Archive for June 25th, 2014

This is the fourth and final post in a series which outlines the thinking and planning Frances Bell and Jenny Mackness have been doing in preparation for our presentation – The Rhizome as a Metaphor for Teaching and Learning in a MOOC – for the ALTMOOCSIG conference on Friday 27th June.

The first post was – The Rhizome as a Metaphor for Teaching and Learning in a MOOC 

The second post was – Making Sense of the Rhizome Metaphor for Teaching and Learning

The third post was – Principles of Rhizomatic Thinking

This final post will cover some of the issues that are emerging from our research data.


Rhizo 14: Emerging ambiguities and issues

 Slide 6 (Source of image: Tom Friedman. Open Black Box : http://eyelevel.si.edu/2007/06/sculpture-as-an.html )

We are still in the process of analysing our data, but on the basis the work we have done so far we were able to send these statements out to survey respondents who agreed to an email interview:

  • 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

The statements exemplify some of the emerging alternative perspectives on the learner experience of the Rhizo14 MOOC.

We haven’t done enough analysis of our data yet to come to any conclusions, but here are some tentative initial questions, findings and discussion. We do not have any answers to these questions. We simply raise them and open them for discussion.

  1. The role of the convenor. What is the role of the convener in a course which tries to apply D &G’s rhizomatic principles? Is it possible to have no centre?

Here are the alternative perspectives of two survey respondents.

Our words, our images, our diagrams were what drove the learning for ourselves and for others in the course. Where the conversations went did not start from a single centre and move in an ordered fashion from there; they started wherever we started, and moved wherever those involved wanted them to move. As a result, there were numerous conversations happening at the same time, going in different directions, linking up to others if we made the links happen. 

I could see many people getting enthusiastic and falling in love with the community like “we are something, we are the best in world. Others are stupid and not creative but we are great. Dave is the King and it is fine to get attention from him.” I define this groupthink and emotional drifting. Someone called it a congregation around dc

Is a course, which necessarily means there is a course convener, the right environment for exploring and modelling rhizomatic learning?

  1. The operation of power in Rhizo14 and its relation to striated and smooth spaces for state and nomadic thought

“Only thought is capable of inventing the fiction of a State that is universal by right”, they insist, “[only thought is] capable of elevating the State to the level of de jure universality” (Holland, 2013, p.45)

D & G talk about smooth and striated space. Striated space is structured and organised and can be the home of ‘state thought’, whereas in smooth space there are no fixed points or boundaries. Many of Rhizo14’s provocative prompts seemed to be designed to help participants challenge state thought/ arborescence in education. We are curious to explore how nomadic thought was enabled and constrained by the few structuring devices (activities and technologies) present in Rhizo14.

Although rhizomatic nomadic thought may seem more at home in smooth space, it may not have that luxury. There may have been more striated space in Rhizo14 than you would expect in a course about rhizomatic learning. This also relates to thinking about the rhizome as achieving ‘felt-like’ status, which Holland (2013) equates to ‘smooth space’.

Holland writes (p.38) that ‘any rhizomatic element has the potential to connect with any other element’ . He compares felt to the warp and woof (weft) of fabric. Early analysis suggests that Rhizo14 didn’t achieve felt-like status (i.e. a smooth space). There was not enough ‘omni-directionality’.

‘Rhizomatic elements co-exist with one another, but without structure (e.g. felt). Any structure or unity is imposed as an extra dimension  .… and as an effect of power on the dimensions of co-existence of the rhizome itself, whose self-organization requires no added dimensions: structuration or unification, by contrast, occurs as the result of “over-coding” by a signifier…..’ (Holland, p.39)

The potential ambiguity between Dave Cormier’s role as convenor (with his expressed desire to moderate communication) and his wish to be de-centred within Rhizo14 may have been realised in confusion and challenge by some participants, and defence of him by others. There is some evidence of this in the data we collected. A possible explanation could be that Rhizo14 ended up being ‘over-coded’ with Dave Cormier as the signifier and members of the dominant Facebook Group as signifiers, thus working against decentring. This is the one of the issues we hope to explore with Dave Cormier himself to enrich our understanding.

