life into a science of sustainability. New York: Doubleday.

1 Capra credits the term “autopoesis” to biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela (p.10)
2 Ilya Prigogone and his collaborators developed the theory of dissipative structures (p.13)

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The future focussed issues project

June 23rd, 2009

Josie Roberts and I are beginning a new research project called “Future focussed issues in New Zealand education”, or FFI project for short. We’d like to use shiftingthinking as a forum for developing and sharing some of our thinking as we get into the work of this research. If you’d like to be part of this thinking (or at least take a peek at where our thinking is going), please read on!

The backstory to the FFI project lies partly in previous contract research work in two areas of “future focus”: education for sustainability, and education for enterprise. If you’re familiar with the New Zealand Curriculum, you might recognise sustainability and enterprise as two of the four “future focussed issues” mentioned in the section on Principles for New Zealand curriculum. (The other two FFIs are globalisation and citizenship).

Original drawing (c) Josie Roberts 2009

Original drawing (c) Josie Roberts 2009

Although some work has been done to support futures thinking in New Zealand education (for example, Secondary Futures), our experience suggests that many people within the education sector still have reasonably limited familiarity with the idea of futures thinking in general, and of these four particular FFIs in the New Zealand Curriculum in particular. We think there is something very important in these ideas, and we want to spend some time exploring them, looking at the relationships between them, and researching their relevance to (or possible contribution to transformation of) curriculum, teaching, learning, schooling, and communities.

As educational researchers we spend a lot of our time looking at what is happening within the formal education sector. But lately we’ve become interested in looking at pockets of innovative thinking and development that are occurring on the margins of the formal education sector, and in the spaces where education intersects with other sectors. We want to explore these pockets of thinking and innovation to see whether they could provide us with new insights that might also speak to audiences within the formal education sector.

One of our initial aims is to look for examples of what we’re loosely labelling “self-generating networks for knowledge building, learning, and change”. We are interested in how such networks form around the future focussed issues in both formal and non-formal education, with particular emphasis on how new knowledge is generated in these networks, and in connection with learning beyond school (i.e. with business, communities, youth groups, web-based social networks, etc). (We’re working with a few groups and networks as mini-case studies, but we won’t be talking about them here unless we have permission from the people and groups involved)

At the same time as we are working with these people/groups/networks, we are also reading as much as we can to help braid together our own understanding of what we mean by a “self-generating network for knowledge building, learning, and change”. Over the next few months we are going to try to post blogs about what we’re reading and what we’re thinking. If you want to follow this thread, look for blogpostings that start with “FFI”.

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“What’s climate change got to do with education?”

May 15th, 2009
cracked-earth

Negev Desert (C) Rachel Bolstad, 2007

The title of this posting is a verbatim question I was asked by a teacher after a presentation I gave at their school last year. At the time, the question left me a bit stunned, and I have been wanting to write a posting about it ever since.

To give you a sense of context (and why the question shocked me), here was the gist of the presentation I’d just given (or at least a small segment of it). I’d used the work of Jane Gilbert and others to discuss how certain Industrial Age social and economic imperatives have  influenced the development of the systems, structures, and ideas we have about secondary education today. I discussed some of the major shift in concepts of what “knowledge” is and what it does, and how many of these new ideas have arisen in the world outside education (see more about that here and here ). I talked about some of the important capabilities, dispositions, competencies etc that 21st century education ought to be focussing on – such as those mentioned here . Then, I gave what I THOUGHT was a good example to illustrate exactly WHY we must take all this seriously, and WHY these kinds of 21st century learning approaches really do matter.

india

Delhi, India (C) Rachel Bolstad, 2005

I said something along the lines that the 21st century world brings with it a whole new gamut of changes and challenges – social, economical, political, and environmental – that will require us to be able to think and act in new ways. We are in a world where the future is unknown – and where people need the ability to deal with uncertainty, be confident to take on open-ended challenges, where the solution CAN’T be known in advance, and where we can no longer assume we can leave things up to some “authority” to fix the problems we (and they) have collectively created. A world in which people will need to rapidly build new knowledge to address emerging challenges, collaborating across disciplines, cultures, and nations, drawing on many sources of evidence, and constantly re-evaluating decisions and actions as new knowledge and evidence is generated, with a concern for the impacts of their decisions and actions on the people and world they live in. A world which demands much more of its citizens, and in turn, demands much more of or education systems.

flooding

Flooding, Bangkok. (C) Rachel Bolstad, 2006

Climate change – a global problem which is a genuinely open-ended challenge, and which has deeply interconnected social, political, scientific, and economic dimensions – and which we are all affected by (and which we all affect) – what could be a better example to illustrate why we need to think again about what we are doing as educators? Or so I thought.

Yet at the end of my presentation, it seemed at least one teacher could not see that climate change had any relevance whatsoever to education. I wonder, what DID they think was the point of education? Unfortunately I didn’t have the opportunity to have this conversation with the teacher, nor was I able to actually give a response to the question (assuming it was really a question, rather than a rhetorical statement of exasperation at my presentation!)

Since I never was able to discuss this with the teacher, I plan to start this conversation on shiftingthinking.org instead. In the coming weeks and months, we’ll be building up some material on our “Theory” section to explain some of the current thinking in environmental and sustainability education, why it matters, and why this ought to be absolutely central to our thinking about 21st century learning and education. We’ll also be blogging more in this area, and pointing you towards other blogs, resources, and people who can help us learn more.

I’d love to hear from any and all of you out there who are passionate about environmental and sustainability education!

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