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This is the second post in a series of four about a presentation Frances Bell and Jenny Mackness will make at the ALTMOOCSIG  on Friday 29th June this week.  One of the reasons for these posts is that it is going to be impossible to cover all this in the time we have available at the conference.

For the first post see – The Rhizome as a Metaphor for Learning

In this post we outline how we will continue our presentation, by sharing what we understand by the rhizome metaphor, a description of the #Rhizo14 course, and an explanation of how we are conducting our research.

1. Making sense of the metaphor 

Slide 2Source of image: Mark Ingham. Boy Pool Rhizome: http://socialdigitalelective.wordpress.com/groups/rhizomes/. (More can be seen at Mark’s website  http://www.markingham.org)

 - Definition of a rhizome in botanical terms

The rhizome in botanical terms is an underground stem, which grows horizontally along or more commonly under the ground and sends out roots and shoots. Examples of rhizomes that Jenny has in her garden are mint and ground elder – so good and bad! If you have ever tried to dig up a rhizome, you will know that it is virtually impossible to know where it started from and that if you break a root in the process, the plant is likely to spring up again somewhere else.

- The rhizome as a metaphor

Many Rhizo14 participants valued the metaphor of the rhizome for teaching and learning. Quoting from survey responses, participants of the Rhizo14 course thought that teaching and learning based on this metaphor is ‘subconscious’, ‘subterranean’, ‘subversive’, ‘a non-linear, multi-directional underground web of connections’. Learning is ‘haphazard’, ‘messy’, ‘serendipitous’, ‘esoteric’, ‘dynamic’, ‘unbounded’, ‘unpredictable’, ‘adaptive’, ‘self-organising’ and ‘non-hierarchical’. This is what these survey respondents valued about it.

But there were also some participants who recognised potential negative aspects of the metaphor and described the rhizome as:

‘A pernicious, pervasive weed, rooted in a lot of dirt and ‘SH***”’; ‘….a ‘thug’ and can be very badly behaved’; ‘Part of one big family/plant – joined at the hip’. ‘Clones of the ‘same damn plant’. 

These quotes illustrate the most common interpretations of the metaphor in response to the survey questions. Only 4 (out of 47) respondents referred to Deleuze and Guattari’s work when explaining their understanding of the rhizome as a metaphor for teaching and learning.

2. #Rhizo 14 - A MOOC with a difference 

Slide 3 Source of image: Jenny Mackness: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jennymackness/13388466333/in/set-72157642869468164

- Rhizo 14 was a cMOOC

It was possible to recognise the principles of the original cMOOCs (e.g. CCK08) in the design of #Rhizo14  – principles of working across distributed platforms (e.g. P2PU, Facebook, Twitter, Google +), learner autonomy, diversity, openness and interaction. There was also the understanding that the activities would be those of a CCK08 type of cMOOC – aggregation, remixing, repurposing and feeding forward, and these activities were in abundance. The other key similarity was that it was an open and free course.

- How was #Rhizo 14 different to other cMOOCs?

This has been a recent topic of lengthy discussion in the Rhizo14 Facebook group, which is still active four months after the end of the course. One of the differences was in the mix of people that Rhizo14 attracted. Right from the start there was a mix of ‘old guard’ MOOCers and ‘new kids on the block’.  This was noted by a survey respondent:

The gap between novices and experts seemed very vast, and scaffolding seemed difficult with these extremes. At the same time, the approach to topics seemed to be a bit unworthy of the in-depth knowledge of “veteran” cMOOCers, and an increasing frustration with this seemed to creep into the blogs.

For Dave Cormier, the key difference was that he was attempting to run a course with no content.  Each week there was a very short introductory video  (av. 3 mins in length) which introduced an opening provocative question, e.g. Cheating as Learning (Week 1), Is Books Making us Stupid? (Week 4)  - and that was it. Unlike CCK08 there were no recommended readings.  Rhizo14 was also different in that it was literally ‘home-grown’, with Dave Cormier running the MOOC in his own time, often from his own home and convening weekly Hangouts in the evening, sometimes whilst trying to get his children to bed. Despite this, his intention was that there would be no centre to the course – the course convener would be one of the participants.

Another clear difference in this MOOC is the very active Facebook group which continues to discuss rhizomatic learning and related topics after the course has ended. This group thinks of itself as a community and believes that the community is the curriculum.

