(Initial) Reflecting Allowed

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


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Hangout continued: reflections after-the-event

This is my way of continuing the conversation that started in y/day”‘s #rhizo14 hangout… It was the most “watchable” hangout because Dave brought people in to discuss (what a “hangout” usually is) in the main room, which was recorded and therefore viewable after-the-event.

The main really important points (to me) that came up, include
1. I joined this course because I wanted to think of ways of supporting others in thinking about designing their curricula in less traditional/rigid approaches than traditional instructional design. As several people said in the course, each of us as teachers have our own approaches to embracing uncertainty and helping our learners do it, but it is not easy to articulate this approach to others (as Sarah and others said), partly because it is v contextual and depends on one’s own personality and comfort; but partly also because talking about it, even if we do, sounds like nonsense to someone hearing it but who never experienced it; which leads to…

2. Dave’s hidden curriculum in #rhizo14 was for us to learn about rhizomatic learning by experiencing it. Well, that’s been my approach from the beginning (let’s not get into that again)… But is this a paradox? That what Dave thinks was his goal of the course, was also mine, therefore I had the “right” answer beforehand? No! First, because how I experience rhizomatic learning in the course, and how he imagines it, might be different. Also, because i learned a lot more in the course than just that… But this all leads me to my epiphany…

3. Bingo! If I want to convince others that rhizomatic learning and uncertainty are “the” or at least “a” way to approach learning, modeling (not in any perfect model capacity, but trying it out) is the key… This means when giving extended workshops to faculty on now to design their courses, to not over-structure the course and create conditions and space for uncertainty and rhizomatic connections and growth to occur. This seems really obvious to me now, but was not beforehand and is not that easy to apply in real life!

As Vanessa said, there is a paradox of the Greek who says “All Greeks are liars” (no offense to Greeks) in that if you believe him, he’s a liar, and if he’s a liar you shouldn’t believe him. Same goes for uncertainty. If i am the authority and tell others “certainty and authority are not to be believed”, then you should not believe me, since I am an authority making a dogmatic claim to certainty… That’s why saying it is of much less value than doing it (as Jolly was saying). Learners need to experience learning from uncertainty and the reduced need for authority and find themselves learning, in order to embrace these ideas and run with them. To take this learning and use it in life beyond formal edu.

Now, a few other random thoughts post-hangout:

That despite uncertainty and rhizomatic learning (which several ppl agree is the way things mostly “are”) we must not forget that there is some structure around in some form or other. Just because things can and do branch out of whatever structures are imposed or reflected, does not mean structure is not there (i cannot articulate this as well as Keith did, but i think they mentioned something Cath wrote earlier about seeing the arbors/trees between the rhizomes). This was a new way of looking at things: beforehand, we talked about how institutional structures restrict rhizomatic approaches… But another way of looking at it is to recognize the human need for structure within the realities of uncertainty and rhizomy (this sounds like the name of a gene hehe) and just be comfortable creating space for people to break away from the structure… So that structure provides some safety but does not restrict potential for growth… Hmmm

I also liked Dave’s statement (building on Keith’s thoughts) that education sometimes creates “certainty through scarcity“, when the reality has always been uncertainty, and that social media now allows us to deal with this abundance (am not explaining this well, just watch the middle part of the hangout! I should have done a vialogue but i don’t have time and blogging was faster)

Soooo I was extremely disappointed to have missed the hangout but this was a very watchable one and I feel like I was there (though we all know I would have tried to over talk it). Funny enough, i ended up watching it at 5am!!


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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 😉


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Riddle: Opportunity for Rhizomatic Curriculum

Talk about an opportunity to apply rhizomatic learning! I was planning to make my class more of a “community as curriculum” than my usual (which already is my approach, quite a bit) but I may be given a golden opportunity to do this.

I might end up teaching TWO different courses within the same class period. As in, half my students will need to be learning one set of standards, to be awarded a particular course, and the other half another set of standards.

Now, I never really “stick” to standards in a strict way, but rather define them broadly and negotiate what they mean, how we can reach them, and how they would be useful to my students throughout the semester. I try to have room for students to meet their own learning goals in each assessment we do, an assessment they can use in their context rather than just submit to me.

