Virtual Altar – Real Awe

Aldon Hynes caught my attention with his title, “an altar in cyberspace

I’m trying to imagine what that could be. What first comes to mind is the Old Testament style altar especially a the Levitical altar made of 12 undressed stones. The fact that it was basically a place to burn animal parts kind of overshadows the spiritual reality that it was a place of drawing near to the divine God, of being in awe. So I am trying to imagine a place in cyberspace around which we can experience drawing near. One such altar might be some #DigiWriMo blog posts that are very visual – especially the ones where beautiful scenes from nature might help us draw near. Poetry could be another altar in cyberspace, something that gives us pause, poetry that causes us to reflect. 

Maybe I’m being far too literal here. There is another aspect of altar, the altar of sacrifice. Again drawing from the biblical old testament altar of sacrifice, those who brought sacrifices were expected to bring their very best as a gift to the God they held in awe. The sacrifice was also a material loss to them, something they gave up, or gave away. So now I’m thinking about gifting in cyberspace. Those who share deep thoughts, those who offer up their poems to the readers are making a gift. The readers are unseen but very real. Of course when you offer something up in cyberspace it’s really no loss to you at all. So perhaps it can’t exactly be called a sacrifice. Perhaps the thing that we really sacrifice is keeping to ourselves. If God is in every human, then communion, breaking out of our isolation may be that altar in cyberspace

I think I’m getting lost. Besides, Disqus is getting more and more reluctant about taking my input on the iPhone. I started this as a comment on Alden’s blog post. But I couldn’t seem to get past the login screen on mobile to post the comment, so I put it into my word press app and it has become my #DigiWriMo post for today. 

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On Compartmentalization

Unedited (mostly) dictation for DigiWriMo
from-my-mouth-to-the-page writing experiment

I left a comment on someone’s excellent #altCV blog post about our “pathological ability to compartmentalize” (edit essential here – it was Mitra Emad’s Stuff that Matters post)

The blog post focused on how the things that are so important to us especially family related matters – don’t really count at all in our curriculum vitae, on our resumes, in our work life. The “pathological ability…” was part of my reply, not the blog post itself. (since I’m refusing to go back and edit, I have to clarify that here.)

I was thinking about how other societies are more holistic. They don’t seem to compartmentalize things as severely as we try to do.  I’m sure that’s an overstatement but that’s what I was thinking.  In my mind I was speculating about how we might all have a healthier outlook if what mattered at home also mattered at work. If employers were able to adapt their working hours to accommodate the needs of the family instead of “you can’t get ahead if you put your family first” type of attitude.  If instead of valuing cutthroat competitiveness, we value the things that make someone a good mother, a good husband, a good father or grandfather. Or even conversely, if things in the workplace conspired to help someone dysfunctional become better functioning in their roles outside of the workplace.

Then today I had an experience that stood that whole thing on its head. I was desperately wishing that the society in which I lived was better able to compartmentalize. Events that occurred in the community over the Halloween weekend intruded into the classroom in a somewhat destructive way. It could’ve been worse, but it was certainly very uncomfortable. And even as I wanted to exhort people to remember that we talked about workplace skills and leaving home life away from work, I remembered that I had just called that a “pathological ability to compartmentalize”

Yeah, I guess I’m a total hypocrite. I want it both ways. Well no I don’t want it both ways, I simply want the ability to choose one way or the other at my convenience. (oops, I should have dictated a semicolon there instead of a comma to separate those two independent clauses). Is it schizophrenic to be able to compartmentalize sometimes and not other times? Is it idealistic to think that people should learn to compartmentalize for my convenience, but to be holistic when that suits my whim?   Or would arrogance be a better term than idealistic?

Is it even fair to expect that a society that operates by consensus and in a holistic manner, a small community where everybody knows everybody else’s business, and where the motto is often quoted “it takes a whole community to raise a child” – is it fair to expect people from such a society to practice our ideal of leaving your home life outside of the office, outside of the classroom?

The answer is, I don’t know. I do know that I am required to teach that principle as part of a work readiness course. I do know that the dominant society will expect this of people without regard for the holistic nature or lack thereof in their home communities. What I’m not sure of is whether you can more highly develop the ability to compartmentalize without sacrificing holistic ideals.

I think raising this question in class tomorrow might be a good way to address the conflict as well as to review some “western” work skills.  Sure hope it doesn’t blow up in my face.

