Archive for February, 2019

Skomer: An Island For Playful Learning

Saturday, February 9th, 2019

Each week I was required to complete one or two several thousand word essays, ticking off sources from the reading list as I went by. I was encouraged to read beyond the facts, to make my own assumptions and to prove and disprove theories. Another shock was for me that now – for the first time – my opinion actually mattered. Rather than simply regurgitating the textbook, tutors were asking me what I thought.

Adam, an undergraduate at Oxford.

Educational Humanism

A book ‘Freedom to Learn’ was published in 1969 that contains the basic ideas about learning as researched by the creative psychologist Carl Rogers.  Rogers was thinking within the framework of existentialism, a philosophy concerned with finding self and the meaning of life bottom up, through free will, choice, and personal responsibility.  Existentialists believe that everyone is searching to find out who and what they are throughout life as they make choices based on their experiences, beliefs, and outlook. And personal choices become unique without the necessity of an objective form of truth. Existentialism holds that a person should be forced to choose their own pathway through life and be responsible without the help of laws, ethnic rules, or traditions. Existentialism goes alongside enculturation.

Enculturation is the process by which people learn the dynamics of their surrounding culture and acquire values and norms appropriate or necessary to thrive in that culture and its worldviews.  As part of this process, the influences that limit, direct, or shape the individual, whether deliberately or not, include parents, other adults, and peers. If successful, enculturation results in competence in the language, values and rituals of the culture.

A place-based analysis of enculturation addresses the following propositions of cultural ecology.

  1. How we use the environment is a central determinant of human culture and through human discourse our relationship to places defines human identity and social progress;
  2. Cultural experiences influence social, emotional and cognitive development throughout the human life course to consolidate a personal sense of ‘home’.
  3. Objects of heritage (artefacts, buildings, sites, landscapes) and practices of heritage (languages, music, community celebrations) are used to shape personal ideas about who we are as nations, communities, and individuals. What we define as ‘heritage’ is constantly changing in the light of the present as we look to the past to imagine our future.  Myths, as organised collections of stories by which we explain our beliefs and our history, form scaffolds of culture Beneath the story-lines, myths usually confront major issues such as the origin of humanity and its traditions, and the way in which the natural and human worlds function on a profound, universal level. Art objects often carry and display these story lines.

The above propositons delineate a process of self-understanding by which we define ‘home’ as a landscape of the mind with definate boundaries.  In this respect these landscapes are islands of the mind and the central features of our cultural self-identity, using heritage to connect with the places where we like to be. In that context, this blog may be regarded a virtual museum of social progress.  It deals with the question: Do we create a place in culture through discovering culture in place?

Knowledge sharing between islands of the mind is an important source of new knowledge and innovation. Different studies point out the difficulties and specific requirements to be considered in cross-disciplinary contexts.  The problem is how do we obtain a multi-perspective access to information spaces for facilitating knowledge exchange between mapped knowledge islands. This blog discusses the main challenges of creating knowledge frameworks to support existential exchange between knowledge islands.

To take on existentialism is be confronted with humanism.  Humanistic education in particular, is an approach to learning based on the work of Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers.  In the 1970s the term “humanistic education” became less popular after conservative groups equated it with “Secular Humanism” and anti religion.  It was therefore re-labelled as “person-centered learning”, also named self-appropriated learning. Carl Rogers devoted much of his efforts toward applying the results of his psychological research to person-centered learning where empathy, caring about students, and genuineness on the part of the learning facilitator were found to be the three key traits of the most effective practitioner. Fascilitated person-centred learning is the essence of a humanistic education and the closest most learners can come this is to engage in an Oxford/Cambridge type of tutorial.

We are in the era of learning through the organization of digital information, a cultural position where gathering, storing and sharing information is integral with producing new knowledge.  This defines today’s learning culture. Nevertheless we are surrounded by horizons of incompleteness. We respond by sailing ever more mental ships of discovery to chart reality. But this only produces an ever shifting map of islands and archipelagos of partial knowledge in a vast sea of ignorance.  As more shores are discovered our ignorance grows. In 1990, Peter Senge wrote in The Fifth Discipline that “through learning we recreate ourselves …. This is the goal of humanistic education, which centres on the learner as an individual and considers that learning is not just about the intellect, but also about educating the whole thinking person, taking a person’s interests, goals, and enthusiasm into account, so that full potential can be achieved. This approach to learning is thinker-centred, with learners encouraged to take responsibility for their own learning and being intrinsically, rather than extrinsically motivated.

