#MyDigCiz as Critical Experimentation in Opposition to Best Practice: Self-Reflection After #DigPed PEI or why I thought you might care about my soup

It was 2007, I was just finishing up my BS degree in communication technology when I received a google alert on my name one day. Honestly, I had felt a little vain when I set it up but I saw how this could be helpful especially considering the uniqueness of my name.

Someone had written a blog post and mentioned me!

I didn’t have a blog and really didn’t know any bloggers so this seemed really strange. I discovered that the post was about Twitter as a tool and explored how people were using it. I was on Twitter. My supervisor at the time had said that it was something that I should check out and so I created an account and started tinkering with it a few months prior.

The blog post was a rant about the best ways that people were using twitter and comparing how they should not use twitter. Two accounts were highlighted and an example was made out of them – your’s truly was the prime example of how to NOT use twitter.

I remember being pretty mortified, I think I killed my account for awhile, I think I changed my name when I eventually reactivated it. After some time I finally got a little mad. I mean I was a student. I was new to this online platform and so was everyone else; it had only been around for a little over a year. The whole thing was a big experiment as far as I was concerned. So I tweeted some boring stuff. There are worse things in the world. I ended up tweeting a link to the offending post stating “I guess no one cares about my soup”.

I’d like to think that I’ve come a long way in my use of twitter. But I still use experimentation in dealing with new tools and I’m sure that I’m not using tools as intended at any given time depending the context. But I don’t think that I should stop doing that. I may look silly sometimes and I may come off the wrong way but I learn a lot in doing it and then I write posts like this one sharing what I’ve learned… and…  I think that is valuable. I’m not just experimenting in a vacuum. I am thinking about context, I am thinking about different vantage points, and I am thinking about how my uses impact others. But I am experimenting.

Still, I’m prone to getting sucked in by that voice of authority stating the right way to use tools. It is a strange dichotomy. This post is largely about me trying to work that out.

Right now there are a ton of things converging and diverging in my world. I’m just back from the #DigPed PEI conference where I took the digital literacies track but it is also the last two weeks of #DigCiz and Maha Bali has charged us all to define what digital citizenship looks like for us and on whose terms are we encouraging it using the tag #MyDigCiz. These two things together have me taking a hard look at what I am doing and questioning some of my practices in terms of being a person in the flesh and on the internet. I’m realizing that #MyDigCiz has a lot to do with critical self-reflection and continually trying to understand connections. At the same time I’m realizing that experiments are risky and not just to myself but to others.

I mean I am luckier than most. I have a self-reflective nature and a community of scholars that help me to build digital literacies and consider multiple contexts regularly; it’s called Virtually Connecting. As a community we are in almost constant dialog about what is ethical and what is not. How we can elevate voices that don’t get heard. What is working technically and how we can adjust environments for better connections. We are thinking about what is happening in the background when we go live and record. Who might walk into the frame and do they want to be live on the internet. It’s not perfect. We too are experimenting and learning. But we are also thinking critically, adjusting, and persisting.

You’d think this stuff was old hat for me. But it is not. I’m constantly readjusting.

One of my favorite moments at #DigPed PEI was the twitter chat. I didn’t do much tweeting. Those of us that were more experienced at twitter grouped up and gathered in the big open room – the Market Square. There were these loungy couches around the perimeter but some of us gathered in the middle and began a verbal in the flesh conversation/online twitter chat. I loved this moment so much because it ended up being a great liminal space. Those of us who gathered in the center of the room took time to talk but also time to read twitter and to tweet. There was tons of “dead air” interspersed with bits of verbal conversation. It wasn’t a show or a presentation, there was no front of the room, it was a conversation among people in the flesh who were on the internet at the same time. It was beautiful for someone like me. People jumped in from that outer ring from time to time while others were just quietly on their computers. The verbal conversation was a great mix of people with varying levels of experience in terms of presenting/attending conferences but like I said most were pretty established with using twitter and other forms of social media. Out of this conversation, a few key questions (particular thanks Audrey Watters) have led me to remember how I’ve developed certain methods around tweeting but also helped me to question some of my approaches as well.

I share a fair amount on the web. Not as much as many on Twitter but more than most in the world. I often filter other people through me via my tweets and I’m sure I deviate from their intended meanings – I am my own person after all. I live tweet many keynote speakers and session presenters. After doing this for awhile and being self-reflective about it I realized that there was a lot to be said for context. Hearing some snippet of what a speaker has said out of context can convey a completely different meaning. Then I have to ask where does my interpretation of what a speaker has said start and what they actually said (or what they meant in a particular context) end – and how does the random person who encounters that tweet perceive it?  What responsibilities do I have to the content, the connections, and the speaker? What if I hear something wrong and share something that creates confusion? What if I start a conversation between some people that are going to hate one another? What if I say something in public that will hurt someone? If any of this happens how do I atone for this? Will I even realize it?

Upon this realization I remember making a conscious choice to stop using quotes, for the most part, in these kind of tweets. I did this on purpose. My point in not using quotes is that I’m taking some responsibility for the content of that tweet. I don’t want there to be a perception that I’m quoting directly – unless I do but it is rare in the scope of my tweets. This is my little indication that I’m doing the best I can in 140 characters to interpret and not mimic. But that’s not written down anywhere – that is not a best practice – that is an Autummism… but the thing is I’m not sure anyone “gets” that but me. I think many people assume the quotes. They assume that I’m word for word transcribing the talk. I don’t know how to assert that I’m a human and not a recording or broadcast device. I’m not trying to be a journalist, I’m not trying to be a camera, I just want to be a person who expresses her experience and uses social media to process that experience… more on that in a bit.

