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We are in Week 4 of Dave Cormier’s open online course – Rhizomatic Learning: The Community is the Curriculum - and the topic is ‘Is Books making us stupid?

Dave Cormier has said in his introductory video:

There is something about print I’ve never trusted. There’s something about it that encourages objectivity and distance and remove and impartiality, something that is less participatory, something that is more towards the definite and not towards the relational.

There’s something about the written word that makes the journey of learning a finite one, an ended one, one where we can have an impartial judge who will decide, a jury who will tell us whether or not we’ve won.

I think I know where this is coming from. Last week Sarah Honeychurch in the Google Hangout asked whether nowadays all knowledge is up for grabs? Dave in his 2008 paper about rhizomatic learning  - discusses how – in the light of information abundance and the speed of development and change – we now have to think differently about knowledge. He writes:

New communication technologies and the speeds at which they allow the dissemination of information and the conversion of information to knowledge have forced us to reexamine what constitutes knowledge; moreover, it has encouraged us to take a critical look at where it can be found and how it can be validated.

For me, whilst it can’t be denied that we live in an age of information abundance and the pace of change is so fast that we can’t keep up – I’m not sure that we should be throwing the baby out with the bathwater, i.e. don’t throw out your books. Whilst of course we need to be critically engaged with and questioning knowledge, the socially negotiated learning of communities, communities of practice, and communities of enquiry, is enriched by their history and reified knowledge. For me they would be weaker, shallower and more superficial without reference to this history.

In his seminal text on communities of practice (1998)  Etienne Wenger highlighted the duality of participation and reification and the role of history in the shared repertoire of a community. Books, including Etienne’s, are part of our history. Are we going to ignore or throw away our books and so throw away our history? Doesn’t our past inform our present and future?

But this was not the first thought that came to me when noting this week’s topic. The first thought was to question whether its books that are the problem. Over the past couple of years, I have spent quite a bit of time, on and off, discussing with a friend from my CCK08 days – Iain MacGilchrist’s book – The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World.

It’s ironic that the topic of this week should bring to mind, so forcefully, a book! Whilst the title of McGilchrist’s book suggests a polarisation between the left and right brain – this is not the case. He is at pains to point out that we need both hemispheres of the brain – but the thrust of his book is that we have become over dependent on the left hemisphere, the hemisphere of abstraction, to the detriment of the right hemisphere, the hemisphere of embodied learning. Here are some quotes from the back cover of the book:

… Ian McGilchrist argues that the left and right hemispheres have differing insights, values and priorities. Each has a distinct ‘take’ on the world – most strikingly, the right hemisphere sees itself as connected to the world, whereas the left hemisphere stands aloof from it. This affects our understanding not just of language and reason, music and time, but of all living things: our bodies, ourselves and the world in which we live.

… McGilchrist argues, the left hemisphere has become so far dominant that we’re in danger of forgetting everything that makes us human. Taking the reader on an extraordinary journey through Western history and culture, he traces how the left hemisphere has grabbed more than its fair share of power, resulting in a society where a rigid and bureaucratic obsession with structure, narrow self-interest and a mechanistic view of the world hold sway, at an enormous cost to human happiness and the world around us.

So I would suggest that it’s not books that are the problem. We need books. We need our history to be able to critically engage with our present and think about our future. McGilchrist’s powerful book depends heavily on history and what has been written in the past. We need a balance between participation and reification. Books do not make us less participatory. The written word does not make the journey of learning a finite one.  I have been discussing McGilchrist’s book for two years with my friend. That is participatory. We still have many unanswered questions. The journey is not yet ended.

Books are not the problem – it is us and the way we think – our lack of ability to critically engage with learning – the way we allow ourselves to think in black and white, to be persuaded by polarities instead of keeping a balanced perspective.

We need books, but we also need to engage with them critically. We need text, but we also need to be able to see its limitations. We need abstraction, but we also need embodied learning. We need to exercise both the left and right hemispheres of our brains.

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I have been uncertain about how to engage with this week’s topic Embracing Uncertainty – Week 3 of Dave Cormier’s Course on Rhizomatic Learning.

I have just listened to the Google unHangout recording and read all the posts relating to this week’s topic in Google +. I have been following the Twitter stream (#rhizo14), checking in on the Facebook group  and have tried to keep track of as many blog posts as possible (aggregated on Matthias Melcher’s blog , with comments scraped by Gordon Lockhart). I have also tried to come at this afresh and not be over-influenced by my prior experience.

It has struck me that one of the problems I have had is that the word ‘uncertainty’ means different things to different people and that in some respects we have been ‘talking past each other’.

