Category Archives: place

Such Great Heights

31 degree heat, and suncream and sweat sting your eye blind. A fairly inopportune moment to become more disorientated.

I’m, say, 7500ft up in the Tyrolean Alps, my heel is at 90 degrees to a 300ft drop. I’m squatted, moving backwards, hand over hand, foot by foot; my neck twists back to check that the corner I’m edging towards is closer.
My palms, sweat-greased and copper-stained, grip a horizontal 50metre long cable hammered into the wall of Ellmauer Halt, the highest peak in the Wilder Kaisser range.

I’ve no karabiner or other equipment, I’m nauseous, and giving myself a profanity-loaded pep talk constantly and I’m heading down, alone, because I already lost my head to vertigo 300ft from the summit. My brother and nephew are up near the top, some place where you scale huge slabs of limestone rock to ascend to 2344m, which we’d decided, impulsively, to climb when at the col below.

To compound the drastic situation I’m in, as I wriggle backwards across a cliff face along this dangerously narrow fissure, others – coming up – wait at the far side for me. They’re a patient, calm Austrian team, bedecked in the full catalogue and – when I reach the relative safety of their slightly wider ledge – they chide my lack of a helmet.
“You may be hit by a rolling stone.”
I’m too breathless to laugh at the idea of getting jumped by Charlie Watts. I move on down, exhausted and shaking.

Besides Alpine anxiety at dizzying heights, in this last week my mind has mainly been trained on two things:
1. Notions of thresholds, momentum and purposeful motivation
2. Intrinsic pleasures.

I draw on these in this post about my experiences on this trip.

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You’re training, physically, for Kilimanjaro in December. It’s alarming, then, to discover that your mental capacity needs more training. I grew up climbing mountains and have been up them all over the world. Whence this new vertigo, then? Suddenly spontaneous, unexpected and shatteringly terrifying.

It happened three times inside a four-day hike. The first you overcame with calm deep breaths and approaching the 90 degree ladder disappearing into the clouds with some kind of steeled determination before the panic could really stick. The second was just sheer panic for about thirty minutes, up and down Ellmauer.

You endured it. The hyperventilating. The choked sobs. Your brain floating and careering in a dizzying spin, vision unable to fix on detail, thumping headaches, nerves crumbling. A perpetually nauseating compulsion to look down. Horrific.

Amidst this turmoil, like a nut, your mind flips to educational theory, to research, to students’ experiences. Some reflexive engineering.

Meyer and Land’s proposal is of problematic knowledge and overcoming liminal thresholds to emerge anew. There’s little grounding of this empirically; it appears phenomenological, but it resonates.

At the bottom of Ellmauer Halt was a plateau of boulders, basic obstacles to get to the ascent. The plateau is used as a metaphor for progress flatlining.

You see symbols in everything. Navigation, contours, landscape. Inner psychology mirrored to the map, or the lack of one.

Since attitude is socially effected by the affective, how can you manipulate student mindset to encourage determination? I’m not sure you can. In your third bout of vertigo you uncovered a new low: a horrible rage at other people, a blame game, that others had misled you about the height, the danger, the landscape. You projected your lack of confidence onto others. If there had been a team, some support, some encouragement, this may not have happened.

You must learn to scan the horizon, to anticipate challenges, to draw strategies from what you already know. But vertigo is irrational, so logic like this goes absent.

You thought about how you may need to get some counselling to handle if this happens in Tanzania, but you don’t want to ‘learn to cope’ with vertigo. You don’t want it at all. The worry is that you have created new physiological memories from failing to achieve the summit, and of the anxious experience of vertigo. Will you look for the symptoms next time you climb? Will you imagine them, confuse adrenaline with panic? How do you approach a problem with different methods? It requires much confidence. How do I convince next years resit students to try a new approach, to keep an open mind, to avoid repeating mistakes?

Meyer and Land was like alchemy when I first read it. They describe overcoming thresholds as epistemologically transformative, as ontological integration, that it is irreversible. Learning theory framed like music.

My notion is that momentum (purposeful actions) occurs when motivation is intrinsically situated through visible objectives. The culture is vital to this: an accessible community, a range of means to communicate, a continual network in which to distribute these expressions, perpetual challenges and opportunities to create momentum. Without these elements, fatigue sets in. Fatigue is engagement atrophied.

While in Austria, you overcame thresholds. So why the repetitive vertigo? Because you had no choice but to carry on? The third vertigo was sustained, going unexpectedly higher and higher when you expected to descend. The way took in a prolonged ridge, dramatic drops, sudden ledges. No goals or end in sight. Without targets, progress can’t be tracked. You’d reached the saturation point of panic.

The abyss stared back at you.

And then I suddenly became weary of vertigo. I’d simply had enough of feeling anxious. It was as if I’d made a choice. I sat down among some trees and reflected. I listened to the perfect stillness you receive at altitude. A silence in which my fears had screamed. The silence is a void. There’s nothing there. We feel compelled to fill it with noise, because the emptiness is profound and terrifying. I started noticing details again: a leaf quivering of its own accord studied closer revealed an ant, struggling to cope with the load, but persisting, getting it to the nest, past a train of marching brothers all moving intently. I noticed my breathing had regulated, my heart had slowed. The sun’s warmth poured into me.

Ascension used to be a high. Now it’s a bind. What’s the pleasure in this? Gruelling heat, lightning and downpours, heart smashing at my rib cage.
What is it for?
What is the intrinsic value of enduring this?

Acceptance.