  1. The Community: Is the idea of community compatible with D & G’s principles of rhizomatic thinking? In Rhizo14 is the community an example of territorialisation? D & G write about the necessity of territorialisation, but say it should only be relatively temporary.

Community is not a word that features strongly in D & G’s A Thousand Plateaus, but they do write:

There is no ideal speaker-listener, any more than there is a homogeneous linguistic community. ( D&G, A Thousand Plateaus, p.7)

On the same page, they also write:

There is no mother tongue, only a power takeover by a dominant language within a political multiplicity.

And Holland explains this with:

‘Even on its own plane, discourse as rhizome is “an essentially heterogeneous reality” [p.7 in D&G’s book] – a “throng of dialects, patois, slangs, and specialized languages,” Deleuze and Guattari assert, with “no mother tongue” [7]. The appearance of a standard language is instead the result of a power-takeover by one language among many, necessarily in connection with yet other factors, most notably political and demographic ones.’ ( Holland, E.W., 2013, Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus, Bloomsbury, p.39)

The question we, as researchers, are considering is whether the notion of community works against rhizomatic thinking principles, but we haven’t got any further than this at the moment. Does a community lead to a standard language and a power take-over? One interesting aspect of community within Rhizo14 is that although Dave Cormier drew on his existing network to attract participants to the MOOC, there was no pre-existing Rhizo14 community, and so part of the early ‘work’ of Rhizo14 was community formation.

As Dave Cormier said:

In discussions with the excellent Vanessa Gennarelli from P2PU she suggested that I focus the course around challenging questions. It occurred to me that if i took my content and my finely crafted ‘unravelling’ out of the way I might just get the kind of engagement that could encourage the formation of community. http://davecormier.com/edblog/2014/04/01/explaining-rhizo14-to-oscar/

This is an interesting issue that we hope to explore further.

  1. The community is the curriculum

This begs the question – what was the curriculum? As is evident from the first quote from a survey respondent under point 1 above, there were some participants who believed that the curriculum was created by the community. We have evidence that participants learned ‘how to MOOC’, ‘how to make connections with like-minded people’, and ‘how to think differently about their existing educational philosophy’, but as mentioned in a previous blog post, only a handful survey respondents referred to D&G’s work in their understanding of the rhizome as a metaphor for learning and teaching.

As well as minimising the content he provided, Dave had already affirmed the need for learners to create content. Participants from DS106, EDCMOOC, and CLMOOC 2013 would already have experienced a MOOC where ‘making’ was a key focus for community/ course participation. The ‘Arts and Crafts tent’ was popular, a participant-driven approach, and can be seen in the many multimedia artefacts tagged #rhizo14, but not everyone wanted to do this. One of the ways in which curriculum could be perceived is by the content generated by learners, and the diversity of content from poems to wordy blog posts and a lot of remixes in multimedia in Rhizo14.

As one email interview respondent has written:

I do not quite understand how the community designs and negotiates its own curriculum community. We need more studies and references to describe the processes of negotiation that go on within a community that enable it to design their own curriculum.

And finally, the same respondent wrote:

I have a feeling that this metaphor needs to be connected more to pedagogical issues arising from educational research. 

Which neatly brings us to the end of our presentation and emphasises that we still have more questions than answers and, as we have mentioned before, far more thoughts and discussion topics than we have room for here, or time for in our presentation.

Slide 7

(Source of image: Tobias Øhrstrøm Learning from a potato: http://www.iaacblog.com/maa2013-2014-advanced-architecture-concepts/2013/11/learning-from-a-potato/ )

If you have any thoughts/questions about this series of posts, we would welcome your comments on our blogs, or by email:

  • jenny.mackness@btopenworld.com
  • frabell@gmail.com



Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (1987). A Thousand Plateaus, University of Minnesota Press.

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



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