…Or must it? What if it was just a realization that it was always there,
Nesting in the soil, waiting for the right foundations for its fruit to bare
Like a tree breaking free of the ground only to dig deeper and deeper
Its root spread around as it seeped into the mycelium’s message keeper. 

Now if you know anything about trees, you should see the importance of their roots in any ecosystem in regard to the vast underground network of mycelium that connects all of them in an area, providing a network to communicate with, a system of conditions, and microbial transactions, that allows the trees to in essence talk with each other. Sounds like something out of Avatar right? Well, where do you think they got the idea? It was there all along! And it is very real and very important, and if you don’t know why, have a look at this blog post from the National Forrest Foundation called Underground Networking: The Amazing Connections Beneath Your Feet to tickle your fancy.


But why am I talking about trees? I thought this was online learning? Learning design? Problem-Based Learning? What does that have to do with trees? Well apart from the fact that their existence is what allows us to take a breath to ask a question, they are also teachers, we can tell a lot about an area simply by the type of tree that is there, from fauna to flora, they are keepers of knowledge not only for us but every living thing that shares their shade, trees are microcosms from the tip of the longest root to the last leaf on the tallest branch, despite their solitary appearance, every single tree teams with life and information, all being shared among its inhabitants and its neighbors, an e-Co-system. A system that relies on the collaboration of many different species and plants to keep it going. Every tree is a galaxy of its own. And even if you look out further than the stars we can see, you will see that even our universe is part of a grander network of space and time that all co-exist outside of each other and within each other.

And that is how I felt about this experience by the end of it. Like a gathering of trees sharing their knowledge with each other, providing seeds and stems for us to grow ourselves. But it wasn’t like that at the beginning, at first I was rather apprehensive because time was an issue and I felt like I wouldn’t be equipped enough to do it, also what would a bunch of people from a tech-savvy and well-connected society be able to offer me? I felt like I didn’t know enough, and that people wouldn’t know enough about my situation to be able to really help it. Everyone was acclaimed in their fields as well, real academics you know, and who was I? Just a drama teacher from Africa who by happenstance (he made a dope video lesson because he was stuck in quarantine and wanted to be creative instead of mope around) found himself in circumstances that lead to him being here, now, writing this. But where am I now? Well, I’m sitting in my office lounge, where I usually sit and work, majority of my work is actually done here, in the wee hours of the morning in between bouts of Fortnite to keep the adrenaline pumping and mind thinking strategically, here is where I plan my day and start my process every morning. A place of both solace and solitude… Well not so much anymore. But you’ll see why…

I have always had an interest in teaching, maybe it stems from my years of delusional grandeur and privileged “wokeness”. But like those years of life, it was just that, soil, dirt. Barren and lifeless. It was a selfish and hollow perception of what I thought the world should be based on my own insecurities completely unaware of the reality I ignored. But over the years, the more time I spent teaching,  the more i learned about people and the very societies they exist in, and the more I realised that this is what I want to do. And the more I watered that garden, much to the dismay of my actual garden, the more it flowered and grew. And one day, a seedling finally broke through. When i had completely forgotten about it, when I had all but given up/ And that day was when I started doing this ONL course, I had spent so much time in the dark trying to find my way out and around, that that’s all I thought there was, just a constant struggle, and then one day, poof, there was a light that switched on, but soon I realised that light had always been on, I had just never looked up. ONL highlighted that for me It showed me that network I was part of and forgotten. It made me not only want to make a difference again but it made me feel like I could. Yeah, that’s right! I want to make the world better! I mean why not? Shouldn’t that be how everything is learned? Learn something like the future depended on it. Like you had a purpose? Learn to make it better for everyone. Inspire others to go even further than you could imagine. Shouldn’t every educator secretly (or not) want to be a superhero saving the world from its tragedies with the power of knowledge, to be a key part in society’s continuation and betterment, to want to lift their students out of their situations, and provide them with a platform to see the world as it is? Diverse and intricate beyond compare. I know, utopian right? A lot like teaching really. While it may seem like a menial process, something we take for granted, a tree in a field, its roots running deeper than its leaves connecting to the world around it, and the effects of teaching are the same, far-reaching and usually unseen, can’t see air now can you? And that is the essence of teaching isn’t it? To take vast amounts of information and provide small nutritional doses of necessary knowledge to those who depend on it. 

