Knowledge creation as a social process

It was a treat today to get an email from a friend congratulating me on my newly published article. The neat part was that although I knew it had been accepted for publication I did not know it had been published.

I think we all get lost in our work at times and things that were front and centre at some point may have moved to a different space in our life. This paper was submitted over a year and a half ago and although I spent time editing it after the first review I had not read it with intent since it was first written.

As I reread my paper today I found myself getting excited again with an old friend and it made me think of a small part of Gleick’s 2011 book titled The information: A history, a theory, a flood. In it he speaks of the impact of Babbage’s 19th century Difference Engine. He states that the engine “had to be forgotten before it was remembered”. Additionally he quotes historian Jenny Uglow where she writes that such failed inventions, contain “ideas that lie like yellowing blueprints in dark cupboards, to be stumbled on afresh by later generations.” (p. 123) This is a great description of much in our world and it really does speak to my belief that although our ideas may lie fallow we are forever connected to them and when the time is right and we have built appropriate supporting connections then something wonderful may surface. It may be time to pick up where my idea scaffolds left off. – anyone care to join me?

Gleick, J. (2011). The information: A history, a theory, a flood. Toronto ON: Pantheon Books.

The worth and value…

I teach, I hope that I educate, and in the process I continue to make grand assumptions about what students should and/or should not know beyond the confines of their subject area or chosen field. I believe that I support my students and offer them multiple opportunities to learn and participate and exercise their sense of understanding within the physical, virtual, and intellectual spaces provided. I do however get cranky towards the end of a semester when I am asked questions from students, the answers to which I believe they should know or at least know how to go about finding. Yet somehow I need to continue to find that small and compassionate part that stops me from really understanding that some students, no matter where they are in their life journey, really do not have any grasp of the basics. When I am asked the impact of a 10% assignment on a final grade when a student gets 5 out of 15 marks on an assignment – I should walk them through the process regardless of how many times I have explained this to the class as a whole. I should not judge the student for their lack of attention or attendance even though I do. I need to recognize that we will all develop a level of success in our life based, to some degree, upon the nature and/or nurture elements in our upbringing and although my few moments of frustration or compassion may or may not change a life, it just might show someone the worth and value of a teacher.

Humanity, Migration, and Shakespeare

I recognize that the larger conversation about what is best for any community currently takes place on a variety of the world’s stages however we need to somehow place these issues into the forefront of our greater consciousness given the state of global conflict, the resulting migration of people, and its impact on our communities. I am loathe to refer to our communities as fragile or otherwise as I believe any such fragility comes from the heart and soul of those currently part of the community. I do wonder however, whether community behaviour stems in part from an inability or possibly an unwillingness to find anything other than a cheap and simple solution that requires no real thought or engagement other than lazily agreeing with the loudest, most arrogant, and/or pushiest of voices.

From a global perspective we quite regularly find ourselves becoming involved in the conflicts and challenges of our neighbours. Wars and all conflicts rooted in some form of geopolitical, racial, religious, or hegemonic behaviours create many opportunities for the shifting of power, wealth, and the greater movement of people from one part of the globe to another. Those not being displaced or not directly involved in any of these disputes find themselves impacted in many unintended or unimagined ways. Although directly referring to the movement of people, the impact of this movement goes far beyond someone walking through a back pasture or setting up camp in a local park. The social and economic disruptions are so significant that this global movement and migration is permanently changing the landscape of communities across the globe.

Despite an apparent keen desire to perpetuate an era of willful blindness, our global inter-connectedness no longer permits such perversion despite its siren call and ignorant appeal. So what do we do? How do we react or respond to the result of such a massive disruption of societies and the subsequent movement of people?

The mass movement of people from one region to another is far from new and recently I became aware of a fascinating, unpublished, edited work of Shakespeare where he addresses this issue for his time and if we not only read and appreciate his words and then exam the long term effects of this mass migration then just possibly we could begin to see how we also might behave today.

