Reflecting, recollecting, research – Auf wiedersehen #rhizo14

Many flowers blooming (none of them rhizomes;)

I have been enjoying seeing traces of rhizo14ers reflections and recollections over the last few days. Thanks Dave for hosting the longest party I have ever attended and thanks to all the rhizo14 folks from whom I have learned and will learn so much.

All participants will see changes in themselves and their networks as they move on from #rhizo14 and there are traces in many different Internet spaces – text, audio, video – poems, songs, jokes, writing, drawings  and delicious remixes.  A few of us are collecting data, some for research purposes – trying to reify our learning through more traditional avenues. The spaces we have used have generated an abundance of data, including data for network models.

At #rhizo14 we have modelled our ethics by discussing the use of data.  We have collaborated on an end of course survey coordinated by Dave Cormier, due out soon.  If it follows on from the first survey, the submissions will be anonymous but the results will be public.

I know of two pieces of research going on at rhizo14, but there are probably more (please update in comments).

1. There is a collaborative auto-ethnography underway – based on some previous work on MOOCs done by participants.  It’s collaborative and public so that’s a new form of research for me. I can’t wait to see the outcome.

2.  Jenny Mackness and Frances Bell are doing qualitative research on the learner / participant experience in rhizo14 .  The reasons for including qualititative and interpretive research are explained very well by George Veletsianos.  We plan to ask for contributions in the next two weeks – on G+ community, on Facebook group, and on Twitter at #rhizo14.   If you want to be sure of catching the invitation you could (temporarily) follow this blog, as I will be posting  the details here. Your contribution will be completely anonymous, unless you specifically opt to the contrary.  There will be only three four questions/ prompts for your response – the others relating to your confidentiality choices.

All that remains is for me to wish you Auf Wiedersehen: in the way of #rhizo14, in multiple versions. I collected a random set if images from blogs, and annotated them with the words that sprang into my mind when I looked at the picture.  William’s song was a great inspiration.

First, the original Zeega that WordPress won’t allow me to embed in the post – you scroll through this at your own speed.

Second a recorded version that I uploaded to youtube

Here’s the the music without hissing – thanks William for writing and performing this.

And finally, in cheesy, retro, old school fashion

You can’t have one without the other

Over the last few weeks on Rhizo14, I have been troubled with the either/or nature of some of our weekly tasks. We could argue about whether or not that was intended but at least some of the students have perceived concepts as being presented in opposition to each other:  Cheating as Learning , Enforcing Independence, Is Books Making Us Stupid?

More and more I kept thinking about dualities (more of that later), and it reminded me of a heated discussion on CCK08 about networks and groups. The discussion itself has disappeared from the web, but I can find a snippet of it in an xtranormal video that I made in 2009.  The scenario it presents is a conversation between Stephen Downes and Si Si Kate who is a composite character with words taken from the forum and blog postings of Stephen Downes and CCK08 participants. Maybe here on rhizo14, it’s the relationship of apparently opposite things like trees and rhizomes, books and the participatory web that’s of concern. You can jump to the conversation by clicking or watch the video here.

Hildreth and Kimble conceived of the two types of knowledge that we have discussed here as a duality:

“Rather than seeing knowledge as opposites, perhaps we should think of it as consisting of two complementary facets: a duality consisting simultaneously and inextricably of both what was previously termed ‘structured’ and ‘less structured’ knowledge.” Hildreth and Kimble

A duality that has been nagging away at me is the duality of participation and reification identified by Wenger in his work on Communities of Practice.  I think it is particularly relevant to our experience on rhizo14, and this is an occasion when we need some theory to help us make sense of our practice when dichotomies just don’t work.  Reification is a horrible word, but we grappled with one reification of knowledge last week, the book, and it turned out that the villain of the piece still has a place in some hearts.

I took the diagram from Hildreth and Kimble, and annotated it with my idea of some the places we have been participating, and some of the ways have been reifying on rhizo14.


It’s pretty obvious to think of the reifications that structure the course – we all look for the next week’s task on P2PU.  A by-product of online participation is that it makes concrete the to and fro of conversation. We might re-read a thread in the FB group whereas if we were having an oral conversation, we would not be rewinding.