- Arising question (this is a big one, too big to discuss in any detail here)

The majority of respondents were positive and excited by the course. For example, one survey respondent wrote:

The significant aspect for me was finding others that were willing and able to play freely, have fun and then be reflective and metacognitive of the activities. I enjoyed the banter, tease, create, steal, mix, mash, present, prod, challenge, rework, share, admire, learn, dive deep, surface often, spiral-on action of our poetry building, reflecting and sharing.

However, this was not the experience of all respondents and some were not so positive and questioned whether there was or was not a centre to the course, and whether the course should or should not have had more ‘content’. For example one respondent thought of the course in terms of concentric circles with Dave Cormier at the centre and a core group around him. There has also been a recent discussion in Facebook about whether Rhizo14 resulted in a clique gathered around Dave Cormier.

But another respondent had a different view:

I’m quite pleased that Cormier was able to step back, for the most part, and allow the rhizome to work.

With respect to content, or the lack of it, a survey respondent commented…

 At best it [rhizomatic learning] might let academia realise that learning isnt about content, but reflection, discussion and creativity.

Whereas another respondent seemed to suggest that more content and leadership might have been helpful.

The point has been the connections formed, the conversations generated. The problem perhaps would be for those not already confident in their own academic capital. Who may not feel they have much to offer – or who may feel that they need more guidance through content – or who may feel that they are continually missing that important blog post… who may want to have some sort of over view from which to diverge or to which they can add the contingent. It could also be difficult for those who do not feel central to the conversational groups that sprout(ed). If connectivity and conversation becomes the point – who are you if you do not feel that you have not connected in that way?

There are many more comments like these in our data which exemplify the diversity of opinion on all aspects of the course – and indeed whether this was a course at all.

In MOOC research, given the number of people who either drop out or are ‘silent’ participants, it is difficult to judge the accuracy of the balance between positive and negative responses to survey questions, but for this research survey responses were both positive and negative in respect of most of the emerging themes, with there being more positive than negative responses.

3. Our Research 

Slide 4Source of image: Paul Rodecker: http://paulrodecker.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/tangled-mess-c2011.html

 

 - How have we carried out the research to date?

We participated in the MOOC as fully engaged participants and have collated resources from the MOOC on a private wiki. These resources include Facebook threads, Twitter streams, annotated readings, discussion, survey results, links to videos and our own participant observation/reflection.

Following the MOOC we created a Survey Monkey survey related to a botanical drawing of a rhizome in which we wanted to elicit qualitative rather than quantitative data. The survey included 4 questions:

  • How does the image of a rhizome relate to your prior experience of teaching, learning?
  • How does the image of a rhizome relate to your experience of learning during Rhizo14?
  • How might the image of a rhizome represent your future practice?
  • If the above questions did not allow you to fully explain your learning experience in Rhizo14, then please comment in the box below on those aspects of the course which were significant for you, and what kept you in the course or caused you to leave early.

We posted the link to the survey on Facebook, in the Google + group, on our blogs and on Twitter. The link was also sent to all P2PU participants by Dave Cormier.

In an attempt to ensure that we reached as many participants as possible, not only those who were still active at the end of the course, we identified non-registered participants and bloggers and sent them individual invitations to respond to the survey. Most importantly, the survey allowed for anonymous responses.

It is difficult to know exactly how many people the survey reached, but we received 47 responses and more than 30,000 words of data. Within the last month we have sent out further questions by email to 35 survey respondents who agreed to receive these follow up questions.

 

- Difficulties we are wrestling with

As fully engaged participants in the MOOC, the potential for bias and subjectivity in the way in which we interpret and report our findings is an ever-present concern and one which we fully acknowledge. An additional concern has been to work ethically, given that there is little guidance on how to conduct research into MOOCs ethically. As such we considered and openly shared the way in which we would use the data we gather, created a document and sent this out attached to the first survey. The details of this are posted on our blogs. See:

This blog – Jenny Connected and Frances’ blog – Francesbell’s blog

Finally there has been the issue of what is an appropriate method and methodology for this type of research and this subject. Will it be impossible to get at what we mean by rhizomatic thinking and learning by using traditional research methods? Some respondents have already raised this issue in response to the email interview questions.

Academic research functions mostly as a territorializing process, crystalizing an identity for the assemblage

I don’t want to further “territorialize” the experience [by engaging in research], preferring instead to keep it open, unformalized, and unanalyzed to some extent.