Some are talking about uncertainty in relation to not knowing which path to follow or what is going to happen next, others in relation to teaching without having all the answers, and others in relation to the validity of knowledge and the question of what is truth?

For Dave – uncertainty means accepting that ‘not knowing is something we all share’ and lies at the heart of rhizomatic learning. Uncertainty is related to abundance of information. According to Dave, in the past ‘certainty’ was created through a scarcity of information. ‘We were supposed to get it all’. But now with so much information it is impossible for teachers to have all the answers. Teachers are now more uncertain, than in the past, about their ability to answer learners’ questions.

Uncertainty is also about not being able to predict what is going to happen in the future and therefore not being able to predict what we might learn. (This relates to my interest in emergent learning and environments that promote emergent learning.)

I can see that in some ways our pathways through life may not be as certain as they used to be, particularly in relation to employment. Nowadays, many people, if not most, will have a number of jobs during their career. There is no certainty that they will be able to stay in the same job or even in their own country throughout their working lives. And we know that in many aspects of society, change is coming at us much faster than it ever has in the past.

Jolly Roger said in the Google unHangout that ‘Uncertainty is not a big deal’ and John Glass in Google + writes ‘Uncertainty is a given, IMO. Or to put it another way, no one knows what is REALLY going on.” And Keith Hamon, thinking of the aboriginal nomads, reminded us that rhizomatic learning is not new.

So is life and/or knowledge any more uncertain now than it ever was? Is there a ‘big deal’ that we have to address in relation to uncertainty or not? Jolly Roger says not, but Dave seems to think there is, otherwise he wouldn’t have focussed a whole week of the course on this.

Life has always been unpredictable/uncertain – always will be. We never know what is round the corner or what life will throw at us. We can try to minimise the risks, but we can never be in ultimate control.

So being uncertain about where you are going is not the big deal. There are probably more paths now to choose from than in the past, but the future has never been 100% predictable.

Sharing ‘not knowing’ might be a bigger deal. Teachers of course have always known when they ‘don’t know’, but maybe the change is in sharing this with learners and encouraging learners to share their lack of knowing with each other. Of course it’s all a question of balance. Learners won’t appreciate a teacher who knows nothing.

Sarah Honeychurch asked in the UnHangout ‘Is all knowledge up for grabs?’ Has the nature of knowledge changed? I can see that this could/would create lots of uncertainty. Is this the really big deal in relation to uncertainty?

I don’t know the answers to any of the questions I have been raising, but my research suggests that its not helpful to think in terms of all or nothing, certainty or uncertainty, one path or multipath, sharing or not sharing etc. Better to think in terms of scale from less to more, i.e. less uncertainty to more uncertainty, less sharing to more sharing and so on. And then for any given context – and each context is unique – consider what balance is needed to support learning.

Like Karen Young  ‘I am not sure about the idea of embracing uncertainty’ – because for me it’s not yet clear what that means.

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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:

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blow me down – this is what I got (although the X has been dropped in the spine),

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Is this the cause of the messiness in Week 2 of  #rhizo14.

rhizo Screen_Shot_2013-09-17_at_8.51.41_PMWhen I saw the title for the Week 2 topic – Enforcing Independence –  my immediate thoughts were ‘Oh no – here we go again – another one of Dave’s provocative statements’,  and ‘Of course you can’t ‘enforce’ independence’.

Other people in the P2PU forum seem to have had similar thoughts, some people have dismissed the idea out of hand and others appear to have completely ignored it, going off down their own rhizomatic paths. But Dave has given us an example of what he means by ‘enforced independence’ by sharing his syllabus for his f2f course ED366 Educational Technology and the Adult Learner, which he says is an example of how he tries to balance the enforcement.

Having read this document, I find myself, as with the topic ‘cheating as learning’ last week, not opposed to the underlying reasoning, but thinking that both ‘enforce’ and ‘independence’ are once again the wrong words.

By independence I assume we mean ‘capable of thinking or acting for oneself’ . Well yes we want learners to be able to do this. How would this be exemplified?

The thought that immediately comes to mind is that in nursery school we want little children to be able to put their own coats on, take themselves to the toilet and so on. But more than this we want them to be capable of deciding when they need to put a coat on and when they need to go to the toilet. And beyond this we want them to have the freedom to make their own choices and take the consequences of those choices, and this is what I would call learner autonomy – which I see as different to independence and more what I would aspire to.

Dependence is not necessarily a problem. Some learners, for example those with special needs, will always need to be dependent on others to support them, but they can still be autonomous – free to make their own choices.

And as some have already mentioned in the P2PU forum, we don’t necessarily want learners to be isolated from each other, but rather learn to learn through interdependence.

