Principles for Rhizomatic Thinking

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 

Slide 5

(Source of image: Deconstructive Rhizome by Pongtidasantayanon:  http://www.iaacblog.com/maa2013-2014-advanced-architecture-concepts/2013/11/rhizome-2/)

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 )

  1. 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.

References:

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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This Creative Commons License applies to this blog post and supercedes the one that normally applies to this blog, which can be found in the sidebar. In publishing interim findings to our blogs, we are cautious about how we publish what could ultimately be part of a journal article. For this reason, the license under which we publish these posts relating to our presentation is different from the one normally applied to our blogs.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Making Sense of the Rhizome Metaphor for Teaching and Learning

This is the second post in a series of four about a presentation Frances Bell and Jenny Mackness will make at the ALTMOOCSIG  on Friday 29th June this week.  One of the reasons for these posts is that it is going to be impossible to cover all this in the time we have available at the conference.

For the first post see – The Rhizome as a Metaphor for Learning

In this post we outline how we will continue our presentation, by sharing what we understand by the rhizome metaphor, a description of the #Rhizo14 course, and an explanation of how we are conducting our research.

1. Making sense of the metaphor 

Slide 2Source of image: Mark Ingham. Boy Pool Rhizome: http://socialdigitalelective.wordpress.com/groups/rhizomes/. (More can be seen at Mark’s website  http://www.markingham.org)

 – Definition of a rhizome in botanical terms

The rhizome in botanical terms is an underground stem, which grows horizontally along or more commonly under the ground and sends out roots and shoots. Examples of rhizomes that Jenny has in her garden are mint and ground elder – so good and bad! If you have ever tried to dig up a rhizome, you will know that it is virtually impossible to know where it started from and that if you break a root in the process, the plant is likely to spring up again somewhere else.

– The rhizome as a metaphor

Many Rhizo14 participants valued the metaphor of the rhizome for teaching and learning. Quoting from survey responses, participants of the Rhizo14 course thought that teaching and learning based on this metaphor is ‘subconscious’, ‘subterranean’, ‘subversive’, ‘a non-linear, multi-directional underground web of connections’. Learning is ‘haphazard’, ‘messy’, ‘serendipitous’, ‘esoteric’, ‘dynamic’, ‘unbounded’, ‘unpredictable’, ‘adaptive’, ‘self-organising’ and ‘non-hierarchical’. This is what these survey respondents valued about it.

But there were also some participants who recognised potential negative aspects of the metaphor and described the rhizome as:

‘A pernicious, pervasive weed, rooted in a lot of dirt and ‘SH***”’; ‘….a ‘thug’ and can be very badly behaved’; ‘Part of one big family/plant – joined at the hip’. ‘Clones of the ‘same damn plant’. 

These quotes illustrate the most common interpretations of the metaphor in response to the survey questions. Only 4 (out of 47) respondents referred to Deleuze and Guattari’s work when explaining their understanding of the rhizome as a metaphor for teaching and learning.

2. #Rhizo 14 – A MOOC with a difference 

Slide 3 Source of image: Jenny Mackness: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jennymackness/13388466333/in/set-72157642869468164

– Rhizo 14 was a cMOOC

It was possible to recognise the principles of the original cMOOCs (e.g. CCK08) in the design of #Rhizo14  – principles of working across distributed platforms (e.g. P2PU, Facebook, Twitter, Google +), learner autonomy, diversity, openness and interaction. There was also the understanding that the activities would be those of a CCK08 type of cMOOC – aggregation, remixing, repurposing and feeding forward, and these activities were in abundance. The other key similarity was that it was an open and free course.

– How was #Rhizo 14 different to other cMOOCs?

This has been a recent topic of lengthy discussion in the Rhizo14 Facebook group, which is still active four months after the end of the course. One of the differences was in the mix of people that Rhizo14 attracted. Right from the start there was a mix of ‘old guard’ MOOCers and ‘new kids on the block’.  This was noted by a survey respondent:

The gap between novices and experts seemed very vast, and scaffolding seemed difficult with these extremes. At the same time, the approach to topics seemed to be a bit unworthy of the in-depth knowledge of “veteran” cMOOCers, and an increasing frustration with this seemed to creep into the blogs.

For Dave Cormier, the key difference was that he was attempting to run a course with no content.  Each week there was a very short introductory video  (av. 3 mins in length) which introduced an opening provocative question, e.g. Cheating as Learning (Week 1), Is Books Making us Stupid? (Week 4)  – and that was it. Unlike CCK08 there were no recommended readings.  Rhizo14 was also different in that it was literally ‘home-grown’, with Dave Cormier running the MOOC in his own time, often from his own home and convening weekly Hangouts in the evening, sometimes whilst trying to get his children to bed. Despite this, his intention was that there would be no centre to the course – the course convener would be one of the participants.

Another clear difference in this MOOC is the very active Facebook group which continues to discuss rhizomatic learning and related topics after the course has ended. This group thinks of itself as a community and believes that the community is the curriculum.

