I attended my first quilting class today at the Quilting Box and this is what I achieved. I have done some quilting over the years, and been quite pleased with what I have achieved but I knew I had a lot more to learn – I just didn’t quite know what. Textile crafts have so much to tell us about learning in general.
I joined an ongoing class where participants make a series of 12 inch squares, each one from a different quilting pattern. It was social and inspiring to see what others had achieved. I started with log cabin that I had done many years ago. Prior to the class, I had chosen fabrics to use for this square and subsequent ones in my quilt.
Something I have learned from my recent baby quilt projects that are all about colour and fabric, was to be bold in choosing fabrics to go next to each other. Other people at the class commented on the strong colours I had chosen and liked the finished effect.
I brought my own sewing machine and bits and pieces to class but I did encounter some new technology – a square transparent ruler that helped me measure what I had done, a sewing machine foot that helped me make 1/4 inch seams and flat-headed pins to mark places where I had gone wrong. But what I really learned from dear Edna, the teacher, was how to make a perfect 12 inch square by measuring and correction. So I measured and cut the fabric pieces and sewed the seams as accurately as I could, and then Edna showed me how to press and measure at each second round so that errors could be marked with a flat headed pin and corrected on the next seam.
The measuring was under my control, for improvement not for a final judgement, and Edna was around for advice. That gave me the confidence to achieve a 12 inch square, knowing that I can also apply the measuring/correction technique to other projects. And I was delighted with the finished effect of the fabric combination. So checking, measuring and correcting are all part of learning, with a teacher to support learners’ development of confidence and resilience in a social setting with other learners. Even things that can’t be measured such as choosing fabric combinations are learned by individuals in social settings.
These are some very half-formed thoughts that I want to capture so I can re-connect and learn more later.
I have just read a post by Laura Goglia about an experience she had in school from reading part of a textbook when she was supposed to be reading Beowulf. She saw a picture that fascinated her so much that she learned about its purpose and its location (Prado) , and yesterday she brought her children to see it and told them her story. Reading her post reminded me of a related experience I had when visiting Manchester City Art Gallery as student over forty years ago. I saw a picture that I interpreted in a rather disturbing way (but that’s another story) and only recently did I discover the artist’s ideas behind the painting. Maybe if we had the Internet and smart phones in the 1970s I would have learned that at the time but I was too lazy to check it out in the library. What our stories have in common is a visual impression that stuck in our minds: Laura went across time from the text to seeing the actual painting and I went in the opposite direction.
The connection that brought me to Laura’s post was a Twitter conversation about whether or not teaching/learning needs to be entertaining. I was intrigued by the Twitter exchange, and understood more about what Laura meant after I had read her blog post. I am still pondering though. We talk a lot about teaching and learning – sometimes meaning the activity and sometimes meaning the outcome but that’s the English language for you.
Whilst I was at Laura’s blog, I read her previous post about the questions she needed to answer at a mid term PhD assessment. Just after I read “Connectedness is the state of being able to recognize, understand, and act on connections across content, people, space, and time”, I glanced up the screen and noticed the Google cookie message. It offered me the chance to “learn more” and wanted me to click “got it”. “Pfft” I thought – it’s Google that wants to learn more about me so that it can connect ads to me across time and multiple locations. That sort of fitted with Laura’s sentence that I had just read but then I re-read Laura’s questions and realised that her concern was with human learning. Her story in the first post was about learning something outside of the lesson plan, and that seems uplifting and ever more possible when learners have access to the Internet to connect to people and ‘content’.
So is ‘connection’ an unequivocal good in human learning? and in machine learning?
Google (like other well-connected technology services) learns more about me every time I use it. Its active listening doesn’t seem quite as benign as the active listening of a human teacher in class. I don’t know if Laura’s teacher was aware of her distraction from Beowulf and was just happy that she was learning something. To learn about the painting, Laura had to disconnect from Beowulf.
Good teachers set up learning activities that offer a variety of possibilities and don’t seek a uniform outcome for all learners, for learning to be in one place or time (unless there are problems, they don’t go home or into the playground with their students).
Google’s knowledge is simultaneously partial and pervasive, following me around and trying to influence what I do. The difference between Google and the ‘good teacher’ is that Google wants to sell ads and demonstrate its influence on my purchasing (so it can sell more ads), whereas the ‘good teacher’ wants us to learn more than they want to teach. They want to help the learner shift the locus of control from the teacher to the learner.
So I am thinking that one of the things that good teachers will be concerned with is how they can help learners (partially) disconnect from services – how they can shift the locus of control from Google to themselves. And that is not easy.
I am a fairly unprolific knitter who loves knitting. I do knit repeats of things I have knitted before, like the berry hat and Saartje bootees that I have knitted for many babies of those connected to me.
