Graphic narratives to define quality teaching in a learning organization 

This literature review was borne out of necessity to look critically at my practice and underlying assumptions as I am given more opportunities to facilitate sessions at Brock and abroad. 

Variations of my workshop were delivered for the Ontario Instructional Designers Interest Group at McMaster on March 23, 2018, Ride The Wave K-12 Teacher’s conference in Gimli, Manitoba on May 10, 2018, and an Adult Education departmental retreat on June 8, 2018. To conceptualize how the workshop could facilitate organizational change, a hypothetical workshop abstract was created to address the topical issue of Measuring Teaching Quality, geared for a diverse group of stakeholders: faculty, students, administrators, and staff. 

The concept of an interactive workshop that weaves participant involvement into the learning has often been legitimized through Kolb’s (1999) experiential learning theory (ELT). This has been reinforced in the Instructional Skills Workshop (ISW, 2017) and the National Society for Experiential Education’s Experiential Education Academy (NSEE, 2018) to name two accredited bodies operating in the post-secondary sector. The four stages of Kolb’s ELT are arranged in a circle starting with Concrete Experience and cycle through Reflective Observation, Abstract Conceptualization, Active Experimentation.

Kolb's Experiential Learning CYCLE
Kolb’s theory is a helpful framework to consider the various ways of knowing that consider cognitive, affective and psychomotor domains of knowledge. Kolb credits the contribution of many influential educational theorists, Dewey, Vygotsky, and Lewin to name just a few. Kolb’s Learning Style inventory is a useful tool to allow a participant to consider where they would situate themselves within learning events that are text based, contain visual imagery, auditory materials, or kinesthetic activities.  

The diversity of talents we witness from a community of learners are reinforced that some people resonate more with certain approaches more than others. One learner is a brilliant piano player while another is an excellent visual artist; yet another has a way with the written word and someone else is an adept elocutionary. We have all witnessed the emergence of these talents first hand which makes a theory like Learning Styles more compelling. However, many cognitive science researchers have repeatedly found that there is little evidence for the existence of Learning Styles (Husman & O’Loughlin, 2018) and that attempting to teach according to preferred learning style is not any more effective than any other method (Knoll, Otani, Skeel, & Van Horn, 2017).  

However, the elements of Kolb’s ELT that are grounded in Dewey, Vygotsky, and Lewin have been repeatedly reinforced with new research on learning. The Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST, 2017) has extensive literature within the Guidelines for Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Originally conceived as part of an accessibility project for learners with disabilities, the mounting evidence shows that a universal approach to designing learning experiences not only benefits learners with disabilities but all learners. The three guideline areas are perfectly aligned with Kolb’s assertion that for learning to be meaningful it must address the cognitive, affective, and psychomotor domains. In UDL, these are described as the WHAT, WHY, and HOW; or the Recognition Networks, the Affective Networks, and the Strategic Networks. The guidelines provide evidence that good learning should include multiple means of representation, multiple means of engagement, and multiple modes of expression. 

Universal Design for Learning from Center for Applied Special Technology

In the ISW, when discussing Kolb’s ELT, the cognitive, affective, and psychomotor domains of learning are often simplified to “head, heart, and hand” and learners are asked to consider these aspects in their own course design. The UDL framework of WHAT, WHY, and HOW also can be simplified to head, heart, and hand. The essential difference between Kolb’s LSI and UDL guidelines is that the literature supports a diversity of approaches and the key element that CAST is advocating is that the learner is able to choose how they access information, and is given choice on how they share their learning back. The UDL guidelines are the work of hundreds of researchers, many of which are also referenced in Ambrose, S., Bridges, M., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M., & Norman, M. (2010) How Learning Works.  

It may seem self-indulgent and distracting to go into depth on how an individual learns when the focus of this literature review is aimed at organizational change from an administration and leadership perspective. However, two of the five disciplines described by Senge (1990) are essentially based in the individual’s learning wheelhouse. Many of Senge’s systems thinking perspectives can be aligned with How Learning Works and UDL.  

The original intention behind this literature review was to find evidence for the use of drawing in workshops and meetings to facilitate communication and organizational effectiveness. I held an assumption that participants with visual learning style preferences would benefit from this interaction method. There was a desire to find evidence that drawing was a superior memory aid which would create meaningful concrete experiences for team learning. Some literature did not support these hypotheses (Olson, Zipp, D’Antoni, & Cahill, 2010) but rather I found that drawing is just one of the multiple means of representation, multiple modes of engagement and multiple means of expression (CAST, 2018). Ultimately, the literature review reinforced for me that the real skill of meaning-making is not in the drawing but in the facilitation. In addition to drawing, a facilitator could just as effectively use discussion, text, sticky-notes, graphic organizers, pipe-cleaners, Lego, or even playdough. That said, drawing is inexpensive and available to all and can be modified for all skill levels. It’s not the only way but it’s certainly a good way (Wammes, Meade, & Fernandes, 2015). There is compelling research that shows the efficacy of sketching for knowledge creation, knowledge documentation, and knowledge sharing (Pfister & Eppler, 2014). The strong caveat is that drawing is not in itself an effective knowledge management tool; it must be paired with skilled facilitation that respects process over product.  

