In an era of knowledge abundance – Part 5

complexityWhat if? Could it be that…? It is impossible, but still: why not try to…? These have been some of my starting questions throughout the exploratory processes of this series concerned with what a pedagogy of abundance might look like. While suggesting that rhizomatic learning could be such a pedagogy of abundance, I have taken on the challenge put forward by Martin Weller in his article “A pedagogy of abundance” (2011):

The issue for educators is twofold I would suggest: firstly how can they best take advantage of abundance in their own teaching practice, and secondly how do they best equip learners to make use of it? It is the second challenge that is perhaps the most significant. Exploring pedagogies of abundance will be essential for educators to meet the challenge and equip their learners with the skills they need in an age of digital abundance. (Weller 2011:232-233)

My exploration has intendedly been processes of experimentation and of developing knowledge about rhizomatic learning as a pedagogy, whereas I have not been that interested in discussing the way Dave Cormier has adopted, adapted and rewritten the theories of Deleuze and Guattari in his vision of rhizomatic learning. Others have done that. But the exploratory processes and the ongoing questioning also mean that I have been presenting views, assumptions and perspectives on rhizomatic learning as a pedagogy of abundance – views, assumptions and perspectives that are up for evaluation throughout this series.

It might be provoking that my voice hasn’t been a firm, authoritative academic voice, present at once, when it comes to rhizomatic learning in this series. That is what we are used to, and maybe implicitly expect in blogposts, too, even though the blog as genre is a genre that foregrounds processuality and ongoing reflection – a space of construction, experimentation and improvement. But I have rephrased views earlier on in this series, I have tried out how far similarities between networked learning and rhizomatic learning might vouch for rhizomatic learning being a variation of networked learning, and I have focused on communities of practice, serendipity and bricolage as important aspects of ‘community’ and ‘networking’ in rhizomatic learning. I’m going to evaluate and rephrase these aspects that I have attributed to rhizomatic learning once more, while stating that rhizomatic learning is not a version of networked learning.

Exploration is exploring an area over time for new possibilities, experimenting while building up a knowledge base, and sometimes acquiring new knowledge through serendipity or through searching for interesting problems, (Darsø 2001:76). My exploratory approach in this series has been about asking curious questions, trying out hypotheses and making mistakes, then starting out somewhere else and eventually having to reconsider my previous analysis and viewpoints and assumptions once again. Much along the same line that Michelle Knobel and Judy Kalman point out teachers need to go:

Creativity and change require an ability to brave the unknown and a willingness to try, rethink and redo…While it is widely recognized that failure is an integral part of learning, it is often not welcome or ignored in professional development context or classrooms. Teachers have to be at ease with mistakes and taking risks when trying to learn something new; they’re also well served by appreciating what making mistakes and trying to correct them means for their students. Placing teachers in the learners’ seat is as much a part of their professional development as is theorizing education, critiquing policy, or analyzing practices. (Knobel and Kalman 2016:15)

Knobel and Kalman write about teachers’ professional development but to me this is also very much becoming the practical precondition for taking on Weller’s claim and exploring pedagogies of abundance. And when it comes to discussing pedagogies and necessary skills in an era of knowledge abundance, this is also what the researchers introduced in this series all recommend: rethink, reexamine, reimagine, recast, evaluate, update, redo the existing pedagogies and our models of learning and teaching to suit a world of knowledge abundance embracing digital media and new social and cultural practices.

Two pedagogies dealing with community, networks, complexity

The pedagogies and learning theories that are up for consideration as pedagogies and learning approaches of abundance all focus on collaborative, networked and distributed learning, and as social and situated pedagogies and learning theories they foster and build on self-directed learning and participatory culture. That counts for rhizomatic learning and networked learning, too. So there are a great many similarities between rhizomatic learning and networked learning, and in this series I wanted to challenge my understanding of what rhizomatic learning is as a pedagogy by comparing it to networked learning, taking off from a broader conception of open networked learning as it is presented by Kop, Fournier and Mak (2011)(see Part 1 of this series).

This broader and descriptive conception unfolds a perspective that includes connectivism as networked learning and shows an understanding of networked learning that is not compatible with the dominating understanding of networked learning as a theory, pedagogy and practices according to Ryberg, Buus and Georgsen who distinguish between connectivism and networked learning (Ryberg, Buus and Georgsen 2012:44-45). I introduced this dominating understanding of networked learning in Part 4 of this series, and it places rhizomatic learning – where each learner brings his/her context and has his/her own needs as a starting point – as a parallel to connectivism as a pedagogy and approach to learning that is not included in networked learning, and so rhizomatic learning is not a variation of (open) networked learning, although I claimed that in Part 1 and Part 4 of this series.

Despite the fact that rhizomatic learning and networked learning are having keywords, concepts and educational values in common, they are not the same and must be seen as two distinct theories with pedagogies and practices that in many ways respond similarly to societal developments and changes in education, teaching and learning. In his video “Embracing Uncertainty – Rhizomatic Learning” (2012) Dave Cormier in fact comments on many people’s assumptions that rhizomatic learning is networked learning and agrees to some degree that they look the same, but he also maintains that they are not. And I agree with him, but my comparison with networked learning – starting with my asking “What if?”, “Could it be that…?” – has made visible where some of the challenges might occur when choosing rhizomatic learning as a pedagogy of abundance in a campus-based course integrating online-learning. The theory, pedagogy and practice of rhizomatic learning certainly resisted being forced into the pedagogical framework of networked learning. This calls for a few precisions, definitions and comments in order to see rhizomatic learning and networked learning as two distinct theories, pedagogies and practices that in each their way are responding to an emerging new model of education (see Part 1 of this series) and a shift to an era of knowledge abundance.

Networks and community are equally important to rhizomatic learning and networked learning, and in my presentation of Dave Cormier’s campus-based course integrating online-learning drawing on his e-book “Making the community the curriculum” (2016) in Part 2, I saw a community of practice as the framework that can give direction to the learning processes initiated by the rhizome as a metaphor for the learning process. I listened to Dave Cormier presenting his idea of the rhizome, and in the embedded video “A talk on Rhizomatic Learning for ETMOOC” (2013) I heard him point to a community of practice as the kind of community he works with. I listened many times and I quoted what I heard. But I must have been wrong. Frances Bell and Jenny Mackness have kindly told me that Dave Cormier is not promoting a community of practice in his theory or pedagogy but just a community, and it is true that Cormier usually doesn’t define what he means by community in his writings or in his talks on video (Bell, Mackness & Funes 2016). So I have to admit that most places where I have written ‘communities of practice’ in relation to rhizomatic learning in this series it should have said ‘community’ in order to be true to Cormier’s way of conceiving rhizomatic learning. Nevertheless, the descriptions of the campus-based course integrating online-learning and the way the community is integrated into the learning processes introduced in the e-book still look very much like the practices of a community of practice to me.

A statement that definitely differentiates rhizomatic learning from networked learning is the comment I quoted in Part 2 of this series: “First rule of community learning is to give up control…” (A talk on Rhizomatic Learning for ETMOOC (2013) – embedded in Making the community the curriculum (2016)). It is a comment that in many ways is provokingly in opposition to the pedagogical values of networked learning as they are introduced in Part 4 of this series. The resistance to conformity that is inherent in rhizomatic learning as a learning approach became visible when I tried to fit the four cornerstones of rhizomatic learning into the design and processuality of a facilitated learning process much more consistent with networked learning (see Part 2 of this series). When dealing with education the rhizomatic way, students have to develop an understanding of the learning process they are going through while they are going through it, Dave Cormier says:

  • Students have to understand what they are looking for when joining the course.
  • Students have to take it upon themselves to engage and to continue to grow.
  • Students have to choose and to make a syllabus for themselves through connecting, responding and collaborating.
  • Students have to understand what it is to learn and what it is to know in a subject matter or a discipline and to be able to make decisions about how to create their own learning within that process.

So when I asked for a learning process that is facilitating, modelling and scaffolding students to get to know and understand what it is to learn, what it is to know and negotiate meaning, and what counts as knowledge in a discipline or a subject matter, I was in accordance with networked learning, whereas Dave Cormier clearly promotes self-directed learning right from the beginning of the learning process.

Networks play an equally important part of the understanding of learning in rhizomatic learning and networked learning, but as social and distributed theories they differ in their understanding of what a network is. The rhizome is a special kind of network that is non-linear, multi-perspective, heterogeneous and growing in any direction. But in part 1 I already added two concepts, serendipity and bricolage, to my description of the rhizome, knowing that none of them are part of Deleuze and Guattari’s writing. I did it to emphasize the chances of discovering new people, unknown resources, innovating ideas and knowledge through networking and thus describe the rhizome as a network that spreads via experimentation in a context, as Dave Cormier has put it in his talk “Embracing Uncertainty – Rhizomatic learning” (2012). This way the rhizome as a network combines the processes of networking with connecting knowledge in ever changing constellations, in assemblages with no entry point and no exit point. This exploratory aspect of networking is crucial to understanding the rhizome as the motor in rhizomatic learning when it comes to creating new, accurate and up-to-date knowledge. Apparently it is a self-perpetuating process once it has started but a process that may at the same time underexpose and overexpose the node in the processes of connecting ideas, people, resources and knowledge. It might almost seem more important to connect than what and who you connect with or where, when, how and why you connect.

When I called for a kind of balance between networks and community in Part 4 of this series, it turned out to be one of the aspects where rhizomatic learning resists my comparison with networked learning:

“But there needs to be some kind of balance to see rhizomatic learning as a variation of networked learning: a balance between the messy and sometime chaotic self-directed learning processes where individuals form and determine their own routes and learning through connecting to people and resources, and the open and mutual engagement in a learning community based on participatory culture and knowledge construction.“

After all, the balance between networks and community I advocate here is more a balance of networked learning – assuming that the community is existing prior to the learning process – than that of rhizomatic learning, as rhizomatic learning leaves room for smaller groups or individuals to break away. The community is not necessarily a stable group but an emergent grouping formed on the basis of interest and a result of ongoing networking in rhizomatic learning.

