To Not Speak

Recently, an interesting conversation has been going on about educators being tongue-tied and blogging less, feeling they’ve lost their voice. Bonnie Stewart wrote of this after reading a post by Paul Prinsloo, then Jenny Mackness mentioned Bonnie’s post while talking about “conscious incompetence”. I detect a crisis of confidence, but this may be only because I’m experiencing one.

I read much of Jenny’s work – it’s wonderful. I read Bonnie’s posts – they’re wonderful. And yet, I understand the tongue-tied feeling, and the way in which it’s related to the rise of MOOCs. I’ve tried not to blog about MOOCs, but I end up doing it anyway in an effort to make some sense of the role of the original pedagogies, the publicity, and the commercialization. The evolution of the MOOC discussion parallels, not coincidentally, the movement in higher education toward the abandonment of traditional pedagogies, the publicity about college costs and purpose, and the commercialization of educational goals. I’m hopelessly old fashioned – I think the reason for a college education is to become a more educated person.

Whatever silences I may have experienced are the result of disillusionment. Like the others, I used to post more. As my posts became increasingly cranky, I didn’t enjoy writing them as much. I also became frustrated when I began caring whether people read and responded. But I couldn’t not care about it on Twitter, although I tried. Along with the evolution of MOOCs and Higher Ed, Twitter has evolved too among those I follow: it is now primarily a link-sharing network. 140-character commentary on ones own work has given way to, in some cases, only sharing links to other people’s content. So for me, it’s been less interesting to read, although those info-tweets are still a good resource. When I tweet, and do it in the old style (my own commentary, sans link), there is now little response. More than my blog, Twitter seemed like a conversation. Now it’s more like Diigo than meeting friends at a coffee shop.

The disillusionment is now creeping into how I think about teaching. I am at a stage in my career where I have tried many pedagogical approaches, with varying degress of success. And this success has been distributed unevenly among students with varying skills and goals. Although I would not consider myself, I hope, to be at the complacent stage of “conscious competence”  noted by Jenny, I may have passed it and come back to “conscious incompetence”. Unlike Jenny, however, I do not feel that I do not know enough, but that perhaps I know too much. Unlike Bonnie, I never went for a doctoral degree, though I have experienced the frustrations of academic writing (or, often, feeling I must read articles so I cite something to back up what I already have experienced in the classroom). There are times when this year feels like my first year of teaching.

While I have not abandoned blogging during all this, and I still feel that I can help others, it’s clear that I need inspiration for a completely different kind of analysis of what I do, or even examining something completely different (poetry? literature? all that history I was going to write about once upon a time?).

For me, I’ll write more when I have begun to think differently.

7 comments to To Not Speak

  • Lisa – thanks for sharing your thoughts. There is a lot that I can identify with. One of the first things in your blog that resonated with me on a personal level is your mention of a “crisis of confidence.”

    I think my own “crisis of confidence” is multi-layered ranging from being a white, gay, 54 year old male carrying the unbearable lightness of being white in a deeply traumatized and traumatizing society (and institution) trying to address the legacies of apartheid often in ways that affect my sense of self in profound ways. Institutionally I experience myself as being a neutered dog – having served my purpose in the ideological playing field of institutional and operational politics.

    So while I could keep up the momentum of blogging and commenting on trends in higher and distance education, (and despite positive feedback) – I suddenly lost my rhythm, my sense of making a difference, my sense of being. I can therefore identify with the disillusionment that you mention.

    Reflecting on the next steps I am still not sure. At least by blogging about my speechlessness and feeling neutered, I face and confront my demons. Whether the act of blogging as exorcism make a difference, I don’t know.

    • Paul, exorcism of demons is an interesting way to look at it. Must think on what the demons might be here – societal apathy? the new anti-intellectualism?

  • […] and conscious incompetence. This came from Lisa Lane’s (online) teaching blog and her post –To Not Speak. Like Bonnie Stewart, Paul Prinsloo, me and I’m sure many others, Lisa has been wondering why […]

  • “The evolution of the MOOC discussion parallels, not coincidentally, the movement in higher education toward the abandonment of traditional pedagogies, the publicity about college costs and purpose, and the commercialization of educational goals.”

    This is reason enough to be a bit cranky, in my view. So many reports on MOOCs get excited about the numbers game, the revolution, the disruption, and predictions about the end of traditional institutions. It’s like a crowd attracted to a fire – so mesmerised by the flames that they can’t see what is burning. Stephen Downes and George Siemens made some useful comments in a recent interview in the Times Higher Education (, and Audrey Watters had a good go at Hacking Education (, but these voices are few and far between. You are certainly making a constructive contribution to the discussion with your blog.

    Many thanks.

  • Hi Lisa,

    Looking at the MOOC conversation these days it feels appropriated, rewritten and recast.

    My sense is of a conversation substantially changed from an honest dialog of discovery to the words-of-the-expert, we-have-this-under-control public relations filter that that comforts and smooths where we thought discomfort and rough surfaces worked just fine. I sense lawyers behind curtains, risk analysis, sensibilities and agreements all based on the cheap needs of attention seekers, charlatans (as they used to be called) and appropriators.

    There are times when I don’t want to understand but prefer the vulnerability of being out my shell and “available”, undefended, all nerves and a deep desire to run away. I’m like this not for the thrill of it but the chance for a connection that matters or a glimpse of something that passes by regularly that I can’t see with my senses set to “normal viewing.” My experience tells me I’ll be thrown into this state by happenstance as well as purposefully and I don’t wish to be blocked or warned off.

    I wonder if competence brings with it an invulnerability we don’t want? An assurance and certainty falsely called responsibility when we want the obligation of fools to engage with incautious honesty?

  • Lisa, I’ve kept your post open for days, and I was so interested in the comments, as well as your sense that Twitter has become Diigo. But here’s the thing: yesterday at work a colleague forwarded a journal article she’s planning to cite, and there was Paul Prinsloo’s name on it and I thought: wait, that’s someone I know.

    And I think that’s still the richness and surprising nature of all of this to me. I’ve found the overwhelming nature of MOOCs and the rubbish written about them very quietening this year: so much to read, so much that makes you want to rush outside and plant spinach instead. I lost my way completely, and when I did speak, like you I found myself operating from a position of crank and snark.

    But something has turned out a bit differently, quite suddenly. All sorts of people (interestingly, other than Paul mostly women) have reached out and said that they are feeling the same way. Ideas and expressions of concern suddenly appeared. And I think maybe we’re starting to find a language for the sense of sorrow that we feel, watching educational systems and practices that really matter in the lives of vulnerable learners get overtaken by the exuberance of privileged educators who have no clue what they’re breaking.

    To me it feels like a kind of regrouping. I don’t know what this amounts to, but I was very grateful for your post, and it was so nice to meet you on Twitter the other day.

  • @Mark – yes, the crankiness seems to be permanent. I’m beginning to wonder, however, the extent to which some of us are also disappointed in the cooler MOOCy aspects we’ve tried. I need to think on that too.

    @Scott- the desire to run away hits it right on the head. And yet in some ways it’s like watching a train wreck…you can’t turn away.

    @Kate – it’s been great meeting you too! Perhaps there is a regrouping, on the part of a number of teachers. Maybe we are looking for that different kind of reframing, something that will bring the meaning back while preserving the open environment we’ve all been saying we need. I do want to keep working on articulating this, because I think it is intellectual despair, not just an emotional reaction. Oh, and I did go out and plant spinach, but it didn’t come up… 🙂