Frances Bell

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Reflections on community in #rhizo14 – more questions than answers

These are some reflections on community in #rhizo14 inspired by the research that Jenny Mackness and I are doing, and my engagement with Maha Bali’s post and the rich comment stream that followed.  I just wanted to capture my thoughts as they are currently but would be really pleased to engage through comments.

One of the issues that Jenny and I are grappling with is the challenge of gaining multiple perspectives on the ‘experience’ that was/is #rhizo14. How can we know about all of the flowers that bloomed? And some of the ones that failed to thrive or died? Of course, the answer is we can’t but we can try to draw in as many flowers as possible: and acknowledge our partial view. We also have to beware over-interpreting the views of others and making assumptions about their thoughts and opinions.

many flowers

In rhizo14 we had to think about ‘community’ – it was in the title and it was where the curriculum was or should be. So it is not surprising that the topic should attract so much attention.  My own view is that the formation of community (or communities) in rhizo14 deserves close attention.  I am curious about how this links to ‘the community is the curriculum’, and I already identified  that the speed of emergence of community (and the context in which this happened) are particularly worthy of investigation.

Keith Hamon distinguished different experiences in #rhizo14 by proposing that some participants found community whilst others chose to find a social network. I was a bit puzzled by that as Keith suggested that the social network involved a social contract.  I didn’t see the rules that he refers to in #rhizo14 and would not really expect to see them.  As I said in the comments, network for me brings 2 things to mind – socio-technical platforms where we connect , and our own individual networks that map our connections – the ‘performed’ network.. If the people who ‘did’ rhizo14 could map their individual networks and they were overlapped , perhaps the dense areas might be community(ies) in rhizo14 (‘performed’ communities).

Keith went on to contrast his concept of social network with a covenant: a relationship that he characterises as meaning, “I will behave in good faith with you, regardless of what you do. I will not let you damage me, but neither will I abandon my commitment to you.”  He suggests that some in rhizo14 might have achieved community along  those lines. However Rebecca points out that a covenant is a solemn promise built within an intentional community, and although she thinks that Dave proposed activities that could be seen as  ‘intentional community building activities’, she sees thizo14 as more of an organic community.  This is very thought-provoking for me. I am looking at what was circulated prior to rhizo14, and the impact this may have had on people’s expectations.  I can be pretty sure that if a covenant had been part of this, I would have stayed away;)

Also I am thinking about the organic nature of rhizo14 community, and wondering again about the speed of formation. Alan talked about co-evolution of communities – this is an interesting concept and I wonder if it somehow suggests ‘slowness’.   If #rhizo14 was organic, is it now? And will it seem organic or more fixed to newcomers in#rhizo15?

‘Caring’ is identified as a distinguishing feature of community, and certainly in #rhizo14  the proclamation of community is often associated with friendship, even love.  Emotional connection is something I wish to explore in my research.  Like Alan, I have had the well-documented experience, of meeting people that I have hitherto know only online, and found that our friendship was as rich as I thought. I have also learned with and from people with whom I have no deep emotional connection.

A consistent theme in #rhizo14 has been dichotomies or dualisms – theorist/pragmatist ‘divide’, academics/ others (not sure who these others are since many seem to me to be academics).  It is not absent from this post and comment thread. Simon talks about ‘science-bound academics’ (I didn’t recognise them) where” representatives of this ‘dominant’ group were miffed that Dave didn’t reinforce their supremacy by being leader of the (their) pack. I find it interesting to question how people perceived a ‘majority’ in rhizo14. I get the impression it is linked to perceived sanctioning given first by Dave then by people recognised as ‘academic’” I found this to be an astonishing statement, and wonder how/if this has been validated.  One thing that I am wondering is whether the nature of the ‘provocative questions’ posed by Dave might have contributed to a tendency to see ideas/ people as either/or, and community as in/out.

As I say, these are some provisional observations but they have led me to think about a learner who might like to be ‘rhizomatic’ in her (his) learning.  I am thinking of someone who may be keen to learn outside formal educational institutions and processes. They stand tentatively on the brink of a community hoping it might be a place where they might learn with others. Possibly, they might relieved by the lack of structure and the presence of ‘nonsense’.  But what would they think of ideas of solemn promises, open expressions of emotion and love for other participants?  For some this might be attractive and draw them in. For others it could be off-putting and they might wonder why such high level of commitment and emotion are needed for a learning experience.  These could be some of the people who stand to gain most from social learning online. I am just wondering but thinking that such learners may not have received much attention in #rhizo14 (except perhaps by Barry Dyck and others who I may have missed).


francesbell • August 22, 2014

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  1. Maha Bali August 22, 2014 - 10:06 pm Reply

    Hey Frances,

    RE: dichotomy… You may by right, except that I feel the ensuing conversations and everyone’s blogging did not usually lie in the extremes of the dichotomy. Many of us liked the idea of cheating as learning but expressed discomfort with it and questioned what cheating meant. That’s more valuable than the dichotomy.

    The week we discussed independence we talked about the tensions it entails and how it may not always be a good thing.

    The books making us stupid week, well that was one that definitely had loads of views in between.

    My point being that it is ofen good pedagogy to spark controversy, but framing something as a debate does not mean we cannot see grey areas, and I don’t think rhizo14 encouraged black/white thinking.

    Maybe I am misunderstanding you, though. Please correct me if I am wrong.

