Our given challenge for the week is to yet again hitch up the wagons and recursively circle Community, Identity, and Design. The ‘design‘ of this course overtly prompts us as participants to continually return and reassess our understandings of these three themes through habits of mind, modes of participation, and social practices and processes that revisit our core themes within the contexts of learning and teaching. Recursive practice is a repetition of a procedure. Our readings and blog posts recursively draw us into readings and writings surrounding the three core themes, yet although we repeat the procedure, our encounters are not returns to static points but new encounters with something known before but now seen in a new light, through a new lens. Our journeys as individuals, as teams, and as a larger class tint our ‘looking glass’ in particular ways. Indeed our lenses are likely ‘tinted’ in ways that differ from classes, individuals, and teams before us because of our community and individual identities, our shared repertoires.
Google Doc as Our Learning Map
Nearly two-thirds of the way through the course, the metaphor of the journey seems appropriate for the ways we may consider our synthesis post at this point. Surely, journey has taken on literal meaning for us as we venture out to ‘occupy’ learning in various spaces across campus. Journeys connote movement along paths and may include discovery and perhaps new understandings. Adopting the journey metaphor as the lens through which we consider this week’s post, we look back reflexively at the path behind us. Reflexivity permits us to consider how our own individual processes of coming to know and consider the core themes formed along the journey. Our mode of participation for reading discussion has been writing via the Google Doc established at the start of the semester. Although our team has utilized other modes (Skype & Google Hangout discussions and in-person meetings) and other media (email & Flikr), our written work in the Google Doc reflects our immediate, and necessarily “rough”, reactions to the readings and our encounters with learning in classroom spaces. Consequently, we chose to look back at the path we charted in our collective Google Doc as the material trail with which to analyze and our journey.
Visualizing Perceptions with Many Eyes
Our in-class discussion of IBM’s online visualization tool Many Eyes revealed a potential path to blend our team’s interest in visuals along with our reflections on the course readings. Visuals are used in many ways in the research community and in learning contexts. More traditional conceptions of visuals are used as illustrations for topics discussed in the written portion of the text. However, visuals can also provide new perspectives, new ways of looking and of learning. In our case, our looking through the glass of Many Eyes provided a sort of evolution of synthesis from illustration to new, previously unknown or unseen perspectives on our own work.
Many Eyes offers a range of visual representations for data, both numeric and written text. Our interest in using a word-based document limited our options to Word Tree, Tag Cloud, Phrase Net, and Word Cloud Generator. Word Tree and Phrase Net appear to be the best options for visualizing relationships along our journey. Word Tree functions upon the principle that the researcher must specify the coordinating or primary focus for the tree with the selection of core words. The natural choices appeared to be our themes for the post. The first tree “Community of Practice” is displayed below; however, this visualization appears to merely function in the traditional sense, restating or illustrating text. No clear ‘new ways of seeing’ were gained.
A similar restatement of text was found when the Word Tree was used for identity and design. Again, neither visualization appeared to ‘say’ anything new. However, when the medium was changed, the meaning became visible rather than simply text. Uploading our Google Doc to Many Eyes and using the Phrase Net analysis tool channeled our writing into an analysis path that looked for relationships or themes that surfaced in our writing. In other words, rather than specifying search criteria prior to creating the visualization as an illustration of text, Phrase Net facilitated our discovery of ideas that were important to us in our recursive practice of examining the themes through written discussion.
Please select the link above to view the full image of the relationships that Phrase Net revealed.
Note that relative importance is depicted through larger font size and relationships among topics or concepts are indicated with arrows of varying density corresponding to the emphasis we gave those concepts in our written discussion.
Adopting a reflexive lens, we discovered that Phrase Net not only created a visualization of our document but also permitted us to look through the surface-level glass of our course themes to see the substance of our discussions – the entanglement of ideas, priorities, and journeys. This new lens helped us come to know and understand our own learning (embodied in our Google Doc) and the themes of community, identity and design not as destinations but as vehicles that have brought us through journeys that emphasize learning as social, distributed, and situated as we consider readings (primarily Wenger as a pivotal influence), spaces, and identities.
Layered Visual Understandings
The image can be read in many ways that help us consider major and minor threads. Following what appear to be minor threads in the visualization, for example, reveals converging pathways to larger meanings. The ‘blog’ connects to ‘post’ via a slightly larger thread and follows through to ‘shared’ ‘language’ ‘making’ ‘meaning’ in a parallel construction with the ‘post’ connecting to ‘shared’ ‘technology’. These threads convene through ‘design’, ‘social’, and ‘learning’. ‘Learning’ looms as a larger surface formed through the contributing threads of ‘social’ and ‘design’, and in turn feeds ‘community’, ‘space’, ‘contexts’, ‘identities’, and our occupy learning destinations.
There is an inherent value in exploring our work reflexively through the Phrase Net visualization as it brings the essence of our interests as a community of practice to the visible surface. Synthesis as recursive practice in this course then serves as a check-point to not only explore the course themes but to also reflexively consider our own positions an identities as collaborating peers in terms of the purpose for our practice, our mutual engagement, and our shared repertoire. Our visualization emphasizes our inherent interests to continually address learning as social and community centered. Although overtly examining community, identity, and design on a weekly basis, the strength of our journey is learner centered and social in nature – just where we’d like it to be.