CCK08: Reflection for Week 2: Part 1

Last week, the rhizomatic education discussion resonated with me for two reasons; first, because I think that there is great strength in using analogies from the biological sciences to understand learning, and second, because I was pleased to hear Stephen Downes discuss motivation as a key factor in motivating learners.

Part 1: Rhizomatism

I am interested in reading Deleuze and Guatarri’s A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia, one reason being to determine the extent to which schizophrenia is being treated not just as a postmodern literary trope, but also in terms of its diagnostic features as a medical condition. Not that the DSM [insert link] has not had its share of criticisms, but that’s another issue entirely.

In Rhizomatic Education: Community as Curriculum, Dave Cormier utilizes “a botanical metaphor” to describe what he characterizes as a new form of knowledge:

A rhizomatic plant has no center and no defined boundary; rather, it is made up of a number of semi-independent nodes, each of which is capable of growing and spreading on its own, bounded only by the limits of its habitat (1).

No externally definable boundary, perhaps; however, the rhizome is certainly bounded by the internal structural limitations of the plant itself. These boundaries may change over time however, on the basis of the organism’s unique cellular phylogeny and ontogeny.

Phylogeny may be understood as “…the development or evolution of a particular group of organisms,” whereas ontogeny is defined as the “…history of the structural transformation of a unity.” (Maturana and Varela, 1980, p. 137).

Rhizomatic education is a metaphor that can be used to understand the organic nature of informal learning in context. Cormier contends that it “…represents a critical leap in coping with the loss of a canon against which to compare, judge, and value knowledge” and “may be particularly apt as a model for disciplines on the bleeding edge where the canon is fluid and knowledge is a moving target (1).”

What is knowledge in the rhizomatic context? Cormier maintains, “a clear definition of the word “knowledge” is difficult yet key to any search for shared understanding.” The historicity of the term is acknowledged through referencing Horton and Freire.

The etymology of the word “knowledge” is said to come from “the Old Icelandic kna, meaning “I can.” I find this reference especially relevant to the Connectivist framework, in that one of its tenets as identified by George Siemens is that “Learning has an end goal – namely the increased ability to “do something.” 

The closest to providing a definition of knowledge that Cormier includes is that it represents “positions from which people make sense of their worlds and their place in them, and from which they construct their concepts of agency, the possible, and their own capacities to do” (Stewart 2002, 20).

Rhizomatic knowledge entails “collaborative knoweldge construction”:

Social learning is the practice of working in groups, not only to explore an established canon but also to negotiate what qualifies as knowledge. According to Brown and Adler (2008) [insert link] “The most profound impact of the Internet, an impact that has yet to be fully realized, is its ability to support and expand the various aspects of social learning” (18). Several communities on the Internet offer some idea of what can be accomplished in a participatory social learning environment where knowledge is being negotiated (3).

This may be so; however, negotiating what qualifies as knowledge is not the same as the action of negotiating knowledge; one is a meta-analysis of the other.

Cormier claims that “…a rhizomatic knowledge-creation process…is already overtaking traditional models (3).” Can this claim be substantiated? Must the two models be in competition with one another, from a rhizomatic perspective? Further, Cormier asserts:

What is needed is a model of knowledge acquisition that accounts for socially constructed, negotiated knowledge. In such a model, the community is not the path to understanding or accessing the curriculum; rather, the community is the curriculum (3).

How does this claim differ from the principles of traditional social constructivism? One must revisit the initial premiss of Rhizomatic Education for the answer:

There is an assumption in [social constructivist and connectivist] theories that the learning process should happen organically but that knowledge, or what is to be learned, is still something independently verifiable with a definitive beginning and end goal determined by curriculum (1).

Cormier describes a graduate course conducted by Alec Couros, in which “students created their own rhizomatically mapped curriculum by combining their blogs with information to which Couros point them (4).” Does this “pointing” not constitute a loose curricular framework, in the same way that the Connectivism & Connective Knowledge course supplies weekly readings? I strikes me that there remains a central focus to Couros’ project, at least in that all of the students participating in the course are there with a particular end in mind which pertains to the course’s (non)agenda as part of a graduate studies program. Without having seen examples of how the course unfolded, it is difficult to ascertain Couros’ definitive role in relationship to his students. However, it would appear that Siemens’ description of various roles of educators may apply, namely through assuming one or a combination of the following parts: educator as master artist, educator as master administrator, or educator as concierge.

Cormier concludes:

Suggesting that a distributed negotiation of knowledge can allow a community of people to legitimize the work they are doing among themselves and for each member of the group, the rhizomatic model dispenses with the need for external validation of knowledge, either by an expert or by a constructed curriculum (4).

Presumably, the mechanism by which a community legitimizes the work they are doing amongst themselves, and for each member of the group, will vary depending on the community. According to this model, what are the limits of community? Can there be barriers to entry? In terms of membership, Cormier suggests:

…the members themselves will conect the node to the larger network. Most people are members of several communities—acting as core members in some, carrying more weight and engaging more extensively in the discussion, while offering more casual contributions in others, reaping knowledge from more involved members (Cormier 2007). 

Where does one community begin and another end? In accordance with a networked model of learning, nodes will expand and contract in accordance with the connections that are strengthened or weakened on the basis of members’ contributions: “If a given bit of information is recognized as useful to the community or proves itself able to do something, it can be counted as knowledge (4).”

Does it follow that there must be consensus amongst community members? What if members of a community do not agree with one another on a central point? Must a community then necessarily split, or are there protocols for the resolution of conflicts? How are community-based valuations translated and defined in ethical terms?

Cormier suggests that:

Knowledge seekers in cutting-edge fields are increasingly finding that ongoing appraisal of new developments is most effectively achieved through the participatory and negotiated experience of rhizomatic community engagement (4).

If we remove the word “rhizomatic” from the previous quotation, what difference does it make?

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