Graphic representation of our learning goals

Using Senge’s five disciplines as a framework to examine the literature, it becomes apparent that this is could not be just one workshop session. For maximum effectiveness, if we are to look at Systems Thinking, Mental Models, Personal Mastery, Shared Vision, and Team Learning with the full amount of attention each of those disciplines require, there would need to be a minimum of 3 workshops. The first focusing on the individuals own mental models and progress towards personal mastery. The second articulating the shared vision and the third deepening team learning. Systems thinking must permeate all three sessions as it is the act of seeing the big picture, the forest for the trees. Like Kolb’s experiential learning cycle, the process does not stop after the team learning, there must be constant cycling through each of the disciplines to ensure new experiences, skills, knowledge, and attitudes are reflected in one’s own personal vision.  Sibbet (2011) describes this cycling as “renewal” (p.171).  

Systems Thinking 

In many systems, negative or positive reinforcement can lead to a vicious or virtuous cycle, respectively, and that is why awareness of the system, in addition to careful consideration of the other four disciplines is necessary. Recognition of this interconnectedness of each of the disciplines and their component elements is the most important premise of systems thinking.  

In every learning experience, there needs to be an activity that allows the participants to focus on the task or issue in the moment, but also a post-activity moment to reflect on the bigger picture. This is a metacognitive activity that Ambrose et al. (2010) describe as essential to the learning process to move from superficial knowing to a deeper understanding. This can be accomplished through how we organize our information as facilitators and how we encourage learners to organize information.  Pfister & Eppler (2012) found that sketching is an effective knowledge creation tool that can help participants draw connections to better understand systems. By starting with Sousanis (2012) Grids and Gestures activity, participants can see that with simple markings and use of a whole page, how component shapes can be arranged to demonstrate how the sum of the parts can be greater than the whole. Metaphorically this can be demonstrated by the “shape of your day” (Sousanis, 2012) where the whole page is the whole day and the individual chunks on the page are the component parts. This activity acts as a scaffold onto other more cogent examples of parts and whole systems thinking. In an ideal scenario, focusing on the “generative system structure allows awareness of responsive patterns of behavior” (Senge, p.53) and accurate attention to reactions to events. 

Mental Models 

Senge discusses metanoia or the shifting of the mind to new perspectives as being an essential discipline of mental models. In cognitive psychology the concepts of schemas are very much like mental models (Mayer, 2005). We know that articulating one own’s schema is a helpful metacognitive strategy that can help in the learning process (Ambrose et al., 2010). Identifying how and what someone thinks about a particular topic is an essential part of the learning process. Prior learning can help or hinder future learning this process of uncovering is important to become explicit (Ambrose et al., 2010). In addition to helping the facilitator know where the learner is in a process of new learning, it also aids in participant engagement by connecting the concepts to their own experience. Sibbet’s (2011) Visual Teams describes this as his “orientation” phase (p. 102). Senge suggests we use a visualization technique to uncover mental models to “challenge prevailing assumptions”; obtain critical feedback; and “seek relationships between ideas and people” (p. 203). Sibbet (2011) suggests drawing mental models as a way of gaining insights and working through problems. Sibbet (2011) describes many visualization techniques to draw out individual team members’ mental models, from journaling to more creating tasks like creating a cover story for a magazine about what success looks like individually.  Many of the templates Sibbet (2011) provides act as visual anchors that can germinate fruitful discussions in the other disciplines, in particular when developing the shared vision. 

Ainsworth (2006) described a conceptual framework for using multiple representations to improve learning, described as DeFT, which is an acronym for Design, Function, and Task. The use of multiple representations, like drawing mind maps to articulate mental models can reduce cognitive load, as described by Mayer’s cognitive theory of multimedia learning and Cognitive Load Theory (2005). Also described by dual coding theory, Mayer’s (2005) research shows that learning through two sensory channels is more effective than just one. In the workshop example, drawing and orally describing your mental model, working memory is optimized for learning. Ainsworth’s (2006) extensive literature research demonstrates that more is not better, and that more than two sensory channels could hinder learning. Too many images, videos, and text shown simultaneously can overload the working memory and interfere with learning. Ainsworth cautions that prescriptive approaches to multiple representations should be contextualized within particular functions and cognitive tasks. This approach is congruent to CAST’s (2018) Universal Design for Learning Guidelines that privilege user choice of modality over strict rules. 

The Learning Organization: A Lit Review

In further support of drawing as an accessible approach to maximizing the working memory, Andrade (2011) found that shading and colouring can aid concentration. In a workshop setting, this has been used as a priming activity to get participants to start to think about their mental models. At the BC Campus Festival for Learning (2018) facilitators, Dr. Motherwell-McFarlane and Mr. Toal had participants imagine their core values by drawing tight spirals on a page. This meditative drawing activity is similar to colouring in its smooth rhythmic approach. Participants were asked to think of themselves at the centre of the spiral and as they drew outwards to imagine their family, work, community, and globe. After this warm up activity, participants will be ready to start building a schema of one’s own understanding, to make their prior knowledge explicit, as is recommended by Ambrose et al (2010). This prevents misunderstandings, uncovers assumptions, and allows the facilitator to begin at the place where the participants are situated. Organizing this prior knowledge allows a group to seek common ground and make sense of complex topics. Senge (2006) describes how important it is for individuals to discover meaning and express their purpose before they can properly contribute to a team. This is also consistent with the learning principles about motivation, where Ambrose et al (2010) remind us that we need to understand the perspective of the learner who needs to see the value of the learning.  

