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Posts Tagged ‘sustainability’

He Tūrangawaewae – Where do I stand?

April 3rd, 2012

I recently came across this simple and moving video. It explores the concept and practice of Place-Based Education, which links people to place through learning about their present environment – it’s history of settlement, environmental change and how people can connect to the environment, and through this understand themselves.

In New Zealand we’re fortunate to have a resilient indigenous population, tāngata whenua, who have consistently linked their knowledge of self and identity to place and geography. Often this is known as ones tūrangawaewae. I really like this short clip  of the late Wi Kuki Kaa exploring the concept of turangawaewae in contemporary Aotearoa. For me, as a Pākehā  thinking about turangawaewae,  the late Waikato leader Te Puea Herangi and the marae, Tūrangawaewae  in Ngaruawahia spring to mind.

I am a 3rd generation Pākehā, and continue to learn about my family migration to Aotearoa from England, Ireland and France.  I’m connected to this place in my own unique way – the challenge is understanding how to anchor myself through addressing our colonial history and present reality. The work of Paulo Freire and Henry Giroux have helped to shift my thinking about these deeply personal, social and cultural issues.

Our session on Culture and Identity will also look at similar issues: place, knowledge of self, and collective learning  :)  Should be GREAT!

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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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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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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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