Until a few months ago I also used to never put the handle of the speaker in each tweet. I would send out one tweet at the beginning stating who I was hearing and interpreting but all subsequent tweets would not reference the speaker. But then there is a problem with attribution and does it look like I’m spewing the speaker’s rhetoric on my own? After getting called on this it might have been the first time I googled “how to live tweet a keynote speaker” (or something of the like) and low and behold there were a set of “best practices” that sure enough stated that you should tag the speaker in each tweet. So I started doing that.

Yes! Best practice to the rescue. Now I can finally start using Twitter right.

But now that I look back I realize that many of those articles were geared toward folks that were doing some kind of media production, were trying to sell something, or were interested in hitting a specific analytic. Wait!… That ain’t me babe. I’m not sure that I’m the intended audience of those articles but I didn’t get that at that time.

The thing about “best practices” is that they are problematic in that they strip nuance out of these contextual experiences. During our conversation some noted that this tagging in every single tweet basically sent the speaker a barrage of notifications which could be annoying. Furthermore, these had the potential to start side conversations that resulted in even more notifications. These side conversations are complicated by the “meaning problem” that I started to outline earlier. Because a meaning which is based on an interpretation by the person reading the tweet, in the context of the interpretation of the person who composed and sent the tweet, can be very different than the intended message of the speaker. It feels like you are almost asking for trouble. This problem is going to be present regardless I guess but my beef is with the “best” in best practice.

Who is that best for again? And how is the “best practice” better than my experimental Autumm practice? It seems either way the vulnerabilities persist.

Another tool I have started using is mobile live streaming and I think this does a good job of taking some of the problems I just discussed off of the table. It is pretty clear when I am on camera and when the speaker is on camera and the speaker just gets to speak for themselves. This technology is fairly new and there are a ton of best practices on the web mostly geared at video and sound quality and creating an experience for the virtual audience. The problem with the live streaming over tweeting is that I don’t live tweet a speaker only for the other people on twitter who may read those tweets or for the speaker themselves – I do it for myself too. I gain perspective considering those multiple contexts and constraints. It keeps my mind engaged in a different way than if I were listening without writing or even if I were listening and taking public or private notes. I know through my work with Virtually Connecting it is not about creating a great experience for a virtual audience as much as it is about creating a reciprocal experience between those on each side of the camera. Or at least that is what it is about for me and others that I surround myself with… I suppose this is where digital citizenship comes in. 

I don’t just use social media and the public internet to channel other people who are speaking at conferences. I don’t just use images, video, and text to speak to an audience. I experiment with these things to learn about myself and the world around me. To explore multiple contexts and points of view. I have public conversations about topics that no one has easy answers for so that I can learn, maybe not the right answers but to perhaps be able to ask better questions, in community. I reflect on my experiences based on various forms of feedback that I receive and I make adjustments. I try to do better. This is not a research project, this is not reporting, this is not a course… this is a part of who I am.

And so when Sundi Richard and I started to ask questions around the idea of digital citizenship, having public conversations using video chat and Twitter seemed like second nature. When we decided to do it again a few months later we purchased web space and gave a home to some things like a schedule and an articulation of the context in which we were interested in talking about digital citizenship. By that time I had also found time to read Rhizo14: A Rhizomatic Learning cMOOC in Sunlight and in Shade by Jenny Mackness and Frances Bell and it gave me pause. I was in Rhizo15 and found the facilitator Dave Cormier to be attentive and deeply concerned for those that were experimenting with him around a complex topic for which there was no clear easy clear cut answer. However, this paper painted Dave as having control and influence over the group but neglecting the needs of those that were not having a positive experiences. That some participants had learned a great deal in the course but that others had been somehow damaged (the paper seems unclear to me on what this damage was and even feeling deeply embedded in Rhizo15 I’ve never figured it out) and that the facilitator should have had more control or something.

So, I wondered if our little #digciz project should have a disclaimer of sorts, perhaps a set of standards, or a defined code of ethics. I knew that we would never reach the scale of Rhizo14 but I saw no reason why we should not be concerned by the same ethical implications. I wanted to be clear that I was concerned about all those that were going to choose to engage with us but that at the same time that there were some dangers inherent to being on the public internet and that we would not be able to control every connection. That I have a life outside of #digciz and that I would not be able to watch 24/7.

I proposed this to Sundi and we created a page for this but we really struggled with articulation. Eventually, we decided to let the community own it and during the first week we would encourage the participants to build this statement themselves. Our first Twitter chat was more active than either of us had imagined but no one seemed interested in building such a statement. The page remained blank. We continued discussing digital citizenship anyway.

I think this was right for us and for the group that we ended up getting. We could have put on the breaks and refused to continue till we defined a disclaimer, list of ethical points, or a statement of some kind. But we didn’t. We decided to keep experimenting.

I think we all struggled with coming up with some set of standards for several reasons. For one we are a pretty new group and I don’t think that group members have even really defined what they wanted from the group. As a community comes together and solidifies I think that they sometimes feel a need to define themselves, but that takes time. For instance I had a hand in composing the Virtually Connecting manifesto and point to it often when defining that work. But I also think that our approach to subject of digital citizenship had something to do with this. We were bypassing some of the best practices on the subject and instead asking questions that were more complex and so reducing it back to a simple statement or a list of some kind just didn’t seem right.

