Is Rhizomatic Learning an Invasive Species? You Bet Your Sweet Ass It Is: The Wild vs the Civilized; A Serious Response in 4 parts

Part 1 – introduction

I get the impression that in some interactions around the Internet I have come off as being on the side of answering “No” to the question about if rhizomatic learning is invasive but please be assured that the jury is still out for me. I really am pretty agnostic in most things.

All of this talk about invasives made me think of a few years ago when MOOCs were all the buzz and everyone in higher ed was afraid that they were going to kill higher education as we know it. I felt more excitement than fear about MOOCs and I found myself participating in #EDCMOOC as well as the #moocmooc Moocification.

During #moocmooc I was prompted somehow to write up this Coyote myth about MOOCs. It’s silly and rereading it now I can see how my context as someone who persuades faculty and administrators that technology is not something to be afraid of but something to embrace, explore, and examine comes through as the main takeaway of the story. I was trying to show that MOOCs were not something that had to be feared but were a natural indicator of change to be embraced.

Rereading the comments I realized that Scott Johnson (who I have gotten to know and appreciate a little better here in #rhizo15 through several enlightening conversations) provided an eloquent rebuttal with his badger myth.  Scott showed the other side of this where nothing really changes because the administration is so steeped in tradition.

What happens when the wild bumps up against the civilized? When the trickster runs through the hallowed halls screaming “Silence!!!” giggling and jumping all the while?

Part 2 – definitions

To be able to do this I feel that I need to set two definitions for myself. 1. what is an invasive species and 2. what is rhizomatic learning?

As far as I can tell there are several factors that are often considered in defining an invasive species:

  1. That it is foreign – though this is up in the air sometimes
  2. That it is harmful to humans
  3. That it grows and grows and grows never ending and taking over

I hedge in defining rhizomatic learning only because I heard the words “rhizomatic learning” for the first time a few months ago. It seems to have a philosophical base with Deleuze and Guattari but I have yet to even get to that (damn you Ernest Becker).

When I first entered #rhizo15 I noted that it reminded me of some nomadic traveling that I did in my youth; moving from town to village not really sure where I was going to next. At the time, I had not read Dave Cormier’s thoughts on rhizomatic learning nor had I heard some of the other voices using this metaphor – it just felt the same, being in the course, as when I was a nomad. It seems like a very natural way of learning – maybe a reflection of how people naturally learn without schools or structure of any kind.

So, at least for the purposes of this post, I will be working with rhizomatic learning as I understand it as:

  1. Learning in the wild
  2. Learning from connections – branching, forking, splitting, hacking and the like
  3. Learning as a natural creative chaotic process

Part 3 – contrast and compare

Okay so now that I have laid some ground work in terms of what each of these two things are lets do some comparisons:

Invasives are foreign 

If rhizomatic learning is a kind of natural learning that is outside of structured learning I suppose it can be perceived as foreign in a structured environment.

Invasives are harmful to humans

Again, outside of it’s natural setting (in the wild) I can see how those that rely on structured learning could see rhizomatic learning as being harmful.

Invasives grow and grow out of control, never ending, and take over

Here is where my limited knowledge really does hold me back. My gut tells me that the rhizome must die – eventually. I suppose I am getting this from my experience as a nomad – the journey is filled with endings – new beginnings yes – but beginnings don’t exist without endings and to focus only on those beginnings just feels hollow to me.  But everyone that has more experience than me with rhizomatic learning (well… those who will even entertain this notion at all) swears that the rhizome does not die… it just goes on and on and on and on…

When trying to discuss this sometimes I feel like this guy

It doesn’t help that my name is Autumm which is very close to Autumn and if thought of metaphorically…

I wonder if the invasive rhizome ever feels this way?

Part 4 – conclusion

So, the thing about invasives that I find interesting is that their identification is so subjective. It has a lot to do with bias and fear. It has a lot to do with what is harmful. But I think it is true that Sometimes Invasive Species are Good.

Is rhizomatic learning invasive? You bet your sweet ass it is. But an invasive is only given that label because someone has deemed it to be foreign, harmful, and immortal. I think that in the larger scheme all of these things are over exaggerations most of the time… however, a warning to any tower creatures that may have stumbled onto this post; invasives can be very dangerous if they find fertile soil outside of their natural environment.  But perhaps we need to check our own biases before we pour the weed killer too liberally.

The Posts that Could Have Been

So, I’m trying to get back on track with #rhizo15. I got thrown off a bit as I am currently in this whirlwind tour – I just got back to Columbus from Detroit via Cleveland today and I leave for Chicago tomorrow. I went to Detroit to visit my Mom for Mother’s Day the day after having this salon at my house and entertaining more people than I have in about a year or so. My thoughts are all tangled and there are too many of them so this is my brain dump at the end of week 4. These are some of the posts that could have been.