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DigiWriMo CV (counting valuables)

The things that count may or may not be easy to count

(Dictated with minimal editing – forcing myself into uncomfortable territory for DigiWriMo)

I think it counts I am somewhat of a computer geek although I don’t know how you put a number to it. I believe it help me get into a Royal Roads graduate program even though I don’t have an undergrad degree. (edit: Flexible Admissions)

I think it counts that I’m a grandpa. That’s easy to count. I have five – no I’m going to have six. What’s tricky here is what does it count for? When I changed careers a few years ago, I wondered if being a grandfather might count against me. My supervisor assured me that no I was an excellent candidate for the job BECAUSE I was a grandfather. (OK had to edit that ’cause voice recognition on iPhone doesn’t recognize emphasis.)

I believe it counts that I am a man of faith. I also believe it’s much better for me not to pay too much attention to how other people are counting the degree to which I follow Christ.

I think it counts that I have been married for 40 years. Of course, it goes without saying that that says much more about my wife’s patience than about any good qualities I might try to claim.

I can count the years I have lived in a Northern community. I can count the years that I have been an adult upgrading instructor. I don’t think I can count all the kindhearted people who have made those years count for something.

I prefer not to try counting the people that I am sometimes tempted to blame when I have a lousy day. I should probably count the people who deserve credit when I have a good day. I can’t say I’ve lost count; to be honest, I never started.

I love to try counting the hilarious and embarrassing mistakes I’ve made in learning a third language. I can’t count the times those mistakes reminded me to be more patient with people who speak imperfect English.

Finally, I think it counts that I have lost count of all the gracious and encouraging people I’ve met online. I would be immeasurably poorer without all of you.

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DigiWriMo Intentions

Dictated Oct 23

So for digital writing month, I plan to write something every day. I will do so by dictating to my iPhone in bits and pieces and stolen moments, between classes, during lunch breaks, even at night in bed and inspiration suddenly hits me. I am going to try to do this with a minimum of editing except for voice recognition errors.

I have a lot of political, philosophical, social, religious, and educational concepts about which I want to write digitally.  For practice tonight, I’m going to reflect on why I seldom actually publish anything I write. I have in my Google drive a piece of writing called reply to Maha. It’s a response I started to make to a blog post that she wrote about being marginalized and being famous on the margins. I haven’t posted the comment on her blog. Part of the reason is that by the time I was done writing it I had no time to go back and edit it and I did not want to post it without looking it over making sure that the grammar is correct, that I said what I actually intended to say, that I didn’t exaggerate my points, that it was carefully nuanced, etc., etc.  I keep telling my students that it’s OK to make mistakes. I tell them if they haven’t made a mistake, they probably haven’t attempted anything worthwhile. Sometime ago Carol Jager (sic) applauded me for that and then asked, “And Jim, do you allow yourself the same freedom?”  No. I realize I don’t. I wonder if I feel that my reputation is too fragile to risk publishing mistakes. There’s really probably no excuse for that. The online community in which I function has been completely supportive. I have no reason to be afraid. I’m very self-conscious that I don’t have the same credentials that many of these people have, but I have plenty of evidence to show That I get nothing but encouragement when I publish something. Of course, at the back of my mind is that niggling thought, yes but all that I published has been very carefully and meticulously edited. And the things that did not meet my editing standards, or the things that I was uncertain about, or felt that I needed more time to edit “later” just did not get published.

So this digital writing month is going to be Jim Stauffer raw. Trying to speed up my writing process by taking some risks that I haven’t allowed myself before. Incomplete sentences, run-on sentences, exaggerated points that have not been carefully nuanced or completely thought out. Possibly even the wild speculations and some political incorrectness. I will not try deliberately to be inflammatory just to get responses. I don’t believe that’s Jenny wine – that’s not me.

(I thought that last line was just too cute to correct the voice recognition.)

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DS106 time-warp

Dad-blasted DS106 #4life, it’s a lifetime addiction.  That’s what it is.  Kept me from vegging out with Netflix on this Canada Day evening.  Deceptive too.  Just record a Dutch fairy tale for the Burgeron Trailer. I’ve been looking at the legend of the wooden shoe.  What’s more Dutch than wooden shoes?  Perfect.  Then I miscued my H2 Zoom recorder. After reading for 20+ minutes with expression and altered voices for the Oak and the gnomes and Trintjes, I discovered that it had NOT recorded. I could just forget it. Yeah, Really.  I could do that.

nat-replay-legend screenshot Ah, but I have Natural Reader, and I have Applian Replay Music.  I can get the computer to read it.  That’ll be geekier for my Bovine County compadres anyhow.  After a few false tries I found correct input setting (simply can’t just record from speakers, not cool enough – has to be from the system audio) and we’re away.