But having students clearly see that their objectives for taking the course are completely different (even the externally set objectives in this case!) – this will both help clarify for them the concept of rhizomatic learning, where a community can support each other but each individual can still have their own goal
AND
it will be a heck of a challenge for me to show if I can really do this and make it work! I an asynchronous setting, this is easy. In a f2f setting… Not sure! One approach might be to occasionally hold an asynchronous online class for one group while i meet the other f2f.

Important note: half the students will have taken a course with me before. The same course title/number that the others are taking for the first time (course on ethical, legal, social and human issues in ed tech). Thankfully, i was planning to teach the course quite differently anyway! They may not recognize it from last year! Haha

The other course is a bit more defined by the institution in that it is like a capstone course for the entire ed tech diploma, where students need to create a project integrating their learning across the diploma courses. And present it to others.

I know I can do this… I don’t know exactly how, yet, and I think this will develop as I get to know my students and start working with them towards something meaningful. I am pretty sure I will need help!!!

I am asking others to brainstorm with me… I have a few ideas in my head, but would like to hear others’ ideas… Hence the blog… Putting myself out there 🙂


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Body of Knowledge, or Embodied Knowledge? On theory, reading, privilege and #rhizo14

I am compelled to write this post quickly before I pick up my daughter from daycare. I need to write this post.

First off – I think #rhizo14 has been an amazing experience so far. A wonderful group of people who are kind and supportive and generous towards each other… some of whom have known each other for years (since CCK08 or some such experience) and yet welcomed me right in. Some of whom I knew briefly via #edcmooc or on Twitter or just a few weeks ago on Dave’s blog. They are now important parts of my life and my learning.

Second – the main reason for this post relates to a discussion on facebook related to Deleuze & Guttari and whether we should be reading them. Personally, I am happy for people who want to read them to go ahead and read them. I am happy for them to encourage others to read them (such as Cath’s eloquently worded blogpost here) but I think it is more important for people to not make others feel excluded for NOT wanting to read that complex literature (as Jaap does here).

As I told Cath on facebook, her blogpost is very kindly written. It does not look down upon the person who finds D&G difficult or irrelevant. However, there seems to be a group of people on #rhizo14 who are interested in learning the theory (note that D&G’s writing on rhizomatic thinking inspired Dave’s work on rhizomatic learning, but they are not the same thing)… but feel everyone else should be reading it, too. This is problematic for many reasons.

Mainly: this is a MOOC about rhizomatic learning. I know little of what this means, but I am pretty sure it means each of us can have his/her own learning goal and choose his/her own independent learning path towards reaching that goal. As I’ve stated elsewhere, I have just finished my PhD from a prestigious UK university; I know how to read scholarship. I just don’t want to spend my time reading D&G right now. I’d do it if it engaged me, but other people’s blogs are engaging me much more and I’m learning much more (relevant to my learning goals about this course) from the experience of rhizomatic learning itself. We can learn from theory. But we can learn from the embodiment of that theory by experiencing what it is. As I understand it, Dave’s rhizomatic learning describes a process of learning that already occurs in real life outside formal education, and that occurs increasingly in an age of abundance (of knowledge, information, connectivity). Others may have experienced this in cMOOCs before and be ready to move onto theory. Others may prefer to read the theory before experiencing it, or do both together. For my own purposes, I prefer to experience it for now (in the limited time I have between juggling a new job, a toddler, and other scholarly publications and work that I need to read more urgently).

I did try to read D&G today on the way home on the bus (I know, not ideal for concentration). I got a few useful ideas, but nothing revolutionary, but I am sure it is there somewhere if I look long and hard enough.

I think, though, that I will be rebellious a little longer and say that I think too much emphasis on theory is problematic on more levels:

1. It privileges those of us who are academics, social science or humanities academics. Because, believe me, when I started my PhD I could not read a single paper written about philosophy (my PhD was about critical thinking) – and it took me a while to get where I am today and I STILL find D&G hard… so am sure those of us who are not academics must be having a harder time with it? Not all of us have the social capital needed to read this easily. It may be hard for all, but not equally hard for all.

