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Archive for February, 2014

Before I begin (and I am going to miss the hangout again as it will be at 3 AM India time), I think Dave rocked again in #rhizo14. Way to go Dave!

Dave is our Elvis

Dave is our Elvis

I am conflicted when I think about curriculum. I have experienced it prescriptively in the formal education system and I realize that it is bounded by its philosophical basis as well as the competence of stakeholders to transact it (the two sometimes straining in opposite directions).

In the rhizomatic sense, I am guessing curriculum is evidenced by the community members through their open reflection and practice.There is no core.

In the Community of Practice sense, the community itself evolves through various stages –  Potential, Coalescing, Active, Dispersed and Memorable as in the chart below.

In another take on this, George Siemens in Connectives and Collectives: Learning Alone, together suggests that as ties become stronger and individuals aggregate into groups and collectives, the discourse becomes normed (in fact there is a veritable coercion to the norm) that leads to a drying up of new ideas that are novel and diverse.

In the diagram above, he also ties it up with autonomy to the learner, which he believes to decrease as these ties increase in strength and degree.

I think the strength of Rhizomatic and Connective Learning is the “personal formation” of curriculum and the heutagogical “capability” to contextually adapt the curriculum evidenced by the community to transcend personal learning plateaus.

In that sense learning becomes a process of, among other things, shared discovery of curriculum itself, a way-finding and sense-making exercise.

It also makes sense to think of curricula instead of curriculum – different ways to transcend the same plateau. The community then evidences things such as values, beliefs, patterns of use and engagement that equally constitute any curriculum (one must consider failure in a Rhizomatic community as well. What mechanisms exist when a curriculum itself fails to empower.)

Like a Rhizome, Rhizo14 is an event in my meanderings. The event may end, but the rhizome continues to flourish and grow.

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Bernard Fryshman wrote a post titled  MOOCs are Books, too. I responded saying it depends on whether it is an xMOOC you are talking about or a cMOOC, amongst other humble assertions that “MOOCs are not books”. Then I found Dave talking about MOOCs to create/update open textbooks. In Are MOOCs the Next Textbooks, Gregor Kiczales makes the point that in “author” or “expert” videos, the persona of the author is really important. Others comments that free MOOCs could potentially replace textbooks, while others feel that MOOCs (when standardized like JusticeX) may become textbooks themselves, especially when created by A-grade professors and experts.

Dave, in his video challenge for this week of #Rhizo14, asks the question – are books making us stupid. He identifies a few negative connotations and one positive connotation for books in his mind. The negatives are:

  • have a finite end to the journey of learning at the end of which judgment awaits us
  • deny the orality of the conversation
  • bring in objectivity
  • amply distance
  • are definitive, not relational
  • bring in impartiality
  • are less participatory
  • have a long history of “making us stupid” and are not trustworthy

The positive connotation is that there is value in books as historical records (and emotional pleasures of the medium that we are used, but others ahead may not even desire or be able to experience).

Several things confuse and distort responses to this challenge immediately. Are we talking about book “technology”? Are we concerned with book “processes” of creating, use in curriculum and uses by learners? Are we concerned with the formats, or the design? Are we talking of all types of books or just a specific type of books? Are we talking of making value judgments – “stupid” in the sense of “closed”, or following something “prescriptive”, or “cognitive” instead of “connective” or “rhizomatic”? Is it about how they impact reading or writing literacies and skills, or it about books as standalone artifacts? Is it about their accessibility or cost that makes their unavailability result in a certain stupidity?

Which is also why people have responded variously to this week’s challenge. Shaw contests the negative connotations and believe it is not an either-or. In Print, Stupidity and #rhizo14, Keith showcases Don Tapscott’s talk, and tries to view printed text rhizomatically. Apostolos refutes some of the negative connotations by looking at books as a vehicle to transfer information and knowledge through the ages, and not limiting conversation/participation just because the author isn’t there to discuss the ideas. Jenny Mackness talks about how “Books are not the problem – it is us and the way we think – our lack of ability to critically engage with learning”.