As for me, I think that #MyDigCiz is somehow rooted in a sense that by creating a list of rules and practices we might give guidelines to some but that those guidelines will not speak for all. That like online, as in the flesh, the complexities around how we live and how we impact each other have more to do with deep fundamental attitudes surrounding relationships, empathy, and an ability to see multiple contexts than they do with following a list.

Of course the rub is that not everyone is ready to be self-reflective digital citizens. And so sometimes we create best practices, community statements, codes of ethics, etc. because we have to start somewhere. I think these are especially important for instance when dealing with young children and I don’t want to be condemning of those efforts (I understand that perhaps I have come off as hypercritical in the past) – they are important and needed – I just think that there is another conversation that is not really being discussed. I guess my point is that I think the best practices are not working by themselves and that we need more.

One thing that I did take from the Sunlight and Shade paper was that online courses including, and maybe especially, MOOCs are not going to be an enlightening experience for everyone…  I think we knew that but research often tells us things that we instinctively know.

What is becoming really clear to me is that none of this is happening in a vacuum. I see the use of public, social, digital, tools changing and shaping all of the time. I see them used to commit atrocities and then in other cases used to shine a light on atrocities. I know technology is not neutral but I also know that people’s use of technology is not neutral either. We are learning from each other and shaping the way that we affect one another through the use of these tools. I see the free experimentation of the use of technology when done with what John Dewey referred to as the “habit of amicable cooperation” as an affront on formulaic prescribed best practices that may only be best for sales numbers and media clicks. I know that the idea of citizenship is a problematic one and that digital citizenship is an even more problematic. However, I think that we have a better chance at finding a way to live together by developing an ability to see connections than in being able to follow the rules.


My next stop in this journey will be the Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute at University of Mary Washington and there will be lots of ways that you can participate virtually from Twitter to Virtually Connecting and I’m sure I will live stream a bit. However, I do want to encourage you – if you can by any means – attend in the flesh. I think that this is going to be one of the foremost learning events of the year if you are interested in getting past the hype and taking a close look at your own practice of teaching with digital tools.

Image Credit CC-BY-SA 4.0: Autumm Caines, Market Square UPEI 

In Defense of Kindness in the Rhizome: A complex balance of many often opposing forces

“Reality is subjective, and there’s an unenlightened tendency in this culture to regard something as ‘important’ only if ‘tis sober and severe. Sure and still you’re right about your Cheerful Dum, only they’re not so much happy as lobotomized. But your Gloomy Smart are just as ridiculous. When you’re unhappy, you get to pay a lot of attention to yourself. And you get to take yourself oh so very seriously. ~ Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume

Lots of talk in the rhizo community these days about resilience and it seems that this will be a major theme of #rhizo16 – is that what it will be called? I think here in the U.S. we hear more talk of grit than of resilience but this, for me anyway, conjures images of John Wayne, and buck up and be a man about it, and my personal favorite “you’re too sensitive”.

They used to tell me I was too sensitive when I was younger – sometimes they still do. At one point in my youth I threatened to punch the next person that told me I was too sensitive in the nose – mind you not so that I could mindlessly hurt the person out of anger but so I could make the point that their face was too sensitive. I never did that – I was just making a point. But I did find strength in my sensitivity.

I used to think that sensitivity was synonymous with weakness and fearfulness and I fought against what I was. As I got older I realized that the opposite of sensitivity was not strength or courage but rather insensitivity and that insensitivity was a lowly trait that I should try to not associate myself with.

I think the larger conversation about grit and resilience has room for sensitivity and kindness.  I’m excited to explore it come May 10th. This seems to be a complex paradoxical subject.

Last year during #rhizo15 one of the strong points that I railed against was the idea of the immortal rhizome. Making the point that the rhizome may be hard to kill but that that does not make it immortal. I suppose even then I was exploring the rhizome as resilient. It seems to me that the rhizome is always becoming … till death, and that people are learning beings … till death. The bigger question, as an individual, is to realize what I’m becoming as I learn and to keep asking is that really what I want to be.  As a member of a rhizomatic learning community I would ask – what do we want to become?

This word “we” is also a point of concern and perhaps we are shifting from a question of “We’s and Them’s” to explore “We’s and I’s” this year. There have been calls for us to shift to an emphasis on “I” language. I’ve used the word we to explore how I felt about certain practices (I just did it to blended learning a few days ago) or even the rhizo community itself but not without disclaimer because I do this to give myself agency to explore what community or practice means to me from the inside. Here I am using we from the perspective of I, which is different than speaking for we as an I. I’m a fan of I language and I think you can be creative with it and even use we with it.

Hey that’s right I did talk about Why We Rhizo didn’t I – maybe it is time to revisit that?

It does seem that I was after a diversity in voice and perspective back then. I know I still want that. I value the voice that is counter to mine. I’ve learned from that voice. There have been times when that voice has gotten loud with me, or made fun of me, or otherwise tried to make it’s point by quashing my voice or making sure that I could watch as it quashed the voice of others that I cared about. Did I learn that way? Or did I just get beaten into submission?

What is the difference between education and indoctrination?

They are both forms of change and we will see a person become something different than they were through the process of going through either of them. What sets them apart from one another?