An example that springs to mind is my own product for Week 4.  I recorded a video (hoping it would be less book-like), published it on youtube, then my blog and encouraged rhizo14ers to post comments on the blog. Then Terry Elliott, put my video into Vialogue, and people have come to comment there.  I am thrilled and have a real sense of engagement  in the conversations at my blog and on Vialogue.

The duality of participation and reification really helps me to make sense of what has happened.  The question was the video more participatory than, say, a (reified) text blog post? just doesn’t make sense.  Everything was reified, my speaking (as a video), the blog post and comments, the conversation at Vialogue.  There was participation in everything but my original recording. What can shed light is thinking about the mutuality between the participation and the reified objects.

You can’t have one without the other

P.S. please don’t treat the words of the song literally – I know you can have love without marriage;)

Framework for Virtual Communities

Framework for Virtual Communities

after Steinmueller

This is a very hastily written blog post to contribute to discussion about real or imagined community at Heli’s blog.

The diagram above is my visualisation of Steinmueller’s view of virtual community.  If you want to find out more about my thoughts in 2003 please click.

I’d just like to pick out a few points:

In the diagram, you can see the 3Ps that are common to most early 21st century views of online or virtual communities – People (membership), Policies (governance), and Purpose (individual and/or group attribute).

The aspect (that is Steinmueller’s contribution) that seems particularly relevant to me is Sustainability.  Steinmueller characterised this as something that is lost

either when the costs of participation exceed the willingness to participate

or there is a coordination failure .

The coordination failure could be that horrible experience when you log in one morning to find that the space no longer exists, or something else goes wrong.

Anyway, this is for you – take it or leave it.

Is Books making us Stupid? or what I found in our study


Correction:The Book Lost for Words was actually written by Paddy Creber.

If you spent eight precious minutes of your life watching this video, I would be thrilled if we could continue the conversation here.

Wandering across smooth and jagged spaces – bring a blanket and beware the Chief ants

Short cut

Apologies in advance – this is a long post.  You could just skip it altogether, or look at the pictures and watch the video. Thanks for getting this far.


Textiles for Nomads – feeling it for felt

This week I have been engaging with De Leuze and Guattari’s ideas of the Nomad and trying to make sense of it in a context that has some meaning for me.  Earlier this week we had a discussion on #rhizo14 Facebook group about textiles that led me, via Thousand Plateaus reader by Eugene Holland to the Section on the Technology Model in Chapter 12 that uses textiles in the as an example to distinguish between nomadic and sedentary use of technology. At first I was a bit puzzled, as my experience of felting involved boiling either knitted items, or ones sewn from woven wool.  I have a felting needle but have never used it.

“Even the technologists who express grave doubts about the nomads’ powers of innovation at least give them credit for felt: a splendid insulator, an ingenious invention, the raw material for tents, clothes, and armor among the Turco-Mongols. Of course, the nomads of Africa and the Maghreb instead treat wool as a fabric. Although it might entail displacing the opposition, do we not detect two very different conceptions or even practices of weaving, the distinction between which would be something like the distinction between fabric as a whole and felt? For among sedentaries, clothes-fabric and tapestry-fabric tend to annex the body and exterior space, respectively, to the immobile house: fabric integrates the body and the outside into a closed space. On the other hand, the weaving of the nomad indexes clothing and the house itself to the space of the outside, to the open smooth space in which the body moves.” De Leuze and Guattari, Chapter 12

I didn’t know how felt was made traditionally, and this video of Mongolian nomads showed me by letting me see them do it.  The wool comes from the sheep they bring with them on their travels, the technology used is shears and sticks, and the felt is used to cover their yurts.

Taking the rough with the smooth

smoothcracksskatingChapter 14 is about smooth and striated spaces, described in the translator’s foreword to De Leuze and Guattari:

“State space is “striated,” or gridded. Movement in it is confined as by gravity to a horizontal plane, and limited by the order of that plane to preset paths between fixed and identifiable points. Nomad space is “smooth,” or open-ended. One can rise up at any point and move to any other. Its mode of distribution is the nomos: arraying oneself in an open space (hold the street), as opposed to the logos of entrenching oneself in a closed space (hold the fort).  “

The technology of felt-making used by the Mongol nomads is portable and does not interfere with their wandering: the yurts can be erected and covered with felt very quickly.  The technology they use helps to smooth the space for nomads, and works well across huge spaces.