– Arising question (this is a big one, too big to discuss in any detail here)

The majority of respondents were positive and excited by the course. For example, one survey respondent wrote:

The significant aspect for me was finding others that were willing and able to play freely, have fun and then be reflective and metacognitive of the activities. I enjoyed the banter, tease, create, steal, mix, mash, present, prod, challenge, rework, share, admire, learn, dive deep, surface often, spiral-on action of our poetry building, reflecting and sharing.

However, this was not the experience of all respondents and some were not so positive and questioned whether there was or was not a centre to the course, and whether the course should or should not have had more ‘content’. For example one respondent thought of the course in terms of concentric circles with Dave Cormier at the centre and a core group around him. There has also been a recent discussion in Facebook about whether Rhizo14 resulted in a clique gathered around Dave Cormier.

But another respondent had a different view:

I’m quite pleased that Cormier was able to step back, for the most part, and allow the rhizome to work.

With respect to content, or the lack of it, a survey respondent commented…

 At best it [rhizomatic learning] might let academia realise that learning isnt about content, but reflection, discussion and creativity.

Whereas another respondent seemed to suggest that more content and leadership might have been helpful.

The point has been the connections formed, the conversations generated. The problem perhaps would be for those not already confident in their own academic capital. Who may not feel they have much to offer – or who may feel that they need more guidance through content – or who may feel that they are continually missing that important blog post… who may want to have some sort of over view from which to diverge or to which they can add the contingent. It could also be difficult for those who do not feel central to the conversational groups that sprout(ed). If connectivity and conversation becomes the point – who are you if you do not feel that you have not connected in that way?

There are many more comments like these in our data which exemplify the diversity of opinion on all aspects of the course – and indeed whether this was a course at all.

In MOOC research, given the number of people who either drop out or are ‘silent’ participants, it is difficult to judge the accuracy of the balance between positive and negative responses to survey questions, but for this research survey responses were both positive and negative in respect of most of the emerging themes, with there being more positive than negative responses.

3. Our Research 

Slide 4Source of image: Paul Rodecker: http://paulrodecker.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/tangled-mess-c2011.html

 

 – How have we carried out the research to date?

We participated in the MOOC as fully engaged participants and have collated resources from the MOOC on a private wiki. These resources include Facebook threads, Twitter streams, annotated readings, discussion, survey results, links to videos and our own participant observation/reflection.

Following the MOOC we created a Survey Monkey survey related to a botanical drawing of a rhizome in which we wanted to elicit qualitative rather than quantitative data. The survey included 4 questions:

  • How does the image of a rhizome relate to your prior experience of teaching, learning?
  • How does the image of a rhizome relate to your experience of learning during Rhizo14?
  • How might the image of a rhizome represent your future practice?
  • If the above questions did not allow you to fully explain your learning experience in Rhizo14, then please comment in the box below on those aspects of the course which were significant for you, and what kept you in the course or caused you to leave early.

We posted the link to the survey on Facebook, in the Google + group, on our blogs and on Twitter. The link was also sent to all P2PU participants by Dave Cormier.

In an attempt to ensure that we reached as many participants as possible, not only those who were still active at the end of the course, we identified non-registered participants and bloggers and sent them individual invitations to respond to the survey. Most importantly, the survey allowed for anonymous responses.

It is difficult to know exactly how many people the survey reached, but we received 47 responses and more than 30,000 words of data. Within the last month we have sent out further questions by email to 35 survey respondents who agreed to receive these follow up questions.

 

– Difficulties we are wrestling with

As fully engaged participants in the MOOC, the potential for bias and subjectivity in the way in which we interpret and report our findings is an ever-present concern and one which we fully acknowledge. An additional concern has been to work ethically, given that there is little guidance on how to conduct research into MOOCs ethically. As such we considered and openly shared the way in which we would use the data we gather, created a document and sent this out attached to the first survey. The details of this are posted on our blogs. See:

This blog – Jenny Connected and Frances’ blog – Francesbell’s blog

Finally there has been the issue of what is an appropriate method and methodology for this type of research and this subject. Will it be impossible to get at what we mean by rhizomatic thinking and learning by using traditional research methods? Some respondents have already raised this issue in response to the email interview questions.

Academic research functions mostly as a territorializing process, crystalizing an identity for the assemblage

I don’t want to further “territorialize” the experience [by engaging in research], preferring instead to keep it open, unformalized, and unanalyzed to some extent.

Hopefully this post provides a taste of where we are up to with our research and what our presentation for the ALTMOOCSIG will try to cover, albeit very briefly, but we are not done yet. There will be two more blog posts.