Personal Mastery 

Closely related to mental models is what Senge (2006) describes as the discipline of Personal Mastery. Achieving mastery is also an essential part of the learning process, as Ambrose et al (2010) describe the necessity to move beyond competency to be able to integrate component skills and transfer to new settings. Where Ambrose et al. (2010), are describing mastery of certain skills and Senge (2006) is describing personal mastery within one’s work, the parallels are helpful to better understand what both are suggesting.  

Ambrose et al. (2010), describes the guided practice required to reach mastery and uses examples from drama and management classes. Through metacognition and reflection, one moves from unconscious incompetence towards conscious incompetence. With further practice and reflection, one can move towards conscious competence.  To achieve mastery, unconscious competence is the goal but cannot be achieved without a great deal more practice until a certain level of automaticity is achieved.  

The challenge of achieving this level of mastery is that it becomes difficult to remember what it was like to operate at the conscious competence level and therefore almost impossible to describe or teach the component skills from that perspective.  Ambrose et al. (2010) describe this as the problem of the “expert blind spot” (p.99). To counter this challenge, Ambrose et al suggest decomposing complex skills and knowledge to their component parts.  Senge also describes the role of the subconscious in learning and achieving personal mastery. 

From a facilitation perspective, it is important to use the prior learning assessment to determine where your participants are operating on the consciousness and competence scale. In some cases, it will require thoughtful reflection to facilitate the expert teachers to deconstruct the elements of what makes quality teaching. In other cases, novice teachers may still be struggling with what competence looks like and may still be operating at the unconscious level. Senge (2006) indicates “an effective way to focus the subconscious is through imagery and visualization” (p.166). This could be done as a mind map activity with some training on how to construct mind maps effectively (Olson et al, 2010). Metacognition allows mental models to become known and articulated which can lead to dialogue and for a collection of people, this would be what Senge (2006) calls group inquiry. 

Shared Vision 

Once individuals can articulate where they are situated in relation to the organizational topic, the next step is to encourage a team dialogue towards a shared vision. Senge (2006) says this is done through posing questions and prioritizing issues. The dialogue is essential to gain a “richer grasp of complex issues explored” (Senge, 2006, p. 247). This can be best accomplished through active listening. While not immediate, to solve problems, teams must consensus build by recognizing that diversity is strength. There must be a “free flow of conflicting ideas” which is “critical for creative thinking” (Senge, 2006p. 249). There is a real need for a skilled facilitator to “hold the context of the dialogue” (Senge, 2006, p.243). Sibbet (2011) describes the shared vision discipline through the Team Performance Model’s phases of goal clarification, trust-building, and commitment. This group inquiry into shared meaning and purpose align well with Ambrose et al. (2010) learning principles of metacognition and motivation. Building on the previous disciplines, the “creation of mental maps that guide and shape our perception and action bringing about a mutual participation between nature and consciousness” (Senge, 2006, p. 239).  

The role of the facilitator is crucial to support the team as it navigates tricky and possibly contentious terrain. Participants must be encouraged to suspend assumptions and balance inquiry versus advocacy. Senge references Schon’s reflection on learning as way to recognize “leaps of abstraction” (p.191; p303) to enable individuals to come to a shared understanding of the issues. Senge outlines possible workshop activities to recognize these leaps of abstraction such as, “What am I thinking vs What is said” (p. 196) to help articulate one’s mental model in relation to others. Senge describes this as “Espoused theory vs theory-in-use” (p. 202).   

Similar to Senge (2006) and Sibbet (2011), Brookfield (2010) describes a systems level approach to leadership that supersedes the individual leader to enable greater connections within a group to build community. Looping back to CAST’s three Universal Design Guidelines articulating a shared vision taps into the recognition network: “what” (vision); Affective network: “why” (purpose); and strategic network: “how (core values). Senge metaphorically urges teams to “paint pictures” (p. 224) and Sibbet (2011) literally provides the frameworks and visualization tools to draw conclusions. By leveraging the power of the group through open and inclusive communication, Brookfield (2010) makes a convincing argument for democratic leadership to increase individual and collective commitment. Democratic leadership, according to Brookfield (2010), is a process not a position. That means that everyone has a right to lead towards the shared vision. Also congruent to Senge (2006), Brookfield’s (2010) focus on dialogue and group inquiry is a key component towards democratic leadership for meaningful change. Democratic leaders, much like good teachers, act as facilitators in a learning organization. Good facilitators are often invisible in that their efforts are not put towards getting credit for good ideas but are instead used to build consensus and ignite meaningful and respectful dialogue around opposing perspectives. Brookfield warns that democratic leadership has the potential to over-discuss and debate the smallest of trivial issues and conversely that in its goal to seek consensus it might extinguish or diminish meaningful dissent that is required for a democracy to flourish. Allowing for a diversity of voices and resisting hierarchal structures are two examples of democratic leadership that are also important approaches in the classroom or workshop setting. Connecting back to Pfister and Eppler’s (2012) sketching for knowledge management, using visualization can reduce cognitive load for idea generation by allowing sketches to act as a place to hold the concepts while a group works through issues. sketching as a thinking tool for collective graphic memory. This holistic systems thinking approach can help achieve maximum organizational effectiveness.  

