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From not-learning to knot-learning

Written by Steve Fulton
November 08, 2011

Sitting alone in the back seat while Lacy and Cindy talked, I spent the majority of the car ride home looking out of the window and thinking about how the stories of Erin and Cristian unfolded and crossed through the Digital Inquiry Project. Eavesdropping in and out of Cindy and Lacy’s conversation, I thought about how words connected their lives. I thought about how the writing of my students connected theirs. I thought that somehow all of this was important, and I was getting closer to understanding why.

And then my thinking started to shift again, and I asked myself what brought me to the place where I am seeing conversations and writing as connections between lives that afford all involved a new perspective on their own. This was a new awareness for me, and it was also the first question I asked all weekend to which I knew the answer.

I realized that I my perspective had emerged from conversations I had with my colleagues during the retreat that centered around an article by Steven Fraiberg (2010). I was viewing Lacy and Cindy’s exchange, just as the work of Erin and Cristian, as Fraiberg’s image of learning as a series of interconnected knots that continually tie and retie in response to experiences, people, and places.

With this knotted image in mind, I then began considering other experiences that occurred in the context of this Digital Is resource creation project, which also made up the knotwork of my learning:

Knots of my learning on Prezi

Even though my own inquiry into the Digital Inquiry project had not led me to where I wanted, I had learned an incredible amount through the sum of experiences I had while attempting to understand it. This realization was an important piece of this puzzle, and once I had it in place, the other pieces floating around my mind began to come together.

All the ideas I was pondering for this Digital Is resource I had arrived at through a complex, non-linear journey that unfolded through reading, writing, talking, listening. The lives and perspectives of all those involved mattered, just as did our relationships and the dynamics of the groups we comprised. Others shaped my learning and my learning shaped theirs. Everything was interconnected across lives, time, and spaces, and the more my learning, our learning, tied, untied, and retied, the more significant this knotwork became to all of us.

This was exactly what I saw happening in my class, and like with my learning, everything mattered.

My knotwork of learning mattered; through it I came to frame the Digital Inquiry Project in such a way that allowed students to make visible the fine threads of their lives.

Technology mattered; it provided the spaces where students could compose their lives and tie into those of others.

Focusing on reflection and process mattered; it allowed students a secure place to fix their ropes as they explored the paths set by others and tried blazing new ones. It enabled them not to fear failure, encountering new travelers, or the possibility crossing back upon themselves.

I, as a teacher mattered; I continually cast out lines that affected my students in multiple ways. Some would hook eagerly onto my ideas, others would idly pass them and later return, and yet others, spooked by my presence, would dart off in the opposite direction to find freedom in new places.

And for me, in my journey as a teacher and learner, co-creating this new understanding mattered. Through it, I have gained a new perspective on learning.  One that I would describe less as a paradigm shift and more like a magnified and re-focused view of what had always been in front of me. It is a perspective that answers my questions but serves more like a milestone than a destination. It has opened up too many new questions to be an ending place.

Through these new questions I find myself rethinking what I value as a teacher. I’m thinking about how who I am and how I am perceived are both tightly connected to and more important than what I teach. I’m reflecting on my actions and decisions I make in my classroom with respect to how they create or inhibit space for students to work, explore, and connect with the ideas of others.

And in the same way, I am reconsidering my own learning, placing greater value on my colleagues and the spaces that enable me to connect with them, as it is through this knotworking that I (we) continue to grow and understand the significance of our learning and the work that we do.


Fraiberg, S. (2010). Composition 2.0: Toward a Multilingual and Multimodal Framework. College Composition and Communication, 62(1), 100-126.


Want to know more about the people and ideas behind this resource?  Click the image below to link to Digital Is (K)not, a resource to tie resources together, created by the UNC Charlotte Writing Project.