How do I teach? It’s complicated, complex, & a work of friction!

Teaching students, who are becoming teachers, how to teach is complicated AND complex. There’s no simple solution. There’s no set of guides or magic method that works for everyone, all the time. To define a framework or establish a process is incredibly complex. Simple solutions or direct paths through the tasks are not possible. Yet that is what much of teaching has become. It’s a progression through a set of readings, activities and learning events from the start of a lesson, unit or course to the end point. Teaching accomplished! The analytics and assessments measure learner success and teaching efficacy!

Cynefin framework Feb 2011

My reflections this week are coming from the conclusion of a term as well as some #HumanMOOC explorations. I’m focusing on why I teach, how I teach, and what I teach. It’s complicated! But more importantly, it’s also complex! It involves my own learning, modelling visible thinking and doing it to teach it. It’s fluidly recursive between ‘good practice’ and ’emergent practice’ (as defined by the cynefin framework by Dave Snowden). It’s an infinite mobius loop that flips over and under – teaching and learning become one and the same. Interestingly, this loop of reflection is returning from a previous post (Work of a Different Kind).

After listening to The Rhizomatic Lense, Dave Cormier’s address at ICERI2015, I know that my teaching is becoming more rhizomatic than constructivist. This is resulting from frictions between open and closed teaching systems, between structured syllabus and free exploration, between outcomes that are targets for learning and personal reflective practice. It’s a foundationally different approach to teaching than any I’ve experienced. It’s complex.

Although it is complicated, there can be a set path to follow when designing a course or laying out a plan for student learning. Yet there is no ONE guide to guide all guides! There is NO one plan to plan all planning! As I crafted a ‘welcome cast’ for a new online course I looked for a guide or plan of what should be included, what sequence it should take, and how to create one. Turns out I need to write my own guide and plan to find my way through it! I learn to teach about instructor videos by learning about instructor videos. It’s complicated but there is a solution. It’s complex because there are many possible solutions for this one scenario.

Lesson planning and unit planning have been the bread & butter (or rice, beans or equivalent food staple) of teaching new teachers how to teach. Teaching to write a lesson plan has an outcome – it’s a well crafted, detailed lesson plan.  There is no doubt that planning lessons are complicated – lots of threads to weave into a plan of action (classroom management, learning outcomes, sequence to follow, materials to use, assessment strategies to employ, etc.). Yet the best planned lessons don’t measure up to the complexity of the teaching part. So many potential elements impact the actual doing of teaching, as any experienced educator can relate (particularly around holiday seasons).

So planning any video for online teaching or learning is complicated but not complex. There isn’t a simple solution when planning and creating video for online instruction since instructors, designers, equipment, context, content, and audience all impact the outcome.  It’s complicated because more than one solution can evolve for each circumstance. An abundance of options and opportunities makes this process difficult (as I experienced this week). The complex part comes when video is used interactively, collaboratively, and subversively to be a catalyst, to create friction for student thinking. How I integrate this ‘welcome cast’ into the course design as a means to get students engaging and interacting in the first week of an online course will determine a basis for the rest of the course. It sets the tone and establishes my presence as the instructor.

But my rhizomatic experiences are impeding my constructivist practices. Good practice tells me to present my video as a model, ask students to create something similar, while providing multiple means of expression and sharing insights in a collaborative discussion about self in digital space. But when rhizomatic learning steps in, there are no clear answers. When the community is the curriculum and the direction is driven by those in the learning space, be it ‘garden or stream’ (as it is described in the #HumanMOOC), the integration of an instructor created ‘welcome cast’ video becomes complex. It requires some emergent practice or new ways of doing things. There’s no guide or ten-tip solution.

How do I teach? I’ve used a constructivist methodology. My role has been as a catalyst or provocateur. My planning shapes events so students are doing, engaging and creating followed by reflective action resulting in peer and self assessment. The focus has been on me, as instructor and subject expert. The learning events, sequence and assessments are designed and planned before the learning begins. It’s been complicated but there’s always been a potential solution.

image of irises in a gardenHow will I teach? I don’t know. I can honestly say it’s emerging. It’s complex and uncertain. Ideas and techniques are rhizomatically growing in a garden community of like-minded ‘irises’ (Dave Cormier’s analogy in the keynote video). The #HumanMOOC is my current learning space where I’m exploring ideas of open curriculum, learner direction, fluid syllabus, self assessment and instructor as learning participant. My ‘welcome cast’ is a work of friction.

How will I use this video to instigate and agitate student engagement? Is that the purpose of a ‘welcome cast’?  Should it be a one way delivery of an instructional statement or the opening line of a conversation? How do I teach about critical digital literacy from this very first contact? Any answers are welcome. Take some time to comment.



Attribution of image of cynefin framework – By Snowden (Own creation, own work) [CC BY 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Irises image – Pixabay, no attribution required.

Video attribution – By HJ.DeWaard Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International


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4 Responses to How do I teach? It’s complicated, complex, & a work of friction!

  1. Great reflections! I love that you used the Cynefin framework to deconstruct these ideas. It’s one that I’ve only recently begun to get my head around so seeing your trace of it has also helped me revisit the ideas.

    “How will I use this video to instigate and agitate student engagement? Is that the purpose of a ‘welcome cast’? Should it be a one way delivery of an instructional statement or the opening line of a conversation?”
    These questions at the end are ones that have also been buzzing around in my head…I’m pretty sure I want the answer to them all to be….yes. : )

    • HJ.DeWaard says:

      I’ve tiptoed around the Cynefin framework and watched Dave Snowden explaining the workings of this framework but it’s still challenging to connect it to personal rather than organizational structures. Still trying but it’s not intended to be easy – our own teaching and learning journeys often descend into chaos before things begin to make sense. Like that feeling when you begin a new course and trying to figure it all out at once rather than letting it evolve as you learn. Thanks for commenting Lisa.

  2. Of the many thoughts that occurred to me while reading your post, the one that struck me with greatest force is the question of competing conceptions of curriculum, how we understand these and where we place ourselves in relation to these as people who try to help others teach (I’m a learning technologist in the UK so my role overlaps with curriculum development).

    Snowden’s emergent practice based on complex systems seems to me to have a lot in common with Stenhouse’s model of ‘curriculum as process’, where teachers approach learning with experience, knowledge and critical thinking but continually evaluate the process and its outcomes as it takes place through discussion. So much of our educational culture is about teaching ‘simple’ or ‘complicated’ knowledge or treating complex knowledge as if it could be learned in these ways. I think complex/process curriculum is a difficult road to follow in formal education, particularly for new teachers, but I wondered if your experience was different.

    • HJ.DeWaard says:

      Paul, you make some important connections between the curriculum as a process and the art/act of teaching. For teachers who are learning about how to teach, the challenges between simple and complex are …. complex. For some it’s chaotic since there is often that disconnect between the act/action of planning and the act/action of teaching the lesson. I agree that other chaotic factors include the input from outside ‘experts’ while balancing the tri-umvirate – classroom management, planning and assessment where each can impact the effectiveness of a lesson or curriculum unit. As an LT I’m sure you are constantly working through the “it won’t work in my classroom” stance that some teachers bring to the planning stage. Sometimes they are right but other times it’s because there is uncertainty and chaos before it makes sense. There’s that process piece! Anyway, there’s still lots in my own teaching that I need to work out – good that there are #HumanMOOCers to help bounce around some ideas.

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