Mindworks’ Weblog

Thinking Matters

Knowing the place for the first time

Posted by Andrew Cooper on July 9, 2008

One possible objection to the idea I’ve been discussing here is that it’s nothing new – that it just takes some things which are already happening, adds a few more, and gives the whole lot a name.

I think that there’s more to it than that, though.  Much more.

Firstly, the idea – as those who’ve been thinking about it know – involves a large group of people in a collective learning project, exploiting the web to draw their experiences, what they learn, what they want to know and, crucially, the people themselves together in one virtual space.  (Lots of people will also meet in the real world of course – it’s vital to remember that the web is just a tool, not an end in itself.)

They will learn by exploring.  They already have many of the tools they need to do that.  Most signficantly, of course, they each have an amazingly capable, astonishing, most-complex-object-in-the-universe 100 billion neuron Human brain.  But we shall add to the mental tool-set they need to be good explorers and we’ll also give them some physical tools (cameras, sub-laptop computers and so on) they need to explore.

So those who participate will learn a lot both about the topics we’re going to explore and also about learning itself. In particular they’ll improve their ability to formulate good questions, distinguish good answers from bad, how to deal with information that makes them uncomfortable and so on.

I said ‘collective learning’ above because, if this works, this large group of students, staff, parents and others are going to learn together as a group so there will be, I hope, be a lot of learning both within and between generations (not to mention cultures).  ‘Inter-generational learning’ is a topic dear to the heart of this rather lovely man I got to know working on a project in a near byy town.  Peter’ specialism is continuing education and he spends much of his life flying around the world providing advice and helping to build projects – must give him a call about this project if we get the green light today!

I hope our large group of learners will also learn a lot about each other – that’s what the community building aspect of this is all about. People will get to know each other better – for me, that was one of the best things about the Corn Exchange event.

They will also learn about how to develop and implement ideas, because a central feature of the project would involve equipping those who take part with the skills and ability to improve the project itself. Or to be more precise ‘the system’ – the thing which glues all this activity together – itself. And lastly, as Eliot says in far more elegant words I’ve quoted below, they will also learn a lot about where they live.

By weaving together potentially disparate activities and a large group of people spread over two continents into a complete and ever-evolving whole – a ‘complex adaptive system‘, to use some systems jargon – the project has the potential to achieve, to use that much abused word, some real synergy. The whole could, potentially, be much more than the sum of the parts.

As the first line of the wikipedia article that last link points to puts it: complex adaptive systems are ‘complex, in that they are diverse and made up of multiple interconnected elements and adaptive in that they have the capacity to change and learn from experience.’

TS Eliot would have put it rather more elegantly, no doubt.  Here’s the quote I promised.

‘We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.’

Appropriate, isn’t it?

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