Hopefully this post provides a taste of where we are up to with our research and what our presentation for the ALTMOOCSIG will try to cover, albeit very briefly, but we are not done yet. There will be two more blog posts.

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This Creative Commons License applies to this blog post and supercedes the one that normally applies to this blog, which can be found in the sidebar.In publishing interim findings to our blogs, we are cautious about how we publish what could ultimately be part of a journal article. For this reason, the license under which we publish these posts relating to our presentation is different from the one normally applied to our blogs.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

This is the first in a series of 4 blog posts which Frances Bell and Jenny Mackness have written in preparation for a presentation that we will give at the ALTMOOCSIG conference – MOOCs – Which Way Now? on Friday June 27th  

Slide 1.1

Source of image: Sylvano Bussoti. Five Pieces for Piano for David Tudor:  http://star-heart.squarespace.com/blog/2012/11/26/bussotti

The title of the presentation is The Rhizome as a Metaphor for Learning in a MOOC.

We decided to submit a proposal for presenting at the conference as a result of participating in Dave Cormier’s 6 week MOOC – Rhizomatic Learning: The Community is the Curriculum (known now as #Rhizo14), which started on January 14th this year.

During the course, our interest was piqued by comparison of our experience on #Rhizo14 with that on other MOOCs.  We decided, together with Mariana Funes, to conduct independent research on the #Rhizo14 experience. The aim of our presentation for the ALTMOOCSIG - is to share our experience of the MOOC, where we are up to with our research and our initial findings.

It has been difficult to plan both the research and this presentation. Basically we are ‘wallowing in data’, we have too much to say for a short presentation, and what we have to say now will not be the same as when we have engaged further with the data. In addition, as some survey participants have pointed out, there are contradictions, not only in running a MOOC on rhizomatic learning (the rhizome as a metaphor isn’t easily ‘pinned down’ in this way), but also, for similar reasons, in conducting research into rhizomatic learning.

So we have given some thought as to how to do a presentation which reflects these difficulties. After some mutual discussion and discussion with a survey respondent, we decided on using Prezi. A power point seemed too linear and structured for reasons which hopefully will become clear in our presentation. A Prezi seemed to reflect, at least in part, the chaotic environment and ‘falling down a rabbit hole’ aspect of rhizomatic learning that was discussed in the course. However the linear path that we will take through the Prezi is not the only possibility – theoretically there are many possible (but not all likely) paths through the Prezi.

We also want, in our presentation, to reflect some of the principles of a rhizome. This is virtually impossible to do in a structured conference programme within a time limit – but we have given a nod to this by selecting images for the presentation which depict the ‘tangled mess’ that was the #Rhizo14 experience and the fact that the intention was to create a course with no content. More of this later, but our Prezi has virtually no content. That doesn’t mean to say that the presentation has no content – and therein lies the conundrum – more of this later too!

We only have 25 minutes, so hopefully these posts will help to ‘fill out’ the presentation.  We intend to talk for about 12 minutes to allow time for comments, questions and discussion, but this will only allow for a brief introduction to our research.

The first image on our Prezi is the one which starts Deleuze and Guattari’s seminal text ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ from which all the ideas about rhizomatic thinking have emanated.

Gilles Deleuze was a French philosopher and Felix Guattari a French psychiatrist and political activist. The concept of the rhizome as a metaphor for thinking (note ‘thinking’ – not ‘learning or teaching’) was developed in their book ‘A Thousand Plateaus’, which they published in 1980. This book was intended as an experiment in schizophrenic and nomadic thought,  but has captured the attention of some educators, who see the rhizome as a useful metaphor for understanding learning in open environments such as MOOCs.

The image is of a musical score created by Sylvano Bussoti for a composition entitled Five Pieces for Piano for David Tudor. Bussoti was not only a composer but also an artist – his scores are more like works of art – and he was deeply opposed to all rigid systems of composition.  Deleuze and Guattari in the same way were opposed to an arborescent conception of knowledge. They suggest the rhizome, which resists organisational structure, as a metaphor for thinking.

A rhizome ceaselessly establishes connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles. (Deleuze, G. & Guaattari, F. (1987). A Thousand Plateaus, p.7. University of Minnesota Press.)

We then move on, in our presentation to discussing what we are trying to find out.