But what I really like in a new knitting project is a challenge, that it pushes me to learn new things. My most recently completed project is a the very lovely “I’m a little Teapot” tea cosy designed by June Dickinson of Simply Shetland. Here is the finished article in use today.
I discovered the pattern through my Twitter friend, a great knitter, @glittrgirl who tweeted her finished teacosy last year. I was also attracted by the promise from the pattern that it’s “a good small project for learning Fair Isle knitting and steeking”. Steeking – what a fabulous word – I wanted some of that even though I didn’t know what it was. Having had a slightly disastrous Fair Isle experience earlier, I wanted to make a fresh start and learn to do it better with the authentic yarn .
Steeking is a scary knitting concept as it involves cutting vertically through knitting – I can imagine knitters wincing if this is the first time they have heard of it – I know I did. Steeking is the strange twin of knitting in the round, a wonderful technique done using circular or sets of double-pointed needles that enables you to knit a tube with no seams. That works well for hats and socks but in sweaters, we need slits for our arms to go through, or in tea cosies, slits for the spout and handle of the tea pot. Here’s how Eunny Jang explains it:
In practice, setting, knitting, and slicing a steek is just a handy way to knit an entire sweater in the round by creating a bridge of waste stitches wherever a separation would be, i.e. between front and back for an armhole, or between the right and left sides of the neck, or all the way up the front of a cardigan.
I started the project in December, and it’s fair to say there have been ups and downs. I made several mistakes with the Fair Isle for the lettering. Eventually, after many froggings (ripping back to the error) I completed the basic knitting. I added the corrugated rib to the bottom of the cosy, and the Shale lace to the top, then I knitted the iCord drawstring. Now there was nothing left to do but to steek – I had to cut this knitting that had taken me months – it was terrifying! I had knitted the cosy in the recommended Shetland Spindrift, a ‘sticky’ yarn that I was promised would not unravel when I cut it.
Here is my unsteeked teacosy.
Fortunately @glittrgirl was at hand, she gave me a Skype tutorial in seeking that was one part technical information to nine parts confidence-building. I didn’t follow the pattern exactly – I just went with a cobbled together approach that we came up with. And then we had a nice juicy gossip about ed tech stuff.
So now, there was nothing else for it – I had to steek. I did ….. and all went well. The last steps were to knit around the turned back and stitched steeks; to finish off the lettering, as per the pattern; and also to correct my errors that I only spotted later. Can you spot them?
So how do I feel now that it’s finished?
First, I feel a massive sense of achievement – despite all of the mistakes and ripping back, I have produced a thing of beauty and no-one except me will be aware of the mistakes and recoveries. They will see, as I do, a delightful tea cosy, that will be used in lovely social situations involving tea, and possibly cakes and biscuits.
So that’s one product but what about learning?
I have learned to do Fair Isle knitting better than I could do before. I have learned to steek. I have learned to do knitting in the round with the two-circulars method.
But the more important learning for me is the possibility of recovery from mistakes; that doing the knitting and making mistakes can be pleasurable; that the learning in a project can hinge on mistakes; that the fragile and imperfect beauty of the end product can eclipse the mistakes; and that those enjoying the tea and admiring the cosy that kept it warm for the second cup won’t be a bit bothered about the mistakes.
What does that have to tell us about the experiences of learners in formal educational contexts? Can they call on more experienced others to help them through scary challenges? Do they feel safe to embrace mistakes and believe that they can recover from them? Are they proud of what they produce?
On International Women’s Day I would like to highlight the work of three women doing good with the help of social media and those who participate.
Kate Granger is a witty and engaging woman doctor who has used her experience of being a patient with terminal cancer to launch a campaign that has made life better for thousands of patients worldwide. Watch the video of Kate telling her own story. You can see the impact of the #hellomynameis campaign at http://hellomynameis.org.uk/ and Kate in operation at @GrangerKate.
I met Cristina Vasilica when she was a student at the University of Salford where she is now a lecturer and PhD student in the College of Health and Social Care. She is still in my networks, and so I have seen the good work she does at the Greater Manchester Kidney Information Network (http://gmkin.org.uk/ ) at Facebook as part of her PhD. As it’s a closed group I can’t link to it but if you are from Greater Manchester and could contribute/ benefit, please contact them via the web site or at @gmkin on Twitter. You can find out more about her PhD work here – she is doing practical good and contributing to knowledge.
I came across Lou Mycroft on an online course last year, and she has introduced me to an area and philosophy of education that I knew little of before – social purpose education. Lou works as a teacher educator at Northern College but it isn’t just her student teachers who can learn with and from her – you can too. She is generous in sharing and the TeachNorthern web site is stuffed with goodies and is a jumping off point for even more. Visit the site, follow her on Twitter at @lounorthern
It’s no coincidence that all three of these women are great learners and teachers.