2. It privileges those who are native speakers. I am fluent but not a native speaker. Reading translated stuff (esp. continental philosophical postmodern stuff) is very difficult for me. IT is not always worth the effort. It might or might not be. My strategy is to read secondary sources, see if I find anything interesting, then decide what original writing to read. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that strategy. Discourse and jargon are useful to those who understand it and are immersed in it. It is exclusive to others outside the “discipline”. If it’s an important educational concept, we should be able to communicate it clearly to non-academics e.g. school teachers or univ professors who teach e.g. engineering or management. How else would it be “useful” to those people?

3. It privileges a certain body of knowledge rather than the embodiment of that knowledge. Books are static. Rhizomatic learning must be dynamic, right? This course is rhizomatic learning in action. One way of understanding it is being in it and doing it. Another way is reading about it. Connectivism sounded weird to me until I experienced it a little in #edcmooc and now in #rhizo14… but rhizomatic learning (as I understood in an earlier article be Dave) resonated with me more… enough to make me take this course. I have written previously about how teachers may be looking at the question of “why students don’t read” from the wrong angle.

We are not all the same in this course or in any course. I love the supportiveness of the community. I did not have this for my PhD and maybe I would have read more or wider or deeper for my PhD if I had had a supportive community of people to discuss it with. But I also think it is totally acceptable and respectable to want to pursue this differently. I would love it if folks who wanted to read the theory were willing to simplify or summarize some of the ideas in their own blogs (thanks to all who posted dictionaries, resources, etc.). This all reminds me of an earlier post by Scott Johnson on Noise – when it is a new idea or concept we are totally unfamiliar with, it sounds like noise. Without a supportive community, we are unlikely to pursue it. (sorry no time to look for the link now)


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Independence as Essential for Lifelong Learning

So this is my first go at the #rhizo14 Week 2 Challenge, but it also has elements of sustainable learning (useful for #flsustain as well, i hope)

The challenge from #rhuzo14 is:
Explore a model of enforced independence. How do we create a learning environment where people must be responsible? How do we assure ourselves that learners will self-assess and self-remediate?

And i think a key thing here is for learners to recognize the need, or at least the preference, for independence. It is not enough that the teacher recognizes if. This might be the “role” of the teacher here – to make learners realize they are better off becoming more independent.

But the notion of community is also very important here, as it helps learners feel supported in this process of becoming self-sufficient (another term for independent? A different one?). After that, you would hope learners would become self-motivated as well, and that is the biggest key. I think once someone is self-motivated, anything is possible because it is difficult to hold them down. I don’t know how to foster this, or if it is possible.

But back to the challenge.

I teach edu tech to school teachers. Lifelong learning is an essential goal, hopefully for them as well, though sometimes I assume it for them… Sometimes my attempts to let them be independent are resisted and i tell them “there will always be new technologies and new classroom pedagogies, but there won’t always be Maha” and the key is for them to build a pool of resources and processes (with my help at first, using other colleagues later) to help them stay abreast of new things and to keep learning about them. I want their learning to be sustainable and the products of their learning to be useful to their daily context and synergistic for them, so that what they learn, they use in their work. Whatever projects we do, they use at school.

Now this is a pretty simple situation. They are already adults, teachers, and taking a postcompulsory education course. This is v different from school, or college students.

But the last part of Dave’s question: how do we ensure students self-assess, etc. it is not a big deal with adult education because nothing essentially assessable or measurable needs to result from their learning (important that they learn, but no external body will do much about it)

But with school and college, your course may be a pre-requisite to another that builds upon yours and it is not enough to let each learner set their own goals and meet them at their own pace. You could argue he system is flawed, its structures non-conducive to learning, that it needs more openness and flexibility, etc. But you usually can only control or influence your own classroom, department, or institution (if you are lucky). And also, you maybe want to promote independence in students that they can benefit from even when they are in a more traditional learning situation. (You might argue that independence breeds rebellion against tradition and that may be true, too, but sometimes wisdom can help tamper these tendencies and allow ppl to pick their battles)

Back again to issues of self-assessment. A Foucauldian view of this (if i may roughly interpret it) would be to suggest that this is a new way of exerting power, instead of letting the state or authority assess, but building self-monitoring mechanisms in the individual… Even worse control because it becomes internalized,

But i keep jumping from the concrete to the abstract and back again. If this were a graded post, i would give myself an “F” for “focus” (or lack thereof) but as it stands, i will give myself a”B”for brainstorming, and give anyone who responds to these questions an “A” for “answering” 🙂

Looking fwd to hearing/reading your thoughts!