Networked learning makes room for several types of network theories within the framework of the theory, but social network analysis (SNA) might be at the centre as with Maarten de Laat when he defines “learning as a social network relationship” in Part 4 of this series (De Laat 2012:27; Haythornthwaite & De Laat 2010). With its focus on strong and weak ties social network analysis is integrated in De Laat’s definition of networked learning as a perspective: “…that aims to understand social learning processes by asking how people develop and maintain a ‘web’ of social relations used for learning and development…” (De Laat 2012:26). In Part 4 I also focused on personal learning networks as a road to collaboration and participation in networked learning, but I think it is important to add the distinctions Haythornthwaite and De Laat make when  individual’s personal learning networks are integrated in a learning network as it is intended seen from a networked learning perspective. They add the two social network terms ‘ego-centric networks’ and ‘whole networks’. The ego-centric network is a personal network seen from the individual’s point of view and has the learner at the centre of the network as presented in part 4, and the term was also used by Rajagopal, Brinke, Van Bruggen and Sloep as a synonym for the personal learning network in their article presented in Part 4:

Considering the network from the learner’s perspective provides a view of who they learn from (beyond peers), but also where conflicts in understanding may come from (e.g., unvetted online resources). It also reveals the conflicting – or complementary – demands on individuals… (Haythornthwaite and De Laat 2010:189)

On the other hand, the whole network view opens up to insights into how information and learning is occurring across a set of people, and this view is what we usually associate with social network analysis (SNA):

A whole network perspective provides a view of the entire structure, and thus of the ‘character’ of the network to which an individual belongs. Is the network collaborative: e.g., do most or all people freely share information, engage in discussion, or help search for information? Is the network divided into cliques, and if so on what basis (information hoarding? different interests? separate tasks?). Perhaps the most important contribution to SNA is this whole network view that takes the results of pair-wise connections to describe what holds the network together. As we begin to use SNA to examine and reveal learning networks, we are just at the beginning of understanding how and what makes for the kind of network outcomes we desire. (Haythornthwaite & De Laat 2010:189)

Social network analysis is not only a matter for educators but also for students to become aware of, and so both the skills, the competencies and the understanding of how to build and maintain ego-centric networks (personal learning networks) and how to use the social network analysis perspective must be part of what students know about networks and networking seen from a networked learning perspective. So here networked learning is much more specific than rhizomatic learning about what networks, networking literacies and learning literacies are and what must be integrated in a pedagogy of abundance. The way networks are applied in practice in rhizomatic learning and networked learning differ due to the differences in the conception of networks in the two learning theories. And still, I would like serendipity, bricolage and a bit of messiness to become part of social networking in networked learning in order to accentuate the necessity for diversity, inquiry and exploration if learning is going to happen and new knowledge to evolve.

I have tried to keep my own exploration open and running for as long as possible. My comparison between rhizomatic learning and networked learning has tended to join the two learning theories and pedagogies together to an extend that has more or less merged the two into one and the same in Part 4 of this series, until my exploration collapsed. It happened when I made the impossible attempt to merge in the design principles of rhizomatic learning with the principles and goals of networked learning. It is a paragraph of absurd prose.

And although I’m now ripping the bonds apart, there is yet another keyword that rhizomatic learning and networked learning have in common: complexity. Dealing with change, uncertainty and complexity are equally concerns and backdrops for the two learning theories. In this post-modern or late modern context complexity can be seen as a trend in education that is closely connected to seeing fluidity, contingency and emergence as characteristics of the post-modern or late modern which also changes the understanding of what counts as knowledge: knowledge is dynamic, continuously changing and emergent. This understanding of knowledge is based on complexity theory that stresses non-linearity, unpredictability and disorder as normal conditions, and as a consequence knowledge can be characterized as 1) indeterminate, 2) emergent and self-organizing, 3) both-and, 4) dominated by uncertainty, 5) emphasizing potentiality, and 6) working in a participatory universe (Darsø 2001:91).

I presented Maarten de Laat’s call for ‘New learning’ in Part 4:

maarten-de-laat-networked-learning-in-open-practices-slide1Maarten de Laat: Networked Learning in Open Practices (2015)

and in her talk “New Metaphors for Networked Learning”  (2016) Caroline Haythornthwaite also advocates for opening up to complexity at many levels of education, stating that “Structure giving way to complexity”. She sees complexity as one of a number of trends that are at work simultaneously and have effects on learning, information dissemination and knowledge production (Haythormthwaite 2015:294).

Both De Laat and Haythornthwaithe respond to the challenges in Martin Weller’s educational model of abundance from a networked learning perspective and embrace change and complexity in both learning and education to meet these challenges. In many ways Caroline Haythornthwaite is complementary to Martin Weller’s model when she puts forward her view on the impact of social and technical changes on emergent models of knowledge and practice:

The dynamic and emergent nature of our media and learning spaces reformulates questions away from what is the best structure, system, or set of facts to address a problem to how to plan for complexity, be prepared for emergent factors, and continue to evolve and use a knowledge base. This changes the orientation from: closed systems and communities to open systems and crowds; information retrieval to contribution; individual – to – social learning; individual – to – community knowledge-building (Scardamalia and Bereiter, 2006); authority-defined knowledge and practice – to – peer knowledge and practice; following a class syllabus and being in a class to defining the content of the class and what it means to be in a class (Paulin & Haythornthwaite, in press)./This is not a call for a clean sweep of past questions and practices. These have worked well for many years and continue to be important ways of learning and knowledge building. But, like the complexity brought about by the interplay of contemporary new media trends, learning practices also have become more complex. (Haythornthwaite 2015:302)

Likewise Dave Cormier has sharpened his perspective on complexity in his recent talk “The rhizomatic lense – seeing learning from the perspective of abundance” (2015). When discussing how and why rhizomatic learning is supporting complexity in a world of abundance Cormier positions rhizomatic learning as an ‘answer’ to my inquiry about what a pedagogy of abundance might look like:

And still, despite the resemblances and the parallels in keywords, concepts and educational values, the question of what counts as knowledge is exactly where it becomes evident to me, that rhizomatic learning is not a variation of networked learning. So it is time to break off the experiment of comparison and introduce a change of perspective in my exploration while asking: how is rhizomatic learning working on reinstalling the complex domain in disciplines and subject matters and how is complexity linked to the aim of being a pedagogy that promotes and fosters new, accurate and up-to-date knowledge and innovation in a world of abundance. This is also a matter of what counts as knowledge in rhizomatic learning.

Knowledge and knowledge management in an era of knowledge abundance

In an era of knowledge abundance and knowledge being connected through digital media, knowledge management becomes an important aspect of learning and education. How to find, handle, interpret, validate, negotiate, create, improve, apply and share information and knowledge through connecting , communication and collaboration with online resources, experts, peers, networks, communities and communities of practice is essential in the processes of knowledge creation, I wrote in Part 1 of this series. And in his e-book “Teaching in a Digital Age” (2015) Tony Bates adds that knowledge management is perhaps the most overarching skill needed in the 21st century, as “Knowledge is not only rapidly changing with new research, new developments, and rapid dissemination of ideas and practices over the Internet, but the sources of information are increasing, with a great deal of variability in the reliability or validity of information.” (Bates 2015:19). And this is a double challenge to any pedagogy of abundance, I would say.  But there are different views of what constitutes knowledge, how knowledge is acquired, and how knowledge is validated depending on the domain, the discipline or the subject matter in question. So Bates agrees with the view on knowledge as dynamic, expanding and constantly changing which has been introduced by Maarten De Laat, Caroline Haythornthwaite and Dave Cormier. But Bates resists the idea advocated by among others Dave Cormier that the nature of knowledge has undergone radical changes (Bates 2015:62).

As a backdrop for understanding what constitutes knowledge, how knowledge is acquired, and how knowledge is validated in rhizomatic learning, I’ll dwell on Tony Bates’ arguments about knowledge and academic knowledge in a digital age. While discussing academic versus applied knowledge in his book, Bates comments: “The difficulty I have with the broad generalisations about the changing nature of knowledge is that there have always been different kinds of knowledge…Thus while beliefs about what constitutes ‘important’ knowledge may be changing, this does not mean that the nature of academic knowledge is changing.” (Bates 2015:62). And Bates develops his arguments:

I agree that academic knowledge is different from everyday knowledge, but I challenge the view that academic knowledge is ‘pure’, not applied. It is too narrow a definition, because it thus excludes all the professional schools and disciplines, such as engineering, medicine, law, business, education that ‘apply’ academic knowledge. These are just as accepted and ‘valued’ parts of universities and colleges as the ‘pure’ disciplines of humanities and science…(Bates 2015:62-63)

These arguments are also met within the views on new production of knowledge by Gibbons, Limoges, Nowotny et al as they promote two modes of knowledge production: Mode 1 and Mode 2. Mode 1 is focused within a particular discipline, produces knowledge in the absence of interested parties (autonomy), is an individual matter with criteria of one particular discipline (peer reviewed publications, peers and experts as gatekeepers in relation to relevant problems, ideas and research techniques in the discipline, making quality and control two sides of the same coin while establishing an understanding of what good or ‘correct’ research is inside that particular discipline). Mode 1 is associated with ‘traditional’ research in universities and higher education, but it is also an ideal of knowledge production that is already taught in K-12 schools.

Mode 2 is focused on application in practice. Mode 2 knowledge production is set in a web of co-producers coming from different disciplines, domains and contexts, and Mode 2 is centered on the usefulness for the involved parties and for the society in general, so heterogenous groups of professionals, practitioners and experts collaborate on problems defined in a specific but complex context of application and people. This makes Mode 2 a collective phenomenon with a wider set of criteria that is not grounded in a normative understanding of what good or ‘correct’ research is, but has to be evaluated from several parameters of quality due to the heterogenous group of people involved and their different norms of quality. So Mode 2 is transdisciplinary and heterogenous. Mode 2 knowledge production is taking place not only at universities and colleges but also in contexts like professions, businesses, research centres, libraries, museums, trades and ministries (Darsø 2001:126-127; Hobel, Nielsen, Thomsen and Zeuner 2015:14-16).

As in Tony Bates’ discussion of academic versus applied knowledge, Mode 1 and Mode 2 are to be seen as modes of knowledge production supplementing each other. Mode 1 has not become obsolete, and it is still needed and has its role to play in knowledge production in an era of knowledge abundance. Mode 2 knowledge is to be considered just as valid as Mode 1 knowledge. And the two of them are interdependent on many occasions. The production of Mode 1 knowledge is obviously associated with academic knowledge which is a specific kind of knowledge according to Tony Bates:

“In summary, academic knowledge is a second order form of knowledge that seeks abstractions and generalization based on reasoning and evidence.

Fundamental components of academic knowledge are:

  • transparency
  • codification
  • reproduction, and
  • communicability.