Team Learning 

After the individual mental models, personal mastery, and shared vision is articulated, the fourth discipline moves to action in Team Learning. Sibbet (2011) describes this as the “implementation phase” (p. 151). As with the other phases, Sibbet (2011) describes many visual tools available for team implementation. Visual road maps, orientation murals, and various online whiteboards are a few of the methods Sibbet (2011) suggests moving teams from shared vision to implementation. This was further explored by Miller (2017) who used the whiteboard interface of the web conferencing tool to capture words and imagery of meetings and allowed the managers to co-contribute to the whiteboard. Instead of minutes being distributed post-meeting, the minutes were enlivened by colourful drawings and words created in real time for all to see as the experience unfolded. This concrete experience into a reflective observation blends the first two elements of Kolb’s (1999) experiential learning cycle. Miller’s (2017) use of the framework provided by Pfister & Eppler (2012) is a sensible way of positioning the visualization in meetings in that in facilitates knowledge creation, sharing, and documentation. She found that this real time visualization had a positive effect on knowledge acquisition. Allowing access to the whiteboard is an open and inclusive form of communication which can enable democratization of leadership (Brookfield, 2010) and catalyze team learning. As with learning environments (Ambrose et al, 2010), the importance of ground rules for team learning (Senge, 2006) is immensely helpful.  

Conclusion 

The literature supports an inclusive and systems-based approach to organizational development. Drawing and sketching, both on paper or online can be effective tools to leverage the wisdom found within Senge’s Fifth Discipline. Working with diverse groups and opinions will not magically build consensus through drawing activities.  However, research on learning shows that with skilled, considerate, and democratic approaches to facilitation, drawing can be one way to focus on the process of coming to a shared vision and team learning to build and maintain an effective learning organization. As teams change and develop within open systems, the continual renewal process is required to continue refining and articulating the mental models, towards personal mastery, shared vision and team learning.  

 

References 

Ainsworth, S. (2006). DeFT: A conceptual framework for considering learning with multiple representations. Journal of Learning and Instruction, 16(3), 183-198. 

Ambrose, S., Bridges, M., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M., & Norman, M. (2010). How learning works: seven research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco. 

Andrade, J. (2010). What does doodling do?. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 24(1), 100-106. 

Brookfield, S. (2010). Leading Democratically. New Directions For Adult & Continuing Education, (128), 5-13. doi:10.1002/ace.386 

CAST (2018). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.2. Retrieved from http://udlguidelines.cast.org 

Husmann, P. R. and O’Loughlin, V. D. (2018), Another nail in the coffin for learning styles? Disparities among undergraduate anatomy students’ study strategies, class performance, and reported VARK learning styles. American Association of Anatomists. doi:10.1002/ase.1777 

Instructional Skills Workshop Network (2017). Instructional Skills Workshop Program Description. Retrieved from https://iswnetwork.ca/instructional-skills-workshop-isw-program-description/ 

Kolb, D.A., Boyatzis, R.E., and Mainemilis, C. (1999). Experiential Learning Theory: Previous Research and New Directions: Case Western Reserve University. 

Knoll, A. R., Otani, H., Skeel, R. L., & Van Horn, K. R. (2017). Learning style, judgements of learning, and learning of verbal and visual information. British Journal Of Psychology, (3), 544. 

Mayer, R. E., & Anderson, R. B. (1992). The instructive animation: Helping students build connections between words and pictures in multimedia learning. Journal of Educational Psychology, 4, 444-452.  

Mayer, R. E. (2005). The Cambridge handbook of multimedia learning. Cambridge, UK ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 2005. 

Motherwell-McFarlane, J, & Toal, J. (2018) Stacking the Deck: A Visual Toolkit for Instructor Self-Care. BC Campus Festival of Learning Workshop Presentation. Vancouver, B.C. Retrieved from https://festivaloflearning2018.sched.com/event/Dery/stacking-the-deck-a-visual-toolkit-for-instructor-self-care 

Miller, L. A. (2017). On Knowledge Acquisition in Management Meetings, 120. Retrieved from https://ir.library.dc-uoit.ca/xmlui/handle/10155/811 

National Society for Experiential Education (2018). Experiential Education Academy. Retrieved from http://www.nsee.org/experiential-education-academy 

Olson V., Zipp, G., D’Antoni, A.  & Cahill, T. (2010). Does the mind map learning strategy facilitate information retrieval and critical thinking in medical students? BMC Medical Education, Vol 10, Iss 1, p 61 (2010), (1), 61. https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6920-10-61 

Pfister, R., & Eppler, M. (2012). The benefits of sketching for knowledge management. Journal of Knowledge Management, 16 (2), 372-382. doi: 10.1108/13673271211218924 

Senge, P. M. (2006). The fifth discipline: the art and practice of the learning organization. New York: Doubleday/Currency. 

