This post addresses the key questions and themes of each week as laid out by the organizer, Dave Cormier, for the P2PU MOOC on Rhizomatic learning. “Rhizomatic learning is a story of how we can learn in a world of abundance – abundance of perspective, of information and of connection.” (Rhizomes are not mycorrhiza, but my image of rhizomatic learning is more like the latter, thus the title to this post.)
Cormier states the key questions as:
What happens if we let that[*] go? What happens when we approach a learning experience and we don’t know what we are going to learn? Where each student can learn something a little bit different – together? What if we decided to trust the idea that people can come together to learn given the availability of an abundance of perspective, of information and of connection?
* =decisions, in advance, about what it is important for students to learn + check[ing] if they all did and compar[ing] them against each other
He breaks the exploration of these questions into 6 weeks:
- “Cheating” = Abandon rules and expectation of answers given by some authority
- Self-assessment, including assessment of relationship to the community [before the topic morphed into enforcing independence]
- Declaring your work = responsibility to other learners
- Collaborative continuum = how knowledge is made
- Community as curriculum
- Practicalities = course contracts, personal learning records, problem-based learning.
My emphasis is less on abundance of connections and more on individuals engaging with/in the context in which they are learning. To this end, I would recommend being reserved–or slow-food-like–about abundance on the internet. As quoted in the previous post:
Envisage the google+ [*] community as a container, a space that you enter and leave mindfully. That is, set limits and give yourself a structure so involvement in the community does not lead you to feel swamped or fragmented or unsure that you can synthesize or keep in mind all the interesting items you are coming across. To this end, you might allow yourself a delimited amount of time per day, say 30 minutes, to explore online offerings or sharings but you would also preserve an equal amount of time (preferably when you are fresh at the start of the day) to gather your thoughts based on whatever is currently in view or in mind, which may be quite different from what you have to do for your work or project or studies. Such “refractive practice,” in which you give yourself space to “connect, probe, and reflect,” makes it less likely that you feel left behind when you don’t follow or respond to every thread that is offered, however worthwhile they seem at first sight (adapted from http://bit.ly/1dQJh8p).
* or facebook or connectivist-MOOC
Indeed, beyond this point, my emphasis is on learning-in-context with little direct reference to what the internet or connectivism make possible. After all, technologically mediated learning environments should be modeled on best practices for teaching-learning without computers, yes? (elaboration, http://bit.ly/etguide).
Week 1–Abandon rules and expectation of direction given by some authority
Promoting slow-food refractive practice does not, however, prevent the unsettled experience that most (all?) newcomers to non-programmed learning, such as rhizomatic learning or project-based learning (of the ill-defined problems variety, in which students can explore their own interests in relation to the scenario and learn from each other). Notwithstanding the appreciative evaluations from the end of my PBL courses (e.g., http://grst.wikispaces.umb.edu/Evaluations), students always say at the end — and these were the students who did not drop the course — that they were overwhelmed, confused about expectations, etc. at the start. After hearing this again last May, I sketched out a plan for the first session next time (=a week from today), which involves a diagram of the rhythm of the course and a short but very open PBL with alums of the course participating (http://wp.me/p1gwfa-xp). Indeed, having new students interview an alum of the course (with me out of the room) has been a regular feature of all my courses–not only the rhizomatic PBL ones–for many years now.
The deeper issue here is moving from receptive learning to learners taking themselves seriously, which can be seen as “align[ing] their questions and ideas, aspirations, ability to take or influence action, and relationships with other people” (http://bit.ly/TYS2012). Equivalently, in the terms of a recent course I co-led on creative thinking: “The measure of creativity… is not the quantity or quality of products but [how much you think and feel], every day or every moment, that it is no longer possible for yourself to simply continue along previous lines” (http://wp.me/p1gwfa-yJ). There is a bootstrapping problem here–learners have to be at least a little self-directed or creative to take themselves seriously and to engage with the relevant context in order to shape it to support their developing creativity.
One way for a person to bootstrap into self-directedness or creativity (in the sense above) is to:
have someone do a plus-delta evaluation at the end of any activity you are involved in and hope that the experience will, eventually if not the first time, lead to a routine of plus-delta evaluation. Paying attention to the things you appreciated (the plus) makes it more likely that you—or the people responsible for the activity you are evaluating—will work on the things that need improving or changing (the delta). Eventually something that arose as a delta becomes a plus and you are ready for some further deltas (from #2 in http://wp.me/p1gwfa-yJ).