Transparency means that the source can be traced and verified. Codification means that the knowledge can be consistently represented in some form (words, symbols, videos) that enables interpretation by someone other than the originator. Knowledge can be reproduced or have multiple copies. Lastly knowledge must be in a form such that it can be communicated and challenged by others.” (Bates 2015:61)

When it comes to academic knowledge, Bates argues that although some aspects of knowledge do change in a digital age where knowledge is dynamic, expanding and ever changing as quoted earlier, academic knowledge does not and should not change a lot with regards to its values and goals. But Bates has his eyes on the necessity for the students of today to learn not only content but also how it can be applied and used and to develop the skills that are needed to go on learning (Bates 2015:61). Knowledge involves, Bates says, “…two strongly inter-linked but different components: content and skills. Content includes facts, ideas, principles, evidence and descriptions of processes and procedures.” (Bates 2015:18), while skills are consisting of the skills that are required in a knowledge-based society – also known as 21st century skills and presented in the model of 21st century learning in Part 3 of this series.  To Bates the point is that the development of skills should be given the same attention as content acquisition so that learners have both the knowledge and the skills to handle and succeed in an era of knowledge abundance (Bates 2015:19). And as mentioned earlier: knowledge management is the most important skill of them all.

So Bates wants to develop the conception of academic knowledge, but he doesn’t see it as redundant or as a kind of knowledge that can be replaced by self-directed learning and networking (Bates 2015:66). Here Bates’ view almost echoes the view on past and emergent models of knowledge and practice presented by Caroline Haythornthwaithe earlier. Mode 1 knowledge has to go hand in hand with Mode 2 knowledge, and likewise learning has to be a combination of content, skills and competencies, and attitudes. At least this is how I read Tony Bates, and that is the reason why “…it is not sufficient just to teach academic content (applied or not). It is equally important also to enable students to develop the ability to know how to find, analyse, organise and apply information/content within their professional and personal activities, to take responsibility for their own learning, and to be flexible and adaptable in developing new knowledge and skills. All this is needed because of the explosion in the quantity of knowledge in any professional field that makes it impossible to memorise or even be aware of all the developments that are happening in the field, and the need to keep up-to-date within the field after graduating.” (Bates 2015:63).

What counts as knowledge in rhizomatic learning?

What counts as knowledge in rhizomatic learning? How is rhizomatic learning working on reinstalling the complex domain in disciplines and subject matters, and does it make innovation happen? Looking at rhizomatic learning as a model for knowledge production suited for an era of ever changing knowledge, knowledge management becomes a core theme closely connected to the question of how we know what we know. And while Tony Bates equally emphasizes Mode 1 and Mode 2 knowledge as important forms of knowledge in an era of knowledge abundance, supplementing each other, Dave Cormier focuses on Mode 2 knowledge and knowledge production as a collective phenomenon while he is in alignment with the view of knowledge introduced in Martin Weller’s educational model of abundance (see Part 1 of this series):

  • A change to a more participatory, socially constructed view of knowledge is needed to suit a demand-pull model of education.
  • New technologies are the basis in realizing this new conception of knowledge as networked and socially constructed. (Weller 2011:228)

In his much cited article “Rhizomatic Education: Community as Curriculum” (2008) Dave Cormier supports this view due to its promotion of new technology, web 2.0 and participatory culture:

The existing educational model with its expert-centered pedagogical planning and publishing cycle is too static and prescribed to accommodate the kind of fluid, transitory conception of knowledge that is necessary to understand the simplest of Web-based concepts. The ephemeral nature of the Web and the rate at which cutting-edge knowledge about it and on it becomes obsolete disrupts the painstaking process by which knowledge has traditionally been codified. Traditional curricular domains are based on long accepted knowledge, and the “experts” in those domains are easily identified by comparing their assertions with the canon of accepted thought (Banks 1993);…In less-traditional curricular domains then, knowledge creators are not accurately epitomized as traditional, formal, verified experts; rather, knowledge in these areas is created by a broad collection of knowers sharing in the construction and ongoing evolution of a given field. Knowledge becomes a negotiation (Farrell 2001). (Cormier 2008)

Tony Bates discussion of academic knowledge, Mode 1 and Mode 2 knowledge echoes in Cormier’s writing, and while supporting Weller’s claim for a changing view on knowledge, Cormier especially opposes the rules of transparency, codification and communicability as aspects of reliability and validity of information and knowledge in traditional academic knowledge management:

New communication technologies and the speeds at which they allow the dissemination of information and the conversion of information to knowledge have forced us to reexamine what constitutes knowledge; moreover, it has encouraged us to take a critical look at where it can be found and how it can be validated. The explosion of freely available sources of information has helped drive rapid expansion in the accessibility of the canon and in the range of knowledge available to learners. (Cormier 2008)

Thus the foundations upon which we are working are changing as well as the speed at which new information must be integrated into those foundations. The traditional method of expert translation of information to knowledge requires time: time for expertise to be brought to bear on new information, time for peer review and validation. In the current climate, however, the delay could make the knowledge itself outdated by the time it is verified (Evans and Hayes 2005; Meile 2005)…Information is coming too fast for our traditional methods of expert verification to adapt. (Cormier 2008)

In favour of Mode 2 knowledge production Dave Cormier also goes along with a change to a more participatory and socially constructed view of knowledge: “In particular, social learning practices are allowing for a more discursive rhizomatic approach to knowledge discovery. Social learning is the practice of working in groups, not only to explore an established canon but also to negotiate what qualifies as knowledge.” (Cormier 2008). Here Cormier proposes his view of knowledge: knowledge is dynamic, emergent and ever changing – a view that is grounded in the rhizome as a more flexible conception of knowledge for the digital age. So in the theoretical arguments framing rhizomatic learning as a pedagogy of abundance, the rhizome is both 1) a conception of knowledge (what knowledge is), 2) a specific kind of network (what it means to know), and 3) a metaphor for learning in a specific context (what it means to learn). And so, as a multi-perspective metaphor, the rhizome cristallizes as a metaphor for “coping with the loss of a canon against which to compare, judge, and value knowledge.” (Cormier 2008). Cormiers answer to this condition of uncertainty is to focus on complex problems and collaborative problem-solving that match the complexity and uncertainty of rapidly changing knowledge and the abundance of ideas, resources, people and practices online.

Through the solving of complex problems that call for networking and collaborative interaction while experimenting, developing and co-creating new, accurate and up-to-date knowledge, Cormier challenges authoritarian and hierarchical ways of thinking and claims to replace the canon and the curriculum of a discipline or subject matter with interpretations, negotiations, peer-defined knowledge and practice, and with diverse and changing perspectives on complex problems set in a complex situation and context. The idea of the tree as knowledge is substituted for the idea of weed as knowledge as Cormier expresses it in his talk “The rhizomatic lense – seeing learning from the perspective of abundance” (2015). Stressing the processuality of rhizomatic learning this way, Cormier emphasizes that knowledge is not a thing but a result of negotiation and a way of knowing. And so Dave Cormier tries to save knowing from becoming a fixed canon of ‘pure’ content. It is this dichotomy between ‘pure’ and applied knowledge Tony Bates offers resistance to in “Teaching in a Digital Age” (2015), and in a sense Cormier tries to overcome the dichotomy when he adopts Dave Snowden’s The Cynefin Framework as the complexity model he connects to and combines with his own conception of knowledge in order to establish a vision of learning: rhizomatic learning works in the complex domain of The Cynefin Framework.

As a complexity model The Cynefin Framework presents four “domains of knowledge all of which have validity within different contexts” (Snowden 2002:11), and in an early article Snowden announces that “It is about creating focused dynamic interactions between traditional and unexpected sources of knowledge to enable the emergence of new meaning and insight.” (Snowden 2002:3). Knowledge is not just to be considered a thing but also to be managed as flow, “…as an ephemeral, active process of relating.” (Snowden 2002:5-6). So as a complexity model The Cynefin Framework works with both-and, with paradox:

Philosophers have long seen paradox as a means of creating new knowledge and understanding. Physicists breaking out of the Newtonian era have had to accept that electrons are paradoxically both waves and particles – if you look for waves, you see waves, if you look for particles, you see particles. Properly understood knowledge is paradoxically both a thing and a flow…we look for both in different ways and embrace the consequent paradox. (Snowden 2002:7)

This sounds familiar to me, there is alignment with the ideas of rhizomatic learning, and in fact there is also a paradox entangled in the rhizomatic learning process: students following their own paths like rhizomes while getting accustomed to lines of flight and flow. As I wrote in Part 3 of this series an important aspect of rhizomatic learning as a pedagogy is that in many ways it turns the ‘end goals’ of a traditional learning process into its starting point: as a student you need to know what you have come in to learn when you enter the rhizomatic learning process, but to know what you have come in to learn implies critical thinking, reflection and independence, and that is paradoxically also what and why you have come in to learn. By introducing non-linearity in the form of the rhizome as a metaphor for learning in an experimenting, multi-nodal, multi-directional, multi-perspective and participatory way, learning itself becomes a complex system that is a network of many interdependent parts which interact according to the context.

A parallel can be found in Dave Snowden’s article where he describes the processes of the complex domain this way:

By increasing information flow, variety and connective-ness either singly or in combination, we can break down existing patterns and create the conditions under which new patterns will emerge, although the nature of emergence is not predictable. (Snowden 2002:16).

It is these processes of grasping relationships and recognizing changes in culture, Dave Cormier tries to initiate by describing the phases of the students’ self-directed learning processes as 1) orient, 2) declare, 3) network, 4) cluster, and 5) focus (Cormier 2015). The unpredictability of the non-linear dynamic exploration and connection of knowledge, people, resources and ideas is kept in a kind of balance by a sense of insight and temporary order through working in informal communities (cluster) and focusing on the complex problems and challenges chosen in order to co-create new, accurate and up-to-date knowledge. But there are also traces of the domain of chaos in rhizomatic learning as a pedagogy: it is the uncharted domain focusing on new and innovative knowledge and working through temporary communities (Snowden 2002:10-13).

The complex domain is a domain of informal learning according to Snowden: “…we create ecologies in which the informal communities of the complex domain can self-organise and self-manage their knowledge to transfer to the formal, knowable [complicated] domain on a just in time basis.” (Snowden 2002:19). And ‘just in time’ requires openness to networks. But when Snowden in his article insists on keeping a connection between complex and complicated, informal and formal, and between learning and teaching when it comes to an educational context, Cormier focuses wholeheartedly on the complex domain and students following their own pathways in his introductions to rhizomatic learning in the video talks embedded in this series.

