(Initial) Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali's blog has now moved to http://blog.mahabali.me

What’s so special about @davecormier’s (or “our”) #rhizo14?


A few things I have been reading today around #rhizo14 have made me reflect on a few things that seem obvious but are not usually/traditionally considered obvious. All of which made me realize why i am loving #rhizo14

A while ago, i was having a discussion with a colleague and she said “learner-centered learning”. My immediate response was that learning is always learner-centered (i.e. Occurs within the individual in the way that suits the individual. What we try to do in pedagogy is to make our teaching or our curriculum learner-centered. But learning? It already occurs within the learner.

Tellio makes a good point in his post about whether we need new labels and terms to add to the word “learning” like “rhizomatic” or “deep”? Isn’t it just “learning”?

Bonnie Stewart commented on fb that her 2011 post on rhizomes is strangely a good response to Tellio’s post this week (Kevin built on my comment about tht on Tellio’s blog and called it a time travel blogpost haha). In her post, i liked two main things:

First, a point she makes about knowledge we gain always being partial but that we have been conditioned to think if we follow some instructor or course that there is some illusive “whole” to acquire. She articulated what we know intuitively (knowledge can only be partial) but years of formal education distorts. Second, i liked this quote:

“These rhizomatic learning lenses are not intended to make you see more clearly, per se, though you may or may not come to that conclusion about their effects. Rather they are intended to make you see differently.”

Based on other reading of Dave’s work, I take Bonnie’s quote above to mean something i had pre-conceived (correct me if i am wrong, someone) – that rhizomatic learning is a way of describing how learning occurs rather than of dictating how learning should be, and as such, “community as curriculum” is an approach to teaching that understands that learning, particularly online learning in an age of abundance, is naturally a lot more like a rhizome (chaotic, interconnected, non-linear, non-centric) than a hierarchical tree.

And apparently recognizing that learning occurs like that can have important impacts on how we plan (or rather, negotiate) our curriculum.

Speaking of which, I have been inspired by Peter Taylor’s sharing his re-working of Dave’s negotiated curriculum. As someone who negotiates my curriculum a lot, I am inspired to try some of these ideas. Incidentally, Frances also shares this post by Richard Hall which is admittedly a bit too scholarly/dense in tone at first (an interesting few paragraphs on Marx, capitalism, etc. which i could not reflect on deeply coz my toddler was playing on my lap) – but becomes more accessible and directly relevant to practitioners as the post continues and he tackles issues of negotiating curriculum and community in the classroom (or at least, that was the lens with which i read it). For example, love this question he asks (which i think we all ask):

“The soul is at work when we learn and when we teach. We place ourselves on the line as teachers and students and scholars. How might we overcome the alienation of our souls from our selves in the formalised classroom through a connection that was more than an exchange of educational goods? How do we define a pedagogy that is based on love and courage and care?”

(emphasis mine – and possibly because i think empathy is something we should strive towards developing in our classes).

Another part i liked a lot was a part about shared roles in the communal classroom. Something i had been thinking about – how each of us in the community has a role to play to facilitate the learning of others not just our own. And Jaap posted a great one on that recently.

But all of this brings me to a very important point. Knowing all of this, talking and thinking about it, then implementing in the classroom (or other learning environment) are completely different things. Nuances of practice and factors you had never considered come into play. Unexpected dynamics occur. This beautifully honest post about how parents are sometimes reluctant to let their kids be independent? She is right: teachers often have a nagging feeling about it, too.

I agree with Dave(video response to Toni) that content should not be the purview of the teacher and if we are honest with ourselves (in most fields, esp with older learners) it is clear we are not the guardians of some set canon of knowledge. Content choices in a curriculum are an exertion of power (whose knowledge is privileged? Who has access? How does that disadvantage others?)

All of these questions and more are tackled in critical approaches or curriculum theory and design (this is an accessible intro to different curriculum approaches”,mostly divided according to Habermas’ knowledge-constitutive interests).

Bur back to the point I am trying to make here (is there one? Does there have to be one?) – sometimes an idea like “rhizomatic learning” helps us look at something anew. It has intersections with social constructivism and connectivism, but Dave suggests it goes beyond them in seeing them by seeing not only learning as rhizomatic, but knowledge itself. This thinking which emphasizes uncertainty also overlaps with a postmodern, relativistic or interpretive view of knowledge (ontologically). The curriculum Dave suggests reminds me of something between a process-oriented and emancipatory curriculum (this is an accessible intro to different curriculum approache”>same link on curric theory). It has elements of Pedler’s learning community.

I could go on (it reminds me of Boud, Wegner, etc.).

You see where i am going with this? Two things:

1. It is one simple idea in two words “rhizomatic learning” that represents or is at least an intersection of all those diverse ideas in education that i mentioned in the last paragraph or two
2. This course is an embodiment of these ideas and that is its value to me, because I know from experience that practice is almost always more complex and uncertain than any model or theory.

Long post! That’s what happens when i hold back an entire day 😉


Author: Maha Bali

Associate professor of practice, American University in Cairo

3 thoughts on “What’s so special about @davecormier’s (or “our”) #rhizo14?

  1. Wow, wow, wow Maha, so much is chiming with me here that I can hear bells ringing! I love that notion of an assumption that learning is somehow more ‘whole’ when guided by an instructor, I will think more on that and definitely read Bonnie’s work. And the wonderful link to my friend @kaysoclearn’s blog 🙂 Most of all, Maha, you’ve made me think about the commonality in approach between rhizomatic learning and the Thinking Environment http://www.timetothink.com, the philosophy of communication I try to live my life by, as well as my teaching. Both provide an observation of how things work, when they work best. Thank you for helping me see this relationship and consequently understand why #rhizo14 feels so important and essential to me. Lou x

  2. Maha, that is such a good point about learning being already learner centred. I’m going to walk around saying that!

  3. Pingback: The Unweek of Uncertainty & Unlearning | Reflecting Allowed

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