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This Creative Commons License applies to this blog post and supercedes the one that normally applies to this blog, which can be found in the sidebar.In publishing interim findings to our blogs, we are cautious about how we publish what could ultimately be part of a journal article. For this reason, the license under which we publish these posts relating to our presentation is different from the one normally applied to our blogs.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

The Rhizome as a Metaphor for Learning in a MOOC

This is the first in a series of 4 blog posts which Frances Bell and Jenny Mackness have written in preparation for a presentation that we will give at the ALTMOOCSIG conference – MOOCs – Which Way Now? on Friday June 27th  

Slide 1.1

Source of image: Sylvano Bussoti. Five Pieces for Piano for David Tudor:  http://star-heart.squarespace.com/blog/2012/11/26/bussotti

The title of the presentation is The Rhizome as a Metaphor for Learning in a MOOC.

We decided to submit a proposal for presenting at the conference as a result of participating in Dave Cormier’s 6 week MOOC – Rhizomatic Learning: The Community is the Curriculum (known now as #Rhizo14), which started on January 14th this year.

During the course, our interest was piqued by comparison of our experience on #Rhizo14 with that on other MOOCs.  We decided, together with Mariana Funes, to conduct independent research on the #Rhizo14 experience. The aim of our presentation for the ALTMOOCSIG – is to share our experience of the MOOC, where we are up to with our research and our initial findings.

It has been difficult to plan both the research and this presentation. Basically we are ‘wallowing in data’, we have too much to say for a short presentation, and what we have to say now will not be the same as when we have engaged further with the data. In addition, as some survey participants have pointed out, there are contradictions, not only in running a MOOC on rhizomatic learning (the rhizome as a metaphor isn’t easily ‘pinned down’ in this way), but also, for similar reasons, in conducting research into rhizomatic learning.

So we have given some thought as to how to do a presentation which reflects these difficulties. After some mutual discussion and discussion with a survey respondent, we decided on using Prezi. A power point seemed too linear and structured for reasons which hopefully will become clear in our presentation. A Prezi seemed to reflect, at least in part, the chaotic environment and ‘falling down a rabbit hole’ aspect of rhizomatic learning that was discussed in the course. However the linear path that we will take through the Prezi is not the only possibility – theoretically there are many possible (but not all likely) paths through the Prezi.

We also want, in our presentation, to reflect some of the principles of a rhizome. This is virtually impossible to do in a structured conference programme within a time limit – but we have given a nod to this by selecting images for the presentation which depict the ‘tangled mess’ that was the #Rhizo14 experience and the fact that the intention was to create a course with no content. More of this later, but our Prezi has virtually no content. That doesn’t mean to say that the presentation has no content – and therein lies the conundrum – more of this later too!

We only have 25 minutes, so hopefully these posts will help to ‘fill out’ the presentation.  We intend to talk for about 12 minutes to allow time for comments, questions and discussion, but this will only allow for a brief introduction to our research.

The first image on our Prezi is the one which starts Deleuze and Guattari’s seminal text ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ from which all the ideas about rhizomatic thinking have emanated.

Gilles Deleuze was a French philosopher and Felix Guattari a French psychiatrist and political activist. The concept of the rhizome as a metaphor for thinking (note ‘thinking’ – not ‘learning or teaching’) was developed in their book ‘A Thousand Plateaus’, which they published in 1980. This book was intended as an experiment in schizophrenic and nomadic thought,  but has captured the attention of some educators, who see the rhizome as a useful metaphor for understanding learning in open environments such as MOOCs.

The image is of a musical score created by Sylvano Bussoti for a composition entitled Five Pieces for Piano for David Tudor. Bussoti was not only a composer but also an artist – his scores are more like works of art – and he was deeply opposed to all rigid systems of composition.  Deleuze and Guattari in the same way were opposed to an arborescent conception of knowledge. They suggest the rhizome, which resists organisational structure, as a metaphor for thinking.

A rhizome ceaselessly establishes connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles. (Deleuze, G. & Guaattari, F. (1987). A Thousand Plateaus, p.7. University of Minnesota Press.)

We then move on, in our presentation to discussing what we are trying to find out.

Slide 3.1

Some questions that have emerged are:

  • Is this metaphor useful for learning and teaching?
  • If this metaphor is used for designing a MOOC (rhizo14), can people learn and what do they learn?
  • To what extent is the rhizome a persistent metaphor for what #rhizo14 becomes?

Traditional scientific research (hypothetico-deductive) would have expected us to start our research with these questions – but since the rhizome doesn’t work like that, neither has our research. These questions emerged as a result of our experience in #Rhizo14 and our ongoing research. Although they bear a relation to questions we asked the participants, they are also influenced by the survey results we have received. These are neither the first questions we have raised nor will they be the last, and our answers may also be provisional. At the point at which we are giving the presentation – these are the questions – but we fully expect that they might change.

So this is how we will start our presentation. This is the content that is absent from the Prezi, that we have deliberately chosen not to reify within the Prezi – and which even publishing here succumbs to a structure and territorialisation that Deleuze and Guattari say should only be temporary. We should always be ready for ‘lines of flight’.