Imagine they used my technique of a washing machine: first, woollen fabric would be acquired, or woven from spun wool on a loom; then the item would be constructed, hand-sewn or using a machine; and finally the item (of size limited by washing machine capacity) would be boiled, shaped and dried.  They wouldn’t get very far laden down with a spinning wheel, a loom and a washing machine.  Even if they managed to carry all the stuff, there’s the problem of finding a power supply in the middle of the steppes.  De Leuze and Guattari dated their plateau in Chapter 12 at 1227 A.D. “because that is when the nomad war machine existed for a moment in its pure form on the vacant smooth spaces of the steppes of Inner Asia”

The tragedy for Mongol nomads is that the furrows (striations) produced by state spaces have increased relentlessly to the point where they are now apparently a tourist experience.

Ambiguous spaces in learning

We are all familiar with the depiction of school classrooms as striated spaces, children confined to desks arranged in serried ranks (usually in a sepia photograph dating from the late 19th/early 20th Century), authoritarian teacher orchestrating children all reading from the same book, or learning by rote.  The 21st Century classroom is depicted in glorious technicolour, children lazing on brightly coloured foam shapes, clutching their ipads as they talk to other children across the globe, or find out about Mongol Nomads as I did, by finding and watching a youtube video.  I know where I would rather have been when I was at school.

As Sian Bayne points out, although early theorisations of the Internet portrayed the spaces as smooth, later analyses identified striations. 21st digital networked spaces are inevitably striated and smooth. Our dominant view may depend on where we are in the space, and on our time perspective.  Sian Bayne provides two interesting cases of pedagogical attempts to smooth online spaces, and characterises virtual learning environments like Blackboard as cities on the steppe.  Her analysis is well worth reading and she concludes it:

“Where one topography of cyberspace constructs the student as a nomad, as a wanderer over the digital steppe, the image here is of the student ‘caught’, insect-like, in the web of the  ‘e-learning system’. ”

Sian Bayne’s identification of assessment as one of the forces that interferes with the smoothness of the space chimes with many of the rich ideas expressed here at #rhizo14

“We’ll figure out how to assess the learning after it has happened.” Barry Dyck

“When I was a first year student we had no high stakes assessment that I can remember. All the first year stuff was designed to get us to think – to engage – to learn… It was brilliant” Sandra Sinfield

“would do well .. to give them voice. But such a move would in turn necessitate a conversation about assessment, wouldn’t it?” Helen Crump

To me the rich discussion was crystallised by the introduction of an ‘old’ post by Bon Stewart who encouraged us to use rhizomatic learning lenses to see ‘differently’ – to avoid conflating learning and schooling.

Chief ants build hills


Of course, the constraints imposed by assessment on our smooth local spaces within institutions are just a shadow of the state space that lurks behind them – institutions, government policies.  Many teachers (at different levels of formal education) have demonstrated on #rhizo14 their effective use of the Internet to smooth their students’ learning experiences by reaching out beyond the institution or bringing fun tools into the classroom.  Teachers and students are still operating within those arborescent institutions. Students can become better at learning but rupture from the tree is partial and sometimes illusory, as I know from my own bitter experience.

Meanwhile the ‘subjects’ of pedagogical innovation, the students, are gliding around spaces provided by start-ups and more established providers of social networking spaces – Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat et al, outside of formal schooling.  They may find out the hard way, for example that tweets are not private and that the institution is willing to invade these smooth spaces to retain control.


“Fear, breeds fear. There are terrifying people who have terrifying dreams who care not for you or I. They are darkly entrained in a time of uncertainty. They will give you all the damned certainty you care for. Rules, regulations, rewards, punishments, purges, the eternal life meme. These people, these chief Ants are on the rise my friends, they sense their time is coming once again. They will stop at nothing. Flee not from freedom.” Simon Ensor

It has been painful to see some institutions’ clunky appropriation of smooth spaces – eager to slide across Twitter retweeting positive comments from students but alarmed when negative words and association cause them embarrassment.

