I have been reading Mariana Funes wonderful post “Show don’t tell“. The title struck me as a link to my earlier post entitled Silence? and Frances Bell’s response to it! Bearing witness is a reponsibility and I have changed the tagline accordingly! This is a brief response to Mariana’s post, also posted as a comment there.

I have been working in online learning in collaborative contexts for some time, and the issue of co-presence, and the nature and value of silences has been a recurring challenge. I have found that in blended courses it is possible to maintain, in the online space, a “third ear” that has been first developed in a room, if and only if a good amount of the room time is dedicated to listening to the learners and getting to know them. Even in completely online courses there are ways, albeit imperfect, of developing the “third ear”. But they require interaction and close listening, in other words a preliminary non-silence. Deeper silence remains opaque. But I sense that there are ways into it to be discovered. Non-invasive ways.

While the irony of a discussion of the meaning of silence is not lost, what stands out to me from a reading of Megan Boler’s article is the need to explore the modes, contexts and dynamics of silences. Notions such as listening, reflection (not the reporting of reflection but the reflection itself) and the fear of silence seem to me to require exploration and understanding. I think there is also a need to explore the ways in which silence, speech and engagement intermesh, there is speech that is to all intents and purposes empty, and there are monosyllabic ways of being eloquent. There is perhaps dialogue between speech and silence and ways of engaging across silences and speech. These notions are inchoate right now and need exploring. But there seems to me to be a prior stage…

I worked for some time, about 7 years ago, on the idea of dialogue as a basic sine qua non of meaningful online learning. It seemed so clear that Bohmian dialogue could permit the kind of listening and deeper exchange that can facilitate deeper engagement and learning. We developed an approach and presented, and fell at the first hurdle. The mere concept of dialogue (as in Bohm) is simply not widely understood, and even when explained, the need for it is not recognised. I see this everywhere I go (for most dialogue seems to be simply a synonym for conversation) and I am seeing it in the #moocmooc conversations too. It seems to me that the first hurdle is to achieve recognition that dialogue is even necessary.

It is a challenge though, and it reminds me of the notion of the spiritual aspects of silence as being anathema to education and politics. In some of the discussions recently in the #moocmooc tweetchats, stemming out of reading bell hooks, the difficulty of finding a place for the spiritual in education was discussed. I have the sense that recognition of dialogue and recognition of the spiritual as dimensions of education form part of the same challenge.

The issues resonate particularly as I am currently working on the design of a secondary school that will be based on yoga philosophy and ethics, in which meditation and dialogue will play a central role. I would very much like to explore this challenge, and the ensuing exploration of the modes, contexts and dynamics of silences. Mariana’s list looks to me like a good place to start!

I am also fascinated by the notions of insight dialogue, and digital dialogue blogging. Both are new to me, and I am looking forward to exploring them. Thankyou!


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