Saturday, January 24, 2015

On Learning: Twitter, College, Frames, and the Accidental

A Certain Stillness (M.A. Reilly, Wales, 2014)

Occasionally, I read tweets that argue how Twitter can be a source for professional learning.  I too have found tweets that lead to interesting learning. Most often these are to blogs or particular sites. Rarely, though do chats on Twitter require me to think deeply, differently, or to work arduously. When a chat does lead to an A-ha moment, I find these insights fade, quickly forgotten against the rush of the day. Twitter chats are more about being in the moment and there's a beauty to that.  

There are different types of learning with different intensities. 

Sometimes I'll read tweets that accompany these 'chats about PD that state rather emphatically how Twitter is the superior method for learning in comparison to college courses/programs, reading/viewing, and outside-provider professional 'development'. These tweets are often met with a round of retweets--a Twitter form of marginalia that affirms, says, "Yes!" At these times, I wonder about the Twitter-Tops-All sentiment.  What rests beneath these assertions? What assumptions are being made/unmade?  Is the subtext here more about asserting one's agency, rather than quality? When it comes to learning, can there be a single method that is somehow superior to other methods?  Does that even make sense? Are those who send such tweets telling us a truth, a type of truth? 


A few days ago, Rob shared an email from a former student that mentioned an interest in a course being taught at the University of Rochester. After reading the course description, I contacted Professor Paul Duro and requested permission to post the description here. He agreed and sent me an updated version for the course, Rhetoric of the Frame, which appears below: 
The task of any discussion of frames and framing in literature and the visual arts is first and foremost to counter the tendency of borders, boundaries and frames to invisibility with respect to the work they contain. We see the work, but we do not see the frame. It is against this tendency to overlook the paregonal aspects of the work that this seminar is directed. Starting from a close reading of the foundational texts of frame theory in Immanuel Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment and Jacques Derrida’s celebrated study The Truth in Painting, we will explore the boundaries of the artwork from the point of view of its material, discursive, and metaphorical borders. Topics to be considered range from Edgar Allen Poe’s short story ‘The Purloined Letter’ to Martin Heidegger’s essay ‘The Origin of the Work of Art,’ and from Nicolas Poussin’s comments on the role of painting to Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s meditation on the limits of painting and poetry to the textual frame of literature in the work of Gerard Genette. 

After reading the description, Rob and I agreed that this was a course we would enjoy taking.  We each lamented the distance from home to Rochester.  I've long been interested in what we (un)frame and fail to frame and how frames alter how we see. Shift the frame and the artwork contained alters too. The uncertainty and ambiguity of it all intrigues me as does the way we see when peering through frames and how we see in their absence. A week ago, I bought a used copy of Derrida's The Truth in Painting and plan to crack it open during the weekend and see what sense (if any) I make of it. This may not be a book I can initially read well on my own as I find Derrida's work dense and sometimes obscure. Sometimes, I enjoy a more knowledgeable other to help me get anchored in a text. This may be one.


I've been fortunate having learned with and from teachers, professors, and fellow students--in and out of school.  As an undergraduate and while earning a doctorate, I was encouraged by teachers and family to learn, not for a specific utilitarian purpose, but more often for the art of it. I can recall my doctoral adviser saying to me to slow down, take my time. "When will you have the time to learn this way again?"  When indeed?

Take courses that interest you was a mantra I lived by and one I could live by as the college degrees I earned were paid for through generous scholarships. The most memorable of these programs were ones where I was able to select the majority of courses and design independent studies as opposed to following an pre-established curriculum. I didn't recognize then how significant such freedom could be. Learning at college has afforded me the opportunity to ponder deeply--to struggle with complex ideas and to compose theory that was most often connected to my work as a teacher, artist, and professor. It has afforded me the interest and opportunities to set into words what these theories mean/fail to mean and to then publish these works. Such study has helped me to coauthor written and visual texts.  Frankly, it's hard for me to imagine learning such depth, such contradictions in an hour-long chat regardless of the participants. The preparation for such study required a very different use of time and resources. I think of this now as I am working with two friends who are each completing their dissertation and I am serving on their respective committees. The work and curve of learning these women do is so significant, challenging, and brave. It is these experiences that make me question the belief that Twitter represents the apex of professional learning.  It so often feels so fleeting.


Perhaps what I am struggling to articulate here is the idea that a multiplicity of ways to learn may be superior to a single method, and may be more truthful of how we compose ourselves professionally. I think that different types of learning require different degrees of responsibility from us and perhaps we are the better for such differences. What may be more important than method is the privilege of saying yes and/or no to what is being learned.   

I credit a blend of accidental and planned learning for much of the professional knowledge I've composed and forgotten and am grateful for professors, colleagues, teachers, fellow students, friends and family who have taught me and learned alongside. 

I'll let you know how the Derrida book goes.  

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