But of course, I can’t leave it just like that. Oh no. I have Audacity.  I can still alter the Oak and the gnomes and Trintjes’s voices.  Pitch, speed, flanging.  So much fun.  flangingAnd screen shots, oh yes, gotta show off.  Document it.  Ah well, might as well edit the mp3 tag info while I’m at it, and add some artwork from the web page.  OOPS, messed up the timing on the flanging somehow.  Gotta fix that in the audacity project then export it again.  Now edit the tag info again.  Ok, now just blog it and post it to the dropbox and to Soundcloud.

Hey, where did the time go?  Dratted DS106.  Yep.  It’s an addiction.  And I don’t want a cure.  Isn’t that pathetic?  Isn’t it Great!  Until next time…

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Why, Hardly Any At All Dear

Just to prove you don’t need academic credentials nor superior intelligence to engage in Rhizo15, I submit the following headlines from the notorious tabloid “Rhizo Enquirer”

  • Doing Rhizomatic Learning the Right Way
  • How Rhizomatic Learning Isn’t as Bad as You Think
  • True Facts About Justin Bieber’s Love of Rhizomes
  • 19 Facts about Rhizomes the Government is Hiding
  • What the World Would be Like if Rhizo15 Didn’t Exist
  • Darth Vader’s Guide to Deleuze and Guattari
  • How Did Dave Cormier Become the Best? Find Out
  • The Evolution of Sarah Honeychurch
  • Why Scott Johnson is the 51st Shade of Grey
  • 7 Ideas You Can Steal from Kevin’s Comics
  • Why Our World Would End if Nomads Disappeared
  • 20 Podcasts about Betweenness Centralities
  • The 5 Worst Songs about Deterritorialization
  • How Not Knowing Rhizomatic Poetry Makes You a Rookie

That’s my answer to Dave Cormier’s questions for week 6:

What should an artifact of a rhizomatic event look like?
What can we leave behind to remind us of the people we were now? How can we tell stories to explain the rhizome?

Autumm Caines for collaborating on the Portentous Rhizo15 slideshow with me – visit it and make your contribution
My wife Lois who sacrificed a Friday night to let me play with this
for her Community Manager’s Daily  link to the title generator
Portent’s Content Idea Generator – so much fun for so little effort – the engine that wrote all these headlines – see, I said it didn’t require intelligence, hardly any at all
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Who You Callin’ Invasive?

Two competing thoughts are vying for my attention as I belatedly address Week Five’s question about invasive species. Dave asks if, in promoting rhizomatic learning, we are trading one authority structure for another. If we are in-grown. If we are destructive.

"wall and kudzu" by Neil Smith on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

“wall and kudzu” by Neil Smith on Flickr
(CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

My twin contentions are,
(A) that as proponents of Rhizomatic learning we are not doing harm,
(B) and anyhow, we were here first.

Regarding the first proposition:

  1. The Rhizome is a metaphor, not literally translated into learning practices by the ugly knotted roots of bishop’s weed or the choking weight of kudzu.
  2. We are reasonable, intelligent educators, not driven by biological imperative (Freud and male stereotypes notwithstanding) to insinuate our protuberances into every available crevice leaving no space or nutrients for contrarian ideas to thrive.
  3. Ourrhizomatic model of learning is manifested, not by a destructiveinvasiveness, but by the parallel processes of subterranean learning and a delightful “sudden” and unexpected manifestation of a skill beingutilized above the surface in a new space.

    I was completely taken by one thing Dave Cormier said about his experiences in EdTechTalk with Jeff Lebow.  (not a direct quote – think I heard it in a live webinar) Dave said, after being involved that conversation over a period of months, he found himself able to do things he was not previously able to do, without having consciously decided to learn them.
    That encapsulates Rhizomatic Learning for me and has been my experience as well – granted, to a much more modest degree than what Dave manifests.
    Gerald Ardito replied to the Week 2 question about what we could measure or count, by referring to Stephen Downes.   Downes contends that we know when we have learned something when we are recognized by other practitioners in that field. I don’t know if it’s because they only hear me talking and don’t see how little I actually DO, but people at my college keep surprising me in the recognition they show for my innovations – and I learned it all indirectly/obliquely/rhizomatically through hanging out with all these great people online because they were fun and challenging, not because I had a particular learning objective. That’s invasive, but beneficial.