That is, Dave Snowden is intensely concerned about the exchange and flow of knowledge between the four domains in his complexity model, while – although he recognizes the dialogue between the complex and the complicated domains – Dave Cormier seems to see the complex domain as an alternative to the ‘traditional’ knowledge production in the complicated domain as he writes in his article:

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. The community, then, has the power to create knowledge within a given context and leave that knowledge as a new node connected to the rest of the network. (Cormier 2008)

Informal learning is connected to the complex domain in Dave Snowden’s complexity model, and his vision of the community is associated with clustering – communities being based on mutual interest – and with swarming like in swarming bees as an alternative that “is used where no naturally occurring cluster can be found, either to create a cluster or to make one visible.” (Snowden 2002:21). Snowden’s conceptualizations match Cormier’s emphasis on initiating informal learning through introduction to an existing professional community where students can participate, and the processes of clustering and swarming, forming temporary communities, look very similar to the learning approach of rhizomatic learning that the student has to adapt and perform in order to learn what he/she has come in to learn: 1) orient, 2) declare, 3) network, 4) cluster, and 5) focus. I think the answer to why community is not to be understood as a community of practice in rhizomatic learning can be found here: the metaphor of swarming, the idea of clustering and the heterogeneity and temporary existence of them both goes against the idea of what a community of practice is in The Cynefyn Framework: a community based on known membership and known objectives and belonging to the complicated domain, not the complex. So social learning has a special meaning in rhizomatic learning as it connects students following their own pathways into clusters for a while where the processes of knowledge production and negotiation of meaning causes learning based on a social constructivist view of learning.

Aiming at bringing the knowledge flow of complexity at work in a pedagogical and educational context, rhizomatic learning has an affinity with Dave Snowden’s thinking – and not with networked learning – as it becomes very visible with Snowden’s characterization of The Cynefin Framework:

…an idealised model of knowledge flow involving three key boundary transitions – the disruption of entrained thinking, the creation and stimulation of informal communities and the just in time transfer of knowledge from informal to formal.(Snowden 2002:18)

But in his visions for learning Dave Cormier at the same time sketches what he sees as a key issue for a pedagogy and a practice that incapsulates the conditions of complexity in a digital age: “…a weird historical process has happened: as we have got more abundant access to knowledge, we have reduced the complexity of the teaching.” (Cormier 2015). In Cormier’s world abundance is synonymous with fact checking and how to-videos online, with foundational knowledge and surveys a few clicks away, as he presents it in his talk “The rhizomatic lense –seeing learning from the perspective of abundance” (2015). Abundance understood as the explosion in the quantity of knowledge – stressing heterogeneity and a diversity of knowledge, ideas, resources and people being available – is what is associated with complexity in Cormier’s world, and that is what qualifies rhizomatic learning to be seen as a pedagogy of abundance according to Martin Weller’s educational model of education (see Part 1).

This focus on knowledge production, on the other hand, calls for a pedagogical attention to teaching students how to be sure they enter and stay in the complex domain, and this has all to do with acquiring skills, competencies and meta knowledge about knowledge management, I think. In the complex domain both problems and solutions are ambiguous, so you’ll have to ask not just good questions but complex questions that deal with relevant and critical just in time problems, and there are no correct answers but possibilities coming from connecting knowledge, people, ideas and resources while crossing the borders of disciplines, subject matters and institutions. Complex problem-solving is about asking new and open questions, about recycling and combining the information and knowledge already available while coping with paradoxes, about finding new methods, and about trying to rethink and reimagine preconditions, understandings, norms and values. This is where networking and interdisciplinarity play a crucial role along with negotiating meaning, where the possibilities of networks and serendipity are tried out, and problem-solving and heterogeneity meet and stimulate each other. Understanding dynamic processes and complex contexts are the hearth of the matter here. As Mode 2 knowledge production, knowledge production in rhizomatic learning is focused on application in practice of actual, relevant problem-solving and set in a web of co-producers coming from different disciplines, domains and contexts as described earlier. But introducing students to a full description of what, how, why, where and when to do to enter and stay in the complex domain is not a part of Dave Cormier’s pedagogical considerations.

Innovation is an asset of the pedagogy of rhizomatic learning and implicitly connected to the practice of rhizomatic learning where the processes of qualifying new knowledge might produce innovation (Darsø 2001:29) – and when comparing with Cormier’s thinking about what counts as knowledge, it seems that it is rather radical innovation than incremental innovation that is the purpose. Innovation is about producing something new, that has to be useful and have value and it has to be usable and applicable in practice. And value has to be understood in the broadest possible sense, not just in the economical sense. The new – whether it is knowledge, procedures, methods, programming or artefacts – is not an innovation until it has been proven usable and valuable in practice and accepted by its users. And this is exactly what the complex domain – and especially the domain of chaos – is about in Dave Snowden’s thinking: an emergent practice focused on producing the new, the different, the unique (Snowden 2010). So students will have to master not only entering and staying in the complex domain but also to try to work actively with producing innovative knowledge in order to accomplish the rhizomatic quest, but I don’t think they will get there by navigating the complexity only.

Students will need to know how to work with the uncharted and with ‘unknowledge’, that is asking questions about the knowledge you don’t know you don’t know, and asking questions about areas you didn’t know existed, by asking “What if?”, “Could it be that…?, “It is impossible, but still: why not try to…?”. That would also be a start working deliberately, creatively, critically and reflective not only with uncertainty and complexity, understanding dynamic processes and changing perspectives, but also with producing new knowledge and innovation. As it is, there is no guarantee that rhizomatic learning as a pedagogy and a practice produces anything but knowledge that is new to the students but well known to the experts, the discipline, the subject matter or the social practice. Students still need to learn and be taught how to. But by saying that, I have left the informal space of rhizomatic learning.

A conclusion and almost the end of my exploration

The question of what counts as knowledge is what distinguishes rhizomatic learning from networked learning. Rhizomatic learning is concerned with producing innovative Mode 2 knowledge and based on a social constructivist view on learning, as far as I can see, as the starting point of the rhizomatic learning process is the individual learner or student. Networked learning, on the other hand, is engaged in working with foundational knowledge and Mode 1 knowledge as well as Mode 2 knowledge production, as I see it. Networked learning strives to keep a connection between teaching and learning, formal and informal education, and deals with both the simple, the complicated and the complex domains in Dave Snowden’s complexity model, so to say, whereas rhizomatic learning has its specific focus on self-directed learning and preferably in informal spaces in the complex domain. Networked learning is based on a socio-cultural perspective on learning and teaching (Hodgson, McConnell and Dirckinck-Holmfeld 2012:292-293; Ryberg, Buus and Georgsen 2012:51). This is the reason why networked learning values more strongly tied groups and communities of practice/learning/inquiry/knowledge – contrary to rhizomatic learning – while building on collaborative interdependences between learners and on relational dialogue, critical reflexivity and shared experiences during the learning processes:

“Rather, learning and knowledge construction is located in the connections and interactions between learners, teacher and resources, and seen as emerging from critical dialogues and enquiries. As such, networked learning theory seems to encompass an understanding of learning as a social, relational phenomenon, and a view of knowledge and identity as constructed through interaction and dialogue.” (Ryberg, Buus and Georgsen 2012:45)

“…there is a shift from seeing knowledge as an object to seeing knowing and indeed learning as a situated activity and something people “do” together, collectively and socially.” (Hodgson, De Laat, McConnell and Ryberg 2014:22)

I won’t blame you, if you still find it hard to see and understand the differences and distinctions between rhizomatic learning and networked learning. It can still be difficult to grasp that the definition of networked learning, quoted at the beginning of Part 4 in this series, doesn’t cover rhizomatic learning, too. You need to dig deep down into these two pedagogies to find out that they are not the same. And it shows that it might not be that easy to take on Martin Weller’s challenge and start exploring and experimenting with possible pedagogies of abundance. But it is also necessary to remember that these two pedagogies and practices of abundance might not be fully developed, described, conceptualized or theorized, even though networked learning has a quite long history by now. They might still be considered pedagogies in the making, so to speak.

I have come to an end with my exploration and I will conclude firstly that rhizomatic learning is a pedagogy of abundance not only in Dave Cormier’s view but also in the sense of Martin Weller. There is agreement between Weller’s educational model of abundance and the principal lines in Cormier’s thinking. Secondly I’ll repeat that rhizomatic learning is not a version of (open) networked learning as this blogpost hopefully has proved.  And thirdly it is equally important to stress that networked learning is not a generic term for several pedagogies of abundance but a specific pedagogy with a range of specific practices and a possible pedagogical choise for an era of knowledge abundance side by side with among others problem based learning, communities of practice, connectivism, rhizomatic learning and connected learning.

Is there anything left to say then? Well, after all I think there is still a little summing up to be done on pedagogies of abundance in general. It is not quite the end yet.

Further reading:

Bates, Tony (2015): Teaching in a Digital Age

Bell, Frances, Mackness, Jenny and Funes, Mariana (2016): Participant Association and Emergent Curriculum in a MOOC: Can the Community be the Curriculum?, Research in Learning Technology 2016, 24: 29927 – http://dx.doi.org/10.3402/rlt.v24.29927

Cormier, Dave (2016): Making the community the curriculum

Cormier, Dave (2015): The rhizomatic lense – seeing learning from the perspective of abundance. IATED talks

Cormier, Dave (2012): Embracing Uncertainty – Rhizomatic learning

Cormier, Dave (2008): Rhizomatic Education: Community as Curriculum, Dave’s Educational Blog

Darsø, Lotte (2001): Innovation in the Making, Samfundslitteratur København

Haythornthwaithe, Caroline (2015): Rethinking learning spaces: networks, structures, and possibilities for learning in the twenty-first century, Communication Research and Practice, 1:4, 292-306, DOI:10.1080/22041451.2015.1105773

Haythornthwaite, Caroline and De Laat, Maarten (2010): Social Networks and Learning Networks: Using social network perspectives to understand social learning, Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Networked Learning 2010, Edited by: Dirckinck-Holmfeld, L, Hodgson, V, Jones, C, de Laat M, McConnell, D & Ryberg, T

Hobel, Peter, Nielsen, Helle Lykke, Thomsen, Pia og Zeuner, Lilli (red.)(2015): Interkulturel pædagogik – Kulturmøder i teori og praksis, U Press København

Hodgson, Vivien, De Laat, Maarten, McConnell, David, and Ryberg, Thomas (2014): Researching Design, Experience and Practice of Networked Learning: An Overview. In V. Hodgson et al. (eds.), The Design, Experience and Practice of Networked Learning, pp. 1-26, Springer New York