Sibbet, D. (2011). Visual Teams: Graphic Tools for Commitment, Innovation, and High Performance. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 

Sousanis, N. (2015). Unflattening. Cambridge, Massachusetts : Harvard University Press, 2015. 

Sousanis, Nick (2015) “Grids and Gestures: A Comics Making Exercise,” SANE journal: Sequential Art Narrative in Education: Vol. 2 : Iss. 1 , Article 8. available at: https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/sane/vol2/iss1/8 

Wammes, J. D., Meade, M. E., & Fernandes, M. A. (2015). The drawing effect: Evidence for reliable and robust memory benefits in free recall. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 69, 1-62. 

 

Planning my Lit Review

I’m two months into an Masters of Education independent study project, which I cleverly decided to dovetail with a lot of existing work I was doing for my day job, or side job, as the case may be. I was invited to the Ride The Wave conference in Gimli, Manitoba and I had planned on giving a variation of my visual practice workshop to these k12 teachers. In March, I was invited by the Instructional Design Interest Group to give a similar workshop and I really wanted the opportunity to add some more evidence-based research to my session to make it more grounded in current literature and theory. The main issue is that these workshops focused on the individual and how we can improve teaching in learning for our learners. Since I’m in the administration and leadership stream for my Masters of Education, I have to be looking at bigger picture than the individual. More specifically, I need to look at the learning organization. In my first course, constructions of organization, we encountered Peter Senge and his 1990 The Fifth Discipline. We had only read a two chapters by Senge and I wanted to read the whole book, so this was a good opportunity to do that. Similarly, I’ve been wanted to really look deeper at David Sibbet’s Visual Teams so I added that to my list. A twitter mutual (that’s a term the kids use for people you follow, who follow you; not necessarily friends or colleagues, but you know mutually follow) recently told me she was doing her masters of arts on her work in graphic facilitation and I thought this would be an exciting addition to my lit review. I haven’t told her I’m doing that yet. I assume people would be happy to be cited but possibly not? I don’t know. The more time I spend in the academic side of academia, the less I know. Anyway, the other book I want to include is How Learning Works by Ambrose et al. I’m too lazy to include a hyperlink. You know the book. It’s great. Educational Developers call it the “ed dev bible” and I used it with the eCampusOntario Northern Capacity Building Initiative Extend project Teacher for Learning module. Finally, of most import, is I want to include Nick Sousanis’ Unflattening, both as an example of how a PhD dissertation can be a non-textual piece (A COMIC BOOK, no less!) but also because his content addresses how we should give space for visualizations.

In any case, those are my five big pieces, with about a half-dozen smaller articles that I’d like to include in my literature review for my study.
Concordia says I should have the following:

  • Objective of the literature review (this is my workshop abstract)
  • Overview of the subject under consideration.
  • Clear categorization of sources selected into those in support of your particular position, those opposed, and those offering completely different arguments.
  • Discussion of both the distinctiveness of each source and its similarities with the others

My objective is practical but slightly paralyzing. I want to enact this literature into a workshop session that can be used to improve an organization, specifically around teaching and learning.  Is that clear enough? Possibly it needs to be more specific. Hm.

This is the stage where I need to stop writing and start doodling to determine my “clear categorization of sources”. I could use Senge’s five disciplines: systems thinking, mental models, team learning, personal mastery, shared vision.  They match really well with Sibbet’s work; mostly because Sibbet cites Senge. It also matches really well with How Learning Works, which I appreciate because I think we often try to make learning like work, whereas work should be more like learning. Senge quotes Kolb and Schon, which further reinforces this for me.

At this point, I feel like I might fall down a rabbit hole because I think of all the articles I didn’t include but should: Wenger’s Communties of Practice; Garrison’s Community of Inquiry, and Liberating Structures. Yes, I definitely need to include Liberating Structures (but is it “academic enough”?) Uncertain.

Okay, I’m hungry. Gotta break.

Experimenting begins with play

I’m excited for the Extend East cohort to kick off the experimenter module this week. While it is its own stand alone module, in truth, extenders have been experimenting for weeks already.

For some, just creating a twitter account and getting “followed” is a whole new unnerving experience. For others, trying the timeline tool and tweeting out a link. Each Daily Extend is an invitation to experiment, and many have jumped in with both feet.

In this module, we’re invited to try new things, share them, and reflect on that the experience. This is what we ask our learners to do all the time and it’s an essential part of the experiential learning cycle.

One of my favourite experimenters is the great Grant Potter. While Grant’s technical genius is mind-blowing for me (he built ds106radio in a weekend!) no matter your technical level, his approach to experimenting is really helpful:

  1. experimenting begins with PLAY. Have fun!
  2. say yes to the MESS
  3. celebrate happy accidents, and
  4. take time to reflect
@grantpotter Tinkering, Learning & The Adjacent Possible
#viznotes from Grant Potter’s UMW keynote

I’m looking forward to seeing some playful experimentation this week and reading the reflections.

Let’s get experimenting!


header image: cc-0 from page 355 of “Moving pictures : how they are made and worked” (1914). Internet Archive.

IDIG Ontario

Today I presented at the Instructional Design Interest Group at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. It was a great group of about 60 IDs from across Ontario.

I’m giving a similar workshop in Gimli, Manitoba in May so I was happy to experiment with some ideas and get some feedback from folks who know about teaching and learning.