So here’s a health warning with this presentation. This is how we are thinking this week/today. There is no guarantee that is what we will be thinking next week/tomorrow.

In our next blog post we will explain the next few slides/Prezi screens of our presentation.

 

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This Creative Commons License applies to this blog post and supercedes the one that normally applies to this blog, which can be found in the sidebar.In publishing interim findings to our blogs, we are cautious about how we publish what could ultimately be part of a journal article. For this reason, the license under which we publish these posts relating to our presentation is different from the one normally applied to our blogs.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Next steps in rhizomatic learning research (Rhizo14)

messy research

(Source of image: http://www.hssr.mmu.ac.uk/deleuze-studies/files/2010/05/duffy_blog_01.gif)

Last week (Friday 6th June), we sent out a set of email interview questions as follow up questions on the survey we conducted in March (2014). Participants who agreed to this follow up interview each received an individual question aimed at trying to gain a better understanding of their survey response. They were also asked to comment on a set of statements which relate to the themes currently emerging from the data we have gathered. We explained and listed these as follows:

Our preliminary analysis reveals a diversity of responses to #rhizo14. Rather than try to form a ‘false consensus’, we present the following statements that represent the scope of issues that have emerged so far from our data analysis. Some respondents have the view as stated whilst others have a very different or even opposite view. If any of them move you to respond, please do so with any comments which you feel will inform the direction of our research. If you would prefer to discuss these via Skype, rather than by text in this email, then please contact us to arrange a time.

  • 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

We now have a wealth of data and with each interview response the data gets richer. A big thank you to all those who are freely giving of their time to participate in this research.

From a personal perspective, this is probably the most challenging research I have been involved with to date. There is something of a contradiction between rhizomatic thinking and conducting research into rhizomatic teaching and learning.  Whilst I recognise that research is always a complex and the messy process, it ultimately does try to bring at least some provisional order to the ideas being engaged with – whereas the rhizome has no beginning or end and seeks to avoid representation and signification.

“Representation and signification belong to and perpetuate the tree image of thought …..’ (Holland, E. W., 2013, p.37).

Deleuze and Guattari were opposed to arborescent, vertical, linear and hierarchical ways of thinking and proposed the rhizome, as an alternative.  They write about the principal characteristics of a rhizome as follows (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987, p.21,22):

… unlike trees or their roots, the rhizome connects any point to any other point, and its traits are not necessarily linked to traits of the same nature; it brings into play very different regimes  of signs, and even nonsign states. The rhizome is reducible neither to the One nor the multiple….. It has neither beginning nor end, but always a middle (milieu) from which it grows and which it overspills…. The rhizome is an acentered, non-hierarchical, non-signifying system…..’

So how should we think about and present research about a subject that seeks to avoid representation?

I don’t have any answers. I suspect this might be the start of years of questions rather than answers and that ultimately there isn’t an answer, or if there is, it won’t be simple or straightforward and will likely be provisional and maybe even fleeting.

But the positive side of this research for me – and indeed any research – is that it focuses the mind on questions.

For now, Frances, Mariana and I continue to try and unravel the data we are receiving with a view to publishing our findings at some time in the future when we feel we have something to contribute to this area of research.

And before then, Frances and I will share our  initial thoughts and findings and experiences to date, in relation to Rhizo14 and our research collaboration, with ALTMOOCSIG on June 27th.

References

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

Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (1987) A Thousand Plateaus. Bloomsbury

MOOCs – Which Way Now?

Screen Shot 2014-05-31 at 08.13.28

The ALTMOOCSIG – the Association for Learning Technology (ALT)  Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) Special Interest Group (SIG) –  is running a one day conference on MOOCs – Which Way Now? – on June 27th at UCL in London.

Frances Bell and I heard this week that the proposal we submitted to do a presentation about our research into rhizomatic learning has been accepted. We are delighted.  Here is our proposal outline, which is also on the ALT site.

The Rhizome as a Metaphor for Learning in a MOOC.

We recently participated in a ‘home grown’ MOOC- ‘Rhizomatic Learning: The Community is the Curriculum’ (#Rhizo14), convened by Dave Cormier and using distributed technologies of his and the participants’ choosing.

The concept of the rhizome as a metaphor for thinking was developed by Deleuze and Guattari in their book ‘A Thousand Plateaus’, published in 1980. This book, intended as an experiment in schizophrenic and nomadic thought, has captured the attention of some educators, who see the rhizome as a useful metaphor for understanding learning in open environments such as MOOCs.

#Rhizo14 attracted 500+ registered participants. Designed to run for 6 weeks, it continues via an active Facebook group and Twitter hashtag more than two months after the end of the MOOC.

The MOOC design explicitly modelled rhizomatic learning and thinking principles: there was minimal content or direction by the MOOC convener and participants were expected to create their own curriculum. Nomadic behaviours, lines of flight, multiplicities, the making and breaking of connections, subversive behaviours, territorialisation, deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation were all in evidence.