  4. OK, that got long-winded for a simple list (and I addressed several weeks of Rhizo 15 topics)
  5. P.S.Delightfully Sidetracked below

Second proposition – I’ll pretend this is also a list

  1. Rhizomatic learning was here first. It is the natural way to learn. It is organic.
  2. I’ve referred to my childhood experiences with Asparagus in a response to Autumm Caines’ post  The part of the garden where we planted our Asparagus crowns (rhoizomes) was home to a wild grass we called wire-grass – also a rhizome. I remember pulling up yard-long underground wire-grass runners in the softer areas of the patch where the neighbour’s sawdust pile (he built marvelous furniture) spilled over into our garden. No matter how many roots I pulled out, the grass always came back up. But then, no matter how many asparagus shoots we cut off to sell or eat, more also always sprang up from its roots. Even with child-labour, our family could barely keep down the native wire-grass to let the newcomer asparagus flourish. (invasive species aided by mercenaries?) My point is, the Rhizome was there before the cultured vegetable subjugated it for a profit.
  3. The truly invasive species that has infiltrated all spaces and strangles other learning initiatives is the structured, formalized, legislated educational system. (Apologies to Blake and Karen and Jackson, all my friends at the department of Education, Culture, and Employment – you are good people).
  4. There is a far greater danger of the established educational system strangling a novice rhizomatic learner than the other way around. It carries the crushing authoritative message of “that’s not the right way” and “that will never work“. It also has the power of money behind it.

P.S. Delightfully sidetracked – and return.
I thought I’d caught William Gibson channeling D&G in his final Blue Ant Trilogy novel “Zero History.” In ch 74 the character Milgrim compares the view on the penguin-drone controller interface on his iPhone to “a rectangular chip of London’s surface pried (up) … revealing a substrate of bright code” but then he realizes it’s the other way around.  The city must be the code that underlay the iPhone view because, “the territory wasn’t the map”. I looked up the quote and found it wasn’t D&G after all, but Alfred Korzybski in 1931 who coined the phrase, “The map is not the territory.”
That led me to this charming comic which had me giggling like a three-year-old for a time.

the map is not the territory

this is not a pipeBut I also found The Treachery of Images by René Magritte.  Underneath his very realistic painting of a pipe, he wrote “This is not a pipe“, which brought me full circle in my conviction about my first point. The rhizome is only a metaphor, or map, for the philosophy of learning which the Rhizo 15 community seeks to understand and promote. So, borrowing from Magritte, and reassured by Simon Ensor that the grammar is correct for my adaptation, there’s my trope at the top of the page. The metaphor is not the reality.

Story goes, when someone challenged Magritte that his painting was indeed a pipe, that his disclaimer was wrong, he suggested they try to put tobacco into it.

And just as a bonus, here’s another riff on Magritte and Korzybski

not just a facebook community

The community is people
Actor Network Theory notwithstanding

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I’m always humbled when I think about the tremendous trust students show in enrolling in our adult education programs.  They place way more confidence in me than I have in my ability to fulfill that trust.

When Dave Cormier asks, “How do we design our own or others learning when we don’t know where we are going?” it feels a lot like an itch I need to scratch.

Then he asks whether “learning subjectives” can help us with this question. I’ve had a broad-spectrum treatment of learning objectives.  What in Bloom’s name might “learning subjectives” look like, and how could they possibly be helpful? That sent me down this path in a quest for meaning (originally dictated as notes on my iPhone while taking a break from reading James S.A. Corey’s space opera.)

Learning objectives: intended learning outcomes
intended by whom?
the course, the curriculum, the instructor, the certification body,
Learning subjectives: could that be the unanticipated consequences of un-learning ?
where “un-learning” equals questioning what I thought I knew

subjectives framed

Hmmm,  maybe,

How about some
word association…
(Pssst – graphic on the left)

Ahh – not really.
Back up and try again.

Objective: the object which is in view, the purpose
Object: the person or thing acted upon, the receiver of the action
Learning objectives: what someone else wants to teach me

Subjective: of, or having to do with, the subject
Subject: the person or thing performing the action, the actor
Learning subjectives: what I actually learn, perhaps by determining to do so, perhaps incidentally or accidentally

Can Grammar help us find our way? (Or maybe Gramper?)

Objective case pronouns: me you him her it us them
Teach him, instruct her, drill them, punish me
Subjective case pronouns: I you he she it we they
He perceives, she practices, they explore, I want

Definitely some hints there, but there must be more to it

Objectives for Rhizo 15:
Write frequent, insightful, lucid, profound blog posts exploring connected facets of rhizomatic learning. Set up TweetDeck to follow as many conversation streams as will fit on my screen. Post frequently in Facebook, G+ and Twitter. Comment on and link to other people’s blog posts and take part in being a generally polite and contributing citizen of this learning community.