Could it be the role of power, teacher, leader, knowledge, right etc. If these things/people are fixed and rigid it seems that they are easily pounded into us through repetition and harsh criticism of the other. This seems like prime soil for indoctrination in my mind.

For me education is more slippery, though of course I know very well some don’t see a difference in this word from indoctrination. But as I use it, education looks at multiple views and is critical yes but not for the sake of dark sarcasm, for the sake of confusing the conversation, or miring other’s points with insignificant drabble. In my view education is at it’s heart kind and is honestly looking for truth realizing that truth flexes and changes depending on context. In my mind education is sensitive but please do not confuse this with weakness or fear.

As for our curriculum? Over the last year I have learned so much and for that I’m thankful but I will remind once more that the rhizome is not immortal but merely resilient. We are leaving a legacy, our actions have reactions, and we are becoming something. I would like to ask what are we going to become?

I hope to join you but I may be becoming something else – only time will tell. I will tell you I’m sensitive. I will tell you strive for kindness.

As I consider resilience I wonder if it starts in a very old place and with something that is so much harder than it may seem by the words on the page; in the stone; or, as the case maybe, on the screen – know yourself.

I know I want to be a part of a kind critical creative community of learners who are persistent in their exploration and sensitive to the world around them. I do hope I find that again.

My Virtual Life: becoming a real buddy with a nod to the Velveteen Rabbit

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be virtual?

Over the last year I spent a lot of time expanding my virtual self. Now, I had a virtual self before last year but there is no denying that, for me, during #rhizo15, and then after, as I started getting more involved with Virtually Connecting, that I really started to do more and more and just Be online. I’ve been thinking about it a lot and this post is just me doing a little reflecting.

A common thread that I have sensed in the undercurrent of it all is this sense of being “Real” as in “In Real Life”. When we talk about meeting in-person vs meeting virtually we often refer to the face to face experience as “Real”, and I’m not sure I agree with that. This is not the first time I’ve thought about this. I worked through this a few months ago with some folks online and started to prefer the term “in the flesh” rather than “in real life” for my own interactions that happen face to face. One of the things that I like about life in general is the ability to work through my ideas in conjunction with others. Online allows me to extend the reach. Does it allow me more diverse voices to interact with? Jury is still out on that one. I’m thankful for the voices that are counter to my own and for the challenges that they bring. I encounter challenging voices online but I encounter them face to face too. I’m thankful for them all. Online transverses space and time better – I’ll give it that.

Over this past year I learned about and how to use a bunch of new technologies. I connected with and learned from people all over the globe. I fell in love and got my heart broken. I made a ton of new friends. I got (and continue to get) called out on some stuff that I was getting wrong… and that stung (stings) but I’m better for it. I traveled and I got to meet some of those people that I was connecting with online at #dLRN15 and #AACUgened16 and some other conferences. I have to say that it has been a pretty rich experience overall.

Did it hurt? Sometimes.

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become.

I started my journey in edtech as a non-traditional student, tech assistant in an office of academic technology at a community college. I did a lot of grunt work and I really wasn’t really sure to what end (It is not that it was not being pointed out to me just that I was greener than most). I just knew that I liked people and I liked technology and that edtech was paying attention to the mixture of the two where many other fields were just being pushed or pulled by them.

I was kind of lost for a long time and not sure what I was going to do with myself. I got another degree. I put myself out there. I landed a gig. It was in an IT department. It was at a university.

And then there is this idea of ontological design. This idea that our environment shapes us. Which seems pretty common sense and I’m not sure that we really need a fancy name like “ontological design” to describe it. But I’ve come to find affinity with fancy names and long titles just as I once had an affinity for disclaimers – I may still I’ve just decided for some reason not to use one here. But in the meantime I got another degree.

And after all of that – after all of that! I now feel kind of like a baby and that my eyes are just now starting to open. It is almost enough to give up, and I would… if it were not that I’m just beginning.

It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.’

~ All quotes from: The Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Williams

What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be real? What does it mean to be virtual? What does it mean to create something of beauty – something that might inspire others?

I’m not sure about the answers to these big questions. I’m pretty sure that no matter if we are living online or if we are living face to face that they are still important big questions that are not going anywhere anytime soon.

I started reading this book the other day that is all about how our virtual lives are stealing away our face to face lives. I’m considering exploring this in community because seems, to me, more of a problem of environment in general than a matter of “face to face vs online” or “Real vs. virtual”. But still, I think this book makes some good points about presence and focus – it just blames technology instead.

But who knows if I’ll have time. After all #rhizo16 starts on May 10th… that’s the rumor I heard anyway… you never know with those rhizomes.


I still owe Maha Bali that death post from last year… but I just can’t bring myself to write it.


Photo in the public domain in the United States taken from Wikimedia Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams


A call for more #HumanMOOC discussion groups. Or. The very human problem of access with more thoughts on the Interpersonal Multitudes Barrier (IMB)

So I planned this participant led discussion inside of #HumanMOOC. In terms of process I tweeted that I wanted to do this and asked who else might be interested. With those that responded I opened a DM channel and configured a time. Then I advertised the time on the tag to see if I could get others involved.

But then I got this tweet

And it brought up such a little flurry of thoughts in my head that I had to blog about them.

My first reaction was a pretty human one… I’m not an organizer of #HumanMOOC. I can’t please everyone ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I’m not responsible to please everyone.

Then I thought “that was a pretty selfish reaction”.