#Rhizo14 provoked us to conduct research to investigate learning and the usefulness of the rhizome as a metaphor for teaching and learning. The initial survey generated over 30,000 words of qualitative data from a survey completed by 47 participants. Current data analysis is generating key themes that will be explored with those survey respondents who have volunteered to engage in further email interviews.

We shall present our initial findings, which suggest that there are many aspects of the rhizome metaphor which are deemed useful for modelling effective teaching and learning in MOOCs.  There are also ambiguities and concerns, principally around the role of the convener, the role of power and politics in a MOOC of this type, the social structure of the community, and the nature of the curriculum.

What I am particularly pleased about is that this day conference is free. Frances and I are both independent and therefore will be paying our own way. Of course we still have to make our own way to London, but the fact that it is free was a significant factor in our decision to submit a proposal. So thanks to ALT for this.

We now have the not so easy task of planning the presentation, but it should be fun and the other sessions on the programme look very interesting. I am looking forward to it.

Finally – we are still working on analyzing the first set of data with a view to further email interviews with survey respondents who agreed to this.  We hope to be sending these out within the next week or two.

Problems with MOOC research

Like Frances Bell and Roy Williams, I too have listened to Stephen Downes’ recent presentation to a German audience in Tubingen, Germany. Thanks to Matthias Melcher for sharing the link.

Digital Research Methodologies Redux 

May 26, 2014: Keynote presentation delivered to E-Teaching.org, Tübingen, Germany

Screen Shot 2014-05-28 at 15.02.37

The image above is a screenshot. You can access the presentation on OLDaily  – or at e-teaching.org 

Also like Frances and Roy, I found the presentation very thought-provoking and relevant to the research I am doing with Frances and Mariana Funes on rhizomatic learning – and the research I am doing with Roy on emergent learning. Both these areas of research are trying to discover more about how people learn in open learning environments, such as MOOCs.

But Stephen is skeptical about the possibility of doing any worthwhile research into MOOCs if we continue to take a traditional approach to research, which he describes in this slide:

Screen Shot 2014-05-24 at 11.01.22

(This is a screenshot – not a video!)

I would expect most people who work in education to recognize this model (the hypothetico-deductive model), particularly those with a science background and those who read research papers, many of which follow this model.

Stephen’s argument is that much of the research that has been done into MOOCs or is being done into MOOCs, using this model, presupposes its own conclusions, i.e. you find what you are looking for because that is what you expect to see. In addition there can be, in this type of research, the implication or assumption that it is possible to find some sort of ‘truth’ or a ‘universal theory’, but Stephen believes that observation and experience are the foundation of knowledge and that there is no truth that can be known before experience just by thinking about it; we can also question whether there is any ‘truth’.

So a key question for this presentation was ‘Which methods and theoretical conceptions are appropriate for MOOC research?’

The suggestion was that traditional approaches to research do not account for the horribly messy, complex, always changing world in which we are now living and conducting research. There are no universal theories. Whilst we may walk daily on the earth assuming and believing that the ground will not open up and swallow us, this can in fact happen (see YouTube videos on ‘sink holes’). Our generalizations about the world come about as a result of our experience of the world and are not based on any underlying principle.

Whilst I come from a science background and have published research which would be recognized as using the traditional approach Stephen describes, what he says resonates with me, in particular the discussion about research being like learning a language.

Having just spent three days speaking only Portuguese with some Brazilian friends, and having lived in Brazil in the past, I know from experience that learning a language requires immersion – that this is extremely messy, that at the start we only understand a fraction of what is being said, that there are all sorts of cultural nuances that take years to assimilate, that there are words and even ways of thinking that simply do not translate, that understandings are context-dependent and often out of our control, and that communication can be an illusion. It is only through continuous and/or continual long-term immersion that recognizable patterns of understanding eventually emerge.

Research conducted from this perspective, i.e. a perspective of immersion, communication and collaboration is a process of exploration and discovery. It does not set out to ‘prove’ anything or necessarily to draw conclusions and reify knowledge. It recognizes that there is no one right way of describing the world. If there is a theory, it will emerge from the totality of the work. Developments around MOOCs have happened serendipitously through design-led research, rather than through research-led design. (See Liz Sander’s paper – An evolving map of design practice and design research).

All this makes sense to me, but that doesn’t mean to say that I have done or do research like this. Nor does it mean to say that I can easily put these ideas into practice. It is difficult not to presuppose some conclusions, particularly if I have been involved in the context which I am researching. It is difficult to remain objective if I am fully immersed in the context I am researching. It is difficult to prevent bias and subjectivity creeping in. And it is difficult to be credible if I appear to be ‘tinkering to see what happens?’

But I do agree that MOOC-related research necessitates the description of emergent phenomena rather than the identification of something that is true, and hence my interest in emergent and rhizomatic learning and in how Stephen’s ideas and presentation can inform this.

