Indra’s Net: We are all connected

There is an endless net of threads throughout the universe … At every crossing of the threads there is an individual. And every individual is a crystal bead. And every crystal bead reflects. Not only the light from every other crystal in the net but also every other reflection throughout the entire universe. ~ Anne Adams

This post itself is a tangling of threads. It is in part a reflection on the first day of the national Australian Association of Research for Education (AARE) conference, which I am attending and at which I am presenting a paper. It is also part of a wider conversation I’ve been having through blogging. It was incited today by Robyn Collard’s Welcome to Country in which she used the above Anne Adams quote which refers to Indra’s Net, a Hindu and Buddhist concept that articulates the interconnectedness of the universe. It imagines each individual as a dew drop, jewel or pearl: reflective and distinctive, but also interconnected with all the other dew drops via the threads of the web. Parts and whole. Dazzling individualism within collective network.

This quote and concept added a layer to an already-layered conversation I’ve been having in the blogonet with Helen Kara and Naomi Barnes. It started with Steve Wheeler’s #blimage (blog + image) challenge. When Helen shared a photograph of tangled dew-bejeweled spiders’ webs in her garden, both Naomi and I responded to the image. Naomi wrote about the messiness of research. I wrote about how technology connects people to one another. I’ve since also written about the web-weaving spider as a metaphor for the researcher. And today I was connecting at AARE, in person, with a web of academics who I know mostly through their work and through Twitter.

So here I am again. Contemplating the web. And the dew drop jewels. And their infinite reflections and refractions. Their beauty and fragility and separateness and togetherness.

I spent much of this first day of the AARE conference in a four hour symposium in which scholars brought diverse perspectives to the same general topic of leadership in education. They agreed and disputed. They converged and diverged. It was a great example of respectful, well-considered and articulate debate. Graceful disagreement. Elegant contestation. Research as conversation.

For instance, in conceptualising leadership as artistry, Fenwick English noted the webbed connections between research, art, leadership and creativity. Scott Eacott discussed the relational aspects of leadership and of research, asking scholars to consider how their work relates to that of others. Christina Gowlett approached school leadership from a perspective of challenge and critique, agitating against dominant approaches, norms and expectations by embracing alternate theories of uncertainty and transgression.

Additionally, Gabriele Lakomski and Colin Evers discussed thinking in schools as a wide cognitive net. They define cognition as a dynamic system, comprising reciprocal interactions between people, artefacts, resources and environments. They noted that thinking is not just computationally logical-deductive; it is interpretive, intuitive, behind consciousness and beyond awareness. They explored the notion of the extended or supersized mind which distributes cognition. Our tech is our selves. Our communities and social networks are change collectives. Gabriele and Colin noted that cognition occurs “beyond skin and skull”, challenging the myths of the stand alone thinker, the heroic leader and the change agent. Individuals influence and are influenced by each other. Thinking and being is connectivity. Web not hierarchy.

These ideas resonate with the perspective I will be presenting at the Heroism Science conference in 2016, which suggests a reimagining of heroism in school leadership. That is, that school leader ‘heroes’ can work subtly, fluidly and invisibly in the service of their school communities. In education there needs to be shared vision and individual purpose, collective and individual capacity. Strengthening the web while protecting and nurturing the dew drops.

Like Costa and Garmston’s (2006) notion of holonomy (which is based on Koestler’s 1972 conceptualisation of the ‘holon’), Indra’s Net shows the dual importance of the individual and the collective. The jewel and the net. All are simultaneously together and separate. A change in one is reflected in a change in all.

So as I reflect (like the dew drop), I imagine webs of learning, webs of emotion, webs of relationships, webs of identity. I wonder: What influences the symbiosis between individual and collective? In what ways might we shape others? In what ways might others shape us? These could be questions for families, friendships, organisations, communities, nations, the world. What about our selves can we control and what choices are we making about what our own self-jewel reflects onto those around us and onto the universal web? In what ways could we harness the global mind, the universal self and the interconnectedness of humanity?

