One of our PhD students – Binhui Shao is currently exploring whether to apply the concept of flow to looking at students’ use of different technologies. Flow theory has been developed by Csikszentmihalyi and others. Flow theory essentially is a concept used to describe
‘the holistic experience that people feel when they act with total involvement’ or ‘… flow – the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it’ (taken from http://edutechwiki.unige.ch/en/Flow_theory).
In her interviews with people about their experiences of flow writing papers, gaming, gardening and computer programming were all mentioned as times when people felt they had experienced flow. Certainly for me writing papers is definitely a time when I feel I am experiencing flow and it is interesting to reflect on the experiences I have had of writing two articles recently. The first is a paper I have just submitted for a conference on our Cloudworks – social networking for learning design work. The second is an article for Ariadne entitled ‘New schemas for mapping pedagogies and technologies’ which will be out soon.
The Cloudworks paper was a classic example of how I normally experience flow. I decided on a focus for the paper and started writing – oscillating between developing the structure of the paper and specific details in each of the subsections. I drew on a whole range of aspects of our Learning Design Initiative activities over the past year and a half – the conversations we have had in team meetings, or in smaller groups, the workshops and events we ran, exploration of the empirical data gathered, feedback from conference presentations, etc. In particular for this paper I was very aware of the conversations over the last few weeks: with Juliette Culver on the technical development of Cloudworks and in particular shifting from calling entities in the site ‘Cloudlets and Designs’ to ‘Clouds and Stormclouds’ (thanks to Karen Littleton for the latter suggestion one lunchtime!), with Perry Williams about forthcoming Cloudfests we are running and also with Simon Cross about the overall initiative and plans for the next phase of activities. The paper probably took about 4 or 5 days intense days writing – contributions from the rest of the team over this period helped to sanity check my initial version and also comments via this blog from an early draft helped to strengthen it.
This description is probably fairly typical of how I go about writing things. One of the advantages is it means I can produce a lot of words relatively quickly. The downside is half of them are probably rubbish and the thing is normally littered with errors which I then find hard to detect because I read what I want to see rather than what is actually on the screen, Does this fit with anyone else’s experience or do people have alternative approaches?
In contrast for the Ariadne article I initially adopted a different approach. I wanted to focus the article around a presentation I did for the Eduserv conference in May. As the session has been recorded I thought it might be interesting to start writing the article from the presentation I gave so I started listening, essentially trying to transcribe the speech. After about a paragraph or so I realised this just wasn’t going to work. Then I tried an alternatively strategy. I decided to use MacDictate to ‘talk’ through the article. But again this just didn’t work. I found the speed of talking too slow in comparison with writing on the keyboard - which I find is a little like playing a piano – your fingers whiz over the keyboard as you try and get your thoughts down on paper as fast as possible, So in the end I reverted to my standard approach. I locked myself in a room in Sardinia for a day and with the EduServ presentation upper most in my mind produced a first draft of the article.
Is there something more to this? What does it say about how papers and articles are produced and how the different techniques and media influence that production process? Or is it just my idiosyncratic approach to writing? Would welcome other people’s views! PS in writing this blog I went through much the same process as I described for the Cloudworks papers. I thought through the focus and general content for the post whilst lying in bed this morning and have now just sat for the last 15 mins or so writing. Actually I am not sure of the exact amount of time to be honest - guess I have just been ‘in the flow’