Rhizomatic Learning Research

 

rhizo Screen_Shot_2013-09-17_at_8.51.41_PMThere is just under a week left before we close our survey in which we are gathering perspectives on Rhizomatic Learning.  Here is the linkhttp://bit.ly/Rhizo14survey

If you were aware of/part of Dave Cormier’s open course Rhizomatic Learning -The Community is the Curriculum, however loosely, then you might be interested in completing this survey. We hope so 🙂

We are interested to learn more about what people understand by rhizomatic learning. There are four key questions in the survey. The first three relate to your understanding of the use of a rhizome as a metaphor for teaching and learning. The fourth question relates to your experience of the Rhizo14 course. There are no obligatory questions in the survey. You can answer as many or as few as you wish. And you don’t have to have been an active or visible member of the Rhizo14 course to take part in this survey. We are interested in receiving as wide a range of responses as possible. To date we have received many wonderfully rich and fascinating responses.

You can find further details of how we are conducting this research on our blogs and we will continue to blog about our progress.

http://francesbell.wordpress.com/research/rhizo14-research/

https://jennymackness.wordpress.com/rhizo14-research/

The survey will close on Sunday of this week – April 27th.

We have already started analyzing responses and according to the themes we identify in this first stage of analysis, we will be conducting a second round of email interviews with those of you who have agreed to this. We think this will probably be towards the end of May.

Very many thanks to all those who have taken the time to respond anonymously, or as identified respondents.

And finally this research is proving rich in more ways than one. I have now met with Mariana for the first time face-to-face in London over dinner in a great little Italian restaurant, and I have visited Frances at her home for lots of Rhizo chat. I have met Frances once before at a conference in 2010, but this is the first time we have met socially. The next meeting will have to be between the three of us 🙂

Questions about rhizomatic learning

This is an open letter to Keith Hamon. Since it is open anyone is welcome to respond, but the thoughts here have been prompted by contact with Keith.

richard-giblett-mycelium-rhizome (For source of image – see References)

Hi Keith – I have been thinking about your invitation to discuss some of the ideas around rhizomatic learning with you further.

I am still finding it difficult to get my head round it – but maybe that’s because I haven’t read enough of ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. On one level it all seems so obvious

  • learners need to have autonomy to make their own choices about which paths to follow,
  • life is full of uncertainty and will be more so as the pace of change and information overload increases,
  • there is so much information out there at the moment that there is no point in re-inventing the wheel – we need to share, aggregate, remix, repurpose and share again
  • the shelf-life of knowledge is ever diminishing; there is an increased urgency to be ever critical and questioning of what we know.

These ideas have been around for a few years now.

I’m not even sure that the rhizome metaphor is that new. You yourself have been writing about it since 2009 or before (?) and then of course ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ has been around for much longer.

I have been enjoying your posts and those of Cath Ellis. Cath’s posts in which she is presenting models for rhizomatic learning make sense. She has presented two models.

  1. Learning environments which are designed to take a rhizomatic approach are multi-path – for me the tube map has its limitations, but does make me think of multi-path possibilities. In our work on emergent learning, we have identified multipath as one of the factors needed to promote emergence.
  2. Learners in these multipath environments are nomadic.

Tim Raynor writes in ‘Lines of Flight’:

‘Nomadism is a way of being. It involves refusing to be tied down by set categories and definitions. It is driven by a desire to experiment and explore, to learn, grow, and boldly venture forth on creative lines of flight’.

Not only does this relate to learner agency (one of the clusters of factors we have in our work on emergent learning) but also to learner identity. Learning, meaning, identity and community are ‘deeply interconnected and mutually defining’ (Wenger 1998, p.5).

In our work on emergent learning we have also discussed how ambiguity and liminality might affect possibilities for emergent learning. For us we have always considered that an ‘all or nothing’ approach is not the learner experience. As you have said certainty is important, just as important as uncertainty. In all the factors we have considered that might influence emergent learning, we think of them as being on a continuum between prescriptive and emergent learning, but it is – as you have described it – a complex dance. We have however, through the workshops we have run where we have asked people to draw their own footprints of emergence, realised that the scale is not from negative to positive. Both prescriptive and emergent learning can be positive, just as they can both be negative depending on the context.

I think this idea of ‘push and pull’ has come out in your writing. I particularly like what you have written about creating space. That really resonated with me. In our emergent learning work we have struggled with the notion of ‘open/structure’ – the idea that we need to consider both structure and the spaces between the structure. What are those spaces and how do we recognise them? Structure seems easier to recognise?

You have written:

‘Rhizomatic learners ‘enjoy’ the tensions between closed, defined spaces where the ball is currently (what we know) and the open-ended, undefined spaces where the ball can go (what we don’t know).’

I’m not sure that I would know how to distinguish a ‘rhizomatic learner’ from other learners. As you have suggested, we all ‘dance’ (love that!) between certainty/uncertainty, open/closed, and so on. You have written that ‘the space holds all the possibilities’, which has made me wonder what possibilities the structure holds. Just a thought – I’m in thinking aloud mode!

