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

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.

20 thoughts on “Enough About Getting Rid of ‘dave’: Exploring Spontaneity and the Metaphor of the Gardener

  1. I’ve been amazed at how far we can get, talking about education in new ways, with the metaphor of the rhizome, even when people aren’t reading the D&G texts that explicate the idea. I keep wondering if this is because what we’re trying to describe is what we’re already doing but haven’t had the right conceptual language for… I love that this ends up in the garden. I’ve spent the last three weeks digging and transplanting, noticing the difference in rhizomes and thinking even more about what a good metaphor it is – really healthy clumps of irises that were planted in good soil and cared for, and then the little spindly bitty same iris in a dark dry corner, reaching vainly for some light. Weeds with rhizomatic roots that break off and create new plants almost immediately whereas other rhizomes need to be in better conditions. Most rhizomes seem to have dead parts and gardeners need to keep splitting the plants, getting rid of the non-productive parts, and transplanting the younger rhizomes and discarding the old – or, if they’re not tended, the old rhizomes simply stop producing and kind of ossify in place, and new shoots don’t seem able to break through. I’ve been trying to think of what the word is and now I’ll think about “spontaneity” – you make some good points. I’ve been thinking more about something like “opportunitistic” but that’s not quite the word either, or not always. It implies a kind of amoral striving… but that itself leads to some interesting ideas about education and the systems we are part of and the need for rupture, particularly for those not usually invited in. Thanks for the thoughtful post!

    1. Aaron,

      Thank you for your post and for all of your botanical references. Though I am forgiving to a point I like metaphors that “go all the way down” if you will. I’m glad that you like the word “spontaneity” – I found it to serve my needs I hope it works for you too.


  2. Good point on spontaneity. It might ease us into revealing thoughts we have that themselves might be in search of an outlet, a forum. From what little work I did with teachers helping them build things in Moodle it was notable that they were worried about their abilities as veteran teachers to validate their experience when working in the new and unfamiliar tech environment. It was as if their tacit sensibilities were in question and they had never explored or had that area of their professional practice appreciated.
    Teaching to me seems like a rhizomatic practice. Despite the focus on planning, assessment and outcomes, the largest part of the “job” is a kind of a responsive navigation through a largely spontaneous environment chopped up by middle spaced between seemingly unrelated stops on the line.
    That space between topics needs accounting for and especially since a great deal of time seems spent on loading “necessary” facts (the more the better) without room connections. I’m wandering here but think the orderliness of supposedly related objects of knowledge presented as content actually highlights the need for rapid transitioning that can be seen as a spontaneous shifting of sensibilities.
    Some of what the teachers were worried about was their ability to respond to the scattering of facts that appeared unconnected by “winging it.” And this dance with the content being lost in the surveillance culture supported by the LMS that watched and counted. Worse, how would they defend it as a teaching skill that could be measured?

    1. Scott,

      I took some time to respond to you because you have given me a lot to think about here. I administer a moodle system as a part of my work and I know that worry that you are speaking of well. I am constantly having this debate in my head about if it is best to try to spend more time training on individual tools with the hopes that someone will attend all of the different trainings to learn all the nuances of the tools – increasing of digital literacy as a whole. Or if it is better to just create templates that will only present a small subset of what faculty are going to use.

      I go back and forth and try to cut somewhere down the middle.

      I think that it is easier for teachers to be spontaneous if they understand the nuances of the tools and can communicate adeptly with them. But so many don’t want that – they just want a preloaded template with the content and the tools that follow the syllabus.

  3. I have annotated your post using Diigo. If you have never used one of these links, just click it and it will take you to a specially cached page with all kinds of snark and contrariety, no really. I was inspired by the suspense of the upcoming post and thought I might add a little adhoc-icality to things here:

    Make sure you scroll around in the text boxes. There are gems in there.

    1. I see highlights Terry but I don’t see any snark or contrariety – and I do love your snark and contrariety so much. Never used diigo before – what am I doing wrong?

      1. First, use Chrome if you can.
        Second, click on the annotated link and up should pop your page but with little yellow sticky notes on it.
        Third, dunno. You could send me a screenshot. I don’t think you have to join Diigo to make it work, but that might be the third thing to do. Basic Diigo is free.

        1. I just requested access. I was able to read your comments on the site but it would be cool to see them on my page. Help me contextualize – WIll I be able to respond “in-line” to you?

  4. Loved the garden metaphor, however “the gardener” is something very structured, predetermined, teacher-centered… Think about a natural scene (rather than man-made garden) and let the nature shape it…

    1. I really struggled with using it Aras for that very reason. I decided it worked since there are so many different approaches to gardening. I may need another post to expand this. Thanks for commenting.