Upon reflection I can see this process is filled with possibilities of inequality.

  1. Those that answered may have done so because they already knew me – feeling more comfortable responding to someone familiar.
  2. They had to of seen that first tweet so they would have to be paying attention in the right place at the right time.
  3. I did offer 12 Noon EST as a suggestion and it just happened to work for others but it was based on my own subjective availability.
  4. I’m more comfortable doing this because of experience with Virtually Connecting and others may not be.
  5. I’m sure there are a ton more – I am planning for the hangout to be conducted in English (cutting out everyone who does not speak English). I am going to live broadcast it and record it (cutting out a large number of those that will be uncomfortable with that for whatever reason). The list goes on and on…

These all seem to fall on limitations of access, experience, and participation… probably other things too. Yes it is true the sun does have a part to play here (or perhaps it is the old archaic beliefs that accentuate the sun’s importance) but those are hard to overcome and trying to impact that is hard with small incremental reward over long periods of time. The real question is what can we do provide more access, experience, and participation to everyone.

Because I’m of this romantic notion that the more diverse perspectives we can intersect with the better we are as (a) people.

We got the time zone thing worked out and then Maha tweeted this

Of course this is the Interpersonal Multitudes Barrier that I have been talking about. I know this may have a nicer name and be fleshed out somewhere in communication theory elsewhere (please let me know where I’m looking for more info on this). But it is the basic idea that as you add more people to a discussion you loose that interpersonal connection a little more. Maha seems to be keenly aware of this. This is another barrier to group dynamics. In this case is mediated in a Google Hangout by the fact that the technology limits you to 10 participants.

And after all of this it turned out I misunderstood Maha in the very beginning. 

Because she started with my name I thought Maha was addressing me but I think she was just trying to start her own participant discussion group.

Ah Ha!! That is the answer. For more people to do what they can to bring people together. I love our #HumanMOOC way-finders as they are calling themselves (organizers, profs, teachers etc…) but they can only do so much and they have already done so much. This is our learning experience. Let’s claim it.

There are so many things that are standing in the way of us all talking to each other. The sun, the IMB, lack of experience with the technology… it goes on. But if more people tried to do these things maybe it would break down these barriers. We could offer groups in more timezones and in more languages. Maybe try different technologies other than GHO to see what limitations are going on there.

I’m more of a subjectives girl myself but check it out… I also notice that demonstrating uses of an interactive tool is a competency in the #HumanMOOC syllabus… so huh… go figure.

I say start a #HumanMOOC discussion group of your own and see where it goes.

P.S. I will say that the garden has some dangers out there so this call is not without possible downfalls. Remember the other part of Maha’s tweet where she said she wished that there was a way for people to just jump in and jump out.  The only way I know to do that is to publicly tweet the join link. I’ve done that in the past and it has been bad with someone who we had never seen before coming in cursing and talking about things that were not relevant. Not horrible … but it could be worse.

Still, it is hard for me to condemn this process. Last year I saw a tweet from Sean Micael Morris with a link to a hangout. I thought it was a view link but it turned out to be a join link. I joined though I mostly listened. This Dave guy showed up and reminded me about this rhizo thing he does. At the time I had only heard about it peripherally. I joined and participated. Yeah… that kind of made a difference.

A Sort of “In Love”: What is it About Play?

Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.

~ Jane Howard

About a month after #rhizo15 someone asked me “how are you” and I lit up like bulb to say “I’m doing wonderful” and continued to tell them about this really cool supportive community I had found. After I finished they said “That’s great! I gotta tell you though at first, by the way you reacted, I thought you were going to tell me you had fallen in love”.

I thought about it for a second – and I realized I was – in a sort of “in love”.

I’ve been in love with community before – academic communities, spiritual communities, hippy communities (most complex).

The thing about love, like learning and thoughts, is that it is very much like a living thing. It grows. It evolves. It changes state. It becomes.

How does that work?

Tania Sheko recently presented on one of my favorite projects from #rhizo15; our rhizoradio play that began with her blog post. She lays out the process of how this was created and many of the side projects that came off of it here

But then Tanya asked a bunch of us “what is it about play” in a tweet referencing her post.

You should check out the post; she talks about risk and trust. About how you have to risk so much to be creative in a community and put your stuff out there – that it could be ignored or subject to all kinds of perceptions that you never intended. It rings of vulnerability and a need for authenticity if play is to be a vehicle for real community.

The thing I am noticing though is that you do all of that risk and trust stuff in love too and so I am seeing parallels and wondering if they transfer. When I ask myself “what is it about play” I can’t quite put my finger on it and I need something to ground it in. Can I ground play in love?

Can lines be drawn between one opening themselves up to put their heart on the line and someone opening themselves up to put their poetry, songs, artwork, thoughts, ideas, projects, further connections on the line? I think you can. I’m not sure there is a difference between hearts and poetry (for instance) to tell the truth – okay maybe in scale.

Is the idea of play alive? Like learning and thoughts and love? And if it is then I need to turn the coin over (in true she’s so heavy fashion) and ask about the other side. What does it mean when learning turns to memorization or regurgitation? What does it mean when thoughts are not challenged but pandered to our own fears and biases? What does it mean when love turns to stasis? What does it mean when play turns to work?

I’m not even sure these things are bad things. There is something very comforting there. In a place where things stay the same and we can count on things to be where they were yesterday and the day before. Immortal. Forever the same. I think we need that in the world. But I don’t think that is a place of growth. I don’t think that is alive.

