In Vannever Bush’s As We May Think, he argues that the human mind operates by association. “With one item in its grasp, it snaps instantly to the next that is suggested by the association of thoughts, in accordance with some intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain.”
Apparently, I discovered yesterday in our cMOOC meeting, the “intricate web of trails” in the (big) brains of two of my trusted colleagues leads them, when they see me across the room, directly down the trail of associations to a memory file named “condoms.”
Needless to say, this is not a happy destination for me. The trail, of course, requires narrative to explain (like I suspect every good associative trail holds a secret story). In one of our early meetings, I shared that I once showed students a research article that studied the viability of females in poor populations washing and re-using condoms. My intention was to shock students a bit, and to meet their skepticism with an article that described such a study. At the time, my point was: you can research anything. Whatever you are secretly curious about, someone before you has likely been curious too, and has blazed a trail for you to follow.
Obviously this trail-blazing metaphor worked for my colleagues too, because somehow, every memex (at least Jason and Gardner’s) leads to my condom story.
How can I disrupt an associative trail? How can I disrupt memory?
Yesterday in our meeting we explored how we can establish a “certain kind of intimacy” in our online classrooms. Jessica told us about a content analysis she just completed that examined social presence indicators, in an attempt to find out what creates engagement in social media. Her answer (at least part of her answer, as I understood her brief summary) was that “self-disclosure” by members of the group strongly encouraged group engagement.
In the spirit of that discussion, and of Patti’s blog post, which models the kind of honest self-disclosure we hope to see in students, I offer three images that will, I hope, DISRUPT the current associative trail I’ve discussed and replace it with new images and stories of me:
Story 1: I learned to make gellato in Italy in the kitchen of an old woman named Simonetta, who we stayed with in Tuscany and who sends me charming emails in broken English every now and then. Every year on my birthday, I make her gellato and homemade chocolate sauce. Good food is always a distraction, right?
Story 2: I am an avid traveler. This is Cinque Terra, Italy, the place that taught me that too much planning in my comfy armchair, relying on TripAdvisor and imagination only, is not a good thing. I could have spent weeks in Cinque Terra, but we only booked two days. I am learning that keeping spaces OPEN for the unknown, for the “what’s possible” may serve me in the classroom as well as in traveling.
Finally, this is me doing what I love: hiking, breathing fresh air, moving. I don’t do enough moving and this bothers me. I would love it if our offices were equipped with treadmill desks, and if right outside our door there was a wide track where we could hold meetings en masse, talking while we walked around the track, sometimes in twos, sometimes in fours, tweeting along the way, sunshine on our faces. I think we’d smile more; and maybe we would be more open to Gardner’s push for less talk about rules, and more talk about journey.