Navigating Uncertainty #rhizo14

uncertainty (2)

Image shared on Flickr by Matt Curr

The best learning prepares people for dealing with uncertainty.

                                                                                      David Cormier

In week 3 of #rhizo14 we have been invited to “come down the rabbit hole” to a place with “no centre. Multiple paths. Where we have beliefs and facts that contradict each other. Where our decisions are founded on an ever shifting knowledge base.
Our challenge this week: how do we make our learning experience reflect (and celebrate) this uncertainty?”
In my exploration of uncertainty I describe what I see and feel inside a system that to a large degree is defined by certainty. This is in no way meant as a criticism of the people and efforts within the system, rather as an observation of where we are at, at this uncertain point in time.

Meanwhile…the exoskeleton sits propped up like a swaying circus tent; the exterior imposingly large but inside vacuous and lifeless; sucked clean as learning has leaked out…into other spaces. Obsessive data collection (aka certainty) the main mechanism of propping. The tyranny of busyness baffling the pained creaking and cracking as the propped structure precariously sways. If we were to let go, the facade would collapse, leaving those inside flattened and trapped. In the name of accountability we nail learning to us and in doing so we suction out all the raw materials necessary for learning to thrive and flourish….curiousity, questioning, uncertainty, mystery…banished.

We are certain…so certain we keep all the feedback loops dialed on the status quo of certainty. New behavior patterns eradicated if they disrupt the system’s ability to maintain homeostasis; the life of the system extinguishing any uncertainty it meets.

Meanwhile. Here we stand Education. Standing on hierarchical particle based shores; silo-ed groupings guarding their meager piles of sand as the grains rush out to sea, lost to the abyss.

Stand here! We will not venture into these unknown waters! We are certain! Foot stomp. Arms crossed. 

Meanwhile…uncertainty continues to grow, and like fog, rolls in. We on the shore, statues of “analysis paralysis,” growing ever more hesitant to launch into the uncharted dark waters.

We can’t launch…now. We need more…more…more certainty. Produce it and THEN we will launch.

Meanwhile…classrooms remain centered around asking, teaching, memorizing Google-able factoids. The primary focus to provide “bits” of just in case certainty to students, who remain decidedly uncertain about their relevance.
The message unspoken but loud:
You will get something interesting later on (when and if you deserve it) but first jump through these hoops. This is training for what REALLY matters (life, job, university)!  Later you will see why and how it matters; we are doing you a favour!  We are here to indoctrinate you into certainty. We are certain that all the facts in this book matter and are relevant. Don’t venture beyond this book and you will be successful! 

Meanwhile…students are holding massive garage sales, piling and reallocating the treasured chachkas of our silo-ed disciplines, only to have them sold off again for far less than we want to imagine possible (What do you mean you copied this!; What do you mean you want to use Google on the test?) Like trinkets we lug home from Mexico to proudly show family, only to have them silently wonder: “Why the heck did you buy that?”  Students wonder the same: “Why the heck am I learning this, it’s worthless!” In Mexico the trinkets WERE treasures, in context the knowledge was relevant.


It’s cold and wet, dark. I finally and painfully decide to launch. I lie prone against the cold surface. I paddle, I paddle for dear life. I will, I will, leave the shore…for the open, interconnected fluid ocean beyond, even seeing the immense dark of it.

And then…”it just goes. It goes where the environment allows it to go.


I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason — Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half knowledge. This pursued through Volumes would perhaps take us no further than this, that with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration.

                                                                                                                                                                                                           John Keats



8 thoughts on “Navigating Uncertainty #rhizo14

  1. A beautiful post – it connected to two things for me:
    Barry Dyck’s post where he laid out his 3 ground rules
    1. I cannot do here what is being done in regular classrooms.

    2. Learners must be given the freedom to experiment and fail while trying.

    3. We’ll figure out how to assess the learning after it has happened

    and what I used to call the Nike approach “Just do it”

    What makes these so powerful is the reflection element that Barry describes so well in his post. Ethics are important too when we try out uncertain things with students (not to stop us but to keep us alert)

    • Frances, thanks for making these connections. I appreciated Barry’s thoughts and reflections. Yes, the just do it invokes the right sentiment, I think my words in this post were written equally if not more so to myself; I am the one standing hesitant on the beach.

  2. Once you look down the rabbit hole and see it not as something to be afraid of, but an adventure…that is when the real learning starts. I love your words. I think I may be inspired to remix them.

    • Cathleen, your words were the little nudge I needed. I realized I was afraid to push off…but it was a relief to simultaneously admit it and push off and out into uncertainty. With it i gained a whole new perspective. Remix away…I would love to read what they might become 🙂

  3. I keep coming back to this phrase: “We are certain…so certain we keep all the feedback loops dialed on the status quo of certainty.” Wow. Check your meta-assumptions.

    …well, that phrase, among many other phrases here. So nice that you follow this more creative expression of what many of us are feeling and seeing. +1 this whole post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s