However, I do see conflict here and I often see these two going head to head as things like policy and bureaucracy make threats on things more emergent. In looking for focus I search for balance especially because I also think that play, creative love, critical thinking/reflection, and connected learning can be a cruel beast in the face of stasis – ripping it to shreds without mercy. While, if given the opportunity stasis will box in and choke out any semblance of life in love, learning, or play.

So what is it about play? I think it may have something to do with love.  

Why We Rhizo

There is no dark side of the moon really. As a matter of fact – it’s all dark. The only thing that makes it look light is the sun.
~Gerry O’Driscoll Doorman for Abby Road Studios
partly heard on Pink Floyd’s Eclipse

When questions about reasons and why collide with WEs and THEMs

The “Why do they cMOOC – Why do they Rhizo?” Question

All semester we had pondered the nature of technology and what it means for human learning. Week 1, Heidegger drew this line in the dirt saying technology was in opposition of nature to the detriment of man. Clark swooped in for week four claiming the stick Heidegger used to draw the line was an extension of Heidegger’s human will and that in doing so Heidegger had himself become part machine.  The arguments flew. I wondered where the girls were. I wandered into the wrong link at the right time, had a memory, put some pieces together and ended up in #rhizo15. I decided the informal and formal needed to/should hang out for this one even if I were to be the only bridge (and I was not).

End of the class; middle of the MOOC, the question came up:

Why do they cMOOC – (for me “Why do they Rhizo?”)

They’re not getting paid for it.
They seem to be having fun but it takes up so much time.
Maybe it is just to see if they can – I’m sure that is a part of it.
Ha! Maybe they just do it just to get new people – all eyes on me
“Uh oh look out I’m about to get sucked in….” everyone chuckles.

The class ended – #rhizo15 continued.

It’s been three months and now I find I’m asking myself:

The “Why do we Rhizo?” Question

And I’m struggling with the idea that getting more people might be the big answer! No. That cannot be right. There is just something in me saying that is not a good enough reason. One does not create community for the sake of creating community. Community can be messy. That is a dangerous proposal.

Then I hesitate. Gosh I sound like a sad and disgruntled old man. Reaching out to more people in a community to grow knowledge is a great reason; a noble reason. Of course we want to create opportunity where it is possible. Open doors where they can be opened for people that want in that particular door – where it has been closed before.

But the sole reason?

I think some of my hesitation may also be selfish – Ron Samul, a fellow rhizo newbie as of 15, helped me out in unpacking that one. I think I may be just wondering what happens to the new girl when she’s not so new anymore? Especially when she is preoccupied with thoughts of longevity and questions about what get’s left behind.

But here I am and without a doubt that question has shifted from a “they” to a “we” for me. And now I am struggling with it. Now it is personal.

What about those doors? (Warning Metaphorical Space Ahead)

The thing about the corridor of doors is that often we think of the doors as being closed as one walks along the hallway but I think the truth is that the doors are in all different kinds of states. Some are open, some are closed, locked, unlocked, ajar, propped… some squeak and stick… some swing… others slide… sometimes they’re those split dutch doors and either half could be in any of these states. Trap doors. Hidden doors. And the state of the door does not belong to the door itself. No, it changes depending on who is trying to access it – it is a very strange place.

The doors symbolize barriers yes but they also symbolize opportunity. Opportunity to change state. They can let people in but they are also the way out – and that happens – I think that is okay but what does that mean?

If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is: infinite.
~ William Blake
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

There is something so freaking satisfying about opening those big heavy doors that have been locked for a long time. The doors that were locked to our mothers and fathers that are now open to us. Doors that held us back because of time and space, for instance. Distance? Time zones? Miles? Kilometers? Where the sun is at in it’s chase of the moon? Never mind any of that door – crash! You’re in!

Something so powerful about that.

Power is a funny thing and I find I have this affinity for subtlety.

Why We Rhizo

I had dinner with a colleague the other night and I found myself saying something like this in relation to the effect that #rhizo15 had on me:

“No longer can I accept this argument that you cannot form meaningful connected relationships in an online course. Yes, there can be barriers and those can vary from person to person, discipline to discipline, and I agree there are some environments where it is not going to happen but no longer can anyone tell me that it is not possible at all.”

And I’m not sure I ever really bought that argument for myself but I used to cut people some slack for it and I don’t think I can do that any more. That is not a little change. I’m already seeing a difference in the way I speak to people about online learning. It’s not a small thing – I’ve taken something valuable here.  So, I feel like I’ve got a debt to pay in terms of making WEs of THEMs and it is one I am glad to attempt to pay as best I can – honestly I get more than I give when I make those attempts. However, I struggle to say that is the end – to my means.

I think that, for me, being a part of a knowledge community is centered around the discovery, creation, and communication of knowledge. In writing this I struggled with even agreeing to the term “knowledge community” thinking that could be perceived as static or fixed in some way – I was thinking maybe questioning community or community of critical thought – but that all does seem, in the end, to lead to knowledge.

The thing about knowledge is that it is slippery and can take on all kinds of biases depending on your lens. (There is a good chance all of this is me just applying my thoughts, experiences, and personal bias in education theory in general to rhizo). So, we need other people; a diverse pool of people to look at knowledge from all different angles and perspectives. If we really want to say that we are a knowledge community then I feel like we need other people to challenge each other, create with one another, give perspective to one another. It is in this way, I think, that making WEs of THEMs is tightly tied to the idea of a knowledge community without being the sole reason for it.