The humanistic approach emphasizes the personal worth of the individual, the centrality of human values, and the creative, active nature of human beings.  Humanists regard personal growth and fulfillment in life as basic human motives. Sometimes the humanistic approach is called phenomenological. This means that personality is defined from the point of view of the individual’s subjective experience, namely how individuals uniquely perceive and interpret events.  This means humanists, in different ways, seeks to grow psychologically and continuously enhance themselves. This is the hall mark Leonardo da Vinci’s humanistic outburst of creativity and the explosion of the art of Paul Klee’s humanism four centuries later. Both artist believed that objective reality is less important than a person’s subjective perception and understanding of the world. It is well-known that Klee, more than any other artist of our century, was consciously detached from the main stream of modern art and its theoretical assumptions. In the same way, Leonardo, more than any other artist of the Renaissance, consciously detached himself from the central features of the historical tradition. In this connection, the writings which compose Paul Klee’s theory of the production of pictorial form have the same importance and the same meaning for modern art as had Leonardo’s  writings, which composed his theory of painting for Renaissance art. They are both the result of a humanistic introspective analysis of reality, which the artists engaged in during their work. In their creative thought both Leonardo and Klee are not so much concerned with the art object, as with the manner in which it is produced. They are concerned not with form as an immutable value, but with formation as a process, which takes in the entire universe.

This then, places humanistic education at the heart of the digital learning culture, where it has never been easier to map a personal body of knowledge as interconnected islands of the mind.   Education from a humanist perspective focuses on developing rationality, autonomy, empowerment, creativity, affections and a concern for a free humanity. This concern for humanity expresses a person’s relation to other people; a social component that can range from empathy to solidarity, and from the person’s own community to the social diversity of the global world. Appreciating diversity and democracy are humanist ways of living together as human beings.

The essence of humanism is that learners are no longer regarded as passive receivers of knowledge, but as active constructors of personal meaning.  

Some basic principles of the humanistic approach used to develop educational objectives are:

  1. Students will learn best what they want and need to know. That is, when they have developed the skills of analyzing what is important to them and why as well as the skills of directing their behavior towards those wants and needs, they will learn more easily and quickly. Most educators and learning theorists would agree with this statement, although they might disagree on exactly what contributes to student motivation.
  2. Knowing how to learn is more important than acquiring a lot of knowledge. In our present society where knowledge is changing rapidly, this view is shared by many educators, especially those taking a cognitive perspective.
  3. Self-evaluation is the only meaningful evaluation of a student’s work. The emphasis here is on internal development and self-regulation. While most educators would likely agree that this is important, they would also advocate a need to develop a student’s ability to meet external expectations. However, meeting external expectations runs counter to most humanistic theories.
  4. Feelings, such as spirituality are as important as facts. Much work from the humanistic view seems to validate this point and is one area where humanistically-oriented educators are making significant contributions the  knowledge base of selfhood.
  5. Students learn best in a non-threatening environment. This is one area where humanistic educators have had an impact on current educational practice. The orientation espoused today is that the environment should be psychologically and emotionally, as well as physically, non-threatening. However, there is some research that suggests that a neutral environment is best for older, highly motivated students.

Currently, in a European context, Finland comes closest to operating a national humanistic education system and is positioned high in the league tables of academic attainment. In contrast, as Finland devolves more power to teachers and pupils to design and direct learning the UK educational policy becomes more narrow and centrally prescribed,

It is in relation to this existentialist/humanistic background that Denis Bellamy, Professor of Zoology in the University of Wales at Cardiff, organised annual small group field courses on Skomer, a small volcanic offshore island in South West Wales, in the 1970s and 80’s.   For two weeks at a time, up to six undergraduates and an academic tutor/facilitator lived on the creative edge of the western seaboard that has been occupied by pioneering island cultures dating from prehistoric times, a history now embedded in the settler’s stone-walled field systems.  The practical curriculum was conservation management, taking a holistic view of the management systems of biological resources ancient and modern. The physical evidence of the coming and going of past settlers quickly raised issues of the relationships between cultural and economic values of human resources and their sustaiable use.  

It is within this interdisciplinary panorama that gathering information and assembling it as knowledge can be seen as a form of play. There are now numerous case studies from higher education that demonstrate how researchers, students and managers can benefit from play as a means of liberating thought, overturning obstacles and discovering fresh approaches to persistent challenges. While play is often misunderstood as something ‘trivial’ and associated with early years education, it can be argued that play contributes to social and human development and person to person relations at a fundamental level when play is incorporated into a self-learning curriculum.  In this respect, this blog celebrates Skomer as a place where learning can become playfully creative.