    Re: covenant: as a Muslim, I have no idea what this means in its historical maning except it reminds me of nuns taking vows. Keith’s explanation of how he sees it mostly resonates but not completely because i don’t think i am ever committed to anyone no matter what they do (exception is my child and possibly my mom but even that can be questioned if one has had an abusive childhood for example)

    But I am struck by your points about love. I am pretty sure everyone has learned from people they do not love. I am not really sure why finding people who love each other would be off-putting for someone who wants to be more distant?
    I remember while collaborating on a paper (outside the autoethnog) with a group of us, I mentioned on email that I wished I could see them and give hugs. I got different reactions, depending on people’s comfort with that. I think it turned out ok 🙂

    Should people who DO feel love for each other stay quiet about it, cover it in front of others? My husband is one who does not like public displays of affection, but if both of us were comfortable with it, should we hide it lest it scare others away? I don’t know.

    There are many people, I think, in rhizo14 who value each other and who do not express “love” for each other.

    This all might be a cultural thing, btw. That in my culture it is totally normal to kiss and hug my professors, for my students to express love for me, etc. i also express “intellectual love” which is less personal, and relates to ideas. I recently was DMing someone who has had a rift with someone else I know and I said “I love you both”. He may have been slightly put off by it, but in he end he responded, ‘I love your work and you’ – which is what i mean; he means he loves me thru my work, and why is that off putting?

    There are others in rhizo14 with whom there is a lot of backchannel private supporting of each other that engenders a love beyond intellectual and into deep friendship.

    Am trying to imagine that, yes, some people might not like this, or feel left out of the love circle or such, but surely you are not suggesting we stop loving each other publicly so as not to offend others?

    Back to my husband. When we are in Egypt, our max in public is holding hands, in Europe we’re more comfortable kissing in public. In the US we did sthg in between. It’s cultural, what is accepted to do in public, isn’t it? But also some ppl are more WASP than others, I guess.

    I am just not sure what the rules are for MOOCs 🙂

    Sorry if this sounded flippant. Maybe one thing that I do know happened to ME cominf into rhizo14 was a worry that others already knew each other and i would be left out. I remember in edcmooc ppl like Maddie and Ary knew each other from before BUT they were community TAs so that was no problem.

    Anyway… Let me just agree on one thing very strongly: I would love some ŵay of capturing more of the less positive experiences in rhizo14 and cMoocS in general. Any ideas how to go about this?

    • francesbell August 23, 2014 - 11:48 am Reply

      Regarding the pedagogy of provocative questions, I agree it can have its place, but was probably overdone on rhizo14 – I found it tiresome after a couple of weeks see I am still trying to puzzle out the impact it had on the way topics were explored.
      Regarding the love issue, I am not suggesting that love and friendship can’t have a place online. I take your point about the backchannel – there is even love and friendship in my backchannel, believe it or not;) What I am pondering about is the nature of public discourse in a learning community and how problems are allowed to surface and perhaps be resolved or ameliorated.
      P.S. Regarding capturing less positive experiences, I am am hoping that will be part of the research that Jenny and I are doing. I don’t know how you will do it on the auto-ethnography.

      • Maha Bali August 23, 2014 - 12:00 pm Reply

        I often thought you took issue with what you felt was too much consensus-seeking in the fb group. This issue hasn’t come up recently in this discussion across our blogs. I saw a v old post of Jenny,s during either CCK08 or CCK11 about group think in online communities, and i guess it is possible that to strengthen the ties (as opposed to f2f) some extra politeness and conflict avoidance occur, but also a lot of misunderstandings, right?

      • francesbell August 23, 2014 - 12:23 pm Reply

        I think that misunderstanding is inevitable whether or not groupthink is in operation. Groupthink just makes it harder to surface it. For me, in a learning community, it’s appropriate to support the surfacing of assumptions AND misunderstanding, and to develop ways of handling misunderstanding and conflict.

  2. Maha Bali August 22, 2014 - 10:09 pm Reply

    Yep, two minutes of reflection later, and I can see a little more what you mean RE: love. I still don’t know what one’s supposed to do about that, though.

    • francesbell August 23, 2014 - 11:37 am Reply

      Well, thinking about it is a start;)

      • Maha Bali August 23, 2014 - 12:01 pm Reply

        R u suggesting i don’t normally think? Hehe just kidding 🙂 well, half kidding because i do respond spontaneously so not everything i write is well-thought-out 😉

      • francesbell August 23, 2014 - 12:14 pm Reply

        I was actually meaning both of us thinking about it @maha 😉

  3. keith.hamon August 25, 2014 - 4:25 pm Reply

    Hmm … I think you guys are right: the covenant idea is not likely to let me say what I want to say about the differences between social networks and online communities, the observation that Maha made on her blog and that sparked my original thoughts about covenants as opposed to contracts. Covenants have too much baggage that forces me to twist them too hard to make any sense, and anyway, I’m coming to like more Simon’s use of desire as the force that leads beyond networking to community. Thanks for helping me think through this better.

    • francesbell August 25, 2014 - 4:41 pm Reply

      I agree that covenants have baggage but there is also a danger in seeing networking and community as stops on a road (to enlightenment?) The point i was trying to make was that it’s about HOW we perform networks or community. The learner I envisage in my last paragraph might be better off being tough about how s/he does networking. Their desire could keep them going and protect them against the desire of others in poorly performed communities.

  4. Reflections on community in #rhizo14 – mo...

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