Taking a break from curating an identity

I’ve just started reading for what should be the final semester of my degree. I’ve been reading Melbourne pastor Nathan Hedt’s article ‘Missional Spirituality among Digital Natives: Technology, Spirituality and Mission in an Age of Social Media’, which was published in Lutheran Theological Journal in 2013. Among other things Nathan talks about is our ability to reflect on how social media shapes our behaviour. It is hard for us to reflect on how our behaviour is being shaped when we are totally immersed in social media. Because of this Nathan suggests that we take regular breaks (digital fasts or social sabbaths) from social media and from digital screens in general. I’ve done this a number of times by closing down my Facebook account for periods of time and/or deleting the social apps from my phone. I’ve found this makes it easier to concentrate, and I’ve decided to take another break as of today, by deleting my social apps for a time. This means that I can only be posting or browsing my news feed when I’m sitting at a computer – unless I use the browser on my phone, which is a bit of a hassle.

At Surrender’s Melbourne conference last year a large number of us participated in a space where we shared about how we’d participated in Christian celebrity culture and how we’d been effected by it. One of the things some of us talked about was feeling the need to curate an online identity that looks like some kind of Christian social justice superhero. Some of us have felt like we’ve had to do that in order to create value for the agencies we’ve worked for or in order to get speaking gigs. Sometimes it’s made us suspicious of each other because we’ve seen each other as competitors in these silly games. I think there are a lot of things we can do to resist this kind of temptation, but I’ve found that one helps is making social media less easily accessed. At different times I’ve felt a need to be constantly thinking about things I could post to help curate the desired persona and at times like that it has been a relief to be able to delete those social apps. Making social media less accessible also slows down the process of posting something, giving more opportunity to discern the value of posting.

Are some people just naturally talented?

I’ve been continuing University of London’s ‘What future for education’ course on Coursera this week.

In this week’s lesson Gordon Stobart was suggesting that there is no innate ability that causes learning, but that ability depends on stimulation from our environments. He seems to think that stimulation helps to train us to learn better, and the advantages accrue to the point where some people are seen playing soccer or chess or painting and people say, ‘They’re a natural,’ when they have actually just practised and practised. Stobart reckons that in school some kids never learn because school doesn’t allow them to do the things they are interested in, and that if they were offered the opportunity they would practise and practise until they were experts.

I remember that when I was a young child I was sent to a remedial gym every week for a period of time because I’d been assessed as having poor coordination. What I pick up from that experience is that it was understood that I would just always have poor coordination, but it was expected that with practise I could learn better coordination. However, the program was ended because of government cuts. For most of my schooling I had trouble in physical education – although I enjoyed it earlier on when I didn’t understand that I was perceived as uncoordinated.

However, during high school I was able to learn how to kick a soccer ball and kick an AFL football. In university I was able to learn to throw a rugby ball and afterwards when I got involved in community development work in the inner city I was able to learn to bowl a cricket ball. I never became a great player at any of these games, but I was able to learn a lot more because other players took the time to show me the techniques – something that wasn’t possible in physical education classes.

I can’t really participate in these kind of sports now because I have an arthritic condition, and my coordination has probably deteriorated a bit for that reason. (I notice that Stobart didn’t talk about physical barriers to learning a particular skill.) I wonder what my experience of physical education would have been like if I could have had one-on-one assistance all through my schooling.

Ordinary learning

As I mentioned earlier in the week, I’ve just started doing the University of London’s ‘What Future for Education’ course through Coursera. I’m hoping that by doing this course I might be able to learn to become better at teaching, particularly in informal settings rather than in the classroom. One of the ideas that has already been presented is the idea that we aren’t always conscious that we’re learning. Sometimes we we might decide to do a class or seek another’s expertise in order to learn, but we also learn as we’re going about our everyday tasks. When I do laundry or cooking at home I have particular ways that I’ve learnt to do those tasks. When I hang out the washing I sort the items first so that the job of folding them will be easier later on. I don’t know when I learnt to do that – I must have just tried it one time and decided it was worth doing it that way. We’re always learning things outside the classroom, but I wonder about whether we can be more attentive to opportunities for learning in our ordinary everyday life.

How do we learn?

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I’ve just started doing the University of London’s ‘What Future for Education’ course through Coursera. For the first class we’ve been asked to reflect on a successful learning experience and an unsuccessful learning experience.

I think my most successful learning experiences have been when I’ve been able to learn in a way that is tailored to me as a learner. At my first high school I’d often get ahead of the rest of the class, at least in some of my classes. I can remember that some teachers would expect students to just sit quietly once they had finished, but I really appreciated when one of my geography teachers just allowed me to do the classwork at my own pace, and then gave me additional learning material to explore once I’d finished all of the required work. While I was at that school I also appreciated that they let me spend three months travelling around the country with my family, and saw this as an opportunity for me to be responsible for my own learning.

I contrast, I always found most kinds of mathematics really difficult. I found that when I couldn’t keep up with the class the teacher would move on without me, and there wasn’t time to help me get it. By the time I got to year 11 I was walking out of class because I didn’t have the sense that I was getting anywhere. I also didn’t have much of a sense of any purpose for understanding mathematics since I wasn’t planning to work in science or technology.

I’m wondering, what have been your successful or unsuccessful experiences of learning?