In Dave’s course that he has shared with us, learners seem to have some autonomy, some choices that they can make, but is there scope for more?  That would be my question. Ultimately we want learners to be able to make their own choices. This might mean that the learner chooses not to comply with course requirements if the learner thinks that is in his best interests. This level of autonomy is very challenging for teachers, who even when they build choices into the curriculum, still tend to have some sort of a surround safety net which they hope learners will not fall through. I used to admire those students who were able to say – ‘Sorry, but this is not for me’, recognized their own autonomy and acted on it removing themselves from the course – but of course this autonomy had a negative effect on my programme’s retention figures! Just in this one example you can see the tensions that autonomy can raise for a teacher.

Despite this, I would prefer the aspiration of autonomy rather than independence. Independence implies cutting the apron strings, but autonomy is not about casting adrift – more about freedom.

And I don’t think autonomy can be enforced – otherwise it wouldn’t be about choice!

I don’t think Dave has ‘enforced independence’ on his students. I think what he has done, as he is doing in this course, is to create the conditions in which learners have opportunities to exercise their autonomy. Autonomy is not black and white, but comes in degrees on a scale of less to more. We can’t make people autonomous or independent. Any attempt to do this would be to consolidate the teacher’s position as based on a whole set of power structures, further creating a reliance on the teacher for setting objectives, assessing progress and giving direction.

But we can model what we mean by independence and/or autonomous learning, as Dave is doing in this course. We can provide the opportunities and learning environment in which autonomy is fostered, but then we have to let learners make their own choices. You don’t need mature learners for this. One of the best places to see this interdependence and autonomy in action is in a nursery classroom, where the teaching approach is based on a High Scope Curriculum  and where

The most important segment of the daily routine is the plan-do-review sequence, in which children make choices about what they will do, carry out their ideas, and reflect upon their activities with adults and other children.

So autonomy and interdependence are the words for me – not ‘independence’ nor ‘enforce’.

 

 

As happened in CCK08 (the first MOOC in 2008), it seems that ‘the kids have taken control of the classroom’ in this second week of Dave Cormier’s open online course Rhizomatic Learning – The Community is the Curriculum . The topic this week is ‘enforced independence’ and here is Dave’s introduction:

I have been standing back, observing, watching, waiting, to see what directions people take in response to the idea of ‘enforcing independence’.

Simon Ensor summed up how I feel this week, when he posted this on Twitter:

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I particularly like the line ‘So long as the mists envelop you, be still’. On the whole, for me, there isn’t enough ‘stillness’ in social media environments. And I can also relate to the first line. My own expression has always been ‘When in doubt, don’t!’ So rushing off down rhizomatic paths isn’t really my style – but it has been fascinating to watch the paths that are being created and followed this week.

Unlike ‘cheating is learning’ (last week’s topic), ‘enforcing independence’  has been summarily dismissed as a viable idea by some. Arca says “Independence cannot be enforced. End.”  There is obviously a discussion to be had around independence as an important idea in association with pedagogy, but I’m not sure about the possibility of ‘enforcing’ independence. I might come back to that discussion in another post.

For now I am reflecting on Dave’s introductory video where he said that the word ‘course’ in association with #rhizo14 does have meaning, i.e. it is a course (not a free for all), that he is directing, not in the sense of a conductor with a set sheet of music, but in the sense of directing towards a certain type of conversation. I wonder what type of conversation Dave envisaged for this week – because it is going all over the place. For example:

Sarah HoneyChurch organised a live synchronous session last night for European/African participants  – but I’m not sure if the session was about social bonding or something more substantial.

Cath Ellis has tried to steer discussion towards actually reading Deleuze and Guattari’s work and bemoans the fact that many of us are engaging in discussion without having read the seminal text. She suggests reading the first 25 pages/introduction and has posted some links to documents in Facebook, to get us going. Not everyone is keen to do this reading. Maha Bali presents an alternative perspective.

Maha Bali is also interested in researching the different forms of community interaction and its effects on learning in‪#‎rhizo14‬ and has put out a call for collaborators in the Facebook group.

Penny Bentley is interested in the question ‘How does Rhizomatic Learning add to/enhance Connectivism? (also on Facebook).

The discussion around ‘cheating as learning’ continues, with a number of people still concerned about the ethics of rhizomatic learning.

Frances Bell thinks we are in danger of “Falling into the tendency to think about rhizomatic learning within formal educational contexts” and is interested in power in rhizomatic learning environments

Keith Hamon is interested in the relationship between ethical behaviour and boundaries in rhizomatic learning environments.