If anything, this all reminded me what teaching was about, the sharing of knowledge for the betterment of human life as a whole. Because like a tree, we too are whole only because of the smaller parts that make up our being. We are all connected, a network open to anyone who dares to ask a question and seek its answer, But the reality on the ground is that too many educators are not being educators, they are too busy being workers. Too busy trying to make ends meet by meeting deadlines and deadlining meetings. Always in a rush to finish something, but never done. And obviously, that’s not good. No. It is not. This transfers to the students who then detach from the content and wander around their thoughts, because “anything is more interesting than this” and that does anything but educate, it does the opposite, the students themselves begin to feel the resentment fromthe teacher towards their job and unknowingly begin to project their own resentment to it as a result. It’s a real catch-22. No one learns, no one teaches. Everyone gets grumpy. But one thing ONL wasn’t was that it was never “grumpy” per se. It was never dull, never boring. It was intriguing and fun, I looked forward to the classes and sessions. And the best part? They were designed to be like that. They were meant to open you to be open. It’s one of the first steps in developing a network. The tree isn’t simply a structure that things live on and in, it has needs and wants, and those are met through the interconnectivity of all the life that flourishes on it and because of it. We flourish when we collaborate and we work together for each other and not just ourselves. It is the very design of nature itself. And to be honest, it feels like for the past few hundred years we have been veering very far off from that design. That inherent structure, that mycelium of the soil. And we as teachers are partly responsible for that. We have propagated a system simply because we were told to, not because it worked, complacency was easier than resolution. It set up specific structures for a specific kind of outcome to get a specific kind of person. And that worked for its own process, but I don’t think it would be sustainable. The world is just a lot bigger than we give it credit for. and filled with so much. Gaining this (re)new(ed) understanding of open networked learning reminded me that..well the world just isn’t like that anymore, there is so much more to consider than what we define as the norm. Especially in education. 

Interacting with facilitators and students and moderators and all the other cool content given allowed to me to see from each perspective, seeing the roles and responsibilities and how they were not delegated, but rather shared. The meetings and workshops gave me something to look forward to because i wanted to learn more and share ideas I’d had on the content. I was excited. I enjoyed them like an island oasis in the ocean of storms and chaos that my work sometimes gets to be. Overwhelming and disheartening, but always making you stronger and wiser you know? So while many others were slightly confused and overwhelmed by all the new structures and tools, I found some creative peace in exploring them (looks through the blog. should probably turn this into a Miro board shouldn’t I?), I enjoyed being guided and not delivered, like friends showing you a cool view spot that you can come back to on your own, they just took you there, it was you who experienced the view, and once you see it, you will always be back, even without that friend. And I really enjoyed that, it reminded me that “hey maybe I’m on the right track”, yeah my ideas can be a bit idealistic and unrealistic at times, but the world needs dreamers. And thanks to my epilepsy, I dream during the day too, so I got it covered. And again, I ask, why not? Why not change it? Clearly, the soil is no longer viable for growth, it has become hard and stale. It’s time to dig out the weeds, turn the soil, get some fertilizer, irrigation, repellents, a calendar with all the moon cycles, crop encyclopedias, seed catalogs, research journals, the list can go on. Sometimes we even learn things that aren’t in any books and have to write our own. But even if you had all the knowledge in the world, it would be meaningless if not applied. If not put to use, you didn’t learn anything, you just read a book. Only in the application of learned technique does it become a skill. And those of us born with natural talent need to seek the right soil, or it too can be wasted.

Too many educators think that all they have to do is throw the seeds, and leave them to grow. They provide the soil, the water, and the seeds, what else do need they to do? Everything should be fine, I’ve provided all the necessary “scaffolding”… but they soon learn as their results return that this is not the case, and then they wonder why it’s not working, “WHERE IS MY YIELD!” they proverbially shout from behind their desks, never once touching the soil. Never getting their hands dirty on the ground, doing what needs to be done. The hard work and understanding needed to tend to their crop. A continuously changing almost universal understanding of nature itself and using it to an advantage. All that and it is to replicate but a fraction of what nature itself can create. What we can build for decades she can tear down in seconds, what takes us thousands of years to understand, she does effortlessly at the whim of her will, and we are but followers and poor replicators of her natural complexity. What we can take years to understand, she will show us in an instant. She is also a rabid learner, constantly trialing and erroring, making adaptions, and constantly changing. Never ending. It never ends really. We learn something new every day even if we don’t know it and we teach others through our own experiences even if we are not aware of our impact. We are in a constant state of wonder, sometimes that wonder is fear, and sometimes it is determination. But too often we mistake wandering for wondering and end up walking in circles around topics, never really coming to conclusions and just repeating something old in a new way. Never actually tackling the cause of the issue and just trying to repair its damage. Like taping a hole in a boat with duct tape, effective, but you’re going to have to keep replacing it as it falls apart. When we could have just put a plugin it from the beginning. Like a farmer just throwing seeds on the ground and wondering why they have not yielded any decent crop. Despite its chaotic appearance, nature works on a fine structure, a structure that is so detailed one can not even explain it. But we can try, and once we understand it we can learn from it and be better for it, we can evolve. I think the next great step for mankind will not be some high-tech-cutting-edge-really-expensive invention, it will simply be the way we teach and learn. It will be a change in ourselves. And I think Open Networked Learning is a part of that. It is one of the processes of change. And like a vine, it will grow and climb, adapting as it maneuvers in and out of minds, connecting life and lives together as it grows.

All we can do is observe and proceed, take what we can, and make what we need. 

Reflections on Topic 5: What begins must end…