Skomer as a learning island had five important mainland outcomes that Bellamy advocated based on the student islanders experience of self-discovery learning.  These were:

  • the formation of a cross departmental General Honours degree called ‘environmental studies’ in Cardiff;
  • a lecture-free, self instruction tutorial-based course to deliver a first year zoology course for over a hundred Cardiff students;
  • the creation of a new GCSE subject called natural economy, created by the University of Cambridge Local Examination Syndicate;
  • a schools in communities network for addressing the local Agenda 21, assembled by teachers in Pembrokeshire, based in the National Museum of Wales;
  • and International Classrooms OnLine (ICOL), a global IT network promoting the use of cultural ecology as an ideational knowledge framework for learning to live sustainably.  ICOL currentlt has over a million unique visitors a year and around fifty people a day register for its blog.

The student islanders also had an input to the creation of a conservation management system that was invented on the island by the warden Mike Alexander and is now used worldwide.

The success of the Skomer excursion into humanistic education encouraged the incorporation of two ‘mainland islands’ into the project, Whitford Burrows NNR, a sand dune peninsula and Parsonage Down NNR, a traditional downland working farm, on the edge of Salisbury Plain, an island of ancient grassland grazed by cattle and sheep in a sea of intensive arable cultivation.

Creating a Skomerite

The significance of using Skomer as an educational resource to link culture with ecology means fascilitators and learners have to adopt a crosscuricular approach to understand the island as a special place.  It has a very rich archaeological history. A single standing stone, isolated round barrows and cairnfields have long been recorded, but previously unrecognised megalithic sites, have now been discovered. The human settlement of Skomer can now be argued to span millennia rather than decades or centuries.  During this time there has been a succession of people, the Skomerites, who have laid claim to the island’s natural resources, the latest being the Welsh government body responsible for nature conservation. Then we have the Skomer vole, a subspecies of the mainland vole, that illustrates Darwin’s principle of islands as places of rapid evolution.  The term Skomerite also references the island’s rock strata, found nowhere else in the world and unique in terms of their volcanic origins. More importantly for the budding humanist Skomer lies on an arc of prehistoric island settlement along the western seaways of the British Isles, stretching from the Channel Islands in the south, up through the Isles of Scilly, Anglesea, the Isle of Man, and the Outer Hebrides to Orkney in the north.  These sea routes have long been seen as crucial to our understanding of the processes which led to the arrival of the Neolithic Age in Britain and Ireland in the centuries around 4000 bc and the creative use of ‘community stone’ for monuments, field boundaries and houses. Therefore, each academic discipline brought to bear on the island is only a relatively small piece of Skomer’s humanistic jigsaw, which is the island in all its socioscientific dimensions.  

If “scientific” stands for measurement, quantification, and prediction, student islanders had to let the term “humanistic” do the same for aesthetic concern, qualitative interest, and uniqueness of the island in human events.   Is there a categorical opposition between these two sets of polarities? Must one be pursued to the exclusion of the other? After two weeks incubating their projects the student islanders came to realise that a true understanding of the past in the present demands the definition of both.  This understanding was reinforced when they left the island and re entered, shock/horror, the supermarket economy. Furthermore, with this new realisation of the partiality of academic divisions of knowledge came with an understanding that the single honours degree has to be ditched because at the heart of cultural ecology and the future of humanity is an interdisciplinary perspective of economic development.

Learning on the Creative Edge

People on small islands live on the creative edge of culture.  Islanders are island-bound but can easily come to be progressive, to look forward embracing what can be, while remaining fully aware of what is and what has been.  Being on the creative edge also means embracing change, personal, social, and cultural, which for the most part comes from mainland influences. It could mean living for something tangible that can have a cultural impact. It could mean envisioning a new culture centred on community and connections with others and with nature, learning to integrate ecology with economy.  