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Rhizomes even bigger than I thought? #rhizo14

I have just had an intimate meeting with a group of people I had never met from a different university (and some had not even met each other beforehand) and YET in our discussion of critical citizenship for two different countries… I kept hearing “i was just thinking about this the other day” and “i just wrote that idea the other day”

Among those ideas:
The importance of developing a localized contextual notion of citizenship that does not necessarily follow Western tradition – because those notions do not suit us or work for us

This may not seem revolutionary, but when you are in a dynamic dialogue with people you have never met and keep bouncing ideas off each other and finding a lot resonates with what you had been thinking on your own…

It is making me re-think my initial ideas about social media influencing the development of our thoughts…though the one thing all present had in common was that they had read my citizenship article… But i think it is more than that… Maybe academics in the region are starting to think in a certain direction?

Will reflect some more…


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Is this what rhizomatic learning is? #rhizo14

It has happened three times in less than 24 hours. I have thought of something, considered blogging about it, only to find someone else saying the exact same thing before I had time to complete the thought. Seriously.

Three examples on these three blogs:

1. The idea of developing uncheatable assessments (an ideal to aspire to, though obviously, some people still find ways to cheat around them) – I jokingly commented that she stole the idea from my mind a few hours before I thought it ;o))

2. The idea that we are under the illusion that all our thoughts/ideas are original and independently reached, when in reality, they are almost never truly just “ours” alone (in a comment here)

3. The idea of cheating for diplomas, since the external world values diplomas over learning.

So I’ve been reflecting on how this phenomenon takes place and writing comments about it all over other folks’ blogs, but thought I’d just put it again over here to sort of organize my thoughts (have realized that I get loads of ideas from reading and tweeting, then need to blog about them to organize them in my head and get some sort of release and peace in my head!)

So one of the things I wrote in a comment on Heather’s blog is “great minds think alike” and that her quality of writing was so good that I reached the same conclusion she reached before reading her own expression of it. I wrote a comment on Maureen’s blog reflecting further on this phenomenon: “I think there is an aspect of social media (that we are maybe reading similar blogs and tweets) and have similat theory backgrounds (eg as educators about social constructivism) and now have a similar interest (rhizomatic learning) such that our ideas aee influenced by each others in ways that are not always explicit or conscious”

And then suddenly, it occurred to me that this might be what rhizomatic learning is… this realization that your ideas and thinking are interconnected with those of others in your community. It happens quite often that things that we integrate and synthesize things together in strange ways (e.g. I watched the film Martin Luther and thought the start of protestantism and the chaos that ensued was much like what Freire discussed in his work about how the oppressed, when first liberated, can get chaotic and violent for a while). It happens quite often that something that occurs in my physical world (at work, at home) intersects with ideas going on in cyberspace and something creative comes out of them. But equally, there are times when nothing much intellectually inspiring is happening my physical world, and most of my ideas are coming from cyberspace and a particular community of people (e.g. when I’m following the hashtage #rhizo14) and so whatever ideas I come up with are really heavily influenced by what others are saying and doing.

This might be the first time I interact so much with the community in a MOOC without going back to read the sort of seminal work on the topic (meaning Dave’s book – which I keep intending to go back and read, but I need an offline copy – any ideas how I can get that? – to use while commuting).

But this might be the point: that I am learning from the community much more than I am from any one person or source of content or knowledge.

When I first heard of the idea of “community as curriculum” I thought it was much like what I do in my own classes – which is give students a lot of freedom about how to learn from each other’s experiences, and how to use the course to benefit their own teaching in their own schools… I was once accused by a student of “learning from them” without giving too much of my own self or expertise… when really, what I was intending to do was make them realize the value of their own expertise and let them learn from each other… where my real expertise is in facilitating those discussions rather than giving more input or heavier or more authoritative input than everyone else’s…

But in this #rhizo14 course, I am seeing how we are all sort of facilitating, on our own blogs, some of the ideas by bringing them together… and I’m seeing how no one place is “the” place to learn, and I’m happy dipping in and out of P2PU, blogs, twitter (can’t get around to facebook and google plus or I’ll go crazy) and capturing seemingly random thoughts and ideas that turn out not to be so random because we’re all here thinking and talking about similar things.

Loving this experience :o))