People talk about overcoming fears, but I feel I’ve embodied them, and ultimately accepted them, because when there’s only one direction to go – onward, upward – you just have to keep going.

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Filed under Educational theory, Philosophy, place, Uncategorized, Vertigo

Penumbral Places – a cartography of disorientation

#digifest16 #www16

Here is my contribution to the call from Chrissi Nerantzi for images of a tapestry of digital learning and teaching. I present an image metaphor from Black Crag in Cumbria of my niece in the moment of capture, the winds blades circumventing change around her fixed geographical point. If it looks akward, well I never said I was an artist (and I almost added a graphic from fitbit) and my fiddling around with layers is problematic, to say the least, as seen.

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How symbolic is the concept of layers! I usually retreat to nature to escape the fugue that social contexts contain us within. When we scaled the small fell of Black Crag and reached the trig point, a strong gale ensued. Not daunted, we all felt we had to capture our triumphant endeavour with – variously –  cameras, iPads, SmartPhones. My own original shots seemed to absorb the brunt of the winds in an image, as all came out distorted by its power revealing dales that appear to undulate. Layers start to be constructed as soon as we emerge into the raw purity of nature. I’ll try to explain what I mean by that.

There are so many metaphors in nature: maps, orientation, being present in a moment but elsewhere simulataneously. I’m discontent with metaphors, sometimes, because in my research I want to get to the core meaning, rather than wrap ideas with further labels. Metaphors are though, I suppose, helpful tools to make the abstract in language more tangible.

I often take my research with me on hikes, as the obfuscation becomes less obscure and I can focus and think in transcendent footsteps, almost to literally clear my head. I mean ‘intrapersonally’. I discovered this powerfully when I walked 700 km along the Camino de Santiago, years ago – the Field of Stars. Walking is a profound method of situating ourselves to landscapes and, well, our selves.

In nature, we are omnipresent: we’re social and in solitude; we exist in a moment, but may be elsewhere in our thoughts; more often than not these days, we take our devices with us to capture the liminal moments we uncover. Some use images, some use words and some use numbers to represent what they find. Our tools let us have it all ways.

This is what I conceive of as psychogeography and a metaphor for the real essence of mobile learning.

 

 

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Filed under Learning technologies, Mobile Learning, place, psychogeography, Uncategorized

On audience, on place #digiwrimo

Morning walk 5th November

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There’s something of reflection

In writing a blog

A vain mirrored

Connection

Or signpost

In the fog

Beckett wrote:

“…you must say words, as long as there are any, until they find me, until they say me, strange pain, strange sin, you must go on, perhaps it’s done already, perhaps they have said me already, perhaps they have carried me to the threshold of my story, before the door that opens on my story, that would surprise me, if it opens, it will be I, it will be the silence, where I am, I don’t know, I’ll never know, in the silence you don’t know, you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.”

Thinking about digi writing month, while I walked through the damp woods this morning, I wondered about the absence of audience (though its a community project). I thought of how one researcher (was it danah boyd?) reporting on students’ feedback on blogs says that “comments are like oxygen” and how we apparently write blogs with audience in mind. I don’t really think of it as that. I think of it as penetrating the silence that surrounds me, as I live here in the wilds.

I like the snapshots of other places I get from blogs: being transported briefly to other studios, offices, workshops and realities. Whenever I read a blog I get a sense of another context. Online reading is travel, horizon-scanning; online writing is horizon-scanning, imprinting on space. Leaving trace. How about this from Semetsky:

“Nomads must continuously readapt themselves to the open-ended world in which even the line of horizon may be affected by the changing conditions of wind, shifting sands or storms so that no single rule of knowing that [learning about] would ever assist nomads in their navigations, perhaps only knowing how [learning to be, or learning as becoming] would.”

Semetsky quotes Casey:

“What social software can do is to help us re-situate learning in an open-ended social context, providing opportunities for moving beyond the mere accessing of content (learning about) to the social application of knowledge in a constant process of re-orientation (learning as becoming).”

Even if words are sometimes crude vehicles of thought, they can be deft when serialised with images, biographies and – sometimes – comments, so that shoots grow from a seed and words become less owned and personal, and blogs become less like an island and more like a continent of hubs. Is the blog the internet, or is the blog this specific url?

Back to my morning, carousing in the mist.

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Let’s suppose that in some parallel, there is another #digiwrimo blogger equally dazed by dawn, walking on the other side of the valley. Equally somnambulist in reverie.

What are the odds that they too think of blogging as creative catharsis and personal archaeology, before settling into academic writing for the day?

Here I came to thinking about comments. Back in the pre-internet 1990s, I recorded prolifically notes, memos, quotes, scraps of stories, observations, anything that caught my mind… in notebook after notebook and country after country. “Mobile learning” pre-mobile. Very personal, very abstracted and nomadic. How would it have been to find a comment written in one, then? What a premise for a story!

So many words I’ve scored, so many words yet to find me…like Beckett is saying, you have no choice. You just keep digging through more and more in every shape and form.

So…

Any feedback

Please

Cut me some slack.

It’s a straight

Throwback

To my 1980s

English class.

When Mrs Wooley

Would hit me with flack.

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A view of the machine in this morning’s mist.

And as I write, I pause to watch the roofer over the road stop in his work, stop to watch some disturbed animal on the river. He’s delicately poised on the edge of a roof, fag in mouth, frowning, slate tiles under his arm. He’s frozen in study, I’m arrested by him…is he going to fall?

Suddenly he looks over, directly at me, sitting in my study, eye-to-eye across the street…

And it unnerves me.

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Filed under #digiwrimo, audience, place