Rhizomatic learning, definitions and cheating

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 🙂

Rhizomatic Learning and Ethics

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?

Rhizomatic Learning – The community is the curriculum #rhizo14

rhizo Screen_Shot_2013-09-17_at_8.51.41_PMDave Cormier’s open course – Rhizomatic Learning – The community is the curriculum – starts tomorrow – Tues 14th January.

This is not an xMOOC type experience, so don’t think you can go to one place and find everything.

However, Dave has written an unguided tour of his course on his blog –  which gives some indication of what you can expect.

So far these are the associated course sites that I have discovered:

I haven’t yet managed to find anywhere else that blog posts might be aggregated – but quite a few are mentioned on Facebook by Dave and also on Twitter

There are lots of names I recognize in the list of people signed up for the course which is great.

In one of his blog posts Dave has suggested that in Week 1 of the course we introduce ourselves and state our goals for the course, although he has made it clear in his unguided tour that there are no learning objectives for this course

I’m not sure that I have any specific goals. I think I will go with the flow and see what emerges. On looking back through my blog posts I see that I have made three posts about rhizomatic learning in the past.

Given that the last post I made on this subject was more than two years ago, I will be interested to see how much Dave’s ideas have progressed and how much mine have changed.

Quick Update:

For those who would like to follow blogs related to this course, Matthias Melcher is aggregating them. See http://x28newblog.wordpress.com/wp-links-opml.php?link_cat=205896894 and his blog post with further details: http://x28newblog.wordpress.com/2014/01/12/rhizo14-opml-feedlist/

He has also added this blogpost to the Diigo Group mentioned above (see his comment below).

How does a MOOC demonstrate it’s value?

This week I am working online on the Academic BEtreat run by Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner. Whilst the discussion has been centred around Etienne’s 1988 book and their more recent value creation framework (written with Maarten de Laat), a couple of us in the BEtreat, are interested in MOOCs and how these learning environments relate to communities of practice. As a result I have been asked the following questions in relation to the question in the title. This is a copy of the questions and my responses.

MOOCs: Where is the income generated to run one?
It has never been the intention of MOOCs (at least the original connectivist MOOCs) to generate income. Having said that, some MOOCs charge for accreditation. Oxford Brookes intends to do that next year. We’ll have to see if it works. Other MOOCs get sponsorship. See for example the forthcoming FHE12 MOOC

MOOCs: How do you run a MOOC and generate enough revenue to stay independent?
This is an important question as of course funding and sponsorship brings with it constraints, which might affect the pedagogical aims of the MOOC. There has been talk recently on the web about the business model for MOOCs. My view is:

MOOCs were never intended – originally – to generate income. They had altruistic and experimental aims – but of course, we all have to make a living, so MOOCs could never be your only business. I think we need to think in terms of spin-offs of MOOCs and possibly trade-offs. I have written a blog post about my initial thoughts following FSLT12 here – https://jennymackness.wordpress.com/2012/07/22/the-business-model-for-moocs/

Scaffolding Learning in MOOCs: How do you scaffold a course in ways that both excites the people who thrive in a non-prescriptive environment and in ways that scaffold the learning enough for people who need a lot more structure?

The original design of MOOCs never intended to scaffold learning. In fact they were never intended be a ‘traditional’ course. The intention was that people would experience uncertainty, unpredictability and information load, as this is what we will need to work with in the world, with the way things are going. Of course we can opt out – just as many people got out of ‘the fast lane’ in the 60s and went off to live in communes – but if we want to try and keep up with the pace of change, then we have to get used to uncertainty. In MOOCs learners are expected to make their own connections and seek peer support through those connections.

But some MOOC deliverers have gone down the SMOOC route (small open online courses), where they do try to provide support within an open course. Lisa Lane (Pedagogy First) and Alec Couros (EC&I 831) both do this through asking for volunteer mentors to work in their MOOCs. However Dave Cormier has just written a blog post that says that the ‘massive’ is needed for a true experience of the original intentions of MOOC.

MOOCs are not for everyone. If a learner wants scaffolded learning – then a MOOC is probably not for them. Despite the hype, I don’t believe that MOOCs are going to replace traditional forms of learning – but I do think they are very important for experimenting with alternative ways of thinking about learning in the 21st century and that they offer the potential of bringing education and learning to people who might otherwise have no access to it.

Open Educational Resources and Pedagogy

Dave White’s presentation to FSLT12 yesterday included a number of thought-provoking ideas.