Learning often wears an invisibility cloak. It’s not even that we think it’s magic, but rather that it happens in the course of other everyday things like a parent playing with their baby, or someone taking up a hobby. Our attention is focused on the activity: the learning is often a by-product of enjoyment or making or doing something new. The learning is situated in its context , in the people and artefacts, and the knowledge may be tacit for the learner, and partially in the artefacts.
Of course, informal learning can be risky as this language learning clip shows
Much discussion about learning assumes a formal educational context, say what is learned in a school or a university ,and though attention may be paid to learning in the workplace or through external activities, such as volunteering, the starting point tends to be institutional. Some of the learning within institutions is informal, we may ask students to reflect on group work processes. University courses may include work with external clients, internships, or placements and these provide valuable learning experiences and the stuff of later discussions and reflections. Many universities foster volunteering schemes of mutual benefit to students and the local community.
Can learners draw on their informal learning experiences in their education? What can consideration of informal learning bring to discussions and practice within the academy? For example, I would contend that learning technologists and teachers could learn a lot from experiencing/ studying Ravelry’s use of digital technologies in their community (last few paragraphs of this post). If only VLEs were more like Ravelry!
I spent yesterday finding and reading papers about community learning and MOOCs, and working on our lovely data from #rhizo14. Eventually, I felt that I was going around in circles and decided to search for images to help me make some sense of what I was reading and thinking. I found lots of great ‘water’ images ( my Twitter network helped me to track down the wonderful resources and remind me that I had some images of my own that I could use).
I thought – what about thinking of water as a metaphor for participation in an online learning experience/ MOOC? I didn’t come to any ground-breaking conclusions but it did open up my thinking.
People can have a lot of fun in water. They can splash around with friends, make a lot of noise, letting off steam. Some people might sit at the side, or dip their toes in the water. Someone might have a pool party and invite people along to their pool.
Sometimes if everyone was splashing around and disturbing the water we could see the big and bright things but be unable to see much detail of what is going on under the surface.
Or the sun may be shining so brightly that we see the reflected sky rather than the water itself.
If the sun was shining very brightly there might be a glare or dazzle that stopped us from seeing below the surface so we mainly see the sun’s glare.
Why might people not get in the water?
It might be beautiful but too cold
Or too hot
Or too toxic
And how would it be if this image captured your learning experience?
But the weird thing is that different people could simultaneously be experiencing ‘water’ as all of those images at the same time. A ‘penguin’ learner could happily dive into Jokulsarlon, if only he were in the right hemisphere, whilst other warm-blooded learners shivered at the edge.
So can these images help us understand our experience and that of others as learners?
We are the Jacques Cousteau researchers who need to don their diving and breathing gear to explore under the surface
or have magic powers like this family in Bedknobs and Broomsticks
Anyway just a bit of fun – I realise that there are gaping holes in the metaphor;)
Evidence that learning starts in the womb is revealed when babies hear lullabies that they will respond to after birth; and learning continues throughout life, as Chaucer says of love. We can all remember from an early age the social nature of learning – learning from family, friends, and subsequently peers from study and work contexts. This is a community perspective, in contrast with a more typical view of learning as being chiefly the outcome of formal education.
Social technologies have focused attention on networks and online/virtual communities. Virtual communities can be traced back to 1985 (and probably earlier) when the WELL started as a dial-up bulletin board. Early adopters of virtual community needed dial-up and later Internet access for their largely text-based communication: initially this was available to a minority, even in the global north. Despite this, bulletin boards existed for a broad range of hobbies and interests.
A parallel stream of development in virtual communication was in formal education: bulletin boards, web pages, and then groupware, and virtual learning environments. Provision of Internet access at universities and colleges meant that students had access in educational institutions before it was commonplace in their homes. The use of digital technologies in education and learning has moved from being conducted by pioneers and enthusiasts to being standardised as part of institutional administration, such as institutional virtual learning environments, and registration and student records systems. Much research effort (some of it to good effect) has been focused on the use of technology within online/offline classrooms and according to approved curricula. This is research that tends to focus on what is provided, rather than how and why learners learn. Even less attention has been paid to ways in which people, who would not identify themselves as students, are learning to do things that interest them with the help of the Internet.
The current context in the global north is of more people, across demographics of age and gender (if not class), having access to the Internet via broadband and mobile services. Simultaneously, the variety of devices that we use to access the Internet contributes to a broader demographic, more people having access, devices and software becoming easier to use – smartphones, tablets and laptops. The combination of faster Internet access and devices with digital still and video cameras has enabled more people to create and consume multimedia – images, videos, audio and text. Internet access then becomes less of an end in itself and more of an adjunct to what we do.
Knitting – Interest-driven learning assisted by social media
People of all ages follow their interests via the Internet – learning cartooning, playing games, studying esoteric topics. Of all of these interests, let’s look at a craft that has material, knowledge and social implications – knitting.