  5. If you take a permaculture view, our manicured gardens can be part of the natural system, as part of local food production space. How they connect and interact to the untamed wilder areas is the exciting bit in an ecological and sustainability sense. A lot like open education where you might scaffold a little to help students aim for a particular yield, but then should let them into the wild to explore. I’ve been keen to write on permaculture and rhizo…your post Autumn is a beautiful thought swirler, an autumn breeze lifting little leaves off branches into flight in my head. 🙂

    1. Yes yes –

      Everyone who is reading this response…

      What she said – ^ up above … Angela or angela_b

      Not all gardeners are the same…

      … Think about it….

      And directly … Angela or angela_b… ,,,

      I know little about permaculture (though I would like like to know more) but I like the “weeds” in my garden… That is the thistle and the nettle.

      They have a place and (I believe) renouncing them is futile.

      Thank you,
      (It is with an M instead of an N [as I’m humbled by season itself] but nonetheless….
      … Autumm

      dangling end parenthesis is intentional.

  6. Yes, Autumm, I’m all for keeping Dave. He enriches the soil.

    And I appreciate the enthusiasm for ecological thinking here. To my mind, gardening done right is quite ecological, something that Deleuze and Guattari explore. If you’ll pardon me hijacking your post, I’ll post something that I wrote a few years ago about the D&G approach to gardening:

    Deleuze and Guattari use a quote from Carlos Castaneda’s Don Juan to illustrate the difference between tracing and mapping. When the Yaqui shaman Don Juan teaches Carlos how to map a garden for cultivating his psychedelic herbs, he says: “Go first to your old plant and watch carefully the watercourse made by the rain. By now the rain must have carried the seeds far away. Watch the crevices made by the runoff, and from them determine the direction of the flow. Then find the plant that is growing at the farthest point from your plant. All the devil’s weed plants that are growing in between are yours. Later … you can extend the size of your territory by following the watercourse from each point along the way” (The Teachings of Don Juan, 88). See? The shaman doesn’t say trace out a space 100 feet by 100 feet, clear the soil, and trace rows in the dirt to plant your seeds. That’s starting with a blueprint of a garden, fixing the garden before it ever grows. Rather, the shaman advises that Carlos start with one plant, an anchor, a point to which he can connect, and then map the various pathways from that point, constantly checking, marking, mapping until he discovers how large his garden is and what shape it has taken. – See more at: Mapping Knowledge in CCK11

    I like this approach to gardening, and it seems to address Aaron and Angela’s enthusiasm for gardens, Scott’s desire for spontaneity, Terry’s flow, and Aras’ concerns for a less structured approach to gardening. As a metaphor, D&G’s rhizome often spreads to connect a wide range of ideas. Like Aaron, I’m still amazed at how illuminating it can be in so many areas.

    Thanks for writing so well, Autumm. You spark good conversation and move the seeds on down the stream.

    1. Great post, Keith,
      I particularly like “watch the watercourse”. I live in the desert and it rains very little. But in the torrential rains I am just amazed and sit watching the water run and making paths where it has to. In the dry, I know I can’t plant in the watercourse…it would just get washed away. Also the dry river beds here (flood maybe once a year) show the flow of water with the rubbish/weeds pushed up against the strong trees. No to mention the amazing feat of seeing tadpoles in water pools in a space that has been dry for 12 months….(deeper learning).

    2. Thank you for responding Keith. Yes, I think that you have articulated nicely what I am trying to get at here.

      There are different types of gardeners. There are different types of teachers.

      Some gardeners try to control the land and life and fix it into neat rows; commanding authority over the plant lives that live there with chemicals and the selection of lives.

      But there are others that take the time to learn about the plants and the water and the soil and the whole system. Those that can hear the needs and wants of the different parts of the system and can make small adjustments to help them support one another.

      It seems to me that there is a parallel to teaching and learning here.

      Thank you so much for your comment Keith. It is always great to get to interact with you. And please consider there to be an open invitation for you to hijack any of my posts whenever you feel the urge.

  7. As per Aras and Terry above I can see 4 stories-in-one here:
    1. Domestic gardener setting boundaries, choosing weeds vs flowers, adding fertilizer where the need arises.
    2. Let nature take her course – maybe the stronger species will change, adapt and overcome (Charles Darwin view)
    3. Let the tares and wheat grow together – the ‘judgement day’ will sort them out (Biblical view)
    4. “watch the watercourse” – allowing the ground/climate/water to determine what goes where. (from Keith’s comment above)

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