The Exquisite Corpse: Connections We Can’t See

I pulled out the old exquisite corpse for the salon. If you don’t know what an exquisite corpse is – it is either drawing or writing (yes we did a writing one too but I don’t want this post to get too long) where participants are asked to complete a portion of a piece without seeing the whole thing. In this case we covered each square when finished drawing in it – leaving a few lines sticking out for the next person to continue.

Notice some of the similarities in these panels.

FullSizeRender-4

This made me think of rhizomatic learning in so many ways… the connections branching off of one another, the similarities and synchronicity’s…

I have seen several posts in #rhizo15 that refer to “something that I saw on one of the blogs somewhere” or posts talking about similar themes that are not citing one another in any way. What is going on here?

I’m no better – I know I have done this but I have to wonder: Are some people intentionally snubbing one another? Do they not see the connections? Are people just lazy? What is up with the connections that we can’t see – as consumers and producers of content (people).

This also makes me think of Bonnie Stewart’s research on vulnerability in using social media in the academy. I mean who puts their budding ideas out on the web to be hacked by god knows who in a industry of publish or perish?

At the same time – our ideas grow and expand when others get involved.

But if I take on this experimental mindset what if I make a fool of myself?

Bahhhh. Paradoxes. Making. Brain. Hurt.

Maha’s Challenge to Me on Why the Rhizome Must Die

So, last week Maha Bali challenged me to take my idea that the rhizome must die to the next level. I had started talking about this at the beginning of #rhizo15 in relation to unlearning. I had all intentions of exploring it in week 4 but … yeah.

I have to say that I am especially struggling with this one because it seems to drum up some intense reactions from people. People get really defensive about it. No one wants the rhizome to die. Disclaimer – I don’t want the rhizome to die.

One of the most frequent responses that I get is at the heart of this week’s prompt – pointing out how hard it is to kill a rhizome and how rhizome’s have a tendency to “take over”. I understand this problem but I really do think that it is adjacent to my point. I’m not talking about killing a rhizome – not necessarily… though that could be a part of it.

I suppose, at times, portions of the rhizome needs to die so that it does not strangle out the rest of the garden. Does this take us back to the role of the teacher? Not just pulling that weed but getting out the shovel. 

I kind of overuse disclaimers in my posts (getting back to that vulnerability thing I guess) but this one would have to include one stating that I personally fear death myself and that I don’t want the rhizome to die any more than the next gal… but…

My point is simply that everything that lives – dies. Some things live longer than others and some things are more resilient than others but everything that lives – dies. Some day – some how. And if we are going to use a metaphor of a living organism then we should accept that there will be death in that. This could be as simple as the end of the “course”… It could be related to unlearning (which is too strong of a term for some apparently so who the heck do I think I am by calling it a little death).

My intention was to expand on this whole idea by defining death as an archetype for loss or endings, parse out some differences between Death and death, of course tie in that all death is also a kind of beginning…  But it is all tangled up in knots in my mind right now.  I would like to revisit it soon – if I can sort it all out and connect it somehow.

Conclusion

So, week 4 snuck by me with a lot in my head and not a lot of time to articulate it. I know this post is pretty disjointed and not so poetic. No apologizes – it is what it is.

I’m looking forward to week 5 though I’m not sure where I am going to take it.

Enough About Getting Rid of ‘dave’: Exploring Spontaneity and the Metaphor of the Gardener

I know that it is going to take me a few blog posts to get through week 4 of #rhizo15 – there are a lot of things going on with this prompt that I need to unpack. But I had to put out some initial thoughts.

First off, just like during week 2 when Dave said that learning was a non-counting noun and that we needed to just set that off to the side in thinking about measurement because it is something that we cannot measure…

…I’m going to do the same thing with the question of if we should get rid of dave. I say we need “teachers” and “dave” (simply because learners are teachers) but I am also going to take it one step further and say that #rhizo15 needs Dave Cormier. Let’s just take all of that and set it off to the side for now.

Rather, I would like to focus on the second part of the question; what does it mean to teach rhizomatically? I love this question as I work with faculty in a faculty development center. I think that Dave has done a good job of modeling rhizomatic teaching and I feel that perhaps I have some kind of sense for it because it is resonating with me so much but this is a really new kind of question for me as I don’t have a lot of experience in “rhizomatic teaching”.

For now I just have these two thoughts:

First off, I want to point out that what Dave just did in this prompt is something that I think is fairly rare in institutionally based online learning and while I’m not sure about cMOOCs … I know it happens all the time in face to face learning. This thing seems essential to rhizomatic learning… I’m talking about spontaneity. Allowing the conversation to derail and head in another direction. As a student I love instigating this in a face to face environment (I guess its the trickster in me) as it allows me to connect the conversation to something adjacent and hope to bring it back around… eventually. I find that this increases my learning. But I have never seen it in an institutionally based online course.

I googled “spontaneity in online courses” and I found this blog post entitled “Online Teaching is Inferior to the Classroom Experience” from 2013 on a blog called The Contrary Perspective that articulates this lack of spontaneity very well.  But I think that Dave has just shown us that it is possible in an online environment.