In the past I have heard Dave speak a number of times about ‘Visitors and Residents’ in the online environment. You can find out more about this on his TALL blog – Technology Assisted life-long learning – TALL for short  (his joke – not mine :-))

But this week’s talk took a different focus. It centred on the relationship between open educational resources (OERs), open academic practice and changing pedagogy. The title of his talk was even longer than this:

OER: The quality vs credibility vs access vs pedagogy vs legitimacy vs money debate

Click here for the recording of the session.

As Dave pointed out, OERs come in all shapes and sizes and Creative Commons  licensing of these is very important in determining our use of them.  But despite being in all shapes and sizes, we can take the iceberg metaphor and categorise them as

  • those above the water-line, visible, above board, properly licensed – the kind of resources produced by an institution to market itself
  • or those below the water line – where licensing is not so important.

These below the water line resources are easy access , free and easy to remix and repurpose, without much attribution.  This happens a lot below the water line.

Slide 6 - Dave White presentation

(Slide 6 from Dave White’s presentation)

But perhaps the most important point/question raised by Dave is 

What effect has access to OERs, above or below the water line, had on the way we teach and learn?

I remember when MIT first opened access to their educational resources, this was accompanied by a statement to the effect that it was not an issue for them to open their content to the world – because the educational value and quality they provide is not so much in their content, but in their teaching and learning. To get this we have to pay to go to MIT.

So as Dave said, when thinking about OERs we cannot neglect ‘contact’. It is not all about ‘content’. So how do OERs ‘drive pedagogy back into what it’s meant to be’? (quoting Dave from the presentation). For me they do this in a number of ways:

  • Now that we have more clarity around what we are allowed to do with OERs (through Creative Commons Licences), we can remix, repurpose and feed-forward OERs (to quote Stephen Downes). We can be more creative.
  • Perhaps OERs also enable us to challenge the ‘status quo’ – in the sense that ‘credible, quality’ content might no longer always be in peer reviewed journals, articles and academic sites, but might instead be on ‘John or Jane Doe’s blog’ or deep below the water line (iceberg metaphor).
  • They do tend to force more critical thinking and the framing of critically relevant questions, e.g. what is a credible, quality resource? How do we recognize it?  And this in turn raises the whole question of whether learners have the skills to navigate the web to find the quality resources.
  • And from the teacher’s perspective, as Dave pointed out, we will have to come up with assessment tasks that don’t allow the student to simply find the answer through an easy access easy to find OER. This has always been a challenge for teachers, but even more so now.

Dave’s final slide quotes Harouni (2009).

“I must value not answers but instead questions that represent the continued renewal of the search. I must value uncertainty and admit complexity in the study of all things”

For me living with uncertainty is the big paradigm shift we might need in today’s digital world. Roy Williams, Regina Karousou, Simone Gumtau and I have been exploring this in our papers about emergent learning  – and Dave Cormier raised this as a key point in his presentation to the in the ‘New Places to Learn’  – NewPlacesEvent HEA event held at the Said Business School in Oxford in April of this year.

Hopefully discussion about how OERs affect pedagogy will continue in the FSLT12 Week 4 Moodle discussion forum  There is still lots to talk about.

Online Residency

Yesterday (April 19th) I dipped into an HEA workshop (face-to-face in Oxford with open virtual access – I was in the latter group) and enjoyed it so much that I stayed the entire day.

The Process

There were a few things that made this event enjoyable.

1. I knew, at least by name, quite a few of the people attending – both face-to-face and online. It felt like a comfortable space.

2. At first I thought that online participants would simply be an ‘add on’. The chat was not being streamed to the room, so unless people were on their computers and logged into Elluminate – we, the virtual participants would not be visible.

3. But having made this point, the wonderful Simon Ball put everything right! Simon amazingly had never used Elluminate before, and thought he was attending as a f2f delegate, but was co-opted at the last minute to look after the online group. He did a fantastic job of acting as a mediator between us and the room and made sure that the mics were working OK, the video panned the room and that our questions were put to the room.

4. In the morning when the f2f participants broke out into working groups, Lawrie Phipps –  made sure we were included by coming and speaking to us, which was great. This didn’t happen in the afternoon, when I suspect the effort of including the online group in the workshop activities just proved too much – and we couldn’t begrudge Simon his time with the F2F group or the others for paying us little attention.

5. So the mix of experimentation, working it out as we were going along, seeing if we could project ourselves into the f2f space, was fun and interesting. It reminded me of Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner’s Betreat –  that I attended last year in California – but they are ahead of the game in integrating online with f2f. They try to project the online people into the f2f group through the use of video and multiple screens.

