Monday, May 08, 2006

Exercising my ears - learning as embodied experience

My partner took me to a cello recital on Saturday at the Canberra Girls Grammar School (nice auditorium!). The Japanese cellist, Tsuyoshi Tsutsumi played with Susanne Powell on piano. I found the experience to be a wonderful journey through history, culture and Tsutsumi's amazing repertoire! The audience was so appreciative that they played two encore pieces!

My partner and I talked afterwards over a glass or two of the good stuff, about how we experienced the evening. My partner said he'd caught himself 'thinking' during the recital, that is thinking about the mechanics, processes and techniques of the music played. He also wondered about how he was 'feeling' the performance. He was trying to work out how thinking and feeling were working together, if at all (it figures, as he's doing his PhD on embodied experiences!). He asked whether or not thinking and feeling were mutually exclusive, or whether they were part of the same continuum. Are they different concepts? ...all good questions!

For me, I noticed that I was physically - bodily - engaged in the performance to the point where I could feel my ears working! My whole body was attentive to the music, alert and receptive.

I am not an auditory learner, in fact I am predominantly visual-kinesthetic. I rely more heavily on my visual capacity to take in and convey information. In addition, I tend to support my visual preferences with kinesthetic forms, so I feel I am 'doing' something with the information I see (that is take a photo, write a note about what I see, etc). So, it was very much a novelty for me to exercise my ears and remain in full awareness of my embodied experience of the evening.

I still couldn't help conjuring up visual metaphors though! For instance, the melody of one particular movement left me with the image of a piece of paper lightly floating down through the air, drifting side to side as it falls. Another piece, a solo by Tsutsumi, conjured up the image of a spray of water shot into the air followed by the lingering mist of droplets that trail away - the lingering notes and spaces created in their resonance! Just beautiful!

It really made me think about the learning styles I so often push in my workshops, you know, 'is there a predominant style of learning in your student group?' Are they visual or auditory learners? Perhaps they are hands-on kinesthetic learners?...that sort of thing. It made me think about what it really means to talk about styles of learning. My cello experience helped me to dwell more on it, to sit with it longer. It helped create a space both the feel and to think, and to reflect on my feelings and thoughts, without a need to rush to a rational conclusion.

More, I thought about the definitive style of Tsutsumi's cello-playing and that it could be considered his fingerprint - no one else in the world plays like him! So too, each of us as learners are 'fingerprints'! Perhaps we need to work on fostering supportive emotional-reflective learning spaces instead of simply rationalising a learning 'environment' to be the range of 'tools' our learners might use in their learning.

IMHO, learners have all the 'tools' they need for their learning within them. The trick to teaching and to educational design is to encourage learners to realise their tools and work more ably with them. As one of my dear colleagues once said - discover the 'inner learner' and then give voice to that role!

Is learning about changing people's lives?
How do we know when we have learnt things?
What occurs in the learning moment?
What turns us on for learning?
And what the heck is learning anyway?
...Is there a need to revolutionise learning and our education systems?

I'm dwelling on these questions (and more) at the moment and considering Peter's questions at Learning Circuits too...

So what’s the point of all this? I’m suggesting that we may have a tendency to paint ourselves into linguistically and culturally determined corners that restrict our reflection on the very problems we all recognize. Perhaps we need a bit of lateral thinking rather than head-on debate, or rather, we need both, as they are the yin and yang of inquiry. Instead of looking for a winner between polar opposites let’s try to see what both doing and non-doing accomplish and how formal and informal complement each other. Is that beyond our powers?

Join the thinking about learning (...or is it feeling!)....!

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Thursday, May 04, 2006

An autumn clean-out

I love the in-between seasons! In the West (of Oz) there's not so much variation in the climate as to notice four distinct seasons. Since I've been East, it's been great to enjoy four seasons and their transitions!

So, with the change comes a small change on my blog - I'm sure you've noticed! Perhaps I'm being influenced by the lovely array of autumnal colours! I feel like I've dusted the mantle and changed the flowers in the vase - generally freshen things up a bit. :o)

I've been reading various bloggers lately who have noted their need for change; something I've felt for a bit too, but wasn't too sure where to start. I considered the process Keith is taking and thought 'now that's being organised!'; I noted the changes made to other blogs which just appeared (like a 'just do it' thang I s'pose) and in the end I had to agree with Will and say it is about letting go!

For me, it's also about traveling beyond the indefatigable postings and ensuing commentary and discussion, and sitting with one's reflections, spending time (and headspace) processing them. Pauses are just as important as the "stuff" between them! I feel there's a nurturing element to all this too. In the same way we might nurture our needs in our physical world (we love a bit of chicken soup when we're poorly), perhaps we also need to do so online, acknowledging that our online and physical worlds coalesce.

Now, dare I now continue my autumn clean-out and tackle my bulging filing cabinet?!!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

L-earning I-nnovation F-riendly E-nvironment

Anol at SoulSoup has picked up some good points from the Business Innovation Insider regarding developing innovation-friendly environments. Having read the points raised in the article I am left feeling a little unfulfilled: I know that's what I would want in my workplace, but how likely is an organisation to do this? And what would this 'look' like across various organisations?

The rhetoric about 'being innovative' is often free-flowing, but in practice organisations can really tighten the reins on their employees! Check out the Brand Camp cartoon (by Tom Fishburne) on Business Innovation Insider - the imagery says this is all too true! :o)

I'd like to further discuss the five ingredients for an innovative environment with my colleagues to develop a sense of how this might 'look' in our organisation, an educational institution:

  • Purpose
  • Ownership
  • Risk
  • Affinity
  • Interdependence

As Business Innovation Insider (Dec 2, 2005) says,

In reality, innovation is the outcome of an environment that fosters and embraces new thinking (my emphasis).

...rather than coming up with the cool, creative ideas as such! We seem to put so much energy into producing the glossy report that shows how well we've done, without fostering the community within the organisation who will actually produce the (potentially) fantastic work in the first place!

Why do we find it so hard to develop workable teams in the workplace? Why is it so difficult to bring different areas and departments together to work on a common outcome or goal -- after all, are they not part of the same organisation? How do we manage personal agendas in favour of the organisation's goals?

It's easy to speak the rhetoric and to lay out the plan, and yes, we feel like we are doing something and contributing to the organisation, but how do we manage the implementation and stay motivated and focused on the goal at hand? What will it take for us to develop the affinity (timing & speed of the implementation) and the interdependence (quality of the implementation) between departments and work teams or groups to encourage innovative practice in our organisations?

As I see it (and I'm sure you would too) the five ingredients referred to above are interlinked rather than operating as a linear process. We need a sense of purpose to develop a common language and understanding within the organisation, which in turn is fostered by the level of affinity amongst workers. With this, facilitating interdependence contributes to the ongoing development of workplace relations, fostering the interactions between workers and working with their strengths in various areas. Once the working community has established, the ownership and risk-taking elements grow from within.

Innovation develops from understanding your organisation and its purpose enough to feel confident in taking risks, supported by the level of ownership and confidence in the working relationships fostered in the organisation.