Red Roads and Connectivism

First Published on Medium

Digital Pedagogy Lab : Prince Edward Island : First Reflections

I am just back from Digital Pedagogy Lab on Prince Edward Island, a two track digital workshop and essentially an unconference opportunity. It is only now as I suffer from jet lag and start the reflection process that I realise how appropriate that setting was for the discussions we had.

“When we got into the train at Charlottetown and the red roads began to flash past I asked Mrs. Spencer what made them red and she said she didn’t know and for pity’s sake not to ask her any more questions. She said I must have asked her a thousand already. I suppose I had, too, but how you going to to find out about things if you don’t ask questions?

And what does make the roads red?”

For those that remember Anne of Green Gables from their youth, and I admit that I am not one of those who connect with it, you will recognise the scene that the quote above came from. For those of us who participated in the lab it perhaps sums up so many things. The innate curiosity of the human spirit, coupled with Mrs Spencer’s shutting down of Anne, perhaps representing the education system of the day and certainly Mr Phillips, Anne’s first teacher. For many, digital pedagogy, and the affordances it gives us it is like the shift in Anne’s own education when her replacement teacher, Miss Stacy arrives, a transformative and ultimately liberating journey, but one that is still challenging.

The track I was most interested in was networks; looking at the nature of open, social media, how we collaborate and participate across networks, how we build and maintain those connections, and influence and reputation in our professional practice. There was also a focus on discussions around having learners collaborating openly on the web, perhaps the only time that our students are fully exposed to vulnerability — a discussion for a later post.

There won’t be a “single” report from the lab, search Twitter for #DigPed and you’ll see why, or read Daniel Lynds reportage from one 30 minute conversation. Even after the lab was finished I was still discussing moving strategy to operation with Susan Adams & Robin DeRosa, building on the unconference and corridor chats.

I’m still writing writing up both notes taken digitally and on paper, moving back and forth between the Slack and Twitter channels; still clarifying thoughts with colleagues, both those that were in the room and those that felt like they were. For those who are following the work James Clay and I are doing on Digital Leadership and Digital Capabilities expect to see an impact and increase in content to support areas such as Data Literacy and Digital Creation.

The area that I felt I developed the most was my own understanding of Connectivism and Rhizomatic approaches. Perhaps inspired by standing out in a field, looking at a rolling landscape and realising that if you scrape away a few centimetres of topsoil you will expose the underlying red sandstone that makes Anne’s roads so red. And on that Island it was relatively easy to do that, to link all of the small communities, homesteads and farms, scrape a fresh road into the landscape and bring someone into the networked community. That was the theme of #DigPed for PEI.

This is just an initial reflection for me, the real work of sense making, integrating the knowledge, and more importantly the network, into my practice begins now.

The Digital Pedagogy Lab on PEI was a positive and transformative experience. Thanks go out to Jesse Stommel, Sean Michael Morris and dave cormier, but especially (@bonstewart) Bonnie Stewart who worked tirelessly to organise and wrangle the event, be a coach and mentor to all of us who participated and for sharing her home with us.

And the answer to Red Roads? Iron Oxide


  1. Something struck me while reading this…the part about going through digital and analog notes as you try to put together everything you’ve learned or wanted to express …and it got me thinking of what a waste it is when people don’t do that. When they participate in something like this and then never write anything about it or share anything about it. O was also thinking that you seem to be doing it so methodically and it got me wondering about my own processes and why I don’t do it like that…possibly because the majority of my professional development takes place online… I don’t know…but I am looking forward to reading the rest of your reflections as you write them

  2. I am so jealous! I would love to have been there with those inspiring people. Can I set you a challenge Lawrie? Can you connect the ideas you are mulling over to those new undergraduate students just enrolling for the new academic year in places like Sheffield? How do they come to make sense of and connect to Connectivism?
    And how do those connectivist behaviours show themselves across the hybrid learning space?
    Of course, people like Maha continually prove the power of connectivism is more than theory…! But how do we scale it up?

    1. Hi Andrew,
      I am trying to make sense of those ideas, I am still talking to Dave and Bon, Autummn, Maha and most of the people I met on the island, still thinking about the impact our time there had on us. Interestingly, it was, as always, the unconference where interesting things were said and the impact of the social (sic) was really important (hopefully that doesn’t sound like an episode of Lost). I am not sure about the scaling, I am not even sure that we can artificially construct; like a rhizome we need to have the right conditions, which we can influence. Dave C has got some interesting ideas around induction, around how you can create the right conditions – you should ping him for some. As for the DigPed experience, I will be at ALT-C on the Wednesday, maybe you and I can chat about what a UK DigPed might look like?

      1. It would be great to catch up Lawrie. I think you (and Dave) are right about influence and induction or pre-induction transition activities have to be the start. Or even ‘first contact’, open days, etc..

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