Hodgson, Vivien, McConnell, David, and Dirckinck-Holmfeld, Lone (2012): The Theory, Practice and Pedagogy of Networked Learning. In L. Dirckinck-Holmfeld et al. (eds.), Exploring the Theory, Pedagogy and Practice of Networked Learning, pp. 291-305, Springer New York

Knobel, Michele and Kalman, Judith (eds.)(2016): New Literacies and Teacher Learning. Professional Development and the Digital Turn, Peter Lang Publishing New York

Kop, Rita, Fournier, Helene and Mak, John Sui Fai (2011): A Pedagogy of Abundance or a Pedagogy to Support Human Beings? Participant Support on Massive Online Courses, The International Review of research In Open and Distributed Learning Vol. 12. No 7

Mackness, J., Bell, F., & Funes, M. (2016): The rhizome: A problematic metaphor for teaching and learning in a MOOC,  Australian Journal of Educational Technology, 32 (1), 78-91

McConnell, David, Hodgson, Vivien, and Dirckinck-Holmfeld, Lone (2012): Networked Learning: A Brief History and New Trends. In L. Dirckinck-Holmfeld et al. (eds.), Exploring the Theory, Pedagogy and Practice of Networked Learning, pp. 3-24, Springer New York

Rajagopal, Kamakshi, Brinke, Desirée Joosten-ten, Van Bruggen, Jan, and Sloep, Peter B. (2012): Understanding personal learning networks: Their structure, content and networking skills needed to optimally use them, First Monday, Volume 17, Number 1-2 January 2012

Ryberg, Thomas, Buus, Lillian, and Georgsen, Marianne (2012): Differences in Understandings of Networked Learning Theory: Connectivity or Collaboration? In L. Dirckinck-Holmfeld et al. (eds.), Exploring the Theory, Pedagogy and Practice of Networked Learning, pp. 43-58, Springer New York

Snowden, Dave (2010): The Cynefin Framework

Snowden, Dave (2002): Complex acts of knowing – paradox and descriptive self-awareness, IBM Global Series

Weller, Martin (2011): A pedagogy of abundance, revista española de pedagogia año LXIX, no 249, mayo-agosto, 223-236

Photo by photo fiddler on Flickr CC-BY-SA – Some rights reserved

Elna Mortensen

 

 

In an era of knowledge abundance – Part 5

In an era of knowledge abundance – Part 4

536068094_69f72b259f_mRhizomatic learning is a variation of ‘open networked learning’, I stated in part one of this series of blog posts while looking into what a pedagogy of abundance might look like. At first sight this might not seem the most likely conclusion to make, but to me the design for learning laid out in Dave Cormier’s conception of rhizomatic learning is in alignment with the definition of networked learning:

Networked learning is learning in which information and communications (ICT) is used to promote connections: between one learner and other learners, between learners and tutors, between a learning community and its lear-ning resources. (Goodyear et al 2004, p.2) (Ryberg, Buus and Georgsen 2012:45)

In their focus on communities, networks, participation and participatory culture, collaboration and negotiation of meaning the four examples of rhizomatic learning and networking across the educational system, presented in part two and part three of this series, show that the educational and pedagogical values in rhizomatic learning as a pedagogical approach overlap the educational and pedagogical values in networked learning as a theory and a pedagogy:

…networked learning can be seen to be derived from critical and humanistic traditions (e.g. those of Dewey, 1916; Freire, 1970; Mead, 1934) and that learning is social, takes place in communities and networks, is a shared practice, involves negotiation and requires colla-borative dialogue (Hodgson, McConnell and Dirckinck-Holmfeld, 2012). (Hodgson, De Laat, McConnell and Ryberg 2014:2)

So while seeing the world, including learning and teaching, from a socio-cultural standpoint, networked learning “offers the theory and practice for a pedagogy that is appropriate or suited to live in a digitally and networked world where sharing and collaborative ways of working are the norm rather than the exception”, as it is defined by Vivien Hodgson, David McConnell, and Lone Dirckinck-Holmfeld (Hodgson, McConnell and Dirckinck-Holmfeld 2012:292). Hence, my comment on rhizomatic learning as ‘open networked learning’ seems to be an unnecessary doubling, as openness is to be seen as an inherent and implicit characteristic of networked learning today:

Over the years, interest has widened to include the social aspects of networked learning, with a focus on building and cultivating social networks and seeing technology as a part of the phenomenon rather than as an end in itself. Networked learning focuses therefore on the diversity of social relationships that people develop, the strategies that they use to maintain them and the value that the relationships creates for learning. (De Laat 2012:27)

So let me rephrase my statement: rhizomatic learning is a variation of networked learning, as I see it.

The landscape of networked learning

The landscape of networked learning is formed by shared pedagogical values, although the shared values can lead to a variety of learning designs. Nevertheless, Hodgson, McConnell and Dirckinck-Holmfeld estimate that most networked learning practitioners agree in valuing these aspects of networked learning:

  • Cooperation and collaboration in the learning process.
  • Working in groups and in communities.
  • Discussion and dialogue.
  • Self-determination in the learning process.
  • Difference and its place in a central learning process.
  • Trust and relationships: weak and strong ties.
  • Reflexivity and investment of self in the networked learning processes.
  • The role technology plays in connecting and mediating. (Hodgson, McConnell and Dirckinck-Holmfeld 2012:295)

And they suggest that the practice of networked learning should be seen from a holistic perspective, where each aspect of networked learning has to be present and integrated in the practice and has to contribute to the educational values underpinning networked learning (Hodgson, McDonnell and Dirckinck-Holmfeld 2012:295)

Originating as an approach and a theory interested in understanding the developments in technology to support learning and engrossed in exploring socio-cultural designs of learning, networked learning is linked to the traditions of open education and to radical emancipatory and humanistic educational ideas and approaches such as critical pedagogy and democratic and experiental learning, as referred to in the quote earlier. These educational values of dialogue, independence and interdependence become visible in the six areas of pedagogy that David McConnell has emphasized as areas that need to be addressed when designing for networked learning. And of course, the shared pedagogical values mentioned earlier must be contained in these six areas of pedagogy, too:

1 Openness in the educational process.

Openness leads to meaningful learning and can be facilitated by the development of a learning community, where one works for oneself and for others and where development occurs.

2 Self-determined learning.

Self-determined learners take primarily responsibility for identifying their own learning needs, and help others in determining theirs. In these processes, learners become aware of how they learn, and develop deep approaches to learning.

3 A real purpose in the cooperative process.

Much higher education learning is abstract and often unrelated to real situations, and many students struggle to see the purpose of it. If learners have a real purpose in learning, they engage with the learning process in a qualitatively different way.

4 A supportive learning environment.

A supportive learning environment is one where learners encourage and facilitate each other’s efforts. Being supportive does not, however, mean a lack of intellectual challenge.

5 Collaborative assessment of learning.

Collaborative self-peer-tutor-assessment processes are central to networked learning: they are a corollary of cooperative learning and support the cooperative process.

6 Assessment and evaluation of the ongoing learning process.

Assessing and evaluating the networked learning course is also a cooperative tutor-learner process. Learners must feel that there is a real opportunity to change the design of the course; this can be achieved by the tutor and learners working together in regular group processing. (McConnell 2006)”(McConnell, Hodgson and Dirckinck-Holmfeld 2012:8-9)

Accordingly, in order to sum up, collaborative and cooperative learning, learning through dialogue and group work together with online resources and collaborative knowledge construction is the hearth of the matter in networked learning (McConnell, Hodgson and Dirckinck-Holmfeld 2012:10). With Web 2.0 the participatory aspect of networked learning gives possibilities for focusing on the learner as a node in a network while designing for “the relational interdependencies and connections between learners in their mutual meaning construction.” (Hodgson, McConnell and Dirckinck-Holmfeld 2012:300). This way learning and knowledge construction happens in a dynamic, ongoing process of connecting knowledge and negotiating meaning:

However, the ideas of relations and connections suggest that learning is not confined to the individual mind or the individual learner. Rather, learning and knowledge con-struction is located in the connections and interactions between learners, teachers and resources, and seen as emerging from  critical dialogues and enquiries. As such, networked learning theory seems to encompass an understanding of learning as a social, relational pheno-menon, and a view of knowledge and identity as con-structed through interactions and dialogue. (Ryberg, Buus and Georgsen 2012:45)

This is what Maarten de Laat terms ‘learning as a social network relationship’ (De Laat 2012:27). And rather, this intersection of networks and community leaves space for rhizomatic learning to fit in: the focus on independence and interdependence underlines my view, I think. But there needs to be some kind of balance to see rhizomatic learning as a variation of networked learning: a balance between the messy and sometime chaotic self-directed learning processes where individuals form and determine their own routes and learning through connecting to people and resources, and the open and mutual engagement in a learning community based on participatory culture and knowledge construction. And in Dave Cormier’s case the motto “The community becomes the curriculum” is the expression of this. With Cormier the community is a community of practice (Wenger 1998), as introduced in part two of this series of blog posts, but networked learning does not privilege a particular pedagogical model, so the kind of community that can be applied in networked learning might just as well be:

  • A learning community with a focus on learning together, sharing and developing relationships.
  • Communities of inquiry with a focus on inquiring about issues of common interest.
  • Knowledge communities with a focus on developing knowledge.(Hodgson, McConnell and Dirckinck-Holmfeld 2012:297)

So needless to say, but still, designing for rhizomatic learning must 1) take the structures, principles and attitudes of networks and a community of practice into account, 2) while implementing the six areas of pedagogy in networked learning and creating learning activities that support them, 3) and seeing to that the shared values of networked learning end up being a part of the basis of the rhizomatic learning processes. It almost seems like an act of bricolage itself that must also activate and embody the rhizomatic vision in order to make rhizomatic learning happen:

In the rhizomatic view knowledge can only be negotiated, and the contextual, collaborative learning experience shared by Constructivist and Connectivist pedagogies is a social as well as a personal knowledge-creation process with mutable goals and constantly negotiated premises. (Cormier 2008)

Networking

As a model for the construction of knowledge, rhizomatic processes are based on the interconnectedness of ideas, on the boundless exploration across many domains with many different starting points (Innovating Pedagogy 2012:33) and on serendipity and bricolage. While accepting complexity as a condition, the focus on connectivity and networks is making the rhizomatic learning process multi-nodal, multi-directional and multi-perspective: the rhizome is navigating the complexity as Dave Cormier expresses it in his talk in the video “The rhizomatic lense – seeing learning from the perspective of abundance” (2015). Here Dave Cormier challenges the problem of abundance and points out that:

“…a weird historical process has happened: as we have got a more abundant access to knowledge, we have reduced the complexity of the teaching.” (Cormier 2015)

Rhizomatic learning is working on reinstalling the complex domain in disciplines and subject matters and on being an innovating pedagogy in an era of knowledge abundance. Maarten de Laat has characterized this as “New Learning” in his talk on “Networked Learning in Open Practices” (2015):

maarten-de-laat-networked-learning-in-open-practices-slide1

In the talk De Laat presents the results of research on teachers’ professional deve-lopment that was introduced in his address “Enabling professional development networks: How connected are you?” (2012). The research has been based on a networked learning perspective, and although it focuses on teachers’ professional development, I think quite a few of the insights from the research are relevant and useful to teaching and learning in schools and higher education as well – and especially relevant to understanding rhizomatic learning as a variation of networked learning. De Laat defines networked learning as a perspecitive:

…that aims to understand social learning processes by asking how people develop and maintain a ‘web’ of social relations used for their learning and development (Good-year, Banks, Hodgson & McConnell, 2004; Haythorn-thwaite &  De Laat, 2011; Sleeples & Jones, 2002). (De Laat 2012:26)

De Laat suggests to combine formal and informal learning, and with an emphasis on participation, construction and becoming as metaphors for learning (De Laat 2012:26) he identifies these aspects as important for learning in an informal-formal environment – much in alignment with rhizomatic learning and with Martin Weller’s educational model of abundance introduced in part one of this series on knowledge abundance:

maarten-de-laat-networked-learning-in-open-practices-Slide2.jpg

Maarten de Laat: Networked Learning in Open Practices

Networking and communities are inevitable here, and in an interview with Steve Whee-ler after the talk, Maarten de Laat emphasizes the importance of learning networks to education and learning today:

As De Laat puts it:

“Networks are everything. I don’t think you can do anything on your own anymore, so for me networked learning is about creating a social web around you, if you like, so you have access to people who you can talk to, who you can share issues with, who you can do things together with….In terms of educational future I think it is very important to learn and teach those learning and thinking skills in order to participate in the debate and being able to contribute. So for me networking or communities or any social circulation is a very important part of education.” (Maarten de Laat – Interview with Steve Wheeler EDEN Conference 2015)

Apart from being networked, the skills we need to equip learners with in an age of digital abundance are the skills and the competences that are necessary for learning in the 21st century. De Laat refers to the framework of Partnership for 21st Century Skills which is one of the 15 frameworks analysed when establishing the model of the 21st century learning, I presented in the last blog post. And although social networking and technology are not identical, Web 2.0 and Learning 3.0 has placed social networking online as a part of networked learning. And likewise, De Laat explains in his address:

By social networking we mean the configurations of con-nectivity that exist when people interact with each other by communicating, sharing resources, and working, learning or playing together, supported through face-to-face interaction as well as through the use of information and communication technology (Hay-thornthwaite & De Laat, 2011). Each interaction defines a connection between people, known as a social network tie. These ties vary in strength from weak to strong according to the range and types of activities that people engage in. In other words, networked relationships – ties – connect the dots between otherwise isolated people. (De Laat 2012:23)

Here Maarten de Laat refers to Mark Granovetter’s theory of the strength of weak ties (1973/1983):

“In a favorite article on the strength of weak ties, Granovetter (1973) demonstrated that weak ties are important for gaining access to new knowledge, perspectives and alternative conversations. Strong ties with those who are close to you, on the other hand, are needed to deepen and embed knowledge closely related to day-to-day shared practice, as well as commitment to joint activities.” (De Laat 2012:27)

Communities of practice are often based on strong ties as the process of moving towards full participation usually builds on strong relationships, as I mentioned in part two of this series, but as Maarten de Laat defines it in the interview and Wenger–Trayner has said it: “Rather than contrasting a community here and a network there…it is more useful to think of community and network as two types of structuring processes. Community emphasizes identity and network emphasizes connectivity.” (Wenger 2010:10)

This way networking can be seen as both an important aspect of self-directed learning and of developing communities or communities of practice as places/spaces for practicing self-directed learning: the relationships and resources in a personal learning network (PLN) can be put forward as challenging or confirmatory perspectives in the negotiations of meaning with peers and facilitators/educators in a domain and in the community or the community of practice.

Personal learning networks – on the road to collaboration

In their article “Understanding personal learning networks: Their structure, content and the networking skills needed to optimally use them” (2012) Rajagopal, Brinke, Van Bruggen and Sloep engage in defining networks that support individuals’ learning:

In our understanding, the skills at the centre of network-ing involve an ability to identify and understand other peoples’ work in relation to one’s own, and to assess the value of the connectivity with these others for potential future work. The result of networking is a personal professional network, i.e., an egocentric, personally and intentionally created network of people set up by an individual specifically in the context of her professional activities. This network gathers a heterogeneous circle of people, distributed across different groups and places, and connected to the individual with connections of varying degrees of strengths (Granovetter, 1983; Nardi, et al., 2000). (Rajagopal, Brinke, Van Bruggen and Sloep (2012))

For personal networks, Grabher and Ibert (2008) propo-sed a three-layered approach, consisting of a communa-lity layer (strong ties), a sociality layer (weak ties) and a connectivity layer (very weak ties)…By including weak links in their personal networks, learners can create an envi-ronment for learning (Kester and Sloep, 2009). We be-lieve the intentionality of the professional is the strongest at the sociality layer, as contacts in this layer are the most mobile within someones’s personal network. Depen-ding on the intentions of the professional, these ties have the potential to become stronger connections or develop into even weaker ties. An individual can therefore create and orchestrate ties to effectively support learning needs and potentially use technology to support this network, effectively making it a personal learning network (PLN). (Rajagopal, Brinke, Van Bruggen and Sloep (2012))

And so the focus on social networking seen from an individual’s personal perspective offers bridges to collaboration and participation in communities and communities of practice:

“Both strong and weak connections contribute to the individuals’s learning: strong ties allow for active collaboration on knowledge creation, whereas weak ties are sources for new information, knowledge and ideas (Bell, 2010; Gargiulo and Benassi, 2000; Jones, 2008; Jones, et al., 2008; Ryberg and Larsen, 2008; Wenger, 1998).” (Rajagopal, Brinke, Van Bruggen and Sloep (2012))

A personal learning network requires, as mentioned, all three types of ties: strong, weak, and very weak, and while both Rajagopal, Brinke, Van Bruggen and Sloep and Maarten de Laat focus on the importance of weak and strong ties for learning, I think the very weak ties are equally important to rhizomatic learning as they might lead to serendipity and growing networks in a ‘nomadic’ fashion. And this is a real potential for new learning, too.

According to Rajagopal, Brinke, Van Bruggen and Sloep the following factors influence the choises taken in each of the three stages of building, maintaining and activating personal learning networks:

  • Communality
  • Organisation of the contact
  • Network of a contact
  • Reputation
  • Benevolence
  • Like-mindedness
  • Real potential for collaboration
  • Real potential for learning
  • Trends in work environment.

Rajagopal, Brinke, Van Bruggen and Sloep conclude, that ”…networking for networked learning is not only a skill to be developed, but also an attitude towards learning to be cultivated…networking revolves around a complex ability of (i) recognizing and identifying the other’s qualities; and, of (ii) making (valuable) associations of these qualities with the learner’s own qualities that could take place when interacting with a contact or even in the contact’s absence. Learners have different levels of proficiency in this skill, but can also differ in the actual application of the skill, due to the attitude with which they approach learning.”  (Rajagopal, Brinke, Van Bruggen and Sloep (2012))

Networking is crucial to Rajagopal, Brinke, Van Bruggen and Sloep not only as a key skill for individual learners but also as a starting point for learning to learn and for future collaboration. This is also what Maarten de Laat hints at in the interview with Steve Wheeler quoted earlier. I would add, that this is the basics learners need to know about networks and networking, so that they can understand and practice the skills, the strategies and the attitudes required “to adopt a networking style” for their learning as De Laat calls it (De Laat 2012:29), and so that they are able to participate, collaborate, reflect and construct new knowledge – eventually through serendipity, rhizomatic structures and bricolage.

In his talk De Laat mentions the close relationship between networked learning and open practices, while he presents his model of education as “New Learning”. As mentioned earlier it is a model that resembles Martin Weller’s educational models of scarcity and abundance described in part one of this series. But De Laat’s  model of “New Learning” is also a model that includes perspectives and understandings from the theory of communities of practice and maybe from rhizomatic learning, as I see it. I think learners need to know these educational models and their implications on teaching and learning as part of the basics of networks and networking, too, and Maarten de Laat has summed it all up in these slides:

maarten-de-laat-networked-learning-in-open-practices-Slide3.jpg

maarten-de-laat-networked-learning-in-open-practices-Slide4.jpg

Maarten de Laat: Networked Learning in Open Practices 

But how to get started?

Being a student entering a domain, a discipline or a subject matter, one of the first nodes in the network could be the educator opening up his/her professional network for students to connect to online. In many ways there is nothing new in educators introducing their students to resources, interesting people, stakeholders and different positions in a field, but the accessibility, the spreadability, the searchability and the ease and speed with which connections can be made is new and made possible by social media and participatory environments. Starting this way, the students get to know experts, members of communities, resources, ideas and links while they are getting a grip of networks and networking in the domain or the discipline, and they can begin exploring and networking across domains and disciplines from a diversity of starting points. As in rhizomatic learning. And as Dave Cormier exemplifies in his article “Rhizomatic Education: Community as Curriculum” (2008). And eventually, the student turns into a learner who discovers that there are different kinds of problems and knowledge in education, and that they call for different types of networks to make collaboration emerge in a productive fashion. This must also be practiced and taught as part of digital literacies and networked literacies in the domain or discipline along with foundational knowledge, meta knowledge and humanistic knowledge due to the model of 21st learning presented in the last blog post.

And so, once again I have met the challenge of Martin Weller and have tried to look into to what extend rhizomatic learning can be regarded as a pedagogy of abundance, as Weller suggested in his article “A pedagogy of abundance” (2011):

“Exploring pedagogies of abundance will be essential for educators to meet the challenge and equip their learners with the skills they need in an age of digital abundance.” (Weller 2011:233)

But what then, when Martin Weller also mentions these two characteristics of the fundamental change in education, he is mapping in his educational model of abundance:

  • A change to a more participatory, socially constructed view of knowledge is needed to suit a demand-pull model of education.
  • New technologies are the basis in realizing this new conception of knowledge as networked and socially constructed. (Weller 2011:228)

Well, then there are still issues to return to and to explore while asking: where do different types of network fit in in a pedagogy of abundance, and – apart from what has already been said  – how does rhizomatic learning realize this new conception of knowledge as networked and socially constructed? And is rhizomatic learning really a version of networked learning, as I have been claiming until now?