Imagine a multidimensional spider’s web in the early morning, covered with dew drops. And every dew drop contains the reflection of all the other dew drops. And in each reflected dew drop, the reflections of all the other dew drops in that reflection. And so ad infinitum. ~ Alan Watts

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Spider-web connectivity: Technology for networked learning

Nobody pointed out that the web itself is a miracle. ~ E. B. White, Charlotte’s Web

tangled webs of connectivity; image from Helen Kara http://helenkara.com/2015/07/28/data/

tangled webs of connectivity; image from Helen Kara http://helenkara.com/2015/07/28/data/

This image was passed from Dr Helen Kara to Dr Naomi Barnes, after I had challenged Helen with an image for the #blimage (blog+image) blogging challenge (see how messily interconnected that is?). You can read Helen’s post here and Naomi’s post here. You can see my first #blimage post, with an explanation of the challenge, here.

Helen’s image spoke to me. It reminded me that one of my research participants used the metaphor of the spider’s web to describe the school as organisational web. It is reminiscent of the symmetrical black and white webs in my mandala colouring book. Mostly, it speaks to me of connectedness in education, in our schools and classrooms, but especially through technology and social media.

So the image forms the basis of this post about technology which connects.

The labyrinthine tangle of webs are like snow-flake-like in their perfect imperfection. The wintery stems provide angular anchors for the fragile delicacy of the web strands which stretch and overlap. Some strands extend long distances, while others are strung tightly together. There is symmetry and asymmetry. Strength and vulnerability. Flexibility and rigidity. Beauty and disorder. A clamour and a stillness.

These dewy webs evoke my experience of the professional connections I see and experience through technology and social media. My journey through various tools of connectivity as an educator has been one mirrored by others. Often I adapt before educators in my own school environment, but after those in the global spheres. As this blog approaches its first birthday, I am reflecting on how blogging has transformed my use of social media and my connections with others.

mandala sunburst

mandala sunburst

Twitter has been a place of learning for me since 2009. As with most educators, I began lurking in the background, figuring out what might be in it for me, or consuming information. I moved on to curating others’ content, and then participating in education chats. That is where I stayed for a number of years, although the more chats with which I engaged, the more people with which I connected. The chats were a place for me to participate in conversations. In fact, my favourite part of being in a Twitter chat is when a small group goes off piste into their own tangential conversation. These are moments of connection and engagement, which are epitomic of Twitter’s rhizomatic chaos; its tangle of webs. In one Twitter chat Adriano di Prato and I came up with an accidental concept of ‘leaning environments’, showing the unexpected possibilities of connecting via social media.

(I enjoyed this recent New York Magazine article about why the messiness and “vast confusion” of Twitter should be celebrated.)

Last year, I began this blog as an experiment in blogging, and as a way to log and record my fellowship experiences in New York. My continued blogging has shifted the boundaries of my self and my connections.

Not only does exploring my thoughts and ideas in 600-1000 word blog posts allow me to thrash out and clarify my thinking in more than 140 characters, it also opens up conversations with others who might want to engage with me or with the content of my posts. It is this opening of conversation which has expanded me and my network. My spider-web tendrils reach out and curl together with others’. Some connections are tentative while others are strong. Some traverse long distances while others are at arm’s length.

mandala web

mandala web

As an individual, my blog feels like an extension of myself. Colouring outside the lines of my demarcated self, I share parts of my story, my thinking, my experiences, and my teaching, researching or writing practices. These tendrils of me reach out and entangle with the labyrinth of connection and conversation in the blogosphere. I respond, and am responded to. And so I become absorbed, in part, into the often unpretty cacophonous jumble of thoughts, hyperlinks and voices.

More recently, thanks to the encouragement of Andrea StringerI have started using Voxer and I’m loving the immediacy and personal, conversational, collaborative nature of the medium. Right now, I’m involved in different professional learning groups and a doctoral researcher group. Valerie Lewis, who I’ve connected with on Voxer, in this blog post calls her Voxer PLN her ‘Vox Squad’, a kind of A-Team of professional learning and solidarity (‘I pity the fool who doesn’t Vox!’). I’ve introduced Voxer to my students as a collaborative tool for group work, and to my team of coaches as a tool for our collective growth and the ongoing refinement of our practice.

To finish this reflection on connectivity, I’ll leave you with a very different web, as a contrast. Below is a picture I took in Richmond Park when I lived in London. A solitary dew-jewelled web at sunrise. This image doesn’t speaks of connectedness in the same way that the first image of webs does. It shows a beautiful but lonely structure, tenuously clinging to the solidity of the fence posts.