Shakespeare had been commissioned to add to an existing play. Quoting from the following website

The play was authored collaboratively and is about the life of Henry VIII’s chancellor, Sir Thomas More. It was initially written by Anthony Munday between 1596 and 1601. Shakespeare was commissioned to add a 164 line scene to the middle of the play in which More courageously quells an anti-French race riot on the streets of London. The Lord Chancellor delivers a gripping speech to the aggressive mob, who are baying for so-called ‘strangers’ to be banished:

It is understood that Shakespeare added the following:

Grant them removed, and grant that this your noise
Hath chid down all the majesty of England;
Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,
Their babies at their backs and their poor luggage,
Plodding to the ports and coasts for transportation,
And that you sit as kings in your desires,
Authority quite silent by your brawl,
And you in ruff of your opinions clothed;
What had you got? I’ll tell you: you had taught
How insolence and strong hand should prevail,
How order should be quelled; and by this pattern
Not one of you should live an aged man,
For other ruffians, as their fancies wrought,
With self same hand, self reasons, and self right,
Would shark on you, and men like ravenous fishes
Would feed on one another….
Say now the king
Should so much come too short of your great trespass
As but to banish you, whether would you go?
What country, by the nature of your error,
Should give you harbour? go you to
France or Flanders,
To any German province, to Spain or Portugal,
Nay, any where that not adheres to England,
Why, you must needs be strangers: would you be pleased
To find a nation of such barbarous temper,
That, breaking out in hideous violence,
Would not afford you an abode on earth,
Whet their detested knives against your throats,
Spurn you like dogs, and like as if that God
Owed not nor made not you, nor that the claimants
Were not all appropriate to your comforts,
But chartered unto them, what would you think
To be thus used? This is the strangers case;
And this your mountainish inhumanity. 

As I read the above I realized that Shakespeare was speaking of my family, as they were French Huguenots fleeing persecution in their native France. My family settled in the Fen country of England and became successful farmers. Eventually parts of the family migrated to Canada, the US, and Australia.

What if England had refused them entry and sent them back to their persecutors? This is a similar story that plays out in the lives of millions upon millions of people all over the globe and apart from indigenous peoples, how did any of the rest of us ever make a success of our lives? Were we not welcomed? Were we not received in some form and supported as we made new and rich lives for ourselves and our families?

The Bard is still the finest – And this your mountainish inhumanity?

(The long quote above comes from

Martha Gellhorn, an observation


I love the breadcrumb trail the world of reading offers when we are open to it. I recently found myself wrapped up in a wonderful book titled The Hotel on Place Vendome by Tilar Mazzeo. The author writes about the world of the famous Ritz Hotel in Paris. She primarily focuses on the time period of the Second World War although she sets the stage by introducing us to Paris and the exciting world of the rich and famous starting at the turn of the last century when the Ritz was first opened.

Among the many characters we are introduced to in this book, I was taken by Mazzeo’s descriptions of the world of Martha Gellhorn and her challenges as woman correspondent and journalist during the second world war. This description can be found in chapter 16. Balancing the demands of those paying for her to write against an unknown world of horrors and excitement, not the least being that she was at the time the spurned wife of the great Ernest Hemingway. Yes, Hemingway appears to get first billing but Gellhorn is an amazing writer in her own right. The snippets presented in Mazzeo’s book caused me to dug deeper into the life and world of this author, global traveler and gutsy, articulate woman and I discovered a 60-plus year career of writing and traveling where she encountered war and the travails of ordinary people all over the globe. She found (or placed) herself in almost every conflict starting with the Spanish Civil War in the 1930’s right through to the early 1990’s when she wanted to go to the Balkan’s but realized her health and age prevented such an opportunity. I can imagine that at a certain point the lifestyle became the only thing worth living for.