Viplav Baxi encourages us to democratize uncertainty, and to help students embrace it:

“you want 21st century skills to be “built”, so why don’t you create a new subject called “collaboration” and assign it graded assessments and specialized new content & teaching). In fact, I think we need to see uncertainty as culture, as a way of being rather than a specialized skill or value.”

Cathleen Nardi characterises learners as change agents with new literacies:

“There appears to be a light at the end of the Rabbit Hole.  For me, Rhizomatic Learning is embracing these new opportunities and new literacies required to communicate and collaborate in this digital universe. Rhizomatic Learners are change agents, exploring new frontiers.  For me the #rhizo14 experience is using our knowledge to make changes in education, starting with our own classrooms.”

Digital literacies are important for institutions, teachers and students.

digitalliteracyDigital literacies can be the felt blanket that keeps us warm as we go out onto the Internet from the classroom, and the armour that protects us from the chief Ant that is our own institution.  If we are all to be change agents, exploring new frontiers, not just in our classrooms now, but in the future and in society more widely, then our digital literacies will not only encompass ways of handling uncertainty but recognise the uncertainty inherent to digital literacies themselves.




As Jenny Mackness might say, we need emergent digital literacies.

But that is another post, provisional title ‘Facebook and other chief Ants’.

Student activity exploring relation view of power


On #rhizo14 today, @teachnorthern asked for permission (not actually needed) to use the post  with teacher training students.  I agreed and offered her a student activity that I had used over several years with Masters students who were starting to look at theories of power and how they might be applied in practice.

I offered to share this with her so thought I would publish it here.  If you want to use this sheet (feel free to adapt) , you may wish to remove the text in square brackets []

In-class exercise –Power Lecture

  1. Vote on statements – agree or disagree
  • Students have power over teachers
  • Teachers have power over students

[I asked them for examples after a short period to discuss amongst themselves .  They could think of lots of examples of the second (many relating to Turnitin) but the first one was more challenging.]

2. Read extract below.

3. Discuss with your neighbour

  • Value of relational view of power in understanding scenario below
  • ONE good example of relational nature of power

4. Be prepared to share with class

Example from Frances Bell’s Blog

What I meant by seeing power as relational was that:

  • rather than describing power relations between A and B (I was thinking people here) as A has power over B
  • we could describe these relations by saying how each of A and B affect and are affected by the (power) relations between them

(Health warning; although I was once a secondary school Maths teacher, my experience is a little out of date)

So for example with students and teachers in a hypothetical class

T(eacher) instructs students that Pi = 3.142 when teaching a class on finding the area of a circle.
S(tudent )1 accepts that and uses that value in his calculation. He accepts the knowledge of Pi from the teacher without question
S2 spends a little time researching Pi and discovers that 3.142 is an approximation. In her homework answers, she explains why she has chosen to use a value of Pi to 10 decimal places, whilst still recognising that her answer is still an approximation, but a better one than she would have achieved by using 3.142.

Scenario A
T gives slightly higher mark to S1 than S2. S1 and S2 compare notes, and both decide that T has missed an opportunity to share something interesting with the class. T goes down in estimation of S1 and S2, who are getting confirmed in their view that school maths is pretty boring. S2 thinks that she won’t bother to research around the subject in future but use her internet skills for learning about stuff within her control.

Scenario B
T gives top marks to S1 and S2, and uses the opportunity to highlight S2’s research to the class, going on to talk about the provisional nature of knowledge, the value of estimation (depending on context of problem) and the opportunity for students to challenge working assumptions. All students have opportunity to extend on basic knowledge from instruction, they see resourceful behaviour being recognised, and S2’s work is validate by T, as well as being enjoyable in its own right. T is seen (by some students at least) as someone who recognises that knowledge is open to question, and is not threatened by challenges from students.

A relational view of power would go beyond the question:
In which scenario does T have more power over the students?
The question wouldn’t really make sense. A better question might be:
In which scenario do students have more effective agency? If student goals were passing standard tests, the answer might be Scenario A. If student goals were learning and having fun, then maybe B.
It’s pretty complicated thinking about knowledge, power, agency and context, and for these scenarios the important power relations may go way beyond the classroom context – institution, parents, government, etc.