Subjectives for Rhizo 15:
Read what I have time to read.
Read what interests me.
Ignore some platforms completely.
Reply or comment when I just can’t resist the urge – and delete it.
Or just spout off if I find a humorous twist.
Occasionally spend an inordinate amount of my leisure time in a tortured attempt to voice something that struck me as profound, and then leave it unpublished.
Dash off a tongue-in-cheek blogpost because whimsy is where I am most comfortable when I am outclassed.

OK, that’s getting closer to home, but part of me cringes at the self-indulgent tone, even though I am the subject.

I suspect my “learning subjectives” will be revealed when I realize my practice and my ways of being have changed (improved he hopes) because of Rhizo15.  Not entirely possible to anticipate just where it will poke up a shoot.

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On Being a Learner

What’s the difference between taking a course and being a learner?


We often assume that everyone who attends school, at least an adult who chooses to do so willingly, goes there to learn. I’d like to point out that some people, especially adults, chose go to school because they want to take a course. Both are good and valid reasons to enroll in school; they might even overlap, but we get into all sorts of trouble, both as students and as educators, if we assume they are the same thing.  So here is my only-partially-tongue-in-cheek, not-totally-objective, and in-no-particular-order guide to help us figure out the difference.

If I am most concerned with getting the right answer, I am taking a course.
If I am not satisfied until I understand how the darn thing works, I am a learner.

If I want to know what I need to do to pass, I am taking a course.
If I get excited because something in class touches my “real” life, I am a learner.

If my motivation is to get the certificate, I am taking a course.
If my motivation is to become better at something I love doing, I am a learner.

If I attend classes because I can’t get an excused absence, I am taking a course.
If class is so interesting that I don’t want to miss anything, I am a learner.

If the best part of the day is going home to my family, I am human.
If you wondered what that has to do with anything, it’s just my whimsy intruding.

If I only spend time studying what’s assigned, I am taking a course.
If I get side-tracked investigating new ideas that aren’t directly related to assignments, I am probably a learner.

If I only discuss my studies with the instructor and others in my class, I am taking a course.
If I can’t shut up about what I’m studying, if I bring it up with my family and friends until they get tired of it, I am definitely a learner.

If the most important part of my writing is punctuation and grammar, I am taking a course.
If the most important thing in writing is communicating what’s on my mind, I am a learner.

If my biggest accomplishment is passing the test, I am taking a course.
If I can’t wait to put my knowledge into practice, I am a learner.

If the class is too easy for me, but it’s required in the program or job, I might just be taking a course.
If I just want to be in school even though the course content is too difficult for me, I still might be a learner.

If I am afraid to make a mistake, I am taking a course.
If I give myself the freedom to try-fail-try again, I am a learner.

If I lay awake at night worrying about my grade, I am taking a course.
If I lay awake grappling with the subject, I am a learner.

Credit goes to Aggie Brockman of the Northwest Territories Literacy Council who invited me to write a guest blog in honor of Adult Learner’s Week for their weekly newsletter.  Thanks Aggie for helping me realize that I am out of the habit of thoughtful writing. I spent several tortured hours trying to write profound paragraphs on theory that went nowhere before I came up with this list.   Interesting though, that I ended up back where I started, drawing inspiration from the opening lines of Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society*,

“Many students, especially those who are poor, intuitively know what the schools do for them. They school them to confuse process and substance…to confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence, and fluency with the ability to say something new.”

*Illich, I. 1971. Deschooling Society. New York: Harper & Row
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Loosely Tied


loosely tied water knot


another loose tie

The Connected Courses facilitators list reads like a Who’s Who of my favourite rabid connectivists.  How could I not dip in? Ever since PLENK2010 I’ve been hooked by this interaction with clever educators.  It changed the way I approach my job as an adult literacy and basic education instructor.  Fortunately for me, my superiors like the change. Adapting connected learning to the needs and capacity of ABE students is a challenge. I keep hoping to add others with an Adult Literacy focus to my PLN.

Essential Skills is on my plate as well this fall. I’ve enrolled in a for-credit course, so #ccourses will be a mix of lurking and more obvious contribution.  Guess which gets first priority when time is at a premium. At least I’ll keep in touch with some of the content but especially with the people and ideas at the forefront of this flavour of edu-innovation.

I registered weeks ago, but when I checked the action this first afternoon of the Pre-Course – aw Drat! Did I already miss the first live sessions? Now I’ll have to find time to watch the re-run on YouTube, or better yet on the embedded YouTube player on the pre-course page where I can catch up on reading at the same time.

That’s it for a first post.  Let’s see if I can connect my blog now using RSS and Tags.


water knot author David J Fred, licenced CC-BY-SA
water molecule from Wikimedia Commons, public domain


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