The day started off with Dr. Joe Kim, a cognitive psychology professor from McMaster who shared some excellent insights about how we can improve teaching and learning in lectures.

@ProfJoeKim #idigOntario keynote #viznotes Durable Learning

I used this as a jumping off point to discuss how I use doodling in class as a way to self-regulate towards effortful, focused attention. This facilitates moving the content of conference talks from my working memory into my long term memory. Since 2011, I have drawings for over 300 talks. It seems mind boggling to me but I love how my drawings act as anchor points for my memory and allow me to recall so much from each session.

I was able to incorporate some really cool stuff into the session, starting with the standard, “I can draw” circle that I learned from Nancy White so many years ago. After that, we played around with Nick Sousanis#GridsGestures activity, to map the shape of our day.

I’ve been a big fan of Nick for ages and I love to reference his book Unflattening whenever I can. Breaking the barriers of text in academia is a huge accomplishment. Also, the book is stunning and brilliant so I think everyone should have a copy.

After practicing shapes, we then did a Liberating Structures activity: Drawing Together to identify a professional challenge only using 5 basic shapes. I used this as an icebreaker for this new group to get to know each other and connect. I always get mixed reviews with this activity. People love connecting and discussing but constricting the drawing to just 5 symbols annoys people who love to draw. On the other hand, it liberates those who feel they can’t. I’d like to make both groups happy, possibly by adding the option to create your own symbols but I’m afraid that would make the activity too complex.

Idig

As part of this new domain, edudoodle.com, I’ve been trying different subdomains and in particular, SPLOTs. I am totally chuffed that my gallery.edudoodle.com  totally worked as an image collector. [[side note, I’m very grateful to cogdog for his work in creating these smallest possible online tools (or whatever the acronym du jour is). I have recently become a patreon supporter and I recommend others do too]]

I did discover that some emails did not work because of SPF (Sender Policy Framework) set up by their mail client servers. Not sure how to get around that other than ask everyone to use their gmail. There is a feature on the splot collector to just have a form but I love the ease of emailing. I’ll have to revisit this before May!

I rounded out the session showing some ways people can practice their new visual skills. They can see examples at the Extend Assignment Bank and I encourage everyone to play along. ExtendEast is going on right now and Extend West begins in May. Get on board the Extend Ontario fun train!

Another side note: this is my first real blog post at ideas.edudoodle.com and I feel sad for abandoning gforsythe.ca. I wonder if each of these can have a specific purpose? Thoughts or ideas welcome.

Idig

Update: Resources from the day at IDIGOntario

Constructions of Organizations Reflection

My learning journey through the historical timeline of constructing organizations has been personally rewarding but also challenging in many ways. Previous learning can enhance or interfere with new learning (Ambrose et al., 2010) as sometimes knowing a bit too much about a topic can prevent you from fully appreciating it as an analogy or metaphor. My knowledge of ecological systems both enriched and detracted from the ease of understanding organizational theories. Any struggles I experienced this term were self-inflicted as I wrestled with new concepts with the same sense of urgency I feel about the state of the planet, as if lives are at stake. I sought interconnectedness, deep discussions, and thought carefully about organizational theories which even resulted in a flash of insight or two. New challenges are on the horizon as I need practical applications of these theories in my workplace as my department undergoes hierarchical restructuring. 

Prior Knowledge: of snails and ecosystems 

Before I started my Masters, it never occurred to me that organizational theory would overlap so much of my biology education. Given the nature of my daily work in higher education, when asked what I studied in my undergraduate degree, I would often sheepishly confess that I studied biology. I was always slightly embarrassed, suffering the effects of imposter syndrome, because I felt my studies in biology were far removed from the field of education. Although I had initially hoped my biology degree would include aspects neuroscience and learning, the closest I ever got was poking underwater snails. The experiment would run like this: if you poke the snail when it tried to breathe, it learnt to stop breathing.  It is described as operant conditioning, a type of learning evident in something as rudimentary as a snail’s breath. To draw any broader conclusions about positive or negative reinforcement related to how humans learn would be overly simplistic and inappropriate. The rest of my studies in biology involved ecology, the environment, and population genetics. Here I studied systems in their various stages: in growth, decline, and equilibrium. Ecological systems are ruthlessly indifferent to achieve balance; the goal of equilibrium is not always beneficial for life. This is especially evident now, after years of environmental destruction from human activity we have entered the next geologic era: the Anthropocene, experiencing a sixth period of mass extinction. Bacteria and insects will probably be just fine, maybe even snails, if they learn to breathe less. The narrative of nature as a system that exists for human domination to be exploited as a God-given right has led us down this path of destruction. This anthropocentric view focusing on extracting resources without limits has had dire consequences especially for those without power, those who rely on living off sacred land. Activist and writer, Naomi Klein (2014) describes this as a crisis of democracy; climate change is less about carbon and more about capitalism. I want to highlight the importance of ecological systems not to ring the fear mongering klaxon but to highlight the how this urgent shift parallels how organizational theorists also call for a narrative shift from managed systems to living systems (Capra, 2002; Katz and Kahn, 1966; Mitchell and Sackney, 2013; Wheatley, 2007; Senge, 1990). Knowing about ecological systems prevented me from fully accepting any analogy that did not account for their inherent complexity. This left me in a state of disagreement about scientific parallels for most of the course. It felt like an over-simplification given what we know about science in 2017. Some theorists handled the analogies better than others and by the end of the course, I felt that organizations as living systems were treated with the complexity they deserved. 