I think what we are really talking about here is the tyranny of the written word insofar as it leads to our pedagogical oppression (Friere). There is intentionality here in the minds of the oppressors (pretty much most of those traditional educational systems that depend upon rote learning, including some of our xMOOCs) and there is mute acquiescence from  the oppressed (those who unquestioningly accept the written word or “common framework” as someone else put it).

I think, we should have so much democratic and accessible written word, that it becomes impossible for us to be stupid. It should become impossible for any one system to authorize or prescribe the tyranny of the word.

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This year I will focus my efforts on the design of learning environments that are complex – adaptive, emergent, self-organizing, chaotic and personal. As a project description at TU Delft states:

In these situations system content, system structure and system boundaries shift and evolve without any global or central coordinator. Instead, order and regularity emerge from widely distributed bottom-up interactions of subsystems, some with centralized control and others fully distributed.

I am particularly interested in complex adaptive systems in the context of learning because I think that is how learning really is. Somewhere in this area is hidden Illich’s “institutional inverse”, the need to combat Friere’s “culture of silence”, to think of learning as making connections and knowledge as the network. Somewhere in this exercise is the continued feeling of being “continually inspired to change”, the mnemonic for a revolution. Many memes will form part of this discussion.

One such meme shall be open-ness. This will relate to both the extent and nature of open-ness within the system as well that outside the system, and specific mechanisms to initiate, alter or transition to a state of “open-ness”. Another meme shall be self-organization. Equally important will be the meme of “evolution’ – of people, ideas and networks.

I shall also investigate the meme of “flexible boundaries” – boundaries that allow dynamic reconfiguration of the contours of, well everything. Closely related will be the memes of “control” and “structure”.

An important meme shall be that of “language” – the language of learning itself. I think a new vocabulary is definitely required if we are to think afresh. And there may be more that I may discover or abandon as I go along.

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Dave Cormier’s MOOC on P2PU, Rhizomatic Learning, in week 3 is focusing on the topic Embracing Uncertainty. He says:

At the heart of the rhizome is a very messy network, one where not all the dots connect to all the lines. No centre. Multiple paths. Where we have beliefs and facts that contradict each other. Where our decisions are founded on an ever shifting knowledge base. Our challenge this week… how do we make our learning experience reflect (and celebrate) this uncertainty?

Uncertainty exists in all forms of education and learning. It is not mostly celebrated. In fact, it is suppressed. Or attempted to be. In traditional education, it is systematically constrained by the dimensions of time, network boundaries (class/batch), regulatory requirements and pedagogical biases. It is even systematically constrained in other (non-traditional) environments, even informal ones at most times.

However, it underpins these environments in dramatic ways, so much so that it is a wonder that any intended outcomes are even met. As an example, even the understanding of what a degree program in any subject should contain (content, pedagogy, assessments) is not shared or common across the world. It is therefore uncertain, at least to me, what an MBA degree really means!

Let us talk instead of democratizing uncertainty. That implies thinking of uncertainty as by, for and of learning (and its stakeholders).

Uncertainty by learning is the adoption of certain uncertainties  by learners, teachers and administrators. It is their ability to practice those uncertainties.

Uncertainty for learning is the “framework” or the ecology for uncertainty to flourish and where the participants of the educational system are encouraged to embrace certain uncertainties.

Uncertainty of learning is the uncertainty that society owns and celebrates, and that is what change is all about anyways. This is the most important change that can happen to learning – when there is purpose to driving certain uncertainties through the system.

Not all certainties may be “good” or “appropriate”. What is good or appropriate may differ widely, but no uncertainty can be good if it does not result in the “overall” good (atleast directionally and democratically speaking). There could be more consensus on bad and undesired uncertainties – those that result in (directionally) negative consequences such as high unemployment or obstacles to (say) scientific development.

Some people would then argue that uncertainty should be harnessed in certain ways, and this could progressively lead us to the same traditional paradigm that exists today. We shall also need to “prove” in many ways, that more “good” uncertainty in the system will impact social outcomes positively. We may even need to “prove” that either this is an articulate and cogent alternative to the existing system or stands as an important option in a pluralized education system.

What may happen as well (as with the xMOOCs) that these positive uncertainties may be usurped, distorted and made to work within traditional environments in a manner that is ineffective and diluted (e.g. 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.

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