This is the third in a series of posts which outline the thinking and planning Frances Bell and Jenny Mackness have been doing in preparation for their 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
Principles for Rhizomatic Thinking
Deleuze and Guattari (D & G) enumerate 6 approximate characteristics of the rhizome. There are others that are also relevant to rhizomatic learning and teaching and may even be more relevant, such as ‘nomadic thought’; ‘wolves, tribes and packs’; ‘smooth and striated space’; ‘assemblages’; ‘territorialisation’; and ‘lines of flight’ – which we are still unpicking in relation to our data, but don’t have time to discuss here.
So for now we’ll stick with the six principle characteristics, which are on the image above and listed below.
In Week 2 of Rhizo14 a discussion arose in the Facebook Group around some participants’ perception that they were expected to study theory, and that some other participants’ posts were condescending. This has subsequently been labelled within #Rhizo14 as a theorists versus pragmatists divide. There was an attempt at self-healing by Rhizo14 participants but apparently the outcome was not satisfactory to those most affected and some people left the course as a result. Leaving a MOOC need not be seen as some sort of failure if you have drunk enough from the well, but leaving from a sense of alienation would be more troubling. Subsequently, ‘pragmatism’ achieved a kind of ascendance in #Rhizo14 and Deleuze and Guattari’s ideas about rhizomatic thinking were discussed less and less during Rhizo14. Recently in the Facebook group there has been a discussion about whether or not the group should now discuss Deleuze and Guattari’s ideas – but the discussion was fairly quickly passed over. A key contributor to Rhizo14, Keith Hamon, had already published a treasure trove of posts on D & G’s rhizomatic thinking and continued to apply their theory and that of others during the MOOC.
There are D & G principles that can be considered in relation to learning in open learning environments and were in evidence in Rhizo14. We do not claim to be philosophers. Neither can we claim to have read or understood all of D & G’s work, but we are finding evidence of some tentative links between D & G’s ‘approximate characteristics of the rhizome’ and learning in Rhizo14.
Big health warning here – these findings/thoughts are tentative
1. Connections – a rhizome ceaselessly establishes connections.
There is evidence of this in Rhizo14 – plenty of connections were made and are still being made, but some survey responses have revealed that this was not the case for everyone. Some people felt excluded or peripheral to what was going on in the course. A feature of Rhizo14 was the core group that gathered in Facebook (originally set up by Dave Cormier) and though a wider range of participants contributed less frequently, the core group persisted and now refer to themselves as ‘die-hard rhizo14ers’. As the contributions to P2PU, the G+ group and blog posts began to tail off in Weeks 4-6, the Facebook group became the main focus of activity on Rhizo14. When the course ended this is largely where discussion continues, although the core group posted topics on P2PU for Weeks 7-12, after the ‘official’ end of the course.
A rhizome has multiple points of entry. One of the most active participants didn’t join until Week 4, and new people still appear in the Facebook group and post to Twitter with the #rhizo14 hashtag. A rhizome also has no beginning and no end and we have evidence that the Rhizo14 course is an example of this.
Alternative perspectives on making connections in Rhizo14 are exemplified by these quotes from two respondents:
I’m also disappointed that it seemed so hard to connect in Rhizome 14
I stayed because of the community – it was great fun. It gave me space to reflect on D&G, collaborative learning, and learning communities and to talk to other like-minded people.
2. Heterogeneity – any point of a rhizome can be connected to any other and must be.
In relation to Rhizo14 was this characteristic of a rhizome in evidence? – yes and no. Ultimately there has been a discussion about whether Rhizo14 ended up being a clique and how heterogeneous is the Rhizo14 rhizome; there seems to be a tension between ‘community’ and the principles of a rhizome in D & G terms. This is something we need to explore further.
3. Multiplicity – A multiplicity is, in the most basic sense, a complex structure that does not reference a prior unity.
There was diversity in Rhizo14 – but was there multiplicity – which requires no central pivot point – being a-centred and de-subjectified?
Holland, p.39 writes: ‘
There are no pre-determined positions or points within a rhizomatic multiplicity, only lines along with random nodes arising at the haphazard intersections of them (felt).
This principle seems difficult to achieve in a course. As discussed in the previous blog post Dave Cormier was perceived by some in Rhizo14 as being at the centre. As one respondent wrote:
A big part of being a good facilitator is the weaving and prompting, asking good questions, etc. What I noticed in rhizo14 was a facilitator who appeared to be very much at the centre of the course, and who, while very present and active, stated his own views and conclusions quite (too?) often
But another wrote:
Now, clearly, Dave Cormier was at the centre in the sense of organizing the course and providing intro videos, but the vast majority of the actual course content and activities was made up of what we, the participants did.
From a technological perspective one could perceive the variety of platforms as ‘multiple’: participants could engage at P2PU, G+, in the Facebook group, posting on their blogs, commenting on others’ blog posts, conversing via the Twitter hashtag, expressing ideas through Zeega. Where the interlinking between these spaces was simple and bi-directional, such as posting a link to an open blog, youtube video or another open web resource this seemed to be like multiplicity in the rhizomatic sense. Where the interlinking was more inward looking, such as commenting on a Facebook post about a blog post or a link that was not truly open, like a link to a Facebook or G+ group/ community thread, then some of the ‘felt-like’ qualities of the rhizome were lost, and the multiplicity seemed more apparent than real.
(For further discussion of the ‘felt-like’ qualities of a rhizome and smooth and striated space in a rhizome, see Frances’ blog post – Wandering across smooth and jagged spaces – bring a blanket and beware the Chief ants )
- Asignifying rupture. If you break a rhizome it can start growing again on its old line or on a new line. Connections are constantly breaking (deterritorialisation) and reforming (reterritorialisation).
It’s difficult to get evidence for this because once people have taken a line of flight it’s hard to find them or find their new rhizomatic connections. This is an issue in our research – despite our best efforts to reach early leavers, we know that some important voices are missing from our research. However territorialisation in the form of the Facebook group was dominant in the course – but those who took a line of flight will have taken something with them, although as D & G point out a line of flight can become ineffectual and lead to regressive transformations and rigid segments.
Holland, p.39, writes
‘…. rhizomes are philosophically defined at the limit by their outside, by the “lines of flight” that connect them outside of themselves and transform them.’
Lines of flight were evident in Rhizo14 in the sense that some participants went off on their own paths, but in D&G’s terms these are supposed to remain connected to the rhizome – some did, some didn’t. As one respondent wrote:
There was a point at which engagement in rhizo14 was over for me and I left the facebook group, which had been my main point of contact (I still enjoy following people on Twitter). There was no reason other than it had served its time for me (for now) and this has helped me be less controlling [in my own community]
There were also lines of flight within the Rhizo14 course. Participants were looking for lines of flight from traditional ways of thinking and working – taking their classes out onto the Internet, away from canonical texts, valorising cheating, etc.
One can also identify people whose lines of flight brought them into Rhizo14, for example Dave Cormier and a few participants who had already applied rhizomatic thinking to teaching and learning contexts.
5 & 6. Cartography and decalcomania – the rhizome is like a map and not a tracing.
You can enter a rhizome at any point. Maps are always unfinished and subject to revision – so in this sense Rhizo14 was a map rather than a tracing. The discussion around Rhizo14 continues – albeit in one space – and new members are joining.
These are our first tentative thoughts about how the Rhizo14 course and our investigation of learner experience within it might or might not be informed by Deleuze and Guattari’s six approximate characteristics of the rhizome. There is still a lot more to explore and understand in relation to this and we are a long way off coming to any conclusions, if indeed that is possible or there are any.
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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