A number of participants are creating badges for the course and awarding them as and when they feel appropriate.

Many people are interested in how the ideas behind rhizomatic learning relate to their teaching practice.

And there’s more….

All this would suggest that ‘The community is the curriculum’, i.e. the curriculum this week, is being created more by the community than in relation to the week’s topic – which I assume was the intention behind the course design.

But where does that leave Dave as the ‘director’ of conversation? What are the implications for his and our ‘power’ in the course?

And I’m wondering about the word ‘community’ and whether everyone going off along their own rhizomatic paths is conducive to community. For example, will there be a break away ‘theory group’ and if there is would this militate against community? Is it reasonable to talk about rhizomatic learning in relation to community?

I feel the mists descending again!

This is a follow on from my last post where I raised my concerns around the ethics of promoting cheating as learning – as Dave Cormier has done in this first week of his open course – Rhizomatic Learning – the Community is the Curriculum.

In the Google ‘unhangout’ live session, which I didn’t attend (like Cinderella I leave the ball at midnight!, but I did watch the video recording)  – Dave responded to these concerns. Thank you – much appreciated.

Here is the recording of the session, although given that this was a live ‘workshop’ rather than a presentation – I wouldn’t recommend watching it all unless you are interested in how the ‘unhangout’ session worked.

Instead watch the beginning and the end (I’ll suggest some times in what follows), and for what happened in the breakout groups see these slides. Thanks to people who posted these – which was great for those of us who couldn’t attend.

At about 17 minutes into the session (17.45) Dave responds to my concern that cheating is inherently unethical. He says that he is not suggesting that theft is a good thing. He is not talking about cheating as theft. Instead he is suggesting that the assumptions that we have about learning are the problem. He believes that now, through the internet, we have made the transition from a scarcity of information and content knowledge to an abundance of information and cheating is a legacy of a bygone era (i.e. an era of scarcity of information). He believes that cheating is a structure in which the teacher has decided what is true or not true and that this disempowers learners. It is not about stealing people’s stuff – but is about finding your own path – creating your own map. For him this is rhizomatic learning.

I don’t argue with the principles here. I also believe that abundance of information has necessitated a change in the way we work, that assumptions should be challenged (see Stephen Brookfield’s work on Assumption Hunting), that learners should be empowered to find their own path.  But the word ‘cheating’ is still problematic for me and in at least one respect it is problematic for Dave since he says he is not talking about cheating as theft.  And interestingly, Dave doesn’t like the word ‘hack’ – so it’s not that ‘anything goes’ in relation to cheating for him – in fact it is becoming clear that he has, dare I say, ‘defined’ cheating in a specific way to suit his rhizomatic purposes.

But Dave has more to say about definitions. For this you need to go to the end of the video at round about 1.05.55.

Here he says that definitions make him ‘cookie’ (not sure about the spelling here as I haven’t come across this expression before :-)). He says that for rhizomatic learning definition is a killer because defining means locking meaning up into a little box, which doesn’t recognize the complexity of cheating as rhizomatic learning. Cheating is a complex concept embedded in our culture. It means different things in different contexts, cultures and locations and doesn’t easily translate from one culture to another. There is no common definition. Dave believes that making cheating an effective weapon to do the things we want to do doesn’t mean being dishonest. He says ‘I’m not actually talking about cheating in the dishonest sense as a way of learning. What I’m suggesting is that if we think about what cheating means we may find out that it is not in fact cheating – you may say that it all comes back to intent’.

Again – I don’t argue with the principles here. I completely agree that learning is complex. And I believe that definitions can be problematic and remember now that I wrote a blog post about this during the Change11 MOOC –  - and it’s a relief to know that Dave is not promoting cheating in relation to rhizomatic learning in the dishonest sense – but for me, this simply serves to highlight that there is a problem with the word cheating.

As the ‘fictional character’ Arca pointed out in a blog post ‘Cheating and Logical Types’ -– once we say cheating is OK, then it is no longer cheating.