Within Skomer’s historical backdrop, there is a growing opinion that henge builders migrated south from Orkney and a crucial turning point was from the coastlands of Pembrokeshire towards Salisbury Plain.  It has long been known that the bluestones forming Stonehenge’s inner horseshoe came from the Preseli hills in Pembrokeshire, around 140 miles from Salisbury Plain. Putative evidence of quarrying for the bluestones of Stonehenge is among the most recent dramatic claims of leading archaeologists that a prototype of England’s greatest prehistoric monument may have first been erected in Wales.  Now archaeologists have discovered a series of recesses in the rocky outcrops of Carn Goedog and Craig Rhos-y-felin, to the north of those hills, that match Stonehenge’s bluestones in size and shape. They have also found similar stones that the prehistoric builders extracted but left behind, and “a loading bay” from where the huge stones could be dragged away. Carbonised hazelnut shells and charcoal from the quarry workers’ campfires have been radiocarbon-dated to reveal when the stones would have been extracted.  Mike Parker Pearson, director of the project said the finds were “amazing”. “We have dates of around 3400 BC for Craig Rhos-y-felin and 3200 BC for Carn Goedog, which is intriguing because the bluestones didn’t get put up at Stonehenge until around 2900 BC,” he said. “It could have taken those Neolithic stone-draggers nearly 500 years to get them to Stonehenge, but that’s pretty improbable in my view. It’s more likely that the stones were first used in a local monument, somewhere near the quarries, that was then dismantled and dragged off to Wiltshire.”  Also, it has been discovered that cremated humans at Stonehenge were from the same region of Wales as the smaller standing stones, bluestones, used in construction.

Although we will never know for certain how the bluestones arrived on Salisbury Plain, Parker Pearson has produced an archaeological surmise that will not go away.  Edmund Burke, 18th century British statesman and philosopher, could have been talking about the value of having an archaeological focus for place when he wrote about the importance of the partnership “between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born”.  It is this sociohistorical backdrop that makes Skomer a good place for playful conceptual thinking about futures. It was Burke’s kind of partnership that was repeatedly highlighted in the undergraduate field courses held on Skomer in the 1970s.

An Impenetrable Curriculum

The Skomer student islanders, each assembling their personal island curriculum from a cross curricular perspective, were also contemplating the historical origins of today’s traditional science curriculum and recognizing it as essentially a 19th century invention in its educational intent.  Accordingly, attempts at reforming the traditional curriculum into one with a humanistic intent have been unsuccessful. This indicates that political and social power is involved in reaching curriculum decisions Just as science had to compete in the 1860s with the classics and religion to get a foothold in the school curriculum, today a humanistic perspective must compete with the pre-professional training of elite students to earn a place in the single subject science curriculum that supports a global capitalist economy. This reflects a competition between two ideologies.  On the one hand there is the intention to, promote practical utility, human values, and a connectedness with societal issues to achieve inclusiveness and a community-centered orientation to the future. On the other hand there is a desire to promote professional science associations, the rigors of a narrow mental training, with academic screening to achieve exclusiveness, and a narrow subject-centered orientation towards maintaining a free market economy growing year on year. This is not a sustainable option.

A group of environmentalists met in Cambridge in 2018 under the auspices of the Learned Society of Wales to discuss routes to a sustainable future. One of their conclusions is that educational humanism resides in the forward reach at a growing tip of the ethics of cultural ecology.  From this academic stance the legacy for future generations is for the present generation to aim for abandoning economic growth as a criterion of human progress and bring the use of natural resources in line with Earth’s limited productivity.

The call from Skomer for a new humanism in the 21st century is based on the conviction that the moral, intellectual and political foundations of globalization and international cooperation have to be rethought.  Humanism was first set out by the ancient Greeks to resolve tensions between tradition and modernity and to reconcile individual rights with newly emerging duties of democratic citizenship. The new humanism goes beyond the level of the nation state in seeking to unite the process of globalization with its complex and sometimes contradictory manifestations.   A new humanism for lifelong learning therefore advocates the social inclusion of every human being at all levels of society and underlines the transformative power of an education that links sciences, culture and communications to live sustainably. Therefore, humanism today needs to be perceived as a global collective effort. Its aim is to hold governments, civil society, the private sector and human individuals equally responsible to realize its values.  The aim is to sustain a human population on our planet based on the holistic management of social and environmental development to maintain a steady state global economy where everyone has a fair share. New humanism describes the only way forward to a world that accounts for the diversity of identities and the heterogeneity of interests and which is based on inclusive, democratic, and, indeed, humanist values.

Conceptual Learning

Humanism promotes conceptual thinking that goes with an ability to understand a situation or problem by identifying patterns or connections, and addressing key underlying issues. It is central to a humanistic education which rests on the integration of issues and factors into a conceptual framework which postulates that the production of, and interaction of, people with, ‘things’ in the world have had transformative effects on those ‘things’ as well as on humans themselves.  Here are two well-known examples requiring this ability of cross curricular conceptual modeling for a full understanding.