Paradigm Lost: grasping concepts by recognizing my lack of understanding 

I had never expected to be connecting my studies in biology in a paper about organizational theory. Thankfully we weren’t poked with sticks in EDUC 5P60, but rather, after week five we repeatedly encountered the organization described as a system, in its various forms through the course. Early on, I most appreciated the integrative readings by Perrow (1973) and Morgan (1980), as they provided a big picture of the field of organizational theory. I was still a bit unsatisfied with these readings as I felt they were incomplete in their analyses.  I yearned for more of those types of readings, possibly written in the last decade, as the historical readings from the first few weeks were unsettling. It is an interesting curricular decision to present those early twentieth century readings as canon and without present context. I experienced slight anxiety stemming from an urgency of unknowing or more precisely the awareness of unknowing. I knew there was something missing from the scientific management perspectives but I could not properly describe what. It was like I was in Plato’s cave trying to decipher the shadows as reality but I had already had a glimpse of what had cast those shadows. The historical readings were interesting and I appreciate the opportunity to read them as primary sources. I wanted to critique them more but I was unable as I did not yet have the knowledge, language, or theoretical backing. By week five when we met Senge (1990), Katz and Kahn (1966), and Burns (1963/2007), I was so pleased to take a deep dive into organizational theory from a systems-perspective; it was quite possibly the highlight of the term. Although I question the curricular rationale of the historical approach, a part of me is immensely grateful because this pathway led me to an autodidactic epiphany. The biggest “aha” moment came through unstructured conversations, reflections, and the process of writing my paper outline and annotated bibliography.  For my paper, I initially tried to fit all the organizational theories into Morgan’s paradigms. I was attempting to describe the dangers of audit culture in scientific management as categorized into Morgan’s functionalist paradigm. I had planned on arguing that a better approach was to do the opposite of the functionalist paradigm and that a radical humanist paradigm was more appropriate organizational approach. This caused a certain uneasiness to sit within me. I couldn’t quite put words to the problem, except that the term “radical humanist” felt dated and incomplete. As Morgan originally wrote about these paradigms in 1986, I decided to see who was still talking about his paradigms by doing a Google Scholar search to see what articles have cited Morgan. There was an astounding 18, 995 citations. By sorting these articles that cited Morgan by recent date I found an article aptly named Paradigms Lost (Decker, 2016) and an article attempting a “paradigm model for post-paradigm times” (Hassard and Cox, 2013). Through these articles, it suddenly occurred to me that the act of putting these theories in boxes was itself a functionalist approach. Tidy, organized, discrete, and ultimately incomplete, the axes of categorization did not just span x and y axes but there was a z-axis and probably an additional axis for space and time. This was the closest I’d ever come to understanding post-structuralism, something I’ve been grappling with for far too long. I felt in that moment that I had reached an understanding that changed the way I looked at everything. It is my most recent and memorable example, I think, of a threshold concept (Meyer, Land, and Baillie, 2010). A threshold concept is where your perception transforms once you pass through the door of understanding and you are unable to see things the way you did previously.  

This discovery excited me so much, I spoke to many people over the next few days. The responses were so interesting. Some smiled and shrugged, “well, yes, obviously”. Others, shared my enthusiasm, “wow, oh yes, and what about this and that” contributing to the depth of the inquiry. Others, interrupted before I could finish, with their own examples that were tangents, interesting but not helpful. One person disappointingly told me to not take this so seriously.  

