Rhizo 14: Which way now?

Yesterday Frances Bell and I gave a presentation at the ALTMOOCSIG – The Rhizome as Metaphor for Learning.

A Rhizo14 participant, Maha Bali, has asked: How did it go?

I haven’t really had a chance to discuss this with Frances yet (we had to rush off at the end of the day to catch our respective trains), but I have mixed feelings. I will start with the positives and then discuss the not so positives.

I thoroughly enjoyed the day. More importantly it was very useful for our research. Although we haven’t finished collecting data yet, preparing for a presentation gave us a push to really think through where we are up to. Our decision to write four blog posts about our research before we gave the presentation was, on reflection, both a good and a not so good idea – but more good, than bad. For me the blogging really helped to articulate our current research questions and clarify what we could and could not cover in the presentation. The negative side of this was, for me, that I then had so much in my head that it was difficult to present the ideas associated about rhizomatic learning concisely and with meaning. I think we ‘waffled’ a bit!

My long time research collaborator, Roy Williams, was also at the conference. This was great, because having worked together for so long now, I knew he would tell us straight up how he found our presentation – and he did!  He said that although he found our presentation thought-provoking and interesting (perhaps he was being kind and that was the sweetener before the pill :-)), he said it wasn’t sharp enough – and he was right. I sensed this even as we were speaking. But interestingly I think Roy and I also have this problem when presenting our work on emergent learning. We just have too much that we want to say and ideas around rhizomatic and emergent learning are not easy to communicate in a traditional form or to an audience who we cannot assume has ever thought of them before. Making a short concise presentation can end up short-changing the ideas being presented, but if it is not concise then people are either not going to listen, or get confused. This is one of the dilemmas. Frances and I hoped that by blogging about our planning for the presentation, we would overcome both these difficulties, but of course we cannot assume that anyone has read the blog posts.

Another dilemma is that rhizomatic learning by its very association with rhizomatic thinking and the work of Deleuze and Guattari as expounded in their book A Thousand Plateaus (1980) – resists approaches to hierarchical and arborescent ways of thinking and writing. This was very challenging and despite our best efforts I don’t think we succeeded in communicating what this might mean for education.

However, we did think carefully about this and designed our Prezi accordingly but in the presentation itself, I think we failed to communicate the difficulties that we think we are up against. But see the Prezi for the presentation and for an explanation see our four blog posts – Rhizo14: Emerging Ambiguities and Issues.

It is interesting that I don’t think we are alone in feeling that the research process is messy and perhaps needs a rethink to enable us to consider new ways of thinking about teaching and learning. In her keynote for the conference, Diana Laurillard said of her own MOOC – ICT in Primary Education

‘If you have to take a critical stance you have to be on the inside’.

Stephen Downes has also raised the problems of thinking about research in new ways in his recent presentation  –  Digital Research Methodologies Redux 

And George Roberts has made an interesting post today reporting on a keynote by Marlene Morrison (Oxford Brookes) at a conference he attended today, which focused on countering methodological stagnation.

…..Prof Emeritus Marlene Morrison (Oxford Brookes), … gives a radical barnstorming keynote challenge: “Educational administration, ethnography and education research: countering methodological stagnation. Provocative tales from an ethnographer.

George’s post maybe of interest to the Rhizo14 group that are engaged in auto ethnography research.

It would be easy at this point to say, as a few of our survey respondents have said, that rhizomatic learning and thinking, by it’s very nature is something that cannot be researched. But then how will we ever know that it is worthwhile to think of the rhizome as a metaphor for teaching and learning? It could be, as some of my most valued connections have said, that there is nothing in the idea of rhizomatic learning that makes any sense or is worth spending time on; or it could be that the metaphor has some uses, but is incomplete, as some of our survey repsonses have said; or it could be that Deleuze and Guattari’s ideas about rhizomatic thinking really will help us to make a paradigm shift in teaching and learning. Frances, Mariana and I haven’t got far enough in our data analysis to make any comments about this as yet.

Finally thank you to those who showed an interest in the work we are doing and raised questions or commented on our work during the ALTMOOCSIG conference day. For me these were – my trusted collaborator Roy Williams, my online friend Fred Garnett who I have met a few times face-to-face – who thinks that the metaphor is not helpful because it is about plants rather than humans, my colleague Marion Waite from Oxford Brookes University –  who raised the all important question of ethics in this type of research, and a new connection I made – Dr Helga Hlaðgerður Lúthersdóttir – who was the only person who came to talk to me about Deleuze and Guattari and I am convinced knew more about their work than I did 🙂

BUT, my collaborator Roy Williams, said of our presentation – ‘There was at least one elephant in the room’.  I would say there were three – community, curriculum and convener – but although all these three seem to be significant for us in our research, we haven’t yet finished our data collection and we haven’t yet completed our data analysis. So they will have to remain as elephants in the room, until we have something sensible to say that can be backed up by evidence.

So Rhizo14 – which way now? For me we need to decide whether this is worth pursuing or not, and if so why?

2 thoughts on “Rhizo 14: Which way now?

  1. sensor63 June 28, 2014 / 9:34 pm

    Complexity, communication, communities, curricula?

    (POWER)

    Learning ecologies.

    (POWER)

    (ELEPHANT)

    To suggest that rhizome metaphor is less useful cos it’s a plant and not a human strikes me as absurd. It is a metaphor.

    Signed a ship passing in the night.

    Oh dear. Titanic hit an iceberg.

  2. francesbell June 28, 2014 / 9:49 pm

    I agree with what you say here Jenny. I don’t know how valuable it was for our audience but it was certainly valuable for me to present, get feedback, see other presentations and talk to people. Funnily enough, today as I was doing other things, I have started to have some ideas bubbling away that I think will help me – cogs are shifting.

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