Richmond Park spider web at dawn

Richmond Park spider web at dawn

Which would you rather be? The solitary web or a web in a mess of other webs? A lone voice or one of a cacophony of voices? Are we better alone or together? Can our individual voices be heard in amongst the noise of social media?

if the web were perfectly pre-set,

the spider could

never find

a perfect place to set it in; and

if the web were

perfectly adaptable,

if freedom and possibility were without limit,

the web would

lose its special identity. ~

A. R. Ammons

* Note: this is what happens when I am in the middle of tough PhD work. Lyrical, metaphorical musings and colouring-in become my creative antidote to the hard systematic work of thesis revision.

Viva la boredom? A #blimage challenge post.

This blog post is part of the #blimage (blog-from-image) challenge recently set by Steve Wheeler and Amy Burvall. You can learn more about it on this video https://youtu.be/-7K8cA-Iub8. This particular image was set by Steve in this post.

*         *         *

The past is for learning and letting go. You can’t revisit it. It vanishes. ~ Adele Parks

photo by Steve Wheeler

photo by Steve Wheeler

At first this image, provided by Steve Wheeler, sparked thoughts of learning environments. Here is a graveyard of old wooden desks. Scratched. Graffitied. All bunched together in some kind of storage space. Left. Forgotten. Abandoned. Past their used by date. The sad scrawled face in the bottom right corner, a symbol of the kind of soul-crushing 50s -industrialist schooling that Sir Ken Robinson champions against.

I thought about how the classroom of today has changed, and was reminded of my thoughts around flexible, comfortable learning spaces.

But when I look at this image what I really get is a rocket back to my own schooling. Wooden desks engraved by compasses and ball point pens, with lift-up tops revealing stationary and lunch boxes and gum and whole pieces of fruit.

I’m reminded of how my fellow students and I would sit, listen, mess around, or tackle boredom. There were no smart phones, no apps, no laptops, no Smart screens, no texting. We passed notes on actual paper. We looked out of the window. We scribbled onto or carved into the rough wooden surfaces of our desks which lay in rows, etching them with our individual markings, evidence of our existence.

Recently my husband and I drove more than 800km in one day to this spectacular place, with Mr 3 and Mr then-4 in the car. We could have taken a dvd player. We could have hooked them up to please-keep-quiet digital devices most of the way. But we chose not to. We made a conscious decision that the very very long car trip (about 9 hours) was to be spent mostly old school. We sang songs. Listened to music. Talked. Played ‘eye spy’ (for the 3 year old we mostly played by colour instead of letter). Snacks, notebooks, a couple of monster trucks. C-o-n-v-e-r-s-a-t-i-o-n. It was a retro road trip.

There were 2 occasions in each car trip (we had to do the return 9-hour journey, too!) when we let them have an iPad. For 20 minutes they were able to have 5-minutely turns, so 10 minutes each; 20 minutes each all up per session. Sharing. Waiting. Practicing patience. Being grateful.

Parents might ask: Why would we do this to ourselves? Teachers might ask: Why aren’t we immersing our children in available technologies?

The answer is that we think it is good to be bored. Or rather, to have the self-capacity to figure out what to do with our selves or our brains when we are bored. Without a screen.

While I am a literature nerd who loves to read and smell books, and use old school tactile technologies, I’m also an educator who uses BYOD, the back channel, OneNote, virtual classrooms, discussion forums, Voxer, Twitter, personal and student blogging, podcasts, vodcasts, student created content, online surveys.

So when I look at Steve’s desk-graveyard image with its tactile wooden shapes and the student-made markings, I’m taken back to a classroom where a student’s main technology is their brain. With maybe some paper, ball point pens, and a compass.

It makes me think about letting the learning, not the tech, guide us. And ensuring that our children and our students see their brains as the best tech at their disposal.

Viva la boredom? Or at least viva la ability to use our brains and our character in ways that allow us to be still, be grateful, be learning, be creative. Like a blog post written around an image chosen by someone else, parameters can push us to creativity.

I love the idea of #blimage, so to end this post I’m throwing out another image, to ‘pay forward’ the challenge. So, bloggers, do your worst with this pic (just attribute the image back to me :)):

Shell Beach, by @debsnet