[We would finish with a discussion of whether the scenarios resonated with them and what difference this might make to their learning]



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Dimensions of power, knowledge and rhizomatic thinking

CCl by Erwin from

My first thought when I hear the word power is of an individual exerting power over another – getting them to do something or stop doing something (possibly by raising a physical or verbal fist). But I am guessing that’s not going to be enough in rhizomatic thinking where we are thinking about the connections and the rhizome.  My reading of De Leuze and Guattari has not so far rendered me able to use only their ideas so I have turned to some other ideas of power that I found useful in the past.  Masters students who were studying the implementation of information systems would get stuck in solely technological explanations of why an information system was deemed to have succeeded. Looking at Lukes’ different dimensions of power helped them and me explore the politics and human relations in ‘success’ and ‘failure’. I have linked to Lukes writing at the end if you are interested to read it and correct my interpretation.  There are four but I am too tired to look at Foucault.

A one-dimensional view of power is when one agent (an individual or an institution) prevails over another.  This may be through the rules of the game, for example where a teacher sets rules for a piece of assessed work. Alternatively the agent may prevail through threats or rewards, for example the disciplining of students who plagiarise, or the award of a prize.  This view of power shows us teachers and students potentially in conflict with each other but it can be a good starting point to challenge that view, as Dave encouraged us in Week 1. As Jollyroger says “playing with subversion in this manner seems a very interesting way of dismantling limiting structures of power that condition learning”.

A two-dimensional view of power sees power as exercised not through observable conflict but rather through control of the agenda.  Teachers can do this by being prescriptive about what is or is not to be discussed within the course. I have a memory from primary school (K-12) of the teacher saying to a very bright student – “Not another red herring”. So in the rhizomatic learning that is the subject of our MOOC, we could be influenced by what Dave puts in the P2PU space or by agents who promote or suppress topics. This has significant implications for the ‘community is the curriculum’ – the curriculum can become a site of struggle within the community.  I would find it too clumsy to draw on specific examples here from #rhizo14 but would be interested if you could recognise this in your own practice here. In my case, I have been bleating all over the place about not restricting our considerations to formal educational settings but to also think about informal learning.

A three-dimensional view of power demonstrates that the conflict may remain covert or as a potential.  An agent may prevail over another because the second agent (possibly unconsciously) is influenced by the will of the first.  My understanding of this view of power expanded rapidly during #rhizo14 in Week 2.  I had shared my wish to use the experience of this MOOC to enhance my understanding of De Leuze and Guattari’s theory, and Cath Ellis had posted an excellent post with a plea to engage with rhizomatic theory and some eminently practical advice on how to do that. And then… in the Facebook group Maddie posted a heartfelt message about how all this stuff about theory felt to her, and she describes it here. This was quite a turning point on #rhizo14 for me.  I responded in an attempt (that probably failed) to be more inclusive and thought very carefully about my contributions, previously and subsequently. Once I resisted the idea “well she can’t mean me – I don’t want to tell anyone they have to study theory” I began to move forward and realise that, regardless of my intention, I might have influenced others about what this MOOC was about by what I had said.  Of course it’s not as simple as that and agency works both ways in a three-dimensional view of power.  I have found Emily Purser’s posts on FB and her blog to be very revealing in helping me understand a bit more about the messy rhizome that is #rhizo14.  She said on FB ” I just keep telling myself that meaning is never in the text, it’s in the reading – and that’s something we actually do have enormous power over, if we see it that way.. that seems to be what I’ve got from a couple of decades reading ‘theory’ in conversation with good people, and I find that perspective a real gift in those frequent times of uncomfortable confrontation with power that I feel on the underside of”. So the reader and the writer have power and responsibility, and I think they are being exercised with good will and humanity on #rhizo14 but we have no room for complacency – it’s hard work.

It’s not pragmatists 1 – theorists 0 – it’s game on.  As Jenny Mackness said today,


Lastly, what I am dimly grasping about rhizomatic thinking is that it encourages connections between people with different ‘knowledge’.  This paper includes an explanation of a project in post-apartheid South Africa that tries to effect learning in people with different ‘knowledges’ “. Service-learning in South Africa can crucially contribute to the deconstruction of Western thought and the transformation of both indigenous knowledge and western knowledge.”

Can we accommodate different ‘knowledges’ on #rhizo14?