Slide 3.1

Some questions that have emerged are:

  • Is this metaphor useful for learning and teaching?
  • If this metaphor is used for designing a MOOC (rhizo14), can people learn and what do they learn?
  • To what extent is the rhizome a persistent metaphor for what #rhizo14 becomes?

Traditional scientific research (hypothetico-deductive) would have expected us to start our research with these questions – but since the rhizome doesn’t work like that, neither has our research. These questions emerged as a result of our experience in #Rhizo14 and our ongoing research. Although they bear a relation to questions we asked the participants, they are also influenced by the survey results we have received. These are neither the first questions we have raised nor will they be the last, and our answers may also be provisional. At the point at which we are giving the presentation – these are the questions – but we fully expect that they might change.

So this is how we will start our presentation. This is the content that is absent from the Prezi, that we have deliberately chosen not to reify within the Prezi – and which even publishing here succumbs to a structure and territorialisation that Deleuze and Guattari say should only be temporary. We should always be ready for ‘lines of flight’.

So here’s a health warning with this presentation. This is how we are thinking this week/today. There is no guarantee that is what we will be thinking next week/tomorrow.

In our next blog post we will explain the next few slides/Prezi screens of our presentation.

 

************************************************************************************

This Creative Commons License applies to this blog post and supercedes the one that normally applies to this blog, which can be found in the sidebar.In publishing interim findings to our blogs, we are cautious about how we publish what could ultimately be part of a journal article. For this reason, the license under which we publish these posts relating to our presentation is different from the one normally applied to our blogs.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

George Veletsianos gave an interesting and thought provoking talk to the University of Edinburgh yesterday. This was live streamed and hopefully a recording will soon be posted here.  A good set of rough notes has been posted by Peter Evans on Twitter

Peter Evans@eksploratore

My live and rough notes on #edindice seminar from@veletsianos on #moocs, automation & artificial intelligence at pj-evans.net/2014/06/moocs-…

As he points out, there were three main topics covered by George’s talk:

  • MOOCs as sociocultural phenomenon;
  • automation of teaching and
  • pedagogical agents and the automation of teaching.

George’s involvement with MOOCs started in 2011 when he gave a presentation to the Change11 MOOC, which I blogged about at the time .

I found myself wondering during his talk to the University of Edinburgh, whether we would be discussing automating teaching, if he had started his MOOC involvement in 2008, as this presentation seemed to come from a background of xMOOC interest and involvement. Those first cMOOCs, with their totally different approach to pedagogy, were not mentioned.

I feel uncomfortable with the idea of automating teaching and having robotic pedagogical agents to interact with learners. The thinking is that this would be more efficient, particularly when teachers are working with large numbers as in MOOCs, and would ‘free up’ teachers’ time so that they can focus on more important aspects of their work. I can see that automating some of the administration processes associated with teaching would be welcome, but I am having difficulty seeing what could be more important, as a teacher, than interacting with students.

George pointed out that many of us already use a number of automating services, such as Google Scholar alerts, RSS feeds, IFTTT and so on, so why not extend this to automating teaching, or teaching assistants, through the use of pedagogical agents such as avatars.

What was interesting is that the audience for this talk seemed very taken with the idea of pedagogical agents, what gender they should be, what appearance they should have, what culture they should represent etc. For me the more interesting question is what do we stand to lose and/or gain by going down this route of replacing teachers with machines.

For some of my colleagues, Karen Guldberg and her team of researchers at Birmingham University, robots have become central to their research on autism and their work with children on the autism spectrum. These children respond in previously unimaginable ways to robots. For some there will be gains from interacting with robots.

But I was reminded, during George’s talk, of Sherry Turkle’s concerns about what we stand to lose by relying on robots for interaction.

And coincidentally I was very recently pointed, by Matthias Melcher, to this fascinating article – Biology’s Shameful Refusal to Disown the Machine-Organism - which whilst not about automating teaching through the use of avatars/robots, does consider the relationship between machines and living things from a different perspective and concludes:

The processes of life are narratives. The functional ideas manifested in the organism belong to the intrinsic inwardness of its life, and are not imposed from without by the mind of an engineer. (Stephen L. Talbott, 2014).

Finally, George Veletsianos’ talk was timely as I am currently discussing with Roy Williams, not how teaching and assessment should be automated, but rather whether and if so how, it can be put in the hands of learners.

This topic will be the focus of a presentation we will give to the University of Applied Sciences, ZML – Innovative Learning Scenarios, FH JOANNEUM in Graz, Austria on September 17th 2014.