‘People started to cook, and the cooked proteins had profound effects on the evolution of teeth and jaw muscles, which in turn affected the development of the human brain. And the domestication of plants, wolves, sheep and cows had profound transformative effects on plants, wolves, sheep and cows, as well as on landscapes, human subsistence and material as well as immaterial culture, and finally ‘fed back’ to create changes in human bodies, brains and minds.  This interrelationship between mind and matter in the form of intricate codevelopment of brains, cognition and material culture has in recent years been solidly recognized in cognitive archaeology’.

A humanistic education should promote this kind of learning, which traces links between concepts, not factual learning.  Factual information is seen as a necessary means to a higher end, and not as an end in itself. Students’ success, their “competence” in the teacher’s eyes, is determined by how well they are able to take in facts and retrieve them when called upon in examinations to do so. Little concern is given to what students are able to do by playing  with their factual knowledge. How effective are they, for example, at solving problems or asking suggestive and original questions; at formulating new conceptual models, reasoning a complex matter through to a logical conclusion, hypothesizing, or making intelligent inductive leaps?

Education which stresses conceptual learning would encourage students in developing these abilities to tackle difficult distinctions and deep entanglements.  These exist between dead matter and living organisms, processes and products, complex interactive mutual involvements, networks, and feedback loops between people, their surroundings and whatever people make or manipulate.  A total understanding requires the application of systems thinking using conceptual mind maps to unravel the interdisciplinary complexity.

For example, considering the 1996 Sea Empress oil spill, which occurred only a few miles from Skomer, in a factual learning model, a teacher might concentrate on the data surrounding this oil spill; when it happened, what caused it, what its effects were. In the traditional learning model, students would leave the classroom knowing specific pieces of information, like; it involved an oil tanker that spilled millions of gallons of crude oil; and it is considered to be one of the most devastating human-caused environmental disasters that has ocurred in the UK.

But in a conceptual learning model, the starting point of a fascillitator would be the broader concept of world wide environmental sustainability.  Then the Sea Empress oil spill would be considered as one specific example of consumerism that had a negative impact. In a conceptual learning model, students would work within their own world model, first to learn about the concept of environmental sustainability.  In particular, how it involves decisions and actions that help or harm the natural world and its ability to support human life, then touch on a few significant examples that fall under this concept, such as Exxon’s Alaskan oil spill and how the biological impact was responded to by the local and international communities

Throughout history, the real fundamental changes in societies have come about not from the dictates of governments or the results of battles but through vast numbers of people changing their world view, sometimes only a little bit!”  In this connection, successive populations of Skomerites from prehistoric times to the present have had to take a world view of their small space on Earth and comply to a management plan which balances the numbers partaking of the island’s bounty in relation to the resilience of its ecosystems to supply their needs and wants indefinitely.  The many commings and goings of people through the centuries indicate how difficult it is to be sustainable!

Knowledge Islands in Humanistic Learning

What is the relation between thinking on the one hand, and knowledge on the other?  Psychologists have defined thinking as a purposeful mental acivity aimed at finding an answer to a question.  Examples of thinking are, to solve a practical problem, to establish the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject or to make choices or decisions by discovering facts, information, and skills acquired through experience or education.

There are at least three broad categories of thinking, namely, inferential thinking, reflective thinking and creative thinking.  All of these were demonstrated in the reports of the student islanders.

Inferential thinking allowed them reach a conclusion on the basis of evidence and reasoning from a given body of information. The information was seen as a set of previous statements from which another is inferred or follows as a conclusion.  Inferential thinking can be viewed as the process of reasoning, specific forms of which include proving and calculating.

Reflective thinking included perceiving patterns, relations, similarities, and differences; identifying relevant factors, spotting inconsistencies, and synthesizing.

Creative thinking involved inventing ideas, solutions and entities, as well as the conceptualizing, and imagining.

An important part of finding reliable answers to questions by thinking is quality control: ensuring that our answers are as close to “truth” as possible. This calls for critical thinking which involves the use of inferential and reflective modes of thinking to make an evaluation. Critical thinking can be thought of as the mental process of evaluating the merit of a statement, object, policy, or action, on the basis of a careful consideration of the relevant factors.  Here, “merit” is defined as being credibility/truth, significance, usefulness, desirability, moral goodness, beauty, and so on. Reading research reports, critiquing a movie, considering a proposal for a reform, and trying to choose between products, all involve critical thinking.