Preparedness, interconnectedness, and missed connections 

I spent hours doing the readings. It would take up to three hours to fully understand one article. I wish I had gone through the formal article critique for each article but I found that I had limited time to accomplish this. Especially with the articles that were translations, like Foucault (1975/2007), I spent an inordinate amount of time just parsing his use of pronouns. When classes are designed seminar style, my classmates’ learning can either deepen or distract from my learning. For the most part, it was deepened, mostly due to how the instructor respected us by giving us the autonomy to self-organize. In class, sometimes what I misunderstood from reading was elucidated through classroom conversations. In class I tried to contribute in ways that were meaningful. I tried to be patient and not dominate the conversation, as there are about 5 of us who tend to do that, some more self-aware than others. I really enjoyed the weekly discussions. I would do the reading and be so excited for class to be able to talk through the theories. When scientific or philosophical concepts were used as analogies, I was eager to discuss. I must admit I was often disappointed that these topics did not seem to ignite the same interest in my classmates and we ended up debating entirely different concepts than I had anticipated. This is not to diminish my classmates, many really helped deepen and enrich my understanding as they have diverse and different backgrounds than I do. They also have different approaches to discussion and I tried to be very careful to ensure that all voices had a chance to contribute to the conversation. I had to be cautious even in this as I did not want to appear domineering or bossy but sometimes I would purposefully redirect another dominant voice to allow those in my group who were less vocal to be heard. Sometimes I could not believe what I heard some of my classmates say. I found it so completely and utterly shocking. There was one class where the young gentleman completely derailed the topic of conversation about organizations to focus on his issue of teaching across the curriculum with a focus on World War II. I wanted to interrupt to inform him this was completely irrelevant to organizational theory but the advice he was seeking made me feel that a critical intervention was necessary as there are children exposed to his teaching daily. As I write this, I realize it sounds sanctimonious and haughty but I feel a genuine responsibility to intervene in ill-conceived teaching practices. The ethical and moral implications of teaching a curriculum entirely about World War II extends beyond mere teaching strategies or selecting content. The fact that this classmate of mine does not appreciate, as a history teacher, that knowledge is subjective and constructed, that how we present information is never value-neutral greatly concerns me. This lack of awareness about the boundaries of our field of study made me wonder if the historical approach in this course only helped reinforce dominant managerial paradigms in his mind. In fact, I was often surprised at how often the class was accepting of scientific management approaches and theories.  As for disagreement, within the context of the course content, I wanted to spend my conversations talking about how organizations can in practice be more like living systems. Instead I was frustrated that we spent a lot of our time discussing mechanistic approaches. My urgency in knowing everything all at once increased my impatience with what I considered to be outdated theoretical approaches to organizations. While I yearned for a secondary reading from a modern perspective paired with each historical article, I acknowledge that this approach has its merits. Attention must be paid to the genesis of thought contributing to the mechanistic philosophies underpinning many modern organizations. I just can’t resist wondering how this approach reinforces this as a dominant narrative. I remember looking at the discomfort in the faces of my classmates during the week on post-modernism. Week seven seems late to be introducing this topic but I concede that just because I was ready and eager in week one to grapple with post-modernism does not mean that approach is best for everyone. On more than one occasion, the insightful direction of the instructor and my classmates helped calm my anxiety of unknowing and refocus. Even though I had enough enthusiasm to fill an hour of talking myself, I learned to share the floor, not interrupt, and really listen to alternative perspectives.  

Concluding bridge back to the workplace 

It’s challenging to wrap up this reflection with any certainty when the greatest learning I encountered was that I should embrace uncertainty, recognize my subjectivity and complexity. I am eager to operationalize my learning immediately into a sustainable living community but as Mitchell and Sackney (2011) note, the structures in place make this difficult. In moments of dire pessimism, I am a mere snail just holding my breath when poked. I feel the same sense of crushing urgency about the need to shift our narrative about the environment as shifting the narrative about effective learning organization. As I connect the dots between my discoveries, I hope to be able to further find the language and theoretical backing that I lacked at the beginning of the term to help affect change in my organization. I’m only one tenth of the away along my learning journey, if every other course allows me this much space for constructive thought, I might be able to contribute to that shift, hopefully before it’s too late. 

References 

Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: seven research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 

Burns, T. (2007). Mechanistic and organismic structures. In D. S. Pugh (Ed.), Organization theory: Selected classic readings (5th ed.) (pp. 99-110). London, UK: Penguin. (Original work published 1963). 

Decker, S. (2016). Paradigms lost: integrating history and organization studies. Management & Organizational History, 11(4), 364. 

Fayol, H. (2007). General principles of management. In D. S. Pugh (Ed.), Organization theory: Selected classic readings (5th ed.) (pp. 253-274). London, UK: Penguin. (Original work published 1916) 

Foucault, M. (2007). The means of correct training. In D. S. Pugh (Ed.), Organization theory: Selected classic readings (5th ed.) (pp. 561-576). London, UK: Penguin. (Original work published 1975). 

Hassard, J., & Cox, J. W. (2013). Can sociological paradigms still inform organizational analysis? A paradigm model for post-paradigm times. Organization Studies, (11), 1701.  

Katz, D., & Kahn, R. L. (1978). Organizations and the system concept. In The social psychology of organizations. New York: Wiley. 

Klein, N. (2014). This changes everything: capitalism vs. the climate. New York: Simon & Schuster. 

Meyer, J., Land, R., & Baillie, C. (2010). Threshold concepts and transformational learning. Rotterdam : Sense Publishers. 

Mitchell, C., & Sackney, L. (2011). Sustainable Learning Communities: From Managed Systems to Living Systems. EAF Journal, 22(1), 19-38. 

Morgan, G. (1980). Paradigms, Metaphors, and Puzzle Solving in Organization Theory. Administrative Science Quarterly. 25 (4), 605-622. 

Perrow, C. (1989). The short and glorious history of organization theory. In G. Morgan (Ed.), Creative organization theory: A resourcebook (pp. 41-48). Newbury Park, CA: Sage. (Original work published 1973) 

Taylor, F. W. (2007). Scientific management. In D. S. Pugh (Ed.), Organization theory: Selected classic readings (5th ed.) (pp. 275-295). London, UK: Penguin. (Original work published 1912). 

Weber, M. (2007). Legitimate authority and bureaucracy. In D. S. Pugh (Ed.), Organization theory: Selected classic readings (5th ed.) (pp. 3-15). London, UK: Penguin. (Original work published 1924) 

Wheatley, M. (2005). The uses and abuses of measurement. In Finding our way. Leadership in uncertain times (pp. 156–162). San Francisco: Berret-Koehler.