So my conclusions at the end of this first week of the rhizomatic learning course are:

  • Dave is playing with words and using a very effective teaching strategy to provoke discussion – which has been very successful.
  • Cheating is commonly associated with ‘dishonesty’ – redefining it, or leaving the question of ethics out of the discussion doesn’t change that.
  • Whilst definitions can be problematic and we have to accept that there are always alternative perspectives, definitions are also necessary to help us in at least recognizing that we are talking about the same thing.  Ultimately Dave has redefined, for the purposes of this course, the word ‘cheating’, so that we can all discuss it in relation to rhizomatic learning from a similar perspective.
  • The irony of all this is that Dave has used the ‘power’ of his considerable reputation to redefine the word ‘cheating’.
  • I am in complete agreement with Dave that we should not make assumptions about the way in which people learn, that learning is complex and messy and that as educators we should try to empower learners to take control of their learning.
  • I am in complete agreement with Dave that we should try to avoid abusing the power we have as educators – but I don’t think this is simple, even in rhizomatic learning.
  • I don’t think we can just cut ‘ethics’ out of our thinking about rhizomatic learning, by saying – Yes OK, there is this thing about ethics and dishonesty associated with cheating, but we are not going to consider it in relation to our discussions about rhizomatic learning.
  • And to reiterate what I have written before, I think learning is about learning to ‘be’ and to become a certain type of person – much more than it is learning ‘about’ something – rhizomatic learning or anything else – and for this reason it is important to consider the ethics of what we are promoting.

This has been a very thought-provoking week. The discussion has been intense and very stimulating. From my perspective as an educator and researcher in course design and learner experiences in open online course, this week has been fascinating.  And if the above comments come across that I have decided that everything is ‘done, dusted, sorted, cut and dried’, then I have to say that they are not. I am still thinking about all this and wondering whether I have understood it. This post only reflects where I am in my thinking at this moment in time – but I’m open to changing my mind :-)

Dave Cormier in his open course on rhizomatic learning, which started on Tuesday of this week – has asked us in his video to think about/discuss ‘cheating as learning’.

For him it is important to think about cheating in relation to his teaching because this brings into focus power structures in an educational setting. He says that cheating is only a possibility if there are rules to break and rules control what we do giving power to the traditions of our culture. Without rules then there is no need for cheating. He doesn’t go as far as to say that we don’t need any rules – but maybe he is saying that we need to think about changing some of the rules.

There is an interesting discussion on the P2PU site,  which throws a lot of ideas into the melting pot – such as hacking – and the use of cheat codes in gaming – which seem to be regarded as legitimate ways of working. Dogtrax writes ‘Cheating is a natural and guilt free part of gaming’ and Khomotso writes ‘Cheating can allow you to get something out of a flawed experience, rather than just avoid that experience altogether’. Both these comments suggest that cheating is simply a lack of deference to the rules.

There is also an interesting post by Technological about ‘predatory thinking’. He writes:

I”m being flippant, but in closing – I feel that “cheating as learning” is Dave Trotts “predatory thinking”,  - good old fashioned competitive thinking strategies utilised in order to gain advantage in a competitive environment. Dave Trott put it well and I think it fits well with “cheating as learning” – he says “creativity is the last, legal unfair advantage we have.” I think that “cheating as learning” as long as it is not particularly egregious and not wholesale ripping off of someone else’s efforts is part of an avant-garde, a leftfield creative advance that acts to safeguard against outdated dogmas and rules and one that is successfully checking and challenging the status quo. It is thoroughly entrepreneurial at heart, and long may it continue.

Now – defining where it becomes less healthy or problematic – that is a whole other story…

The Oxford English dictionary defines cheating as ‘acting dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage’.  All the definitions of cheating that I have looked up suggest that cheating is problematic because it contravenes commonly understood ethical codes – the moral principles which govern our behaviour  – so whilst I can see what Dave is getting at, and recognise that it is a good teaching strategy to throw in a controversial statement to get discussion going, for me associating ‘cheating’ with rhizomatic learning doesn’t do it any favours.

I don’t think rhizomatic learning has anything to do with cheating.  I don’t think that predatory thinking is cheating unless it is associated with the dishonesty of ‘wholesale ripping off of someone else’s efforts’.

For me it is more helpful to think in terms of not having to ‘reinvent the wheel’. With advances in technology this is much more possible now than ever before. We are, as Dave has told us, living in an age of information abundance. Using this information is not cheating unless our use infringes the copyright restrictions, which usually require full attribution (see creative commons licenses). Remixing and repurposing, within  copyright restrictions is not cheating. (For more thoughts about this see – It’s not Plagiarism. In the Digital Age, It’s Repurposing).  Collaboration and sharing of ideas within a climate of mutual respect, faith, humility, trust , agreed permissions and requirements for attribution is not cheating.  All these activities speed up the flow of information and save us unnecessary work. They also require openness of mind and spirit and it is this ‘openness’ that will influence power structures within our learning environments. Openness is a great leveller.

For me, learning isn’t so much about what we do – cheating or otherwise – but more about who we are and who we become – and as such is associated with ethical and moral dimensions. Does living in a digitally networked world, a world of rhizomatic learners change what we commonly understand to be the basic moral principles that govern behaviour between learners?

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