The Messiness of Rhizomatic Learning – Words Steal My Intent

rhizo Screen_Shot_2013-09-17_at_8.51.41_PM

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:

Screen Shot 2014-01-26 at 14.52.06

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

Screen Shot 2014-01-26 at 18.40.37

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

29 thoughts on “The Messiness of Rhizomatic Learning – Words Steal My Intent

  1. balimaha January 26, 2014 / 7:50 pm

    This is a difficult post to comment on because there is so much here that is important and that i have been reflecting on but unable to put together. But thanks for articulating this. I had always felt the term network to be colder than community, and sometimes it is the warmth of community that keeps ppl going. I don’t necessarily think I agree that networks would have solved this problem., but i am not 100% sure yet what the key differences are. Some ppl disagreed on theory but went onto collaborate on other things (we were joking about how we almost fell into a trap of over-talking the methodology and starting another cycle). Do you mean community implied we should all have similar goals? I think it was never that. In community ppl can still pursue different interests. I still can’t articulate how i feel or think so will stop here. Thanks for another great synthesis

  2. Maddie January 26, 2014 / 8:10 pm

    Thank you Jenny for this post.

    I am not sure how many of us taking this course have actually read D&G but I think it is safe to say that at the end of this week most of us have been able to experience what rhizomatic learning/growth/networking/community is in his/her own way. I hope all of us have been part of this rhizomatic growth that sprouted this week. I feel having an experience of this kind is far more valuable than reading the theory and trying to make sense out of it. But then that’s just me. 🙂

  3. dave cormier (@davecormier) January 26, 2014 / 8:45 pm

    Hey Jenny,

    It’s funny. This wasn’t my experience of this week. The vast majority of the posts I’ve read have been about independence, and the posts you note are the only ones that I saw that diverged in the way you describe. I was worried, earlier this week, when someone suggested that this was happening by citing the same posts. The responses to the survey have overwhelmingly suggested that folks are in a variety of different directions rather than on one ‘divergent’ one.

    I have always disliked Wegner’s definition of community. My own experience of community in no way suggests collective intentions. I can think of no plain language usage of community with such a singular focus. That kind of focus, in my mind, requires a command and control structure more suggestive of a group. Tough to say. I”ll be publishing the results of the survey tonight.

    cheers. d.

  4. Nomad War Machine January 26, 2014 / 8:57 pm

    I was also thinking about unlearning, which I think we do need to do. Maddie’s post puts that another way, and I like that as well.

  5. VanessaVaile January 26, 2014 / 8:59 pm

    Reblogged this on MOOC Madness and commented:
    #rhizo14 Week 2 recap / untangling…messy but stopping short of chaotic, either a learning experience or an unlearning one…

  6. Lenandlar January 26, 2014 / 10:29 pm

    Like Dave, i simply ignored the threads that were ‘hot’ this week. I usually come back to them in my quiet time. Why? It is my style. Sometimes i try to focus on the less controversial to ground myself first then delve into the complex. So what i did was follow the discussions that were easier to follow. The good thing about a course like this(or a learning experience as i like to call it) is that i can come back to the ideas.

  7. Aaron January 26, 2014 / 11:02 pm

    excellent thinking through of all this… thanks. lovely. i was trying to sort out all these open blogs and pages and posts – i even downloaded this app that takes 500 open pages and makes them into one list… because i had almost that many pages – and wondering how to manage all these ideas (always the challenge and delight in these open courses) but I like how you’ve put things together. now i will go make a poem 🙂

  8. fred6368 January 27, 2014 / 8:48 am

    Great post Jenny! And lovely too 🙂 Thanks… Indeed “words do “steal my intent” it is partly to do with their psycho-geographic origins – you might want to read This Is My Brain on Music to look at the origins of communication. I covered some of these in my call for post-Enlightenmnet thinking in Putting Context into Knowledge;

  9. dogtrax January 27, 2014 / 11:08 am

    Love that spine remix and am wondering how to use it myself.
    Thanks for stealing my words and cramming them into the remixer.

  10. francesbell January 27, 2014 / 12:02 pm

    I have read your reply several times Dave and still not quite sure what you mean. For example when you talk about the posts that ‘diverged’ from the topic of independence, I wonder what happened to ‘the community is the curriculum’ but I know that’s a concept that I am still struggling with.
    On Wenger, my recollection is that the community of practice has a shared repertoire rather than a common purpose. I do recall criticism of some his work that was focused on CoPs within an organisation so I guess the command and control could have slid in In those cases.
    I won’t repeat what I think of Stephen Downes distinction between groups and networks for fear of boring you but I do think that different expectations of what it means to be in the #rhizo14 ‘community’ has led to some tensions, not all of them productive. It is hard work to make connections in our rhizome when we want to learn different things, make different changes and struggle to understand what others mean. It’s worth the effort. I wonder if we have lost any rich connections already and whether some treasures are coming up soon.

  11. jennymackness January 27, 2014 / 5:15 pm

    Many thanks to all for your comments here. I much appreciate the time you have taken to make these responses.

    Maha – my thoughts about community come specifically from the work I have done over the years in relation to Etienne Wenger’s social learning theory and work on communities of practice. I can’t better what he writes. If you haven’t read his book – Communities of Practice – Learning, Meaning and Identity – then I can really recommend it. As you suggest – there is a lot to think about – years worth 🙂

    Maddie – thanks so much for your comment. For me theory informs my practice – which Etienne Wenger also writes a lot about. So a lot of different theories are actually currently informing and influencing my thinking about rhizomatic learning.