In an era when the local wool shop is becoming rarer, the Internet offers opportunities for purchasing yarns, needles, and patterns but going beyond that, what do knitters do on the Internet? Like other makers, they enjoy the opportunities to celebrate the products of their creativity: garments, knitted moebius strips, artefacts for the home, and public works of art. Such celebrations are visible on photo sites and knitting blogs, often interlinked so that the blogs can facilitate networking of knitters (via commenting, blogrolls and links within posts).
Knitters share ‘how-to’ videos on Youtube and other video-sharing sites. If we don’t have a grandmother to stand behind us, helping our hands learn a new technique, the next best thing is watching a video, and trying out the stitch at the same time. Video- and image-sharing sites become knowledge repositories but not solely dedicated to knitting and crochet.
Knitters have adopted social media with enthusiasm,and experienced unexpected consequences. Mason-Dixon Knitting comprises Kay Gardiner who lives in Manhattan and Ann Shayne who lives in Nashville. They came together via blogging through their shared interest in knitting that has led to a successful book, an iconic dishcloth pattern and a very useful web site.
Knitters have taken their passion to the streets (and piers) by engaging in guerrilla knitting or yarn-bombing to create street art. This may be for self-expression or just fun, or for a reason : often anonymous and cloaked in mystery. One of my favourites is a celebration of London 2012 Olympics at Saltburn pier. There is no obvious activist reason for creating this pier art but the result was joyous, enjoyed by pier visitors and became a tourist attraction in Saltburn, North Yorkshire. Craftivism ( a mix of craft and activism) is about connecting beyond the individual crafter, and acting for broader issues.
When we unpick these achievements, we see that they go beyond the stereotype of the lone, gifted knitter. Knitters, like others, engage in learning networks and communities. One of the places that knitters congregate online is at the knitting and crochet community site http://www.ravelry.com .
Ravelry is free to members, funded mainly by advertising but also by merchandising, pattern sales, Amazon and other affiliate programs. Ravelry also engaged in donation drives at an earlier stage of its community development.
Ravelry – individual view by Frances Bell
Ravelry offers interesting affordances for becoming and being a knitter, learning in an active form. Members can find patterns and yarns with the help of Ravelry, and create projects to record ongoing and completed knitting projects Figure 4. Ravelry has a highly connected architecture, automatically displaying links to other projects using the same pattern and yarn. This means I can easily click a link to find the pattern, or images from one of the other 13900 projects using that pattern (to give me ideas on other yarns or colourways). Project owners are encouraged to rate patterns and yarns for sharing with other community members; and errors are soon corrected in this open community. Ravelry is an international community with over four million members, who not only volunteer to translate popular patterns into other languages, but also moderate forums and collate help pages on collaborative wikipages within Ravelry itself. The whole thing runs with only 4 staff, one programmer and three editor/moderator/merchandising staff.
The Ravelry shop showcases Ravelry merchandise such as t-shirts and bags; the Marketplace where members offer supplies and services for knitting and crochet; and a Pattern Store where members sell their patterns.
The strong social element to Ravelry goes beyond member profiles and display spaces. Members can organise into groups to have local meetings, swap yarns, engage in knit-alongs (all making the same item), or associate with a particular shop. Other groups are organised around a common interest, say in machine knitting or spinning. Less formal opportunities for conversation are offered by forums, where members can help each other to solve problems or engage in general chat about knitting or crochet.
In our comparison of Etsy.com with Ravelry.com, Gordon Fletcher and I found that Ravelry had strong community aspects and exhibited a permeable boundary compared with Etsy. Ravelry seems to be a community that is happy to acknowledge activity and objects elsewhere, thus increasing its networking and social potential.
This openness and support for the community member makes it a source of good ideas for those wishing to support other learners in a community setting. Facebook, the very successful social networking site (SNS), would superficially seem to support the social aspects of learning, but a learner wishing to keep track of what they and others have created and learned might become frustrated with the ephemeral nature of sharing there. Ravelry exhibits a strong focus on the learning and doing of knitting, where social interaction becomes the glue that helps this happen.
Designers and implementers of learning environments aiming to promote learning community could learn a lot from studying Ravelry, especially if they are tempted to delegate the social aspects to a self-organised group on a general purpose SNS.
Properly practiced, knitting soothes the troubled spirit, and it doesn’t hurt the untroubled spirit, either. – Elizabeth Zimmerman, Knitting without tears.
Many thanks to Suzanne Hardy (Ravelry id: glittrgirl) for improving my interpretation of Ravelry. All errors are mine.
This article, written by Frances Bell, is used under Creative Commons license BBy-BY-NC-ND from ISSUE 10 JUNE 2014
Using Social Media in the Social Age of Learning
Guest Editors Chrissi Nerantzi and Sue Beckingham http://www.lifewidemagazine.co.uk/