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Monthly Archives: February 2013


My highly imperfect Digital story

Yarn over, the story posted previously (the cc licence is on that story).

Photo attribuitions

Photo of the smoking man. K. R. B.
Silence Before Storm

Black and White High Rise, Danny Fowler.
Atlanta high rise office

Legs, j_lightning.

Man in a sharkskin suit, mr-scratch

Pearle on a womans neck, tenthmusephotography
Pearl Necklace

Emerald necklace, nostri-imago
Emerald Necklace

Black and white room, nfu
http://www.flickr.com/photos/nfu/3952486812/sizes/m/in/photostream/ ROOM


Yarn Over

This is my idea for the digital storytelling part of #etmooc. It’s a story I wrote in 20 minutes to go with an installation in a gallery near where I live. A murder scene in fact.

Usually, I’d do something more personal, detailing aspects of my life, or self, but this might make me experiment and push boundaries a little more. It’s also an original piece by me, and Creative Commonsing it allows me to give a small little bit back to the community (though the community may not in fact actually want it…)

I’m planning – if I have time – to maybe do something with Popcorn and it.

It’s Creative Commons Licensed, which will allow anyone to reproduce, or alter it, for non commercial use, as long as it’s attributed to me, Keith Brennan, and whatever is produced is Creative Commons, and maintains the conditions of my licence ( reproduceable, alterable, for non commercial purposes, and is attributed).

If you do anything with it (and you are welcome to) please mention it to me – you can catch me at this blog, or on twitter, @wiltwhatman.

Read, enjoy, and (in the unlikely event you want to do something with it) copy, redistribute, and pull it apart.

Yarn Over.

I first met the man called Dixie Marsh seven days ago in a grubby little office in a high rise in Brooklyn. It was my grubby little office. I’m a grubby little kind of guy. I wish I had stayed in my grubby little office thinking grubby little thoughts.

Dixie was wearing two-tone spats, a shit-eating grin, and an expensive sharkskin suit that made him look cheap. He was made of mainly muscle, and hair he got from looking at a magazine.

He didn’t have much smarts. He didn’t think he needed them. He was clever like that.

He was handsome. Cute. In the way that people who think being cute is just about the most important thing in the world. He was a man who would wear make-up when he was forty and clothes that were ten years too young for him, and hair dye and the same shit-eating smile just so he could show you how cute you should think he still was.

Except he wouldn’t be thinking anything anymore. He hadn’t had the smarts to make it to forty.

But that comes later.

I met Dixiein the company of a tall brunette who looked like she looked like she owned things. A lot of things. She had jade green eyes, a Brooklyn accent you could break a jewellery shop window with and legs that could floor a prize-fighter. The rest of her could start and finish a dozen bar-room brawls.  The Queen of Sheeba may have had more pearls. But they weren’t as big as the ones wrapped around her neck.

She had the kind of class you could buy, and it looked just fine to me, and the kind of taste people you paid for someone else to have for you and a fat wad of dough that spoke louder than anyone else in the room when she took it out and gave it a confortable seat across my desk from where I stood. I looked at the wad of dough. It looked at me. It was a beautiful moment. I flapped my gums a bit to pretend I was still in charge. The muscle tried to push me around some to show me who was boss, but I was listening too closely to the roll of dough to pay too much attention. I sat down so I could be comfortable while he pushed me around some more. I sat down so I could listen to what the roll of dough was telling me. I sat down because the legs might floor me.

She had lost some emerald doohickey she said. Or doodad. Or maybe it was a whatyamacallit. The exact words didn’t seem to matter exactly, less than that she was saying them to me. She crossed her legs and had me light a cigarette for her. I was in a cold sweat. I guess I didn’t have enough smarts either.

She told me to meet her here, in this room, in a back alley under the L.

I could tell Dixie was dead not from the shit-eating smile which he still had, or the perfect teeth that caught the light like greasy pearls.  I knew he was dead from the way he didn’t try to push me around the second I walked in the door. From the small hole in the side of his head. From the way he didn’t get up when I said “Hello Dixie”. But mainly I knew from the way most of his blood was now beside and outside his body painting the wooden floor like one of those Modern French paintings the Upper West Side crowd go wild for.

I had found her doohickey the day before. It was sitting right in the pocket of my suit. There were sirens in the background. There was the sound of heavy feet coming up the stairs. There was my gun on the floor soaking up some of the Dixie’s ruby paint. The cops who arrived looked like they were owned by someone who owned things and like hat was just dandy with them.

It was a tight spot. But I’ve been in tighter.

Ruthlessness, honesty and promiscuity.

I read a quote a while ago, from “Contemporary Perspectives in elearning”. The quote is by  Terry Mayes, Ch6, p84.

“Learning theories are often presented as being alternative accounts of the same phenomena, rather than perfectly compatible accounts of very different phenomena. The term ‘learning ’is very broad indeed, covering as it does a range of processes which stretches from acquiring the physical coordination to throw a javelin ,through to the sensitivities involved in marriage guidance.”

