Week 2 of Dave Cormier’s open online course - Rhizomatic Learning – the community is the curriculum – is at end, and what a messy week it has been.
Helen Crump has called it chaotic. I, and I’m sure others, can recognise this sentiment – but for me it has been ‘messy’ rather than ‘chaotic’. ‘Chaotic’ implies ‘out of control’ which I don’t think it has been – but, judging from blog posts and Facebook activity, the focus for many this week has not been on the suggested topic – ‘Enforcing Independence’ – but on perceived divisions within the community. For me, this is what has made it feel so ‘messy’.
These perceived divisions relate to academics vs non-academics and theorists vs pragmatists and discussion around this was sparked off by a Facebook comment made by Maddie which I have quoted below.
I find it ironic that people talk about their qualifications and researches and their ability to read and understand critical theory when that is not the aim of this uncourse at all. As long as everyone “gets” the generic meaning of it, all is well and we progress as a community. How everyone reaches to the end is immaterial. If you get the theory without reading it, you have cheated brilliantly.
Furthermore, I would like to assert my independence and state that I am not an academic and yet wish to be part of this uncourse. Does that make me “Un-qualified” to take it up? If we are to question the very foundation of the education system and try to change it so as to include one and all in a whole big community, then it shouldn’t matter whether I am a phd or a college drop out, should it? This is how a rhizome breaks.
This comment was a response to a post made by Cath Ellis who encouraged us to engage with the theory behind rhizomatic learning, principally the work of Deleuze and Guattari in their book – A Thousand Plateaus . Intense discussion ensued (83 comments on Maddie’s Facebook post the last time I looked) and to my great surprise the academics/theorists appeared to ‘back off’, with many apologies for not being appropriately inclusive in the tone of their discussion.
In relation to this there have been a number of comments related to ‘community’.
Jaap Bosman questions whether participants of a MOOC are a group and therefore is there a need for group roles (e.g. Belbin’s team roles). He asks
‘If the participants of a mooc are (part of) rhizome, group roles are life functions of the rhizome? Does a healthy cMOOC need ‘group roles’?
Ary Aranguiz in her blog post – A Jagged little pill – writes
‘I think the most important skill we need for true community building, if we genuinely believe in creating thriving networks, is to not minimize, or dismiss what someone has to say.’
Terry Elliott writes that he ‘ain’t feeling it’ and that he doesn’t feel ‘invited’. ‘What do the adjectives ‘rhizomatic’ and ‘deep’ add to the abstract noun ‘learning’. What distinguishes those pairs of words from my run-of-the-mill word, just ‘learning’ he asks.
Sandra Sinfield in her blog post writes that MOOCs have ‘reinforced the need to bring the human back into the physical classroom’. And
Lots of wrestling in FB this week with what could be argued to be an essential ‘issue’ with MOOCs – they are open – free – out there… surely this is thus egalitarian learning at its very best? But no – some are still silenced – some are still feeling the pain of not being good enough – that ‘fish out of water’ feeling that is the experience of so many non-traditional students in the traditional classroom.
We have some strategies that work here to overcome this: say hello – be welcoming – comment – reply – extend a welcoming hand to other students. In doing this we ARE the community, all of us, everyone who does this friendly human thing in this strange and potentially impersonal world.
Interestingly I spent some time yesterday listening to Manuel DeLanda’s Introduction to Gilles Deleuze in which he discusses Deleuze’s ‘Theory of non-human expressivity’. Deleuze warned against living only in the small provincial world of humanity, closing ourselves into ourselves and being ‘all too human’. He recommended that we ‘break from our human straight-jackets’. I am still trying to understand what all this means, but I think it does relate to a discussion about communities and networks.
In my reflections on this week’s messiness and the possible causes for it – not that messiness per se is a bad thing in the learning process – I have wondered whether it not so much ‘learning’ that we need to do in relation to this course, but ‘unlearning’. (I was interested in this post about unlearning that I came across yesterday – not related to this course ).
I have been wondering whether we need to unlearn our assumptions about communities and groups in relation to rhizomatic learning. Despite the fact that the course title is Rhizomatic Learning – the Community is the Curriculum – can we assume that rhizomatic learning equates to community and/or group learning? For me ‘network’ or something similar might work better. The advantages and disadvantages of groups and networks have been very well covered in the work of Stephen Downes. See this post Groups Vs Networks: The Class Struggle Continues.
The differences between communities and networks has also been discussed by Wenger et al. in their publication - Promoting and assessing value creation in communities and networks: a conceptual framework - in which they write (p.9):
We prefer to think of community and network as two aspects of social structures in which learning takes place.
The network aspect refers to the set of relationships, personal interactions, and connections among participants who have personal reasons to connect. It is viewed as a set of nodes and links with affordances for learning, such as information flows, helpful linkages, joint problem solving, and knowledge creation.
The community aspect refers to the development of a shared identity around a topic or set of challenges. It represents a collective intention—however tacit and distributed—to steward a domain of knowledge and to sustain learning about it.
In addition, by chance Stephen Downes has posted in OLDaily (Jan 25th) a link to a post about inappropriate conversation in MOOC discussion forums. See the post Everything in Moderation Carl Straumsheim, Inside Higher Ed, January 25, 2014, and Stephen Downes’ comment in OL Daily. We are fortunate in #rhizo14 that discussion has not descended to these levels – due, I am sure, in no small part to Dave’s modelling of appropriate behaviour – but Stephen Downes’ solution to this problem, which he has mentioned many times before, is to use distributed aggregated discussions, i.e. to dispense with discussion forums. By doing this within a network structure, participants can follow their own rhizomatic paths through a network, discussing whatever they wish with whoever they wish. If they stumble across a conversation that is not for them, they simply leave and follow another path. Eventually people with similar interests find each other. In a network, unlike a group or community, we don’t all have to know each other or have similar interests. There is no academic vs non-academic, theorist vs pragamatist. We simply occupy different spaces. There is diversity, autonomy, connectedness and openness – the basic pedagogical principles of a network.
To finish off this rather long post (there has been a lot to think about this week), Maddie, who sparked all this off, has come back and written ….
Did I do it on purpose? No. Did I wish to make jabs at privileged people? No. Did I project such an outbreak? No.
I think perhaps her initial post wouldn’t have cause such a ‘stir’ had we all been working according to network rather than community/group principles, but her follow-up comments also raise the issue of the role of language in online communication.
There are some in this course who are really interested in the link between language and identity, for example Emily who writes in her blog post ‘Ode to marginalia‘
I guess, that all identity and learning is language, so it’s interesting and useful to know about language and bring theory in even when it’s opposed…
I think it’s also useful to be constantly aware of the possible consequences of language and writing. I think this example below, which I will end this post with, illustrates the point :-)
Kevin invited us to ‘Steal his poem’ and remix it.
So I decided to create a mesostic from his poem, a form of remixing that I learned about in the Modern and Contemporary American Poetry MOOC (ModPo) last year – and, using the spine REMIX in Kevin’s poem as shown here:
blow me down – this is what I got (although the X has been dropped in the spine),
Is this the cause of the messiness in Week 2 of #rhizo14.