Her writing is beautiful. She was known as a chronicler with a very in-your-face style of prose that must have been honed by years of seeing a reality that greatly challenged her belief and understanding of humanity. I have read some of her work and I have just begun a book titled The Face of War. She originally wrote the book in 1959 and edited and rewrote parts of it in 1986. A fascinating part of this book is the evolution of her thinking and her passion and compassion for the human race. She writes, in part, in her 1986 edition:

After a lifetime of war-watching, I see war as an endemic human disease, and the governments are the carriers. Only governments prepare, declare, and prosecute wars. There is no record of hordes of citizens, on their own, mobbing the seat of government to clamor for war. They must be infected with hate and fear before they catch war fever. They have to be taught that they are endangered by an enemy, and that the vital interests of their state are threatened. The vital interests of the state, which are always about power, have nothing to do with the vitals interests of the citizens, which are private and simple and are always about a better life for themselves and their children. You do not kill for such interests, you work for them.

Our amazing species is programmed from childhood in my-country-right-or-wrong patriotism. It is a nonsense phrase, despite its compelling power. Invoked for the purpose of rallying citizens to war, the correct phrase should be my-government-right-or-wrong. I always liked Tolstoi’s crusty remark that “governments are a collection of men who do violence to the rest of us”.

At this point in history (1986/87) the USSR had yet to fall apart and the ensuing changes to the world order had not been imagined but if we augment Gellhorn’s nuclear fears with other forms of terror and global disruption her message could be much the same today, just add more zeros to all of the figures quoted.

It is now almost thirty years beyond the final date in this book of wars and what have we learned? My age and my generation want to believe it is never too late to hear, to learn, and subsequently do something to move away from a perennial world of wars big or small. I wonder, however whether our world of one-percenters’ has developed a too powerful sway in the overall global decision processes. I continually attempt to encourage my students to see and know the power each of them possesses especially if and when they work together. Sadly many are overly focused on the here and now of bill paying and future life planning to be able to appreciate the connection.

The Martha Gellhorns of the world are few and far between. I wonder if despite the continual adventure and driving force her life must have been whether she was also very lonely. Maybe what we all see and benefit through her writing was her life’s mission. I am beginning to see a richness of layers in her writing and believe that there may be much value in her prescient observations today and tomorrow. To be continued…

A Teacher-Educator, a visionary, and a gentleman who amplifies the common good @terguy

My dear friend Terry

I understand that you are officially retiring from Athabasca University and I am sorry I cannot be at your farewell party. I would, however, like to pass on my best wishes as well as some thoughts with regards to the impact you had upon my life and career, and through a similar lens, what impact I know you had on the lives on many students throughout your academic career.

I was your first doctoral student. We met for the first time at Athabasca in August of 2008 during the cohort weeklong residency. You had earlier written to me and proposed you and I might be a good fit for my research interests. I was over-the-moon as I knew you by reputation and the thought of having the Canada Research Chair in Distance Education as my potential dissertation supervisor was, I thought, a dream come true. In retrospect, this was a dream come true, but for many reasons at the time I did not nor could not appreciate or imagine.

In our six years together as mentor and student I was frustrated yet continuously encouraged to find the limits of my academic capacity. I was nurtured and supported in the opening of doors, the ramifications of which neither you nor I fully appreciated at the time, yet you did not blink. You continued to be excited with and for me in this journey. You were always present. You taught me about the whole idea of presence, not just through your daily academic work with students and your prolific publishing record but most of all by you being everything and more you talk about and tell us in your very public writings: You live as you speak and write. I never once felt anything other than your continual presence throughout my doctoral journey.

I saw impenetrable walls. You waited patiently for me to see these obstacles through different eyes knowing when I understood what was needed to be known, the walls would become new knowledge and understanding and would cease to be perceived barriers. You took me places (physically, intellectually, and spiritually) and introduced me to a myriad of worlds of understanding that have helped shape the ground upon which I teach, learn, and interact with others and for this I am ever grateful. I know at times I resisted your shaping and your gentle nudgings. Maybe that is just part of the journey but as I have had the time and space to revisit and re-examine my six year journey with you I feel what stands out most is your gentle, open, and unhurried approach to dealing with the challenges we all face everyday.

Your list of accomplishments is quite legendary. If I have learned anything from you it is this: we are all working together for a common purpose; our hearts and minds need to be ever open; the work we do in education is for everyone and not a select few; and, most of all, the journey is the gift. I thank you for allowing me to be part of that journey.