 

messy research

(Source of image: http://www.hssr.mmu.ac.uk/deleuze-studies/files/2010/05/duffy_blog_01.gif)

Last week (Friday 6th June), we sent out a set of email interview questions as follow up questions on the survey we conducted in March (2014). Participants who agreed to this follow up interview each received an individual question aimed at trying to gain a better understanding of their survey response. They were also asked to comment on a set of statements which relate to the themes currently emerging from the data we have gathered. We explained and listed these as follows:

Our preliminary analysis reveals a diversity of responses to #rhizo14. Rather than try to form a ‘false consensus’, we present the following statements that represent the scope of issues that have emerged so far from our data analysis. Some respondents have the view as stated whilst others have a very different or even opposite view. If any of them move you to respond, please do so with any comments which you feel will inform the direction of our research. If you would prefer to discuss these via Skype, rather than by text in this email, then please contact us to arrange a time.

  • The rhizome is a useful metaphor for learning but it does not add anything significantly new to our current understanding of teaching and learning.
  • The use of the rhizome as a metaphor for designing teaching and learning has a positive impact on the role of the teacher.
  • The rhizome metaphor is sufficient to describe networked learning, but insufficient to describe learning in a community.
  • The rhizome is an adequate but incomplete metaphor for explaining how we learn.
  • The metaphor of the rhizome works well for social learning, but less well for knowledge creation.
  • Deleuze and Guattari’s ideas were not relevant to learning in Rhizo14

We now have a wealth of data and with each interview response the data gets richer. A big thank you to all those who are freely giving of their time to participate in this research.

From a personal perspective, this is probably the most challenging research I have been involved with to date. There is something of a contradiction between rhizomatic thinking and conducting research into rhizomatic teaching and learning.  Whilst I recognise that research is always a complex and the messy process, it ultimately does try to bring at least some provisional order to the ideas being engaged with – whereas the rhizome has no beginning or end and seeks to avoid representation and signification.

“Representation and signification belong to and perpetuate the tree image of thought …..’ (Holland, E. W., 2013, p.37).

Deleuze and Guattari were opposed to arborescent, vertical, linear and hierarchical ways of thinking and proposed the rhizome, as an alternative.  They write about the principal characteristics of a rhizome as follows (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987, p.21,22):

… unlike trees or their roots, the rhizome connects any point to any other point, and its traits are not necessarily linked to traits of the same nature; it brings into play very different regimes  of signs, and even nonsign states. The rhizome is reducible neither to the One nor the multiple….. It has neither beginning nor end, but always a middle (milieu) from which it grows and which it overspills…. The rhizome is an acentered, non-hierarchical, non-signifying system…..’

So how should we think about and present research about a subject that seeks to avoid representation?

I don’t have any answers. I suspect this might be the start of years of questions rather than answers and that ultimately there isn’t an answer, or if there is, it won’t be simple or straightforward and will likely be provisional and maybe even fleeting.

But the positive side of this research for me – and indeed any research – is that it focuses the mind on questions.

For now, Frances, Mariana and I continue to try and unravel the data we are receiving with a view to publishing our findings at some time in the future when we feel we have something to contribute to this area of research.

And before then, Frances and I will share our  initial thoughts and findings and experiences to date, in relation to Rhizo14 and our research collaboration, with ALTMOOCSIG on June 27th.

References

Holland, E.W. (2013). Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus. Bloomsbury

Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (1987) A Thousand Plateaus. Bloomsbury

Source of video: http://www.artfund.org/news/2014/04/16/video-henri-matisse-at-tate-modern

The live streaming of the Tate Modern exhibition of 120 of Henri Matisse’s cut-outs, created during the last 10 years of his life when he was at his most frail, did not disappoint. The streamed exhibition was an exuberance of colour, dance and music, with explanations of how the exhibition was mounted and insights into Matisse’s latter years.

I found myself thinking of Matisse as a researcher. Perhaps all artists are researchers. His life was devoted to exploration and discovery.  He looked to nature, music and dance in his life-long exploration into how to express himself.  It is interesting that some of the quotes attributed to him can be thought of in relation to an approach to research. For example:

To look at something as though we had never seen it before requires great courage.

An artist must never be a prisoner. Prisoner? An artist should never be a prisoner of himself, prisoner of style, prisoner of reputation, prisoner of success, etc.

