A lot of balls

Three things.

Firstly, if you tried to pick these balls up, you might do yourself a mischief. They are heavy, because the sculpture is a whole load of tennis balls bonded together, and they are fixed to a solid wooden plinth. If they were individual tennis balls, you could pick them up more easily (a few at a time, like the tennis players do).

If they were separated they probably wouldn't look as impressive, because clearly, this structure is attractive, whereas a pile of tennis balls are... well, just a pile of tennis balls.

If you tried to bounce it, you wouldn't be successful. Individual balls have a certain freedom that this cube does not. They can be hit or thrown in any direction, and you can put a spin on them. These balls have been glued together, forced into a configuration. Personal learning is not something that should be ordered. Learning is always personal, and messy .... and occasionally chaotic. This cube of tennis balls represents anything but personalised learning.

Secondly, the balls are tethered to a surface. They aren't going anywhere soon. Immobility has been imposed upon them. This is important to maintain the integrity of this sculpture, but tethering is increasingly a problem in education. Tethered learning may be convenient for schools to manage, but it's not optimal. Having students sat in orderly rows or tiers (tears) may be easier for the lecturer or teacher to manage, but for the students it's not always a good scene.

I never liked having to sit at my desk and face the front for hours on end. I wanted to get up, get out, and explore. I still think more clearly and solve problems faster when I'm pacing around, wandering through libraries or moving across uncertain terrain (literally or metaphorically). I am not comfortable in meetings when I have to sit for long periods at a table.

Tethered devices are not much better. The desktop PC keeps you in one place, and limits your posture. Mobile devices allow learners to take their connection with them, discover for themselves, and to learn on the move. That is situated learning, where what is being learnt is in its context, and it's a lot more effective for many students.

Thirdly, this configuration of balls is not a network, it's a cube. If it were a network, the nodes would be more separated, but there would also be more connections. In its present configuration each ball can be connected to no more than 6 other balls. In a network, connections are virtually infinite.

The power of the network is in the exponential nature of the connections that can be made, and thence in the amplification power this affords. Learning networks find their power in the number of connections, as can be demonstrated by the way neurones within the human brain connect to each other. This cube of balls is absolutely the antithesis of a network, because connection is so limited.

The future of learning is where all learners are connected to as many other learners and teachers as possible, so that learning is mobile, personal, limitless and unconstrained by configuration. The future of learning is connected, social, mobile and personal.

Photo by Steve Wheeler

Creative Commons License
A lot of balls by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England as a part of the #blimage challenge and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


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