In this respect, critical thinking is a very important self learning element of humanistic education.  Critical thinking in the context of inquiry involves evaluating the truth of knowledge statements. As producers and consumers of knowledge, thinkers engage in three important activities involving critical thinking.

  1. They assess the credibility of the research findings of the other members of the community, to decide whether or not to accept their claims.
  2. They provide justification for their own claims in response to questioning by others.
  3. They persuade the community to accept their claims as being true by providing arguments in favour of the claims, or against competing claims.

Critical thinking goes along with personal kmowledge management to marshal the evidence.  With the increased awareness of digital knowledge management, many educationalists have been paying special attention to knowledge mapping.

Lorraine Code, in 1995, conceptualised “rhetorical spaces” as places for the classification of personal topics, where they can be taken seriously as legitimate subjects for open discussion. In existing library classifications, there is rhetorical space for most mainstream social and scholarly knowledge domains but not for domains of interdisciplinary knowledge. Mindmapping offers neutral nodes as rhetorical spaces for framing concepts to build a theoretical mapping framework for ameliorating the biases and omissions of library classifications.  

Classifications are bounded ystems that  marginalize some groups and topics by locating them in ghettoes. Other marginalized groups and topics are totally excluded from these systems, being outside of their territorial limits. Because classifications are locational systems, spatial analyses borrowed from various disciplines have potential to identify and address their problems.  A mind map is a means to visually represent ideas and their relationship to one another.

According to different purposes, mind maps can be classified into 3 types:

  1. Library mind maps for information organizing
  2. Presentation mind maps for presenting ideas and projects
  3. Tunnel timeline mind maps for organizing or making a project plan

Educational practitioners, researchers and theorists all agree that the concept of knowledge mapping has yet to be studied, described and fully understood. First and foremost learners need to understand where their knowledge assets might be located before they can plan a map to unlock the value.  Knowledge mapping is considered as a means of visually representing knowledge assets as well as their relationships and dependencies with one another. It can be defined as creating a knowledge repository consisting of a visual two-dimensional, spatial, one-to-many nodal network showing relevant relationships among pieces of knowledge.    A map is a representation, usually on a flat surface, of the whole or a part of an area of containing the pieces of knowledge. A mind map is also called a knowledge map, a conceptual map, or a knowledge tree and in itself it creates new knowledge for the user.

The procedural approach to the conceptual mapping of a body of nodal knowledge is aimed at visualising the functioning of the core processes that the user is required to understand as functional hierarchies. A procedural knowledge map will define processes or thinking- narratives  and offer the user some instructions or guidance as to how they operate. It usually shows the source of that knowledge and indicates at what point it intervenes in a process. Process-based maps represent knowledge and its sources mapped within the framework of a process. Any type of knowledge that drives the process or results from its execution can be mapped. Any process of an organisation can be mapped (e.g. research and development, marketing, selling, supply process, etc.) and show where tacit or explicit knowledge intervenes.

A functional knowledge tree is a growing branch structure, which associates, organizes, and places informational nodes in hierarchical order.  A hierarchical barrier is any factor which prevents the mapping of the hierarchical order. A functional barrier is any factor which prevents mapping the relationships between processes.  Knowledge islands are formed when functional and hierarchical barriers cross each other, thus isolating the thinking of individuals or groups (Fig 1).

Fig 1 Formation of knowledge islands

The Hyperbox Club

The Hyperbox Club was invented on Skomer and is now an online international gathering of educators defining and designing complex mental structures.  This is a common activity performed by members of almost every discipline, profession, and artisanship throughout the centuries. All the disciplines of old discovered that skills and knowledge required for the composition of large complex systems for the containment, conservation and transmission of culture  do not match the skills that are required for assembling small, bottom-up knowledge structures. Yet the bottom up assembly of knowledge is where we all start at primary school.

Hyperbox recommends Mindmeister and cmap software for assembling knowlege and Google Sites for presenting it.

The group of knowledge islands in Fig 2 is a branch of a Mindmeister map entitled ‘Knowledge Islands in Humanistic Education’; a work in progress.

Fig 2 Knowledge islands

This fgure is taken from a mind map exemplifying the way a digital model of knowledge management can be expressed graphically as five islands and their extensive archipelagos.