The artist must summon all his energy, his sincerity, and the greatest modesty in order to shatter the old clichés that come so easily to hand while working (Henri Matisse)

But Matisse did not take a scientific approach to his work or start with a question. Rather questions emerged through immersion in his work. He recognised the complexity of the real-world. If we think of his work as ‘research’, then he took an approach similar to that which Stephen Downes discussed in his recent presentation – Digital Research Methodologies Redux - which I reported on in a recent post.

Of course as Peter Checkland has explained, a scientific approach to research has served us well for centuries and will continue to do so. In his work on systems thinking, Checkland writes about the 3 Rs of hard sciences – reductionism, repeatability and refutation.

‘We may define that method [the method of science] in terms of three characteristics: reductionism, repeatability and refutation. By means of it a continuously refined account of the universe is built up. This account is a successful guide of many kinds of action.’  (Checkland, 1999, p.13).

But, he then goes on to say that it is not a successful guide for all kinds of action and particularly not for the study of living and social systems and their ‘real-world’ problems. This is the point also made by Stephen Downes in his recent presentation.

In a similar vein, Ronald Barnett writes of the necessity for students to  ‘live with uncertainty’ and ‘to come to a state of self-criticality’ ,  explaining that ‘…..this criticality is achieved in the context of the spirit of research’. He goes on to say:

‘Such a spirit – the spirit of research – supplies a tentativeness not just to the student’s enquiries, but also to her profferings, her claims and her actions.’ (Barnett, 2007, p.127)

Matisse, Checkland, Barnett and Downes all seem to have a similar world-view, one where life is full of uncertainty and complexity. As Checkland has been heard to say many times …..

‘Let the situation talk to you’.

…. don’t try and pre-empt the situation by framing questions in advance. Immerse yourself in the situation and open yourself up to uncertainty and emergence. And

Iterate, understand the situation, enhance your understanding, visualize, act on it, and iterate again.

There isn’t a problem situation. There is just a situation, a context, a system, and we’re improving it continuously. (Checkland quoted in IASummit Conference Library)

What I learn from this is that a researcher who strives to do all this and keep an ‘open’ mind, in every sense of the word ‘open’, needs courage, as Matisse so insightfully recognised.

I also learn that research is not a one-off project. It is a life-long endeavour of inquiry, exploration and discovery. It is a way of life.

References

Barnett, R. (2007). A Will to Learn. Being a Student in an Age of Uncertainty. Open University Press.

Checkland, P. (1999). Systems Thinking, Systems Practice. John Wiley & Sons.

Further links

Hilary Spurling. 29th March 2014. The Guardian. Henri Matisse: Drawing with scissors

The Tate Blog: http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/blogs

Jon-Ross Le Haye. 4th Ocobter 2013. Cut and paste: Designing the Matisse poster

 

 

Screen Shot 2014-05-31 at 08.13.28

The ALTMOOCSIG – the Association for Learning Technology (ALT)  Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) Special Interest Group (SIG) –  is running a one day conference on MOOCs – Which Way Now? – on June 27th at UCL in London.

Frances Bell and I heard this week that the proposal we submitted to do a presentation about our research into rhizomatic learning has been accepted. We are delighted.  Here is our proposal outline, which is also on the ALT site.

The Rhizome as a Metaphor for Learning in a MOOC.

We recently participated in a ‘home grown’ MOOC- ‘Rhizomatic Learning: The Community is the Curriculum’ (#Rhizo14), convened by Dave Cormier and using distributed technologies of his and the participants’ choosing.

The concept of the rhizome as a metaphor for thinking was developed by Deleuze and Guattari in their book ‘A Thousand Plateaus’, published in 1980. This book, intended as an experiment in schizophrenic and nomadic thought, has captured the attention of some educators, who see the rhizome as a useful metaphor for understanding learning in open environments such as MOOCs.

#Rhizo14 attracted 500+ registered participants. Designed to run for 6 weeks, it continues via an active Facebook group and Twitter hashtag more than two months after the end of the MOOC.

The MOOC design explicitly modelled rhizomatic learning and thinking principles: there was minimal content or direction by the MOOC convener and participants were expected to create their own curriculum. Nomadic behaviours, lines of flight, multiplicities, the making and breaking of connections, subversive behaviours, territorialisation, deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation were all in evidence.

