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 – 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).

Learning about learning from Gertrude Stein

Gertrude_Stein_by_Alvin_Langdon_Coburn Link to source of image

ModPo moves on at a furious pace – a bit too fast for me!  Week 5 has started (with the theme of Anti-Modernist Doubts), but I am still thinking about Week 4 and Gertrude Stein –  and what I can learn from her about teaching and learning. Of course, this was not her objective. According to one of the poets who presented with Al Filreis in the great live webcast  this week….

Rachel Blau DuPlessis: http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/DuPlessis.php
Bob Perelman: http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/Perelman.php
Ron Silliman: http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/Silliman.php

….. I think it was Rachel Blau DuPlessis – Stein was the total proponent of discovery. ‘She was not concerned about the future and her legacy, instead her focus was on the excitement of an opening present’ – how refreshing.

But despite this I think Stein has a lot of messages for teachers and learners, never mind poets and authors – so a legacy in spite of herself.

I will try and gather my thoughts into some sort of order, although in doing this I contradict my first point and Gertrude Stein!

1. Thinking spatially, instead of linearly.

A ModPo participant phoned in to the live webcast to say that last year she couldn’t make sense of Stein’s work. This year she had an ‘epiphany’ when she realized that Stein’s work cannot be thought of linearly –  she realized she had to think of Stein’s poetry in terms of spatial relationships. According to one of the guest poets (apologies for not remembering who) Stein’s work proceeds rhythmically. Her writing is very clear but very abstract. For Stein the continual present is what is important – things don’t add up.

For me thinking spatially instead of linearly describes the learning process. We like to think we are working through a curriculum/syllabus linearly, and pretty much everything in education is presented to us in this way (even ModPo!) – but in fact our learning, even the learning of very small children, does not proceed in a linear orderly fashion, but goes forwards and backwards and from side to side – in fact in every direction. This relates to Stephen Downes’ thoughts about learning being the recognition of patterns (connectivism) and Dave Cormier’s work on rhizomatic learning.

2. The role of multiple perspectives

Picasso and the Cubists wanted to see and present different sides of an object – to see the object from multiple perspectives. Stein tried to do the same with words.  Here is a video of her reading her Portrait of Picasso –

There is also a video in which we can see how she goes even further than Picasso. The video puts her poetry to dance (which relates to the point I make about embodied learning below). (This video has been made private, since I initially wrote this post).

For Stein each word was an event. Any word in Stein’s work is a frame. It could mean a lot of different things. Learning in MOOCs has exposed us to a greatly increased number of perspectives in terms of the people we could come in contact with (34 000 in ModPo), than was possible in the small classes and limited access to texts of the past.  It is interesting to think of the different ways in which learners can be exposed to multiple perspectives and the effect of multiple perspectives on learning. For Stein it was about liberation from traditional ways of thinking and writing – putting her mind through a different way of thinking.

3. Risk and transformative learning

It was suggested in the webcast that without the Cubists there would have been no Gertrude Stein as we know her. The effect of the Cubists was to completely disrupt her existing way of thinking and writing, moving her irreversibly into a new relationship with words. The Cubists changed her ‘frames of reference’. As Meyer and Land  would describe it, she passed through a portal

a threshold  has always demarcated that which belongs within, the place of familiarity and relative security, from what lies beyond that, the unfamiliar, the unknown, the potentially dangerous. It reminds us too that all journeys begin with leaving that familiar space and crossing over into the riskier space beyond the threshold. (p.ix)

Stein was seeking a new kind of community and meaning making. She embraced the unfamiliar riskier space. Learning is not always ‘safe’ .

4. Embodied learning

I have always thought of embodied learning in terms of using the whole body. Little children do this through play as a natural part of their every day learning and there are some disciplines, such as dance, sport and some of the arts subjects where embodied learning is an easily recognizable element. It is harder to think about embodied learning in relation to text-based disciplines, but I think Stein shows us how this might be done. Stein treats words as impressionist brush strokes. See for example

Water Raining – from Tender Buttons.  (scroll down to find it)

Water astonishing and difficult altogether makes a meadow and a stroke.

Stein paints poetry and writes poetry as music. It was suggested in the webcast that she uses words for self-pleasuring – a form of intellectual eroticism. She plays a game with herself, not a game with us – enjoying the mechanisms of her mind – pleasuring herself – enjoying herself. Stein threw herself into her world of words as Jackson Pollock threw paint onto a canvas.

There is more, much more, I could learn from Gertrude Stein, but I want to keep up with the linear flow of the ModPo syllabus 😉 – so I’ll have to come back to Stein another time. Would Stein have been a ModPo participant?  I wonder. Maybe too linear for her?