Reflections on the start of #tomereaders: Disclaimer on a living artifact

Well, #tomereaders is set to “start” this week and I am feeling a little out of sorts. I mean what the heck was I thinking opening this thing up to the whole world? I’m not Dave Cormier or Jessie Stommel – I’m just some girl with a twitter account and a newly christened blog. What if this goes horribly wrong? What if I say something mean and hurt someone’s feelings? What if I commit some egregious online sin and they all laugh at me? What if I break some kind of law? Sigh… Old age should burn and rave at end of day… I suppose…

You may have noticed I like disclaimers – If not let me just state “I like disclaimers”. Maybe they don’t do anything but make me feel better, however, they spur the conversation in my head and help me set the extremes of what things are and what they are not; somewhere along the way I realize the gradient of in betweenness.

I don’t think #tomereaders is a MOOC

I’m not sure what #tomereaders is exactly but I don’t think it is a MOOC. It is not a course – it is a book club. There is no way it is massive – I think there are less than 20 of us. It is online but I am meeting face to face with just as many people most of who are not participating online. I want to discuss the online interactions face to face… I’m sure the face to face discussions are going to shape my blog posts – which will be “in the wild”. I’m not sure what #tomereaders is but I don’t think it is a MOOC – I am borrowing from what I learned in #moocmooc and #rhizo15 and I have debt to those experiences for sure but I think #tomereaders is different from a MOOC… I could be wrong…

I don’t think #tomereaders has a teacher – since it is not a course

I can’t speak for Matt but I am not really thinking of myself as a teacher or even a facilitator (okay maybe a facilitator) – I suppose I have promised prompts… (why did I do that?) I’m just reading this book. I would love it if other people would read this book too and talk about it so that I could process it from multiple perspectives… because that is how I learn best – and I think that some other people like to learn that way too…

“Focal Dates” work for everyone

I want to announce that the first prompt is not coming on the 11th (it will come out around the 11th) that daily Spur’nMakes may not come every day and that they might actually start before the 11th… What can I say… On a nomadic journey you never really know when or where you are going to end up or what is around the next corner… embrace it…

I’m not sure #tomereaders is rhizomatic

#tomereaders is a living artifact of #rhizo15 born from my desire not just to learn online and in the open but also to serve as an example to some others in my face to face life about how that works.  I am sure that I will be applying what I learned in #rhizo15 to #tomereaders. It is rhizomatic for me – but I’m not sure it will be rhizomatic for everyone. I’m still figuring the rhizome out and I’m not sure if I can convey it to others. I want to embrace the spirit of the rhizome but I’m not sure if it will answer. Let’s see.

Travel Guide for a Living Artifact: 2015 Summer Reading Circle #tomereaders

Taken from TOMB RAIDER 2013 | Simplified by Joshua | Ezzell licensed under Creative Commons 2.0 by Esra Malkoc

Tomereaders 2015 Summer Reading Circle

Online Participation Outline/Travel Guide

Facilitators/Fellow Nomads

Autumm Caines


Matthew Cook

Twitter: @matt_t_cook

Every summer I facilitate (or at the very least instigate) a book group on my home campus and sometimes include a small group of friends. This year, inspired by my participation in #rhizo15 (don’t worry if you don’t know what that is), I’m wondering what will happen to this thing that I do every year if I cast an open call to invite everyone.

There are many ways to participate online so if you would like to come along on this journey let’s start down the trail.

The book

The first thing is the book. If you can get a copy of the book it will make participating in the online group much richer. We are going to be reading Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning by Jose Antonio Bowen. I recommend getting it from your local library because libraries are awesome!

The schedule

In the nomadic travels of my youth I met another nomad named MiRanda who used to say “Time is nothing; Timing is everything”. There will be no “due dates” in this group. We will have “focal dates” instead that will correspond to the three parts of the book and one date for reflection. If you fall behind, jump ahead, or go off on your own it is fine – this is more about timing than time.

June 11th – Part 1: The New Digital Landscape

July 2nd – Part 2: Designing 21st-Century Courses

July 23rd – Part 3: Strategies for Universities of the Future

Aug 6th – Wrap up: What did we learn and how is it going to affect our practice

Next choose how you want to participate online. “In the wild” or “From the lodge” (you can always do a little of both).

How to participate “in the wild”

Participation in the wild will happen on the Internet at large in the open. The trail gets a little rocky here and may be for more experienced travelers but I want to encourage everyone to push their boundaries a bit and learn something new. This can be a great way to build your Internet literacy.

It will help if you know something about facebook, twitter, blogging and other online tools to play in this way. If you need help, try google or post to one of the groups with your question.

Sign up for our facebook group here https://www.facebook.com/groups/tomereaderstn/

On Twitter we will be using the hashtag #tomereaders

I would like to start a google plus page too.

How to participate “from the lodge”

Participation in the wild is not for everyone – it is a little scary out there. When I first pitched the idea of opening this up to some others they felt the need for a more private area to work.  Fawn Winterwood a director at a local university over here in Central Ohio offered space on their LMS and they are offering accounts to anyone that is interested in working in a more private centralized area. If you would like to participate in this way you can sign up here http://svy.mk/1K14wDM. Once your account is created – you’ll get a link via email to confirm things. Once in the course there may not be much in there as I am still sorting that out.