It has been an honour and a pleasure and I wish you a long, healthy, and happy next phase of your life, especially sharing it with your wonderful Susan.

A grand accomplishment

I made a breakthrough today on something that has been bugging me for quite some time.

What is amazing about this breakthrough is that I made it by NOT doing something.

I have a project to build a series of resources for a particular aspect of my teaching and I felt that I needed to build a philosophical rationale to explain and support the work I was doing. I spent several days building a framework and today I got to writing. As the day went on, the writing became a rant and the rant became richer and more refined, and I even rebuilt my blogging theme to allow this grand gesture to have a great spot on the screen.

I copied and pasted the title and then I copied over the post and I read it again and tweaked it and reread it and… then I stopped.

I stopped as I realized just how my great and wonderful (and powerful) words could so easily be misunderstood and could cause others to be hurt or possibly cause some to shy away from the very thing I was attempting to address. I have no idea what stopped me today or why I could see what I had not seen for the previous days but I think I have just shown myself what I attempt to show others. I so desperately wanted to speak my words out loud and have others join in and push ideas around that I failed to see that the act of getting to this point was all I needed for me to be able to move forward with my project. I do not need to publicly jab at others or to whine in a disparaging way about seemingly important issues, rather I need to quietly go about the process of building my set of resources to support others and trust that those who need and use them will benefit.


When I was a boy…

When I was a boy I lived in the north eastern part of France (Metz) and December the 6th was a wonderful and magical day – It was known as Petit Noël and there was a parade with St Nicholas and Père Fouettard and there were gifts and it was grand fun. This memory has always been precious.

Unfortunately 25 years ago on December 6 an event occured that will forever change how I and many see December 6 . On December 6, 1989, fourteen women were murdered at École Polytechnique in Montreal and although on this day I find that I want to remember these wonderful childhood memories I am drawn to a world that I cannot comprehend or really understand. 14 beautiful lives were taken in their prime just because they were women. How can we possibly comprehend such hate and anger?

In these past 25 years there has continued to be a litany of crime focussed solely against women. Yes there have also been crimes against different racial, religious, and ethnic groups as well as everything and anything that human kind seems to be able to dream up. Yet somehow we must find a way to stand up and speak up about all of these events in some way. Why not start with this day – December 6 – a day to remember the lives lost to violence against women but also a day to keep this event alive in our memories so that we can be cognizant of behaviours that lead us down this dark path and work to prevent the growth and development of this unfortunate behaviour.



I know, this is probably not a real word but I am struggling to appreciate how our understanding of our world is interpreted and re-interpreted by subsequent generations. The other day in one of my classes my students were presenting material to the class as part of a 4th year seminar and in the discussion the students built an exercise whereby the class had to determine whether an individual fit into one of a number of categories. The class question dealt with corporate leaders and whether these leaders might be seen as either: icons, scoundrels, hidden gems, or silent killers. The presenting team put forward a variety of interesting individuals as part of this game and one of them was Mahatma Ghandi. As I listened to the various conversations in the class I began to realize that Ghandi was only seen as a hero: an icon who lead his people to the promised land of freedom and independence.

I am not suggesting that Ghandi should be viewed in any particular way but I challenged my students to see Ghandi in another way and I found it interesting that my alternate presentation of Ghandi was neither challenged nor appreciated. I suggested that besides being seen as an icon, Ghandi was also seen by some as a terrorist, a radical, and was at some point in his life tried, sentenced, and jailed for sedition. The British at the time for example, did not see him as either a hero or an icon so why is he so narrowly seen as one today? I wanted my students to attempt to understand just how perspective impacts how we view the world and to understand our world with as complete a historical lens as possible. It is my belief that only then can we attempt to more clearly navigate this very complex 21st century. I realized that my sidepiece about Ghandi was not part of the larger class conversation but the very simplistic and shallow view students appeared to have about the facts in front of them caused me to be challenged by what I saw as a significant void in our general understanding about our world and a similar void in pushing the boundaries of our beliefs and acceptance of what we are being fed on a daily basis through our socio-political processes.