Weeks 1 & 2 together
Learning in a context of interaction with others (“community”), but without expectation of direction given by some authority can be seen as “taking initiative in and through relationships” (http://www.faculty.umb.edu/pjt/MakingSpace.html). In this, do not expect to learn or change or develop your creativity without moving among or being jostled by the interplay or tensions between (at least) six different considerations: negotiating power and standards (a “vertical” relationship); building peer (or “horizontal”) relationships; exploring differences and diversity among people; acknowledging that affect (i.e., emotion) is involved in what you are doing and not doing (and in how others respond to that); developing autonomy (so that you are neither too sensitive nor impervious to feedback); and clearing away distractions from other sources (present and past) so you can “be here now.” Inhabiting the jostling tensions looks complicated or feels unsettled, but combining it with plus-delta evaluation can help. At the end of any learning-related activity you are involved in, you would complete the plus-delta for each of the six aspects. Presumably, if you focus on one or two of the aspects during the activity, there will be room for deltas on the others. At the same time, the pluses for the aspects on which you did focus will provide a base from which to pay attention to the others.
Week 3–Responsibility to other learners
Taking initiative in and through relationships forms a strong basis for being responsible to other learners. Another way I picture this is to say that a context, such as a workshop or classroom, is conducive of learning or creativity development to the extent that it starts by creating conditions of Respect (e.g., participants have repeated exchanges with those who differ from them, listening to others and having the experience of being listened to), which in turn makes it more likely for participants to take Risks (e.g., staying with the process even when there is uncertainty about how to achieve desired outcomes). (More details) Responsibility to other learners involves contribution to the conditions of Respect and subsequent Risk taking.
Week 4–How knowledge is made collaboratively
The picture of Respect leading to Risk continues to two other Rs: These lead to Revelations (bringing thoughts and feelings to the surface that articulate, clarify and complicate their ideas, relationships, and aspirations-in short, their identities), and, as a result of the previous three R’s, to Re-engagement (participants’ “gears” engage allowing them to sustain quite a high level of energy, to engage actively with others, and, equally importantly, to be reminded of their aspirations to work in supportive communities). In Revelations and Re-engagement knowledge is being made.
Week 5–Community as curriculum
Taking initiative in and through relationships and the 4Rs point to the sociality of learning at the same time as they allow individuals to take themself seriously (albeit a self that is engaged in a context or community).
Another way of saying this is that each of us navigates the distributed complexity in part by trying to impart order according to our sense of our self—our identity, aspirations or goals, and will to choose among goals and move towards them. We achieve some goals and then have greater capacity, knowledge, skills, plans, and direction to keep moving and developing. We also have setbacks and revise our goals. Indeed, our self-directedness can be buffeted or even threatened by the order-imparting efforts of other people navigating their distributed complexities. Yet relationships with others are a source of resources and support (material, emotional, etc.) from outside ourselves, which help shape how far and in what directions our movement and development happens. Relationships are also a source of unplanned conjunctions or intersections that we draw from. Such connections can help us to not simply continue along previous lines and, at the same time, to clarify our sense of directedness as individuals (quoting from a recent post).
Indeed, this post continues:
My current ideal is to be involved in communities of adults that have the feel of Vivian Paley’s classrooms. Again from The Girl with the Brown Crayon, Paley: “I need the intense preoccupation of a group of children and teachers inventing new worlds as they learn to know each other’s dreams” (p. 50). “Kindergartners are passionate seekers of hidden identities and quickly respond to those who keep unraveling the endless possibilities” (p. 4); they “search for the mirror of self-revelation” (p. 8).
The challenge of learning in a mycorrhizal context is addressed in a suite of schemas given in that same post, each schema intended to be taken up when you see it as relevant to the phase you are in of learning or engaging in shaping the context that supports your creativity.
Week 6–Practicalities (incl. course contracts)
To be consistent with the above the most important shift in teaching is to pursue “Assessment [to] Keep… Attention Away from Grades.” Dialogue around written work makes a substantive contribution to this.
Having students keep their own record of what they have submitted (example) helps ensure that instructor-student interaction focuses on the substance, not the grades.
From my experience, some students construe the keep one’s own record as the instructor being “flexible” about submission of work, with a result that detracts from the learning experience for themselves and others. I am experimenting with being more hard-nosed (e.g., last two bullets here).
In almost all of my courses, there is a syllabus treasure hunt between the first and the second meeting so that they acquaint themselves with and raise questions about requirements and everything in the course and its online organization that departs from what they are accustomed to.
Note on sources: Links to pages with the Gill Sans headings and Garamond typeface are drawn from P. Taylor and J. Szteiter (2012) Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research and Engagement Arlington, MA, The Pumping Station, available from online retailers or via http://bit.ly/TYS2012.