I think this also relates to the idea of striated and smooth space, of which Sian Bayne has said both are good. Deleuze and Guattari have written that:

‘State space is ‘striated’ or griddled. Movement in it is confined as by gravity to a horizontal plane, and limited by the order of that place to preset paths between fixed and identifiable points.’

I actually equate this to Cath Ellis’ tube map model, but I don’t think this is what she intended. D &G go on to say

‘Nomad space is ‘smooth’, or open-ended. One can rise up at any point and move to any other.’

I find it more difficult to visualise this. I’m not sure what they mean by rise up. And this brings us to the question of what ‘open-ended’ means. D & G have also written:

‘A rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo.’

I don’t know what to think of this. My past experience has suggested that there are always boundaries that we come up against. Etienne Wenger writes a lot about boundaries and that has influenced my thinking. His thinking is that boundaries are valuable – its where the best learning can take place (he often includes this when talking about ‘landscapes of practice’). In our emergent learning framework we have zones, rather than boundaries, but it is possible to fall off the edge of chaos in our framework. And in your wonderful blog post about spaces on a football field you point out that there is a boundary. Do we need boundaries for structure? Is that what we mean by structure? I think that up until now in our emergent learning research we have been thinking of structure in terms of scaffolding or support.

Final question: If a rhizome is ‘always in the middle’ – how does that equate to there being no centre?  I think this question relates to the important points that Frances Bell has been making about power. I haven’t yet read what D & G have to say about power in a rhizomatic learning environment. Where does it fit? How does it fit? Does it fit?

So, with respect to rhizomatic learning, I feel comfortable with the notion of nomadic learners in multi-path environments. I’m less clear about the topography of this environment and the relationship between the horizontal and vertical at various levels of understanding, such as the structure of the learning landscape and the power relations within it.

I would welcome your thoughts on some of these questions.

References 

Bell, F. (2013). Dimensions of power, knowledge and rhizomatic thinking.

Bayne, S. (2004). Smoothness and Striation in Digital Learning Spaces. E-Learning. Vol 1, No. 2.

Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (1987). A Thousand Plateaus. Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by Brian Massumi, University of Minnesota Press

Ellis, C. (2013). Model one: maps 

Ellis, C. (2013). Model two: nomads

Richard Giblett (2009). ‘Mycelium Rhizome’. Pencil on paper. 120 x 240 cm, $11,000 incl gst, unframed Retrieved from: http://aymed.wordpress.com/

Hamon, K. (2013). Encouraging Autonomy is #rhizo14

Hamon, K. (2013). Uncertainty in #rhizo14

Rayner, T. (2013). Lines of Flight. Deleuze and nomadic creativity.

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Williams, R., Mackness, J., & Gumtau, S. (2012). Footprints of emergence. IRRODL.

Breaking out from ‘Enforced Independence’ – #rhizo14

rhizo Screen_Shot_2013-09-17_at_8.51.41_PMWhen I saw the title for the Week 2 topic – Enforcing Independence –  my immediate thoughts were ‘Oh no – here we go again – another one of Dave’s provocative statements’,  and ‘Of course you can’t ‘enforce’ independence’.

Other people in the P2PU forum seem to have had similar thoughts, some people have dismissed the idea out of hand and others appear to have completely ignored it, going off down their own rhizomatic paths. But Dave has given us an example of what he means by ‘enforced independence’ by sharing his syllabus for his f2f course ED366 Educational Technology and the Adult Learner, which he says is an example of how he tries to balance the enforcement.

Having read this document, I find myself, as with the topic ‘cheating as learning’ last week, not opposed to the underlying reasoning, but thinking that both ‘enforce’ and ‘independence’ are once again the wrong words.

By independence I assume we mean ‘capable of thinking or acting for oneself’ . Well yes we want learners to be able to do this. How would this be exemplified?

The thought that immediately comes to mind is that in nursery school we want little children to be able to put their own coats on, take themselves to the toilet and so on. But more than this we want them to be capable of deciding when they need to put a coat on and when they need to go to the toilet. And beyond this we want them to have the freedom to make their own choices and take the consequences of those choices, and this is what I would call learner autonomy – which I see as different to independence and more what I would aspire to.

Dependence is not necessarily a problem. Some learners, for example those with special needs, will always need to be dependent on others to support them, but they can still be autonomous – free to make their own choices.

And as some have already mentioned in the P2PU forum, we don’t necessarily want learners to be isolated from each other, but rather learn to learn through interdependence.

In Dave’s course that he has shared with us, learners seem to have some autonomy, some choices that they can make, but is there scope for more?  That would be my question. Ultimately we want learners to be able to make their own choices. This might mean that the learner chooses not to comply with course requirements if the learner thinks that is in his best interests. This level of autonomy is very challenging for teachers, who even when they build choices into the curriculum, still tend to have some sort of a surround safety net which they hope learners will not fall through. I used to admire those students who were able to say – ‘Sorry, but this is not for me’, recognized their own autonomy and acted on it removing themselves from the course – but of course this autonomy had a negative effect on my programme’s retention figures! Just in this one example you can see the tensions that autonomy can raise for a teacher.