#Rhizo14 provoked us to conduct research to investigate learning and the usefulness of the rhizome as a metaphor for teaching and learning. The initial survey generated over 30,000 words of qualitative data from a survey completed by 47 participants. Current data analysis is generating key themes that will be explored with those survey respondents who have volunteered to engage in further email interviews.

We shall present our initial findings, which suggest that there are many aspects of the rhizome metaphor which are deemed useful for modelling effective teaching and learning in MOOCs.  There are also ambiguities and concerns, principally around the role of the convener, the role of power and politics in a MOOC of this type, the social structure of the community, and the nature of the curriculum.

What I am particularly pleased about is that this day conference is free. Frances and I are both independent and therefore will be paying our own way. Of course we still have to make our own way to London, but the fact that it is free was a significant factor in our decision to submit a proposal. So thanks to ALT for this.

We now have the not so easy task of planning the presentation, but it should be fun and the other sessions on the programme look very interesting. I am looking forward to it.

Finally - we are still working on analyzing the first set of data with a view to further email interviews with survey respondents who agreed to this.  We hope to be sending these out within the next week or two.

Next week I will be going to the cinema to see the Matisse exhibition live streamed from the Tate Modern in London.

matisse exhibition

I live in the North of England, miles away from London. Occasionally I do get to London to see an exhibition (I wrote about the Royal Academy’s Sensing Spaces exhibition on this blog not so long ago), but the recent advent of live streaming exhibitions (as well as theatre, ballet and opera) has made such a difference to those of us who live ‘out in the sticks’.

My first experience of viewing an exhibition via live streaming was the Manet exhibition streamed by the Royal Academy last year. I saw this in Ambleside in Cumbria.

Manet exhibition

This streaming provided inside information about how the exhibition was mounted and in depth close-up information about most of the paintings in the exhibition. The experience is not quite the same as being there in person, but it comes a very close second.

In the run up to seeing the Matisse exhibition live streamed I have watched a short BBC4 programme in which the musician, actor and artist, Goldie, introduces the Matisse exhibition from a personal perspective.

Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 23.57.12

I have watched this on the same evening that I have read a comment on Cristina Costa’s blog post – The web and the academic divide - which suggests that somehow the older generation do not have the experience needed to understand the younger generation and by implication, that the experience of the older generation cannot be taken seriously. But it seems to me that we are still learning from Matisse many years after his death.

Goldie starts his personal tour with a look at Matisse’s cut out – The Bees (1948).

The Bees

It’s interesting that he talks about this cut out in terms of Matisse splicing and editing ‘in his own head’. He talks about how the cut out relates to graffiti, movement, video and brings method to the madness in the chaos of nature.

Goldie also talks about Matisse being ‘far ahead’ –  the paintbrush comes along and everyone is using the paintbrush – but all of a sudden Matisse comes along and says ‘let me just use a pair of scissors’ – the equivalent of aerosol use by graffiti artists. Two Dancers (1937-8) is a great example of the use of scissors.

Two Dancers

In Creole Dancer (1950) Matisse brings order to chaos by balancing colours – ‘he balances the two oranges in the middle here, he has the two pinks here, he has these two blues here and he has this black weighing in with the blue there – it is so balanced – that is a real artist that can do that’.

creole dancer

Of Blue Nude IV (1952), Goldie says:

This was his colour, this was the colour that made him feel safe, this was the colour that made him feel at ease, this was his resonance, this was his ‘hum’ – the sound that a musician finds, it vibrates so much that it stays still, it makes you feel at peace with yourself. Goldie calls this the humming bird effect – that beautiful vibrant blue was Matisse’s humming bird.

Blue Nude

And finally in A Thousand and One Nights (1950) we see Matisse ‘elongating his life’ – telling the story over and over again in a thousand and one cut-outs, which have become bigger, bolder and larger with his advancing years.

a thousand and one nights

All this confirms for me the value of experience. We can learn a lot from the past and the experience of those who have gone before us – those who have learned to achieve balance in their lives and uniquely express themselves with confidence, without worrying about whether the paintbrush is a better tool than scissors or vice versa.

Update 31-05-14

I have been told by a friend that the point of this post is not clear. And on reflection, I see that perhaps it is not. The point I was trying to make was that Matisse, four years before his death in 1954 was using scissors to make these cut-outs, when the received wisdom of the era was that ‘art’ should made with a paintbrush. Sometimes the older generation are ‘far ahead’ (to quote Goldie) of the younger generation, despite their advancing years.

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