Knowledge islands as patchy ecosystems

Patch dynamics is an ecological perspective that the structure, function, and dynamics of ecological systems can be understood through studying their interactive patches. Patch dynamics, as a term, may also refer to the spatiotemporal changes within and among patches that make up a landscape. Patch dynamics is ubiquitous in terrestrial and aquatic systems across organizational levels and spatial scales. From a patch dynamics perspective, populations, communities, ecosystems, and landscapes may all be studied effectively as mosaics of patches that differ in size, shape, composition, history, and boundary characteristics.

The idea of patch dynamics dates back to the 1940s when plant ecologists studied the structure and dynamics of vegetation in terms of the interactive patches that it comprises. A mathematical theory of patch dynamics was developed by Simon Levin and Robert Paine in the 1970s, originally to describe the pattern and dynamics of an intertidal community as a patch mosaic created and maintained by tidal disturbances. Patch dynamics became a dominant theme in ecology between the late 1970s and the 1990s.

Patch dynamics is a conceptual approach to ecosystem and habitat analysis that emphasizes dynamics of heterogeneity within a system (i.e. that each area of an ecosystem is made up of a mosaic of small ‘sub-ecosystems’).

Diverse patches of habitat created by natural disturbance regimes are seen as critical to the maintenance of this diversity (ecology). A habitat patch is any discrete area with a definite shape, spatial and configuration used by a species for breeding or obtaining other resources. Mosaics are the patterns within landscapes that are composed of smaller elements, such as individual forest stands, shrubland patches, highways, farms, or towns.

Knowledge islands as managed green spaces

Green space is a vital part of the public realm. Attractive, safe and accessible parks and green spaces contribute positive social, economic and environmental benefits, improving public health, well-being and quality of life.

Public spaces are a barometer of a community. As human beings we respond positively and instinctively to places that are welcoming. We want to spend time – and money – in such a community. But all too often, we experience places that are unwelcoming, unkempt and difficult – or even dangerous – to use.

The standard of a local authority’s management and upkeep of the green spaces in its care is a very public indicator of its broader performance. A piecemeal, reactive approach to providing and maintaining green space will deliver few, if any, benefits. High quality, well-used spaces are possible only if those responsible for their planning, management and improvement think strategically. Councils are responsible for producing green space strategies that set out the vision and the detail of the design, provision and enhancement of the parks and public spaces in their care.

Knowledge islands as literary metaphors

There is a strong island tradition in European literature that links it specifically to the notion of cultural translatability and the idea of the floating island as a mobile signifier with a focus on writers from Greco-Roman antiquity to the contemporary period.  Island spaces are used to explore and create bridges between the real and the imaginary as a response to cultural and social realities, frequently taking the form of utopias/dystopias, Edens, Arcadias, nations and cultural crossroads. The virtual spaces of islands are susceptible to translatability and articulate perspectives on the shifting relationship between self and other, centre and periphery, serving as sites of mediation between cultures. Within an increasingly global culture marked by inequalities and differences, islands may induce a contrapuntal approach to literary and cultural criticism

Knowledge islands as tribal places

The word “tribe” can be defined to mean an extended kin group or clan with a common ancestor, or can also be described as a group with shared interests, lifestyles and habits. The proverb “birds of a feather flock together” describes homophily, the human tendency to form friendship networks with people of similar occupations, interests, and habits. Some tribes can be located in geographically proximate areas, like villages or bands, though telecommunications enables groups of people to form digital tribes using tools like social networking websites.

In terms of conformity tribalism has been defined as a “subjectivity” or “way of being” social frame in which communities are bound socially beyond immediate birth ties by the dominance of various modalities of face-to-face and object integration. Ontologically, tribalism is oriented around the valences of analogy, genealogy and mythology. That means that customary tribes have their social foundations in some variation of these tribal orientations, while often taking on traditional practices (e.g. Abrahamic religions such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam), and modern practices, including monetary exchange, mobile communications, and modern education.

The social structure of a tribe can vary greatly from case to case, but the relatively small size of customary tribes makes social life in such of tribes usually involve a relatively undifferentiated role structure, with few significant political or economic distinctions between individuals.  A tribe often refers to itself using its own language’s word for “people”, and refers to other, neighboring tribes with various epithets. For example, the term “Inuit” translates to “people”.

Tribalism implies the possession of a strong cultural or ethnic identity that separates one member of a group from the members of another group. Based on strong relations of proximity and kinship, members of a tribe tend to possess a strong feeling of identity.