That part at the beginning “perfectly compatible accounts of very different phenomena” interested me.

It interested me because some conversations I had had about learning theories were true believer conversations. Either you were converted, or not converted, believer or infidel, ally or enemy, of the one true faith, or condemned to wander, cast out from the healing light of the one true theory.


Pedagogical promiscuity.  Sleep around.


Flirtation, by Federico Andreotti, Public Domain

Flirtation, by Federico Andreotti, Public Domain


I’m a pedagogical pragmatist. I’m interested in what works. I don’t require the resolution of conflict in theory to apply it. I’m interested in what works. And I’m promiscuous. I’ll tarry with any theory that will have me. I flirt outrageously with ideas. I’m rampantly unfaithful, I do the dirt behind the back of every theory I’ve ever spent time with.

I’m promiscuous becasue what the words “learn” and “teach” mean changes with the context. Because there is no one size fits all theory, because there is  no one size fits all student. I’m promiscuous because learning is a nexus where student, teacher and variables meet. And the variables are a long, long list of shifting targets.

Mayes describes one variable – the effect on what is being taught and learned on how it is being taught and learned. Heres a pile of others.

What am I teaching? Who am I teaching it to? Why is this person here? Do they want to be here? Is here the right place for them to be?What do they think here is, and how do they think it works? Does this person have an accurate sense of their capacities, abilities, limits, contexts and coping mechanisms? Do they think I need to be perfect, and do I need to undermine that? Do they think this is necessary knowledge? Is there estimation right? What’s their past experience of learning? What are the culktural influences. What resources do they have? What’s their schedule? Will their homelife help or hinder? How thinly are they stretched? What’s their past experience of education and where are they in the process of dealing with that? Are they an expert learner with strategies that need to be left alone, or so they need intervention? Are they driven by goals (grades, certificates, medals and gongs) or by processes ( developing abilities, skills, capacities) or by praise? Are they gaming me, and is that ok, or maybe even better than anything I can do or is it destructive? Do they work better in a competitive environment or a collaborative environment or a mix or alone? How will that play out in the overall dynamic?  Do they know what they need? What’s their experience of, and relationshiup to mistake making, goal setting? Can they self assess? How do they cope with challenge? Are they easily bored? Do they need processing time, or do they need immediate practice? Will they perform publically and risk mistakes, or will they polish to perfection, and how strong are those impetuses? Is their culture one where the preservation of face is important? What are their politics? Is that student Catalan, Castilian, Galician, or someone who doesn;t attach importance to that?

This is what rattles through my head when I’m sitting down to design for learning.


I’m promiscuous. Because, rationally, there is no other meaningful response. Contexts shift, change, and the goalposts move. Students are legion, and need as many answers as you can find to describe their learning needs. I flirt with a dozen theories, and I run with a what works rationale. Descripotions of learning are as varied as the learning and the learner.

I’m wary of silver bullet one size fits all teaching answers.

They always seem impossible not to dodge.


Joyful Viciousness. The art of honesty is ruthless.


Mosman Library's Ninja, from Flickr

Mosman Library’s Ninja. You have to be able to assassinate something of yourself, murder certainty…



I’m ruthless and honest because an air of joyful viciousness is an essential element in any pragmatist’s toolbox. You have to be willing to kill your favourite activities and ideas, your most fondly held sense of what it is that you are doing.  You have to be able to redraw your philosophy to fit the moment you are describing at short notice, sacrifice your theories, fit your ideas to what happened, and not what happened to your ideas. You have to take a cold hard look at what went wrong and put yourself in the right place of the trainwreck process your lesson may have become. And you have to be disinterested, cold, and unemotional, as detached as a market trader buying and selling the stuff of lives. You have to be able to assasinate something of yourself, murder certainty, and fall ruthlessly out of love with whatever it is that anchors you to an idea or experience and sets you adruft from the context you are in.


The enemy of evolution


The sentence “I’m a ………..ist” is the enemy of good teaching. Sure, I spend time with any theory that will have me, but ruthlessness and honesty, and skepticism about silver bullets means I set the bar high. Evidence is the only protection we have as educators against ideology, and decisions where we cut the cloth of our evidence to fit our theories, and not the cloth of our theories to fit our evidence.

This is my recipe for ongoing education, and progress and process as an educator. They inform my practice, they are a part of my reflective process as an educator. I have butchered the heart from myself several times.


Butcher's shop, Annibale Carracci, Public Domain

Butcher’s shop, Annibale Carracci, Public Domain


I expect to do so again. I feel as if I am sharpening my knives as we speak. Rhizomatic  Learning as a theory is both engaging, and somewhat . Limited and optimistic. Open and awkward. Intuitive and exclusionary. Resource rich and inefficient.

I suspect I will be butchering both myself and an idea in posts to come. Here’s to it.




Mosman Library Ninja, courtesy of Flickr User Mosman Library, http://www.flickr.com/photos/mosmanlibrary/ Under a CC licence.

Flirtation, by Andreotti, Public Domain.

Butcher’s shop, Annibale Carracci, Public Domain