If you want read the original writing about dimesnions of power is a good place to start and especially

The Perils of Rhizomatic Learning

In this post I am trying to make sense of what (little) I think I know about rhizomatic thinking and fitting it in some sort of context with other post-structuralist thinking in my journey to rhizomatic learning whilst engaged in the #rhizo14 MOOC. Comments and corrections would be most welcome.


Post-structuralist Thinking

Post-structuralism can be seen as a response to structuralism (a means of understanding human culture by its structures). Rhizomatic thinking is seen as post-structuralist as is the work of Derrida, Baudrillard, Butler, Latour and Foucault. In rhizomatic thinking the rhizome is posed as an alternative to arboresent (hierarchical) thinking.

DeLeuze and Guattari shared their thinking within an academic community that was steeped in 19th and 20th century social and political theories.  Many theorists questioned structural and hierarchical explanation of social and societal relations.  Rhizomatic thinking has been applied to many aspects of political and social life since the latter part of the 20th Century.

As digital and networked technologies proliferated and presented challenges for people trying to use and make sense of them, post-structuralist theories were used widely in scholarly work and empirical research.  Abandoning  hierarchical structures fitted well with the network and connectivity exhibited by the Internet.

More formality was shed when the digital reached into our daily lives with the uniquity of networked computing and the rise of the ‘social’: media, learning, commerce, culture, politics.

For example an incomplete snapshot of the theories used in learning technology can be found in this Special Issue

They include Actor-Network Theory, Social Construction of Technology and  Critical Social Theory.

I have not read enough to speak about any commonality in political leanings among the major writers in rhizomatic thinking but I would assume that all post-structuralists have been influenced by Marx even as they turn away from his structural concepts.

“post-structuralism was constituted by an engagement with Marx; a critical engagement, but an engagement nonetheless ”

Rhizomatic  thinking in this MOOC

Where does all that leave us in this MOOC?

Speaking for myself, I am trying to find out about rhizomatic learning whilst I am still learning about the basics of rhizomatic thinking.

One concept that I think of as ‘short-cutting’ and relates to the multiple entry points and the connection of any point on the rhizome to any other.  From what I can grasp the lack of need to go up and down a hierarchy enables short-cutting but there is still a lot more for me to work on as this seems potentially problematic to me, suggesting I need a better context.

Two examples that I have thought of are:

  1. Cheating as short-cutting.  Short-cutting (not bound by a hierarchy or rules) that leads to more valuable or significant learning (obviously that’s open to interpretation) is rhizomatic whereas shortcutting that is getting someone else to write a piece of assessment for you is only rhizomatic from the point of view of paper qualifications.
  2. Scholarly reading – today I have sent to Amazon for 2 books, And the reader to accompany it    If I only read the reader (that might be a useful ploy for someone with limited time before an exam on Rhizomatic Thinking) rather than use it to get more from my reading of a Thousand Plateaus, then that shortcut will not improve the sense I make of Rhizomatic Thinking.

I include the following principles (text cut and paste from Wikipedia) that I am told that DeLeuze and Guattari used to outline the concept of the rhizome

1 and 2: Principles of connection and heterogeneity: any point of a rhizome can be connected to any other, and must be

3. Principle of multiplicity: only when the multiple is effectively treated as a substantive, “multiplicity” that it ceases to have any relation to the One

4. Principle of asignifying rupture: a rhizome may be broken, but it will start up again on one of its old lines, or on new lines

5 and 6: Principle of cartography and decalcomania: a rhizome is not amenable to any structural or generative model; it is a “map and not a tracing”

My gift offering of a shortcut is that I have annotated this with relevant links to Keith Hamon’s blog , an excellent source.


I leave you with twin perils that might obscure rhizomatic thinking on this MOOC:

  • Trying to learn about rhizomatic learning via a MOOC supported by semi-discrete services and technologies (P2PU, Facebook group, Twitter hashtag, Google+, etc.) all of which have elements of structure and barriers to  as well as enablers of connection
  • Falling into the tendency to think about rhizomatic learning ONLY within formal educational contexts

My fallback position is always to think about the impact of the Internet on learning to knit – but you will have to find your own cherished example to help you.

edited to add word only in second ‘peril’