Objectively, for a customary tribal society to form there needs to be ongoing customary organization, enquiry and exchange. However, intense feelings of common identity can lead people to feel tribally connected.

The distinction between these two definitions for tribalism, objective and subjective, is an important one because while tribal societies have been pushed to the edges of the Western world, tribalism, by the second definition, is arguably undiminished. A few writers have postulated that the human brain is hard-wired towards tribalism by its evolutionary advantages, but that claim is usually linked to equating original questions of sociality with tribalism.

Knowledge  islands as public spaces

Public spaces and marketplaces are essential ingredients in every community. Public space provides opportunities for people to meet and be exposed to a variety of neighbours. These meetings often take place by chance, but they also can come through active organizing. The art of promoting constructive interaction among people in public spaces has been nearly forgotten in many communities. Planners, architects, and public administrators have focused more on creating aesthetic places and on providing for the unimpeded movement and storage of automobiles than on creating places that encourage social interaction. More recently, public officials have been even more concerned with security and maximizing their ability to observe and control people in public spaces.

William H. Whyte asserted that crowded, pedestrian-friendly, active spaces are safer, more economically productive, and more conducive to healthy civic communities. “What attracts people most, it would appear, is other people,” he wrote. Since the 1950s, city planners, developers, policy makers, and transportation engineers have built and modified communities in just the opposite vein.

Importance of Self-Appropriated Learning.

Rogers’ thoughts about teaching and learning first appeared in the 1950s.  

“My experience is that I cannot teach another person how to teach. To attempt it is for me, in the long run, futile.  It seems to me that anything that can be taught to another is relatively inconsequential and has little or no significant influence on behavior. I realize increasingly that I am only interested in learnings which significantly influence behaviour.  I have come to feel that the only learning which significantly influence behavior is self-discovered, self-appropriated learning. Such self-discovered learning, truth that has been personally appropriated and assimilated in experience, cannot be directly communicated to another. As a consequence of the above, I realize that I have lost interest in being a teacher.  When I try to teach, as I do sometimes, I am appalled by the results, which seems a little more than inconsequential, because sometimes the teaching appears to succeed. When this happens I find that the results are damaging. It seems to cause the individual to distrust his own experience, and to stifle significant learning. Hence, I have come to feel that the outcomes of teaching are either unimportant or hurtful.  When I look back at the results of my past teaching, the real results seem the same – either damage was done – or nothing significant occurred. This is frankly troubling”.

Many students have chaffed under what Rogers calls traditional “jug and mug” teaching styles that stress transfer of information through top down, one-way communication. He saw his role as a facilitator supporting the growth of personal bodies of knowledge.  Years later, one of Rogers’ followers, Em Grim, organised an experimental learning situation for budding psychotherapists on a small island in Lake Michigan. The aim of the island course was to learn about human relationships by studying what happens among group members over a two-week period. Every year Grim selected eight students who wanted to change the way they interact with others. They understand that the remote setting would tend to magnify whatever feelings they have for each other. The enforced togetherness can turn ordinary liking to love or irritation to disgust. It is the type of intensive group experience that Rogers enjoyed leading throughout his professional life.  Although the island course gave students the opportunity to be more than passive learners, Grim says they had qualms about what it might mean to take responsibility for their own learning. Students opted for Grim’s island course with many misgivings.

Unlike the Skomer students, who were dedicated to carrying out a small piece of ecological research for real, Grim’s students were looking for ways to improve their self-concept, draw closer to others, and express themselves more freely. Since students who signed up for the island course qualify on both counts, Grim would predict growth over a two-week period as long as the leader, conveyed Rogers’ three caring responses; empathy, caring about students, and genuineness on the part of the learning facilitator. The Skomer students also adapted to each other socially, but also developed their own selfood by obtaining research data and making sense of it. They rapidly became self confident experts!

In a more general sense, the term self-appropriated learning includes the work of other humanistic pedagogues, such as Alexander Neill, Rudolf Steiner, and Maria Montessori. All of them aimed to create a self-learning environment, seeking to engage the “whole person”.  This

includes the intellect, life affirming behaviours, social capacities, and artistic/practical skills as important foci for an individual’s growth and development.  Important objectives include developing learners’ self-esteem, their ability to set and achieve appropriate goals, and their development toward full autonomy with the self assembly of a personal body of knowledge.  It is in this sense that we surely create a place in culture through discovering culture in place.  

Internet  References


History of Humanism

Carl rogers