Transitory communities

Air-raid_shelter_in_Trieste,the_wet_partYesterday I blogged about my journey back through the North West of England during the storm that hit the country the Wednesday.  Then last night I took part in the unhangout for week 5 of #rhizo14, and began by saying that I had not had a lot of time to think about this week’s topic Community as Curriculum because of having been away unexpectedly. But I had been thinking about communities and networks, at least I had read Bonnie Stewart’s piece about networks and I’d been thinking about what makes a network and what makes a community, without really coming to any conclusions.

virgin trainsSo Wednesday was awful – stuck on train not knowing how long we’d be there or how we’d get home.  I was tired, having woken up at 4.15 am to catch my train, and I was worried about getting stuck overnight without a change of clothes, or being stranded on a station platform overnight, and other passengers had similar worries. But here’s something. Usually on a train I will sit silently, head in a book, and the other passengers will do likewise.  This time within minutes we were all chattering with each other.  As I realised during the unhangout last night, having a common factor – all being stuck on the same train – made us bond very quickly and form a community.  I don’t know any of their names, and I will probably never see any of them again, but I felt incredibly relaxed and at home with all of them.  We weren’t a network, I don’t think we were a group, but as Dave said last night, if we weren’t  a community he didn’t know what we were.  It reminded me of the community spirit during the Blitz, folk pulling together and cheering each other up: packing up our worries in our old kit bags, so to speak.

LagerfeuerSo what lessons can we learn from this?  Well, in order to form a community there needs to be a common bond: a shared goal, or maybe a shared value.  In our case it was being stuck together on a train, in a classroom it might be thinking the teacher is a big meanie, or all having to pass a test, or work collaboratively on a project.  Communities can be transitory: they can form quickly and disband just as swiftly.  But before the community can be the curriculum, the community needs to be a community.  Dave’s enabled this very well in #rhizo14, imo – as he said, he’s lit the the fire and we have all gathered around it, drifting off to chat in groups in Facebook, Twitter, G+ – whichever suits us best.  How do we enable this in our classrooms?

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About Nomad War Machine

Philosopher, Doctor Who lover, knitter, anarchist. Gets paid for being a Learning Technologist at the University of Glasgow. I am interested in theories and models of co-operative learning, in particular the Jigsaw Classroom, and I have just started a PhD about that sort of stuff. Twitter: @NomadWarMachine
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11 Responses to Transitory communities

  1. balimaha says:

    Lovely connections, Sarah. Thanks for sharing that. Midway through reading your post, i started thinking that some element of caring or empathy differentiate a community from a network. I have often said that “network” sounds colder to me, whereas “community” sounds warmer. Reading thru the rest of your post, i see you are leaning towards community being together by a shared goal or value, and i like that, too. I guess that in rhizo14 we each have many different goals, but a few common goals (and values, too) that make us feel “connected” in some way. It is really fascinating for me as I don’t think i have been through something quite like this in such a short time before.

  2. balimaha says:

    On another note: welcome home!

  3. tellio says:

    I have been thinking about how Dave differentiates networks from communities. At first I agreed then I thought about the work of James Scott who brought us the idea of legibility (great post on this by Venkatesh Rao: http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2010/07/26/a-big-little-idea-called-legibility/). I think that maybe networks are our attempts to make communities legible or to remake them in legible ways. This is a very powerful idea for me and I wish I could folks to take a long look at it.

    • balimaha says:

      Terry, I am loving these ideas on legibility and they resonate with me bigtime! I am only partway thru the post but am already loving the (postmodern?) ideas that somehow (so far) remind me of rhizomatic learning. Particularly, i like this: “Argue that the relative simplicity and platonic orderliness of the vision represents rationality.
      Use authoritarian power to impose that vision, by demolishing the old reality if necessary
      Watch your rational Utopia fail horribly”

      So much like our rigid education systems not designed or implemented to help anyone truly learn.

      • tellio says:

        That is the real money quote right there in your reply. If it is any good at all, theory helps slice up reality into choice pieces. A grim image to be sure, but it is part of how are cognition is biologically biased as we grow older. As we mature our minds prune away the unneeded dendrites, it works to routinize what we sense so as to minimize brain energy demand, it prefilters and adjusts and ‘fixes’ the sensorium–in other words our four pound universe is efficient and designed to be so. What I think Scott does is give us the tools to fight that ‘making legible” or at least allows us to complexify, messify, chaosify, and otherwise add energy into the system. That is where practice takes us along with its attendant failures and small wins. That is where my rhizomatic practice takes me anyway. Thanks for taking some time to consider. I hope that the idea of legibility grows as a useful analytic tool and justifying sensibility for you as much or more than it has for me.

    • Terry, thank you for this comment. I’ve read the link once, will return to it again. I love the idea of legibility and also “The Authoritarian High-Modernist Recipe for Failure”, which is so true.
      The Lakoff and Johnson book is already on my reading list for something else (it’s sitting on my Kindle at the moment) – I love it when things remind me of other things 🙂

      • tellio says:

        Rhizoidal thinking is when ‘things remind me of other things’. I might add to that “and I attend to it.” It makes me say that maybe what Dave meant when he asked if “books is making us stupid” what he was hinting at was the books is stupefying us. Of the making of books there is no end. I hope I have not contributed to your stupefaction. Each of us is an intricate, beyond complex filter of the reality flowing through us, mine different from yours. Your experts aren’t my experts. Still, I don’t hesitate to say, “This is good reading”. The reason I do is as much feeling as reason. Yes, they help me filter the world better, but they also help me feel better about the full catastrophe around me and they help me act with some justification in the classroom. I guess in the end they help me with practice in the classroom. Thank you so much for looking and thinking and attending.

  4. balimaha says:

    Another thing it made think of, Terry, is the way we use linear language to express non-linear thinking and how that often fails to communicate what we truly mean. Expressing oneself more creatively as some people do is not necessarily always “better” in that not everyone understands that mode of expression either. Who was it saying it is a wonder we ever understand each other at all?

    • tellio says:

      I seem to remember something about a Tower somewhere in Babel.

      • balimaha says:

        Hey Terry (sorry to be taking over your blog, Sarah!) I will write a blog post about legibility soon… It is already half-written – thanks so much for introducing this terminology (i think the idea itself is … Just an honest way of talking about reality and resonates with so many other approaches, but expresses it all so clearly). On another note… The tower of Babel reference. I always thought i should know what this means because I am Arab and Babel was in Iraq, but apparently it is a bible reference so i can be forgiven (I now looked the story up and think I now know what you meant!)

  5. I don’t mind Maha. Terry – a Tower of Babel would be very handy. Or a Babelfish 😉

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