(Much of this is stolen from conversation with Laura Gogia and from participating in #rhizo15 and watching Dave Cormier – I think maybe they stole some it from others but shout out them from me):

Promt’nBlog: Around each focal date Matt or I will issue a prompt/challenge to the group for your consideration. You can then blog on your own personal blog “in the wild” or the group discussion board “in the lodge”. Blogs do not have to be a written narrative! They can be a graphic, a video, an analysis, anything you would like.

Daily Spur’nMake: Once a day a short prompt will be posted (taken from the book) to spur your imagination. With the prompt make something in 15-20 minutes and post it to the groups “in the wild” or the discussion board “in the lodge”. This could be an image; a selfie of how the prompt makes you feel, some take on an Internet meme, or even some art. It could be music or a sound – post it to soundcloud or some other sound hosting service. This could be video or some text… your choice but quickly respond to the prompt and post your results. This is just to get you thinking creatively.

Read’nTweets: I’m really hoping that Laura will help me with this one. The idea is a synchronous reading of a chapter and live tweeting impressions.  Laura does this several times a year with Twitter Journal Club and it is not just enlightening but also a lot of fun. I would like to have one of these around each focal date depending on interest and participation. Read’nTweets can only happen in the wild because Twitter is about as wild as they come.

I hope that you will consider joining us online be it in the wild or in the lodge. I’m excited to read this book with a bunch of others that are interested in it too. 🙂

The Living Artifact: An Open Letter/Invitation/Call for Help to the #rhizo15 Community

Dear #rhizo15 community,

You guys were an awesome curriculum. I need to thank you all for helping me to put some structure around what I have long considered the natural way that I learn. That may sound really strange – the rhizome as a form of structure – but all of those metaphors, memes, arguments, conversations, contradictions, challenges, questions, cartoons, music, etc. were like a solid example of the way that I try to make connections in learning. I think that most people do but I am just speaking of my own experience here. As I consider the last prompt I had to start with a thank you to all of you from me as the individual.

Now on to my response to the prompt –

Dave, in the last challenge you asked us “What would you say, do, show, explain to a colleague about the rhizome to explain it to them?

I’m not sure if the rhizome can be made intelligible by saying or explaining.

I think that we may have better luck with showing and doing.

A few times a term (but at least in the summer) I try to get the faculty at my home university to do a book discussion together. It is a great success for some reason, getting better attendance than any of my other workshops.

This year I settled on Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom will Improve Student Learning by Jose Antonio Bowen. Several of my faculty have recommended it in the past and though I have not done a deep read of the book I have gotten into it enough to find some of the arguments compelling for conversation.

Again “What would you say, do, show, explain to a colleague about the rhizome to explain it to them?

When I try to explain the rhizome I get some interesting looks from people. Maybe I’m just bad at explaining it but I think that maybe it is not something that can be explained by showing examples of what it was. Not that reflection is bad – please don’t take that from what I am saying. It is just that as a metaphor of something that is living it needs a living artifact to truly reflect it’s essence.

I wanted to offer my book group as a living artifact and see if I could get others to join. Besides opening it up to the faculty at my home university I approached the leadership of a group that I knew was looking to create some shared professional development between different local universities.  They loved the idea but what they did not love was the idea of doing it on the Internet open and free. They offered a closed LMS.

I said yes – I never want to leave anyone behind but I have been wondering… Can I still do something open, connected, rhizomatic, with this book group? Can I do it simultaneously with a face to face group and a closed online group? Can the face to face group and the closed online group be my colleagues that I am doing this explaining for and the open rhizomatic group be a living artifact of #rhizo15 that serves as a kind of explanation? They might get it – they might not.

Maybe I’m crazy.

I put out a tweet. Maha Sarah Honeychurch (the rhizome is so helpful I can’t keep up) connected me to Laura Gogia. We scheduled a hangout.

Laura, you blew my mind in about an hour listening to my ideas and talking to me about Twitter Journal Club, Connected Courses, Creative Makes… I had no idea so much was already going on. Whew. I’m still spinning after that conversation. I took notes but I should have taken better notes.

So, now here I am with this face to face book club and this closed online book club and what I want to know is if there is any interest in a rhizomatic moocified connected book club that is open?

We would not have to read the whole book right away – it could run over the summer and we could chunk it out.  We could do Twitter Chapter Chats based on the type of stuff that Laura is doing with the journal club (did I mention that I’m doing my first one of those in June) we could do some creative makes around interesting ideas from the book…

As #rhizo15 comes to an end everyone in the community will start working on other projects. If we take parts of our #rhizo15 experience and incorporate them into our new projects then they become living artifacts. My little book club will be a living artifact even if we are not able to moociify it… and that is okay. However, I think that it would be a great example to the other two communities that I am working with if I could even organize a few open conversations around the topics that they will be considering.

That is only one reason why I would like to do this – the other reason is somewhat selfish. I think that I learn more and learn deeper when I am getting more input and when I am able to make more connections. I think that creating this other layer to this experience will deepen it for me, that I will learn more, and that I take more away from it.

If you are interested in participating and can get your hands on the book leave a comment, send me a tweet, message me on facebook or g+ and I will gauge what kind of activities people are interested in…

If you have ever run a twitter chat, creative make, mooc, or connected course and you have ideas or would like to help me organize please reach out – I have virtually no experience in doing this.

Again, I want to thank the community for an amazing course.

Let me know,


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.