I have just finished reading a book titled A People’s History of the Vietnam War by Jonathan Neale. I found this book enlightening and fascinating. I can understand why the book challenges some, but what really worked for me was the author’s continued attempt to connect global/historical events and attempt to put things into some form of greater perspective. Nothing happens in a vacuum. Geo-political global events are so very interconnected in so many ways and I appreciated how the author worked to show these long-term historical, political, and economic connections. Yes the author rants and wanders off at times but as a reader you either work with it and find how the rants connect to the larger story or not. I did not find the sidepieces overly distracting probably because of my personal worldview. There are so many connections that shape every corner of the globe and we cannot see our world through a simplistic and isolated lens – we have to question everything. It has always been so and our past is littered with examples of the impact of our “I see nothing” or “it does not impact me” viewpoint. I want my students to doubt, to ask questions and to know that at times that which they face is nothing more than a façade placed in front of them for many reasons and they should be sufficiently curious to ask about the man behind the curtain. If nothing else, I hope that the strength of curiosity and willingness to doubt and to challenge will help to strengthen and build engaging and open-minded leaders.

An Olfactory Serenade

We take photographs with all sorts of gadgets and we record sounds with an equal number of devices all in the hope that we can capture some moment, some special event or time that we wish to share and make available for some future time. What we cannot really capture are smells – those olfactory moments that grab our attention in both positive and at times, challenging ways.

This evening as I sit working at my siren of hope and beacon of light I am serenaded by a sweet and beautiful scent from somewhere in my neighborhood. Probably some fresh cut item in a nearby garden. The evening air is cool yet mixed with this fragrant dance from some organic source hidden in the darkness of the evening.

The day has been rich and warm and those in the neighborhood seemed to glide in a peaceful way that comes with a quietude associated with late summer. I savour the moments and the accompanying peace.

I dies at you…

“I dies at you” — Well I suppose I could have said “kjds devtvtwrv reqfrg” or something similar and then some rube’ish soul might suggest that the latter means the same as the former, but thanks to my wonderful students from another Canadian island, I have learned that these words is real.  Yes, for example I must learn to say “stay where you’re to and I’ll come where you’re at”. Hmmm.

You see, on my island in the Pacific we have been left with the vestiges of 19th century workingman’s English as well as a twinge of some form of pretentious English that has hung on for generations even though there hasn’t been an Englishman in the family for 5 generations. Yet amazingly, 97.6% of our friends from the “1/2 hour ahead” region in Canada claim their mother tongue to be something called “Newfoundland English”. This is so very cool.

I am teaching in an online program where at the start of the program students attend a 2-week on-campus residency. This past Friday evening my students had a pub night in town and I was invited. My students are from the far reaches of this country. Some teach offshore in exciting places and some speak the Queen’s English quite different from ways I understand it. But… this is the fun part. Yes there is a version of the English language (or dialect – you pick) spoken in Canada (other than 15th century French) that is unique. Check it out – there is a Wikipedia page.

Put together 14 adults on a university campus for 2 weeks and after a long academic week it was so much fun to be a part of the dialect shenanigans. It was grand fun and I only wish I could have been able to correctly adapted to the linguistic challenges that a noisy bar and energetic young, eager students seem to embrace as though it was their second nature.

Besides learning to appreciate (and have fun) with the language it was a treat to be a part of student, after-class dynamics. The energy was electric and although I do have a vague memory of such social events in my past, it helped remind me that it is events such as these that help to bind and bond us as we head on new adventures. In education we speak often about “community” and we talk about all sorts of ways of building communities both face-to-face as well as online. There are gimmicks and strained activities forced upon our students however at the end of the day it is these wonderful social affairs that serve to help us find our place.

I see a great community of learners and although I have focused on a few who have worked hard to welcome me into their linguistic world, I am very fortunate to be a part of a wonderful community of supportive and supporting learners who are getting ready to launch into a 2-year academic journey. Lessons learned and then some.