    Dave – I’d be really interested to know more about your understanding of community and how it differs from Etienne Wenger’s. Thanks for the results of the survey.

    Sarah – do you think we make a conscious effort to ‘unlearn’ or do you think we resist this as much as possible?

    Len – thanks for sharing your learning strategies. You are obviously more self-disciplined than me. If something really grabs my attention I just can’t ignore it ☺

    Aaron – I didn’t know that there was an app for downloading open pages. Thanks for sharing that. Looking forward to your poem ☺

    Fred – thanks for your visit and comment. So pleased that you like ‘Words steal my intent’ – It was amazing to me that at one moment I decided to take up Kevin’s challenge as a mesostic and at the next moment I had a line of words that seemed so relevant to the discussion. Thanks for the link to your slideshare (loads of information there) and for the book reference. Have you read Iain McGilchrist – The Master and his Emissary? I have been having an ongoing off-on discussion about this with a friend for more than a year now. I think it probably has lots of links to your interests.

    Kevin – loved your mesostic ☺

    Frances – I’ll let Dave respond to you directly if he comes here again – but yes – Wenger describes three dimension of practice as the property of community – mutual engagement, joint enterprise and shared repertoire. The criticism that I have seen of his work that I can remember (although I would have to hunt for the reference) is that there is not enough reference to power relations and that the community can exert a tyranny of participation. I also ‘wonder if we have lost any rich connections already’. Thanks for diving into this discussion.

  12. Sylvia Currie January 27, 2014 / 7:02 pm

    I’m so grateful for your weekly reflections, Jenny!

    The discussion about community “definitions” reminds me of a conversation about CoPs versus learning communities versus communities of interest. The thrust of the conversation was that some people thought you shouldn’t claim to have a CoP if it is actually (just) a learning community, and so on. Etienne’s response has stayed with me forever. He said “Who cares what you call it?” 🙂

    In other words, a valid purpose, or collective intentions, or however you want to frame it, can be learning together. Simple as that.

  13. jennymackness January 27, 2014 / 8:25 pm

    Hi Sylvia – great to hear from you and thanks for reminding me about Etienne’s ‘Who cares’ comment in relation to different types of communities, which I have also heard him say, but had forgotten 🙂

    But Etienne has tried to clarify what he thinks are the differences between a community (CoP) and a network – which I think is important if it affects people’s perceptions of how learning might occur in these environments. And the comment he made that I always remember is ‘ All communities are networks, but not all networks are communities’.

    Great to realise, if we did not before, how you and I, along with so many others, have been affected by what Etienne has to say 🙂

  14. balimaha January 27, 2014 / 8:47 pm

    Hey Jenny, sure, read Wenger way back when i started my master’s in 2003-2004 (used to think Etienene was a woman’s name, btw, and that Gilly Salmon was a man, but that’s another story) but am much more influenced by Pedler’s learning communities (less famous) – will post on fb a graphic form his book thar looks much like rhizomatic learning (or how i understand it, anyway)

  15. cathleennardi January 28, 2014 / 2:28 am

    For the past week, I have been thinking about changing my email signature to include Toffler’s quote “The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” This brilliant post cemented the deal. The technology of the internet changes the dynamics of the network in ways that we have not experienced before. #Rhizo14 is an exploration of this new dynamic.

  16. Maha January 28, 2014 / 8:56 am

    Cathleen, did you know that quote is used in every video in CathyDavidon’s #futureEd MOOC? Was saying on fb lots of synergies with #rhizo14

  17. cathleennardi January 28, 2014 / 9:04 am

    Maha, I did not know. I would love to take her MOOC but I am too consumed here. Love the synergy and cross pollination..

  18. jennymackness January 28, 2014 / 12:10 pm

    Hi Maha – thanks for your reply. Interesting! My understanding is that the Pedler’s work is related to learning communities in education – the networked learning community – Is that how you see it? i.e. a different focus?

  19. jennymackness January 28, 2014 / 12:11 pm

    Cathleen – thanks for that quote, which I have come across in the past but forgotten about. Thanks for reminding me 🙂

  20. cathleennardi January 28, 2014 / 7:20 pm

    I’m big on quotes. In fact, I was thinking about messiness, order out of chaos and such and found this….ORDO AB CHAO is Latin for “Order Out of Chaos or Order from Disorder.” This term was invented by Freemasons and is the actual motto of the 33rd Degree of Scottish Rite Freemasonry.

  21. mdvfunes February 3, 2014 / 11:01 am

    Jenny, I only just had time to read this post, and wanted to give it my full attention.

    I love the idea of ‘the internet as our oracle’ and also it looks like John Cage designed Mesostomatic, we learnt about him on DS106 and he had some wonderful words to say on silence (a word I treasure).

    I have found your conversation clarifying and helpful, and whilst I may not be able to give #rhizo14 as much time going forward I feel I have learnt a lot.

    Much in this post to follow up – I will keep it as a companion for a while.

  22. jennymackness February 3, 2014 / 8:27 pm

    Mariana – many thanks for your visit and comment. If you are interested in John Cage and others like him – then ModPo is the MOOC for you, although you may already be a ModPoer!

    I learned such a lot about ‘open minds’ in ModPo. I can recommend it both to educators and of course to those who are passionate about poetry, of which there are at least 34000!!

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