The Content
The content was also very interesting. The overall theme was based on Dave White’s ideas about visitors and residents in online spaces. The questions for the day were around how we can encourage those learning and teaching, in HE in particular, to become residents in the online environment and whether we should. Dave was at pains to point out that the idea of visitors and residents is only a metaphor, but despite this it is clear that there is a tendency to classify people as either visitors or residents, just as people were classified as digital natives or digital immigrants from Prensky’s work. Perhaps the metaphor has served its purpose and we need to move on. For me it’s not so much whether you are a visitor or resident, – we will all be more or less of both at different times, in different contexts and for different purposes; it’s more that on and offline we are now offered a multitude of learning spaces which we can inhabit and maybe we need (if we are teachers) to help our learners to recognize the choices and to make appropriate decisions about which to inhabit. Mary Ann Reilly has written a very interesting blog post about learning spaces – how they fold over each other, their different dimensions and so on.

Quotes from the day
There were some memorable statements.

Martin Weller‘Openness is a state of mind’.

I couldn’t agree more. Residency in the online environment is likely to require openness – but openness can be really ‘scary’ to ‘novices’. As an academic, it’s easier to be ‘open’ when you have a recognized reputation to fall back on. Martin admitted that openness is a problem for early career researchers and I concur.

Lindsay Jordan  – ‘Teaching should be done with your mouth shut’.

Wonderful. I don’t need to say more!

Simon Ball – questioned whether residency is necessarily better than being a visitor. He wrote on Twitter  #heanpl Discussions still tending towards the assumption that Residency is the ideal state Visitors should aspire towards. Disagree! – really getting to the heart of the topic.

What was key but largely by-passed?
The person with the most thought provoking message was Dave Cormier –  who talked about preparing students for an uncertain and unpredictable world. His mention of Dave Snowden’s Cynefin framework seemed to fall on deaf ears. His thoughts about complexity in relation to learning also seemed to fall on deaf ears. I thought it a shame that they didn’t give Dave more time to talk about where he is coming from and whether or not the visitor/residency metaphor is helpful to his teaching.

But all in all a surprisingly enjoyable and thought-provoking event – and special thanks to Simon Ball. Without him we, the online group, would only have been observers, rather than participants.

Rhizomatic learning, teaching, fact and truth…

… these are some of the ideas that Dave Cormier discussed with Jeff Lebow  –  as part of his week’s presentation to ChangeMOOC.

There is lots to think about in this video. These are some of the ideas I noted in watching it.

  • Positivists can be problematic for an idea like rhizomatic learning, i.e. challenging
  • A metaphor is a lens through which to look at things in many different ways
  • Nomadic learners are independent, take responsibility for their learning  and take decisions
  • A metaphor doesn’t have to answer all questions – it can be limited in scope.
  • A metaphor is not a model or a learning theory.
  • MOOC presentations can lead to collateral damage that can be more interesting/useful than the content
  • MOOC presentations are as much about the methodology of presenting as about the content
  • Repeating a presentation does not guarantee a similar reaction (Dave received a more negative reaction to his second presentation)
  • The presentation can be the buffet model or the single meal.
  • Dave Cormier takes a rhizomatic approach to his teaching and loses at least one student every course. To counteract this he tries to make the process transparent and recognises that the whole course does not need to follow a rhizomatic approach. Tutors can be selective where to apply it.
  • Dave Cormier believes that discomfort is part of the learning process and helps the students to improve.
  • Think about your rhizome within a garden – there is a structure and planning. The structure needs to be strong – not the content – so Dave’s MOOC presentation was structured, otherwise it would have been a coffee shop conversation, but was open to participants following their own lines of enquiry.
  • You can do a lot within a syllabus to frame the way people approach things. Dave talks about creating patterns of behaviour (to me I have always thought about this in terms of helping people to learn how to learn). Covering content should be approached with this in mind.
  • Dave Cormier does not believe in facts.  He thinks they are convenient short-hands. His partner Bonnie has pointed out that the Inuits don’t reify but always relate to context.  So, e.g.  a table is only a table according to the context in which you view it, discuss it, interpret it and so on.
  • We should think about findable versus discoverable when teaching. We can ask learners to find things – which means that they already know what they are looking for – or we can ask people to discover things – i.e. they are surprised by what they find – it is not something they are necessarily looking for. (For me this relates to emergent learning)
  • We should not think of data and evidence in terms of fact.  For Dave Cormier there is no objective – its all subjective. Ultimately either you believe or don’t believe. Evidence does not lead to what is true… A theory is not ‘true’ – it is just the best understanding of what we have at the moment.
  • Science is a history of guesses, e.g. doctors guess about how to treat unknown ailments.