Second I wanted to dive into the metaphor of the rhizome a bit. I haven’t gotten into Deleuze and Guattari at all yet but it seems to me if the rhizome is a metaphor of the community connecting different ideas together perhaps the teacher is the gardener?  You don’t have to have a gardener. As rhizomes run wild all of the time – but when you do you get some pretty beautiful landscapes.

Of course it is the gardener who decides between the “weeds” and “flowers”… sets the parameters of the garden, and ultimately decides who lives and who dies – but that is my next blog post.

A Question Concerning the Interpretation of Content

Before we move to week 4 of #rhizo15 I wanted to post about something that has been coming back around for me in the whole journey of “Content is People.”

What is to be said for the way that content is interpreted? I think that we often don’t take away what the person intended. How does this fit into the idea of content is people and what does it say about the nature of what many call content?

In many ways this is the same as the artist’s dilemma – the one where the artist paints a picture of a rabbit and someone comes along and says oh what a nice picture of a duck.

As teachers and learners how do we deal with the Gestalt of the everyday real world?

Choosing Content: The Use of Imagination in Direct Faculty Instruction

Part 1 – Content is People

What is content?

Text
Books
Video
Movies
Sound
Songs

but People??

I had a hard time with the week 3 prompt for #rhizo15 at first. Content is People.

The first thing I started thinking about was the problems with defining content in this way: corporate personhood came to mind. Problems of plagiarism would continue to be of issue if “Content is People” and how is that addressed in mashing, sharing, retweeting, and the like? But who are these people? Are they okay? Could they be dangerous? How do I go about vetting these people to decide if they are good for my life? My class? My students? My faculty?

A big part of getting my head around this prompt actually came from a good friend’s mom who came to visit me while she was passing through town doing research on genealogy. In our conversation I was relating to her about how I’m always arguing points and ideologies in my head – comparing and contrasting them based on context and position. And then it hit me, while we were standing there at the rooftop waiting lounge trying to get dinner, that all that arguing (many times only in my own head – cameo to the solitary learner), was not with

Text
Books
Video
Movies
Sound
Songs

but People.

People that created

Text
Books
Video
Movies
Sound
Songs

Content is People.

Part 2 – Choosing Content

And then I realized all of those “problems” that I saw with defining content as people they weren’t problems that were in conflict with making that definition but rather real problems that we have to hash out every day when we deal with content.

What does any of this mean in the “real world”?

Which brings us to choosing content… say for a course. This recently came up at work as we were trying to show that online courses meet the federal definition of the credit hour which here in the U.S. relates to a ratio of “direct faculty instruction” and work completed outside of class. And is it direct faculty instruction to expose students to someone else’s content? Well if they were in class and you played a movie that would not be questioned. However, if you have them watch the movie online (potentially a better use of class time I would argue) that seems to be a harder sell as “direct faculty instruction”.

To what end? or What does it mean to choose content?

While it is great to have these arguments in one’s mind – to what end? This week I read a great post by Keith Hamon in regards to imagination in MOOC ethics but I think that his points are easily extrapolated to online, hybrid, and even face to face learning in regards to choosing content. First, if I am reading him correctly – I hear Hamon agreeing that we need other points of view to grow and learn so it seems like bringing in other people is a good idea. Second, I hear a call for tolerance in confronting beliefs and behaviors (that will often come to us in the form of content) so that we might rethink our own beliefs and behaviors. Finally, I think that Hamon is drawing on the theme of imagination to call for teachers and learners to imagine themselves in those differing viewpoints while evaluating them to find harmony among them.

Going all the way back to week 1 of #rhizo15 I am reading Earnest Becker as I grapple with bias as it ultimately ties to fear and then to fear of death. Becker has this harmony and talks about it in the preface of his book The Denial of Death. He uses the word Eros (one of the ancient Greek words for love) to describe a longing to bring truths together rather than keep then in a perpetual state of discord. He says one of the reasons for writing the book is because he has “had more more than my share of problems fitting together valid truths” (xi). He says that the book is “a bid for the peace of my scholarly soul, an offering for intellectual absolution” (xi). He is bringing together different voices and ideas to create a valid truth. He is choosing content to make a point.

Choosing content.

I would like to posit that the more one grapples with the choosing of content – the more one engages in that internal conversation, uses their imagination to understand that point of view from the context of the person that developed it, compares it and contrasts it to other view points (content) with the end in mind of creating harmony among those ideas to create new ideas – the closer that is to “direct faculty instruction”.

I would love to hear more about choosing content while we are still in week 3 of #rhizo15.  From the prompt I got the feeling that Dave Cormier was struggling with the idea of preloading any kind of content into a course whatsoever. So I am curious what everyone thinks. If Content is People how do we relate to them and how do we choose who we are going to bring into our classes? What is that process like?  When is the best time to do this – more often in my own work I need to help faculty do that up front before the course ever runs. Does this kill some kind of spontaneity in the learning process? How does choosing content work for you?

Becker, E. (1973). The denial of death. New York: Free Press.