Despite this, I would prefer the aspiration of autonomy rather than independence. Independence implies cutting the apron strings, but autonomy is not about casting adrift – more about freedom.

And I don’t think autonomy can be enforced – otherwise it wouldn’t be about choice!

I don’t think Dave has ‘enforced independence’ on his students. I think what he has done, as he is doing in this course, is to create the conditions in which learners have opportunities to exercise their autonomy. Autonomy is not black and white, but comes in degrees on a scale of less to more. We can’t make people autonomous or independent. Any attempt to do this would be to consolidate the teacher’s position as based on a whole set of power structures, further creating a reliance on the teacher for setting objectives, assessing progress and giving direction.

But we can model what we mean by independence and/or autonomous learning, as Dave is doing in this course. We can provide the opportunities and learning environment in which autonomy is fostered, but then we have to let learners make their own choices. You don’t need mature learners for this. One of the best places to see this interdependence and autonomy in action is in a nursery classroom, where the teaching approach is based on a High Scope Curriculum  and where

The most important segment of the daily routine is the plan-do-review sequence, in which children make choices about what they will do, carry out their ideas, and reflect upon their activities with adults and other children.

So autonomy and interdependence are the words for me – not ‘independence’ nor ‘enforce’.

 

 

The Community is the Curriculum in #rhizo14

As happened in CCK08 (the first MOOC in 2008), it seems that ‘the kids have taken control of the classroom’ in this second week of Dave Cormier’s open online course Rhizomatic Learning – The Community is the Curriculum . The topic this week is ‘enforced independence’ and here is Dave’s introduction:

I have been standing back, observing, watching, waiting, to see what directions people take in response to the idea of ‘enforcing independence’.

Simon Ensor summed up how I feel this week, when he posted this on Twitter:

Screen Shot 2014-01-23 at 09.59.43

I particularly like the line ‘So long as the mists envelop you, be still’. On the whole, for me, there isn’t enough ‘stillness’ in social media environments. And I can also relate to the first line. My own expression has always been ‘When in doubt, don’t!’ So rushing off down rhizomatic paths isn’t really my style – but it has been fascinating to watch the paths that are being created and followed this week.

Unlike ‘cheating is learning’ (last week’s topic), ‘enforcing independence’  has been summarily dismissed as a viable idea by some. Arca says “Independence cannot be enforced. End.”  There is obviously a discussion to be had around independence as an important idea in association with pedagogy, but I’m not sure about the possibility of ‘enforcing’ independence. I might come back to that discussion in another post.

For now I am reflecting on Dave’s introductory video where he said that the word ‘course’ in association with #rhizo14 does have meaning, i.e. it is a course (not a free for all), that he is directing, not in the sense of a conductor with a set sheet of music, but in the sense of directing towards a certain type of conversation. I wonder what type of conversation Dave envisaged for this week – because it is going all over the place. For example:

Sarah HoneyChurch organised a live synchronous session last night for European/African participants  – but I’m not sure if the session was about social bonding or something more substantial.

Cath Ellis has tried to steer discussion towards actually reading Deleuze and Guattari’s work and bemoans the fact that many of us are engaging in discussion without having read the seminal text. She suggests reading the first 25 pages/introduction and has posted some links to documents in Facebook, to get us going. Not everyone is keen to do this reading. Maha Bali presents an alternative perspective.

Maha Bali is also interested in researching the different forms of community interaction and its effects on learning in‪#‎rhizo14‬ and has put out a call for collaborators in the Facebook group.

Penny Bentley is interested in the question ‘How does Rhizomatic Learning add to/enhance Connectivism? (also on Facebook).

The discussion around ‘cheating as learning’ continues, with a number of people still concerned about the ethics of rhizomatic learning.

Frances Bell thinks we are in danger of “Falling into the tendency to think about rhizomatic learning within formal educational contexts” and is interested in power in rhizomatic learning environments

Keith Hamon is interested in the relationship between ethical behaviour and boundaries in rhizomatic learning environments.

A number of participants are creating badges for the course and awarding them as and when they feel appropriate.

Many people are interested in how the ideas behind rhizomatic learning relate to their teaching practice.

And there’s more….

All this would suggest that ‘The community is the curriculum’, i.e. the curriculum this week, is being created more by the community than in relation to the week’s topic – which I assume was the intention behind the course design.

But where does that leave Dave as the ‘director’ of conversation? What are the implications for his and our ‘power’ in the course?

And I’m wondering about the word ‘community’ and whether everyone going off along their own rhizomatic paths is conducive to community. For example, will there be a break away ‘theory group’ and if there is would this militate against community? Is it reasonable to talk about rhizomatic learning in relation to community?

I feel the mists descending again!