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on teaching (or more honestly learning to learn) in complexity

January 26, 2019

lisa hammershaimb

Just over two weeks ago I attended the Teaching Complexity, an online hour-long seminar with University of the Arts London. (The annotated screenshots above are my notes.) Bonnie Stewart and Amy Collier unpacked the Cynefin framework, connected learning, and led us in several communal reflective exercises about our own digital practices, our own pedagogical practices, and the ways these two things may or may not overlap. When I was working on my doctorate, I attended many of these types of mind-opening sessions where, through the magic that is the internet, you get to serendipitously meet other people across all the time zones. I became good at the jumping in, meeting people, and following both speaker and the disparate threads of text-based chat communication that scrolls in simultaneous commentary during the main presentation. 

Since becoming Dr. Hammershaimb, I will confess I’ve mostly hung out in my own time zone. If I’m honest, I’m still trying to figure out how to navigate these interweb academic communities in life post-doc. Because of this connected learning atrophy, the first several minutes of the session were completely overwhelming. We were introducing ourselves, we were writing on the shared whiteboard, we were watching a presenter video, we were figuring out the Adobe Connect interface. (Added to the mix, I was also attending en route to New York City which meant patchy travel wifi added a whole other dimension.) It was unnerving to feel like such an outsider and I was more than a little surprised at just how hard it felt to figure out what was going on. 

Just over one week ago I attended a fellowship in New York City, a three-day event with Design Incubation. The fellowship brings a small number of design academics from all over the world together for a sort of “writing boot camp.” The days were long, filled with discussions of rhetoric and how to navigate the word of publishing. Each participant worked with both a mentor and the larger community to refine their project. My project was an article I’d roughly crafted from my dissertation. When I was working on my doctorate, I was writing for a couple hours every day and became good at losing myself in written language, playing with cadence and rhythm—challenging myself to see how much I could take away so my core message would shine through clearly. 

But, little by little I began to jump into the connected swirl with curiosity rather than trying to figure out a cohesive flow to the ideas. It was messy and imperfect and I felt like I was always three steps behind where I wanted to be but I also left the session re-inspired by the potential of online community. This is something I haven’t felt in a very very long time.  I’ve already marked the calendar for the next session.

Since becoming Dr. Hammershaimb, I will confess I’ve mostly watched a lot of Island House Hunters and Caribbean Life. Getting back to writing is something I know I should do but if I’m honest, I don’t quite know what it means to write in life post-doc. Also, vicariously house hunting for beachfront property is uniquely addicting. During the fellowship, we had a couple long chunks dedicated to working on our writing. We sat silence in a quiet classroom overlooking a busy corner of the East Village. For at least the first twenty or so minutes of each writing block I did more staring out the window wondering about the lives of the quirky New Yorkers rushing by than writing any words on my screen. I was more than a little surprised at how hard it felt to focus.  

But, little by little I began to jump back into the words before me. Seeing my dissertation through the eyes of my writing small group gave me new perspective. Their enthusiasm and framing managed to reincarnate ideas that had long ago become old news to me. Even more, the practice of just sitting with the content within the community of my writing small group gave me the accountability I needed to wade through all the twitchy excuses I generally can’t get beyond when trying to write alone. When the fellowship was over a friend asked if I had any “main takeaways” from the experience. I told her all sorts of stuff I’d learned about grammar and rhetoric and the importance of having your lawyer read your book contract (should you ever get one). These things are quite true but the more I think about it, I think what I am most taking away is a reconnection with Lisa-the-Writer. This is something I haven’t felt in a very very long time.  

Just over three weeks ago 2019 arrived with, at least in my house, very little fanfare. 2019 feels like its beginning on a very different tone than 2018—it is ambient music instead of improvisational jazz. If I’m honest, the change takes a little getting used to but I am hopeful it will be a year of jumping in with curiosity, sharing my ideas with others, and showing up, though it may be uncomfortable. I am hopeful 2019 will be filled with opportunities to reconnect with things I haven’t felt in a very very long time. 

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