This blogpost has been edited on 14. June 2016 in order to make the distinction between ‘community’ and ‘community of practice’ clearer in three passages and in order to make my exploratory approach more visible in another two passages.

Further reading:

Dave Cormier (2015): The rhizomatic lense – seeing learning from the perspective of abundance. IATED talks

Cormier, Dave (2008): Rhizomatic Education: Community as Curriculum, Dave’s Educational Blog

De Laat, Maarten (2012): Enabling professional development networks: How connected are you?, Open Universiteit, The Netherlands

Granovetter, Mark (1983): The strength of weak ties: A network theory revisited, Sociological Theory, volume 1, pp. 201-233

Granovetter, Mark (1973): The strength of weak ties, American Journal of Sociology, pp. 1360-1380

Hodgson, Vivien, De Laat, Maarten, McConnell, David, and Ryberg, Thomas (2014): Researching Design, Experience and Practice of Networked Learning: An Overview. In V. Hodgson et al. (eds.), The Design, Experience and Practice of Networked Learning, pp. 1-26, Springer New York

Hodgson, Vivien, McConnell, David, and Dirckinck-Holmfeld, Lone (2012): The Theory, Practice and Pedagogy of Networked Learning. In L. Dirckinck-Holmfeld et al. (eds.), Exploring the Theory, Pedagogy and Practice of Networked Learning, pp. 291-305, Springer New York

McConnell, David, Hodgson, Vivien, and Dirckinck-Holmfeld, Lone (2012): Networked Learning: A Brief History and New Trends. In L. Dirckinck-Holmfeld et al. (eds.), Exploring the Theory, Pedagogy and Practice of Networked Learning, pp. 3-24, Springer New York

Networks are Everything – Maarten de Laat – Interview with Steve Wheeler #EDEN15, EDEN Conference 2015

Rajagopal, Kamakshi, Brinke, Desirée Joosten-ten, Van Bruggen, Jan, and Sloep, Peter B. (2012): Understanding personal learning networks: Their structure, content and networking skills needed to optimally use them, First Monday, Volume 17, Number 1-2 January 2012

Ryberg, Thomas, Buus, Lillian, and Georgsen, Marianne (2012): Differences in Understandings of Networked Learning Theory: Connectivity or Collaboration? In L. Dirckinck-Holmfeld et al. (eds.), Exploring the Theory, Pedagogy and Practice of Networked Learning, pp. 43-58, Springer New York

Sharples, M., McAndrew, P., Weller, M., Ferguson, R., FitzGerald, E., Hirst, T., Mor, Y., Gaved, M. and Whitelock, D. (2012): Innovating Pedagogy 2012: Open University Innovation Report 1, The Open University

Weller, Martin (2011): A pedagogy of abundance, revista española de pedagogia año LXIX, no 249, mayo-agosto, 223-236

Wenger, Etienne (2010): Communities of practice and social learning systems: the career of a concept. In Social learning systems and communities of practice, pp. 179-198, Springer London

Wenger, Etienne (1998): Communities of Practice. Learning, Meaning, and Identity, Cambridge University Press

Photo by Kris A on Flickr – CC-BY-NC-ND  Some rights reserved

Networks are Everything – Maarten de Laat Interview by Steve Wheeler #EDEN15 on YouTube – CC-BY-NC-SA

Elna Mortensen

 

In an era of knowledge abundance – Part 4

In an era of knowledge abundance – Part 3

5892092671_6b6be05e9a_m“What else could rhizomatic learning look like across the entire educational system from primary school to higher education?”, I wondered in my last blog post after having discussed a campus course by Dave Cormier founded on rhizomatic learning as a pedagogy of abundance.  Rhizomatic learning is one suggestion for a learning theory and a pedagogical approach that has been recasted and reimagined towards building learning on connections, on networks and on participation in communities of practice in order to match a more participatory and socially constructed view of know-ledge. To answer my own question I’ll introduce three examples of educational practices that to different degrees build on rhizomatic learning as a pedagogy of abundance or an approach to open pedagogy. The three examples are situated in educational institutions ranging from university to K-12 schools.

Relevant, rhizomatic and recursive learning in higher education

A few months ago Robin DeRosa and Scott Robison noticed and rejected the way educa-tion adopts new technology just because it is there in their article ”Pedagogy, Techno-logy, and The Example of Open Educational Resources” (2015). Instead they promote open educational resources (OERs) as an area to work in while discussing the motiva-tions behind adopting technology in education. They argue for pedagogies to go before tools and technology – that is, choosing a pedagogy to suit your goals and your context before choosing which tools, which media, and which digital spaces to integrate into your course – and they focus on OERs in higher education because the use of OERs makes the possibilities for pedagogical change explicit:

“New tricks and tools, shiny new apps and devices, should not motivate us to integrate technology into our courses. Instead, we should start with a vision for our courses and curricula, and then identify the technologies or strategies that can help us achieve or further develop that vision.” (DeRosa and Robison 2015)

Along with the vision of pedagogical change DeRosa and Robison advocate a view of open pedagogy that stresses learning as a learner-developed process which is relevant, rhizomatic, and recursive:

 

This view on rhizomatic learning, influenced by the definition of ‘critical digital pedagogy’ by the Freire-influenced Jesse Stommel, very much fits in with what has already been said about rhizomatic learning in the first two blog posts on an era of knowledge abundance, although Robin DeRosa doesn’t specify how she defines community when she emphasizes “community and collaboration” and “power of the community as a 21st century model” in the slide presentation above. Nevertheless, the example of working with OERs is to me a version of Dave Cormier’s motto: “Community is the curriculum”:

By replacing a static textbook — or other stable learning material — with one that is openly licensed, faculty have the opportunity to create a new relationship between learners and the information they access in the course. Instead of thinking of knowledge as something students need to download into their brains, we start thinking of knowledge as something continuously created and revised. Whether students participate in the development and revision of OER or not, this redefined relationship between students and their course “texts” is central to the philosophy of learning that the course espouses. If faculty involve their students in interacting with OER, this rela-tionship becomes even more explicit, as students are expected to critique and contribute to the body of know-ledge from which they are learning. In this sense, know-ledge is less a product that has distinct beginning and end points and is instead a process in which students can engage, ideally beyond the bounds of the course. (DeRosa and Robison 2015)

And they add while highlighting aspects of rhizomatic learning processes:

OER makes possible the shift from a primarily student-content interaction to an arrangement where the content is integral to the student-student and student-instructor interactions as well. What we once thought of as pedago-gical accompaniments to content (class discussion, stu-dents assignments, etc.) are now inextricable from the content itself, which has been set in motion as a process by the community that interacts with it. Moreover, stu-dents asked to interact with OER become part of a wider public of developers, much like an open-source commu-nity. We can capitalize on this relationship between enrolled students and a broader public by drawing in wider communities of learners and expertise to help our students find relevance in their work, situate their ideas into key contexts, and contribute to the public good. We can ask our students — and ourselves as faculty — not just to deliver excellence within a prescribed set of parameters, but to help develop those parameters by asking questions about what problems need to be solved, what ideas need to be explored, what new paths should be carved based on the diverse perspectives at the table. (DeRosa and Robison 2015)

With the gain of fostering empowerment in their students DeRosa and Robison see working with OERs as a way of evaluating the role of tools and technology in education, too:

“Essentially, this is a move from thinking about tech tools as finished products to thinking about them as dynamic components of our pedagogical processes. When we think about OER as something we do rather than something we find/adopt/acquire, we begin to tap its full potential for learning. The same lessons apply to any ed tech considered for adoption in the classroom. If we start with questions related to our vision, we can pull in the tools to help us realize it.” (DeRosa and Robison 2015)

Working with OERs this way moves students from consumers into producers and participants engaging with tools and technology in order to question, explore and create knowledge. And this is a non-linear, experimenting, multi-perspective and participatory approach to learning that is characteristic of rhizomatic learning.

But rhizomatic learning is a pedagogy that comes from higher education. If and when rhizomatic learning is a pedagogy of abundance, its role as an approach to teaching and learning in a digital society cannot just be limited to higher education where its values can be seen as well-known educational values such as independence, critical thinking, reflection, ethical awareness and coping with change. An important aspect, though, is that rhizomatic learning as a pedagogy of abundance in many ways turns the ‘end goals’ of a traditional learning process into its starting point: to know what you have come in to learn implies critical thinking, reflection, and independence, but that is paradoxically also what and why you have come in to learn. This way rhizomatic learning resembles the ideal of the Humboldtian model of higher education where students learn by being a part of the research processes integrated into the studies.  So in an educational context I think that educators will need to help providing content, resources, and experts at the beginning of the course in order to make rhizomatic learning be based on a subject matter, a theme, cases or questions of interest to investigate. After all there needs to be roots to grow from to make rhizomatic learning happen, and in his campus course Dave Cormier in fact lets his students evaluate a textbook for the course and have them connect and collaborate as a starting point for his course.

Educators will also need to learn students how to collaborate as many students are not very good at it, and collaborative competences are necessary for students to be able to move from legitimate peripheral participation to greater participation in their course as a community of practice and to get to know what it is to know inside this space, as Dave Cormier has put it. So in order to have students engaging in a rhizomatic learning process it requires that the teacher/educator turns into a facilitator who supports the students through scaffolding, modelling, facilitating, and providing feedback and feedforward as a way of getting the community of practice going while the students are broadening their understanding, are becoming learners in their domain through peer-to-peer feedback and peer-to-peer feedforward, are getting a voice and finding their way.

Although rhizomatic learning is about students taking control over their own learning process and about changing the relationship between educator and students into more of a partnership where educators and students are co-learners, the educator will still most often be the one setting up the framework for a course or a subject matter. And the educator will also still be the one that negotiates or decides aims for the course or the subject matter, negotiates or sets up the criteria for assessment, and the one who has the responsibility if there are national or institutional curriculums and learning goals to comply with. A lot can be initiated, discussed and negotiated with students and a lot will still be decided by the educator and institutional policies.

Both the demands for participation, knowledge generation and self-directed learning can cause frustration in students in higher education. So the question is now: how can rhizomatic learning as a pedagogical approach be filtered down to schools in primary and secondary education?

