In an earlier blog this year I shared my belief that I blog not because I necessarily want to or have extra time on my hands, but that I really feel compelled to blog. To stop blogging was, at that stage, unthinkable. Then suddenly I lost my rhythm and the number of blog posts declined rapidly (compared to blogging in 2012). The total tally for 2013 currently stands at only 4 blogs (January 7, January 21, May 22, and June 18).
Often when colleagues commented on my prolific blogging during 2012 I responded that there is so much happening in the general context of higher education and more specifically in the fields of open, distance and e-learning (as well as in my home institution), that I never seem to run out of topics to reflect/comment on.
And then it happened – I somehow lost my rhythm, my voice, not due to a lack of things to reflect and comment on, possibly to the contrary. Reflecting on the reasons for my feelings of being tongue-tied or speechless, there is nothing specific that comes to mind. Not only do I suspect that there are many possible reasons, but the reasons are also interconnected, interdependent and layered.
Was I feeling overwhelmed because there was just so much happening? Or did I become bored with the seeming navel gazing exercises in higher education on the shape, impact and future of massive open online courses (or the many derivatives that since arose)? It also seemed that if you did not blog on some or other technology and how it was to be the solution to all of education’s problems, that you were irrelevant. It was (and possibly still is) unthinkable not to fetishize some or other technology and claim the space to have been the first one to have identified it as a solution or a trend.
Or was the fluidity and liminal spaces I currently experience in my professional and personal lives to blame for my speechlessness? Or did the changes or contestations regarding the need and pace for change in my home institution paralyze me?
Whatever the reasons, I fell silent, not because I did not have anything to say, but because, somehow, the words just would not find their way to my fingers… I felt as if I had aphasia, or speechless and tongue-tied. Many drafts of blogs were left incomplete, “lost in translation” and often discarded. Even this blog took me three weeks to complete. It seems as if I lost my ability to speak spontaneously, to form words or name objects. Even when I could find the words, the words got lost or lost their meaning before they reached my fingers. While aphasia is contributed to brain damage often experienced due to a stroke, I cannot point to one, singular cause. It was not as if I woke up one morning and could not speak or blog anymore. As the frequency of my blogs during 2013 declined, I increasingly became aware of being tongue-tied. Many times I would start with a title for a blog or a first paragraph only to lose interest or lose my way halfway through the second sentence. Words, concepts, images would race through my mind but somehow the coherence, the rationale for blogging was lost in the inner noise and confusion.
Suddenly I have become illiterate (a point to which I will return later), in a world I did not understand anymore.
[By comparing my speechlessness or being “tongue-tied” with having aphasia I am, in no way, trying to belittle or stereotype those living with this terrible and numbing affliction. I also acknowledge that there are different types of aphasia and should you be interested, I advise you to visit the website of the National Aphasia Association or look at this introduction to aphasia on YouTube. To get a sense of what it must be like to live with aphasia, have a look at this video clip of an interview of someone living with Broca’s aphasia. ]
My experience reminds of a paper delivered at an interdisciplinary conference where the researcher used aphasia as metaphor to describe the feelings refugees and displaced persons encounter trying to adapt to their new environments, often in refugee camps in foreign countries. These individuals would then experience feelings of losing their “voice” in their attempt to negotiate their place within new dominant cultures or narratives. While my own loss of voice/words/coherence can possibly be ascribed to a number of factors; all of them share a number of characteristics such as feelings of being overwhelmed, at loss, feeling dislocated, and possibly a personal disbelieve that my speaking would make sense, be understood or make any difference.
The more I reflect on aphasia as metaphor for my experiences as an educational blogger, I realise that the metaphor can possibly also describe the feelings many students and staff experience in the current flux in higher education. Like migrants or refugees trying to make sense of a foreign culture and expressing themselves in a language that is not their own; many of our students and staff may actually feel as if they have aphasia. As these students and staff try to make sense and verbalize their difficulty in expressing their meaning-making, faculty and management may often blame them as being “misfits,” not wanting to change, “not belonging in higher education” or worse still, being illiterate in the 21st century.
Experiencing aphasia may therefore describe the feelings of many faculty and higher education staff when they try to describe and respond to the many and often contesting initiatives and discourses in higher education and open, distance and e-learning in particular. As higher education institutions respond to changing funding regimes, increasing accountability, demands from the marketplace and employers, as well as students as customers and consumers; many staff members may experience something alike to aphasia, being tongue-tied and at loss of words. Their experiences resemble the experiences of many migrants or refugees trying to respond to and negotiate sense and meaning in foreign and uninviting dominant cultures and narratives. At the end these staff members stumble from one performance agreement to another, failing to speak out, possibly giving up believing that speaking out may make a difference.
In conclusion: Many authors reflect on the type of literacies (Elmborg, 2006; Hobbs, 2004) or intelligences (e.g. Gardner, 2008) all of us need in the 21st century. Mackey and Jacobson (2011) coined the notion of “metaliteracy” – and in my presentation during the Metaliteracy MOOC I spoke of “metaliteracy in beta.” In my presentation I referred to Freire (1989) who said that “The act of learning to read and write start from a very comprehensive understanding of the act of reading the world, something which humans do before reading the words” (p. xvii; emphasis added). Being “illiterate, for Freire, was not only the lack of skills of reading or writing; it was to feel powerless and dependent in a much more general way …” (Burbules & Berk, 1999, p. 52).
Earlier I indicated that my feelings of being powerless, speechless and tongue-tied, made me feel illiterate. My silence or illiteracy could have been very easily understood as an inability to respond, or a lack of intellect or expertise in the field. And yet, my silence and being at loss of words was anything but being illiterate. I was overwhelmed, yes, and possibly even despondent of not being able to communicate, but not illiterate or non-caring. I fell silent because I cared, because I tried to read the world (Freire, 1989).
How many of our staff and students are tongue-tied and speechless, but not illiterate?
Burbules, N.C. & Berk, R. (1999). Critical thinking and critical pedagogy: relations, differences and limits, in Critical theories in education: changing the terrains of knowledge and politics, edited by T.S. Popkewitz & L. Fendler. New York: Routledge, pp. 45—66.
Elmborg, J. (2006). Critical information literacy: Implications for instructional practice. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 32(2), 192—199.
Freire, P. (1989). Learning to question: A pedagogy of liberation. New York: Continuum.
Gardner, H. (2008). Five minds for the future. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing.
Hobbs, R. (2004). Media literacy, general semantics, and K-12 education. Et Cetera, 24—28. Retrieved from http://www.generalsemantics.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/61-1-hobbs.pdf
Mackey, T.P., & Jacobson, T.E. (2011). Reframing information literacy as metaliteracy. College & Research Libraries, 72(1), 62—78.