Reimagining school in K-12 schools

Some people don’t hesitate seeing rhizomatic learning as a possibility across the educational system.  Dave Cormier has himself mentioned Monika Hardy and her work with reimagining school as an example of rhizomatic learning in K-12 schools. In a series of blog posts Monika Hardy has presented and documented the project she was involved in, and in the blog post “Wanted (And Needed): ‘Radical’ Collaborations” (2011) she presents her vision of education:

To succeed in our fluid/agile world, we need to think less about defining/measuring a fixed content/curriculum, (less about worrying and playing defense), and more about creating some overarching patterns evidenced in the process of learning to learn. Not only does that make learning/life more fun, intellectual learning and affiliated capabilities are amped as the motivation is intrinsically driven by the pleasure of finding things out and by understanding wicked problems. (Hardy 2011)

One of the cornerstones in the project is “rhizomatic learning/thinking/doing”. As an entry into the rhizomatic learning process Hardy focuses – with inspiration from Dewey – on facilitating curiosities. And as far as I can see in the section “city as floorplan” in this slide presentation, the project has attached importance to games, logic and programming in pre-school–grade 5, while one of the projects in grade 6-8 has been “be you”, where students have been working on small personal networks, and “detox” has been an approach designed for grade 9-12.

Monika Hardy comments on the idea of detox this way:

Detox is a jump start of sorts to get back to our natural curiosities. It’s a means to focus/pause/reflect on things that matter, to be mindful, rather than following a well-trodden road map. It’s a means, in public education even, to facilitate the chaos of personalization, in order to awaken indispensable people. (Hardy 2011)

In the video below Monika Hardy explains the ideas and the thinking behind the project:

To me this is a catching example of future-faced education driven by a version of rhizomatic learning and with a vision of education as emancipation, another well-known educational value, not to forget.  But also a vison with a maybe different conception of community: “Community as one school”.  In many ways Mimi Ito captures the intentions of Monika Hardy’s work on reimagining school, when she talks about the quite similar perspective in her own work on connected learning in “Participatory Culture in a Networked Era” (2016):

“The core of connected learning is this understanding that it takes relationships to open up opportunity. That’s why the focus is on learning within the context of social engagement and shared purpose, where young people are learning to get things done with both peers and adults. It’s not enough to push content and skills at kids, or to say that there’s knowledge out there on the internet. If young people don’t have relationships with peers and caring adults with whom they identify, and who can build those paths to opportunity, then the content and skills don’t do anything for them.” (Jenkins, Ito, boyd 2016:86)

Social media use in K-12 schools

But what do you do, if you haven’t got the whole school district backing you up? As an example of ways of engaging with social media in a K-12 school that can be seen as a starting point for developing digital literacies and creating networking experiences relevant to rhizomatic learning, I will turn to a recent article by Michael Nantais: “Creating an empowering school environment” (2016). In the article Michael Nantais presents his research on the use of social media in a K-12 school, and the impact the use of social media has had on building a culture of trust and empowerment:

“This story is about technology and how its use can contribute to building a culture of trust and empowerment. It is a story about allowing students to embrace their hybridity, as described by Jesse Stommel. One starting point is to recognize that students are more than just students; their online lives are a part of who they are, and it cannot be ignored. They live a hybrid life; in school/out of school, online/offline. Can we honour this hybridity and give them the power to engage in all aspects of their world?” (Nantais 2016)

Nantais is interested in the “what” and “why” of social media pedagogy and in the effects the use of social media has on practice:

“The popular and academic literature is replete with both utopian and dystopian visions of using technology in schools. It seems that dichotomous views are plentiful. For some, technology will be a “disruptive” force that will transform education, and for others, it will have negative consequences. It seems rare that the shades of grey that surround technology use in education are explored. Much has been written about its “affordan-ces”, but what actually happens in the day-to-day reality of schools?” (Nantais 2016)

The teachers participating in the study perceived a positive change in the school culture after allowing an almost free use of social media:

Several media were being used by the teachers: some used Twitter, some blogging, others used Facebook. One preferred a more closed medium and used Edmodo. Regardless of the medium used, the most common response to the perceived effects on the school culture was centered on increased communication. In particular, the most interesting responses were about how social media use led to increased connections with students. These responses were contrary to much of the prevailing criticism of social media. This criticism often characte-rizes social media as isolating and that those indulging in its use often ignore those around them. When we as teachers actually stop and explore, rather than condemn, good things can happen. (Nantais 2016)

It seems that having the opportunity to use social media in school, to connect and communicate, and at the same time being given more responsibility for their own learning provides students with experiences and practices that are crucial as starting points in rhizomatic learning:

Interestingly, several of the teachers talked about “a sense of empowerment”, “more freedom”, autonomy, and “giving kids as much choice and control as you possibly can.” As a result of giving students more responsibility and more control, teachers helped them to be “more accountable” and responsible. In this way a more trusting and caring school environment seemed to grow and develop, engendered by new ways of connecting and communicating. (Nantais 2016)

With all of these ideas in mind as I reflected on this particular school’s experience, I concluded that it was not simply the act of allowing social media use, or personal devices, that led to this trusting school environment. It is more the act of changing “traditional classroom hierar-chies” by releasing some traditional authority and power, by trusting students, and enabling them to embrace their hybrid selves, that has led to increased connection, a sense of empowerment, and a positive school culture. (Nantais 2016)

Emphasizing the changing relations between teachers and students through allowing social media use as part of the learning processes, Michael Nantais’ research supports Dave Cormier’s idea of giving students control over their own learning process.  Nantais’ example might not be able to imitate in Europe due to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation prohibiting youth under the age of 16 to have a profile on social media without their parent’s consent no matter what the age limits are on the social media sites. And although member countries can lower the age limit to 13, this effort of connecting and communicating to give students networking experiences might have to be practiced in closed spaces or class spaces until almost high school in many European countries.

The model of 21st century learning

I have introduced three examples of rhizomatic learning across the educational system in this blog post. Each example blends community, networks, collaboration, participation and knowledge creation to different degrees, and even though the pedagogical practices found in Michael Nantais’ research can’t really be regarded as rhizomatic learning, a changed school culture seems to nurture the kind of pedagogical mindset that is a precondition for rhizomatic learning, and it can be practiced from grade 1. So all of the examples can be seen as answers to Martin Weller’s double challenge to educators in his article “A pedagogy of abundance” (2011):

“The issue for educators is twofold I would suggest: firstly how can they best take advantage of abundance in their own teaching practice, and secondly how do they best equip learners to make use of it? It is the second challenge that is perhaps the most significant. Exploring pedagogies of abundance will be essential for educators to meet the challenge and equip their learners with the skills they need in an age of digital abundance.” (Weller 2011:232-233)

I have already stated in an earlier blog post in this series that digital literacies and networked literacies are answers to the second challenge – and they are more than just digital skills. But there is more to it, of course. Maybe a critical review of the literature on 21st century knowledge frameworks can help identifying the skills, the competences and the knowledge that are needed to learn, to know and to understand in an era of knowledge abundance. In their article “What Knowledge Is of Most Worth: Teacher Knowledge for 21st Century Learning” (2013) Kristen Kereluik, Punya Mishra, Chris Fahnoe and Laura Terry establish a framework of frameworks that defines what 21st century learning means, and their 21st century learning framework can be seen as a broader and more general answer to Martin Weller’s challenge about how we best equip learners to make use of knowledge abundance.

Kereluik, Mishra, Fahnoe and Terry have analysed 15 key documents presenting 21st century knowledge frameworks from education and economic organizations worldwide in order to understand what 21st century learning actually means:

…because it will aid in determining what and, just as important, how we teach our students…(Kereluik, Mishra, Fahnoe and Terry 2013:128)

Technological modernization and globalization are the two main reasons for the need to rethink the types of knowledge that are required for learning in the 21st century according to the 15 knowledge frameworks analysed. The analysis and the review of the frameworks resulted in a framework of frameworks consisting of three major categories with three subcategories in them:

 

21st Century Learning Framework

Adapted from Kereluik, Mishra, Fahnoe and Terry (2013) 

Each of these major categories can be seen as what we need to know, how we act on that knowledge, and the values we bring to our knowledge and action. (Kereluik, Mishra, Fahnoe and Terry 2013:131)

The categories in the model are overlapping and are to be seen as complementary categories that support and inform one another. And as a result of the review Kereluik, Mishra, Fahnoe and Terry call attention to two important findings:

Two key contributions emerged from this review. We argue that our analysis indicates a somewhat para-doxical state of affairs when we think about 21st century knowledge. First, we argue that our synthesis of these different frameworks suggests that nothing has changed, that this tripartite division between what we know, how we act on that knowledge, and what we value has always been important. That said, though these foundational ideas have always been key to learning, in some vital ways (particularly given advances in technology and globalization), everything has changed. (Kereluik, Mishra, Fahnoe and Terry 2013:131)

The changes to foundational knowledge that Kereluik, Mishra, Fahnoe and Terry point out are:

  • Technology in the foundational realm asserts itself as something to “know”. The internet and digital media represent a new realm of interaction where new skills and knowledge are necessary to collaborate digitally and contribute to the collective knowledge base.
  • Content has been altered with the rapid advancement of technology in terms of both access to information and how information is represented: the amount of information necessitates the ability to synthesize information and derive meaning.
  • The nature of disciplinary knowledge itself and the methods for requiring it have changed significantly due to the advent of digital technologies: the methods and techniques of acquiring, representing, and manipulating knowledge have changed in almost all disciplines.
  • Most of the progress in the recent past has been in areas that cut across traditional disciplinary boundaries: people need to have deep knowledge of more than one discipline and the ability to see connections between these disciplines. (Kereluik, Mishra, Fahnoe and Terry 2013:131-132)

As changes to meta knowledge they emphasize:

  • Technology in the meta realm asserts itself as knowledge “to act” with foundational knowledge and technology. This includes the ability not only to use technology in basic, predetermined (by the designer) ways, but to reuse and repurpose technology to meet specific educational needs and teaching/learning goals.
  • Problem solving and critical thinking are transformed by technology as the unprecedented access to vast amount of information on the internet place a greater burden on individuals accessing information: they must possess the ability to distinguish between high-quality information and information of questionable quality.
  • Technology changes communication and collaboration, because ease of access has made large-scale communication and collaboration across thousands of miles commonplace: with increased globalization and affordances of new technology, individuals from diverse cultures are exposed to one another on an unprecedented level. Successful collaboration – and consequently cultural competence – is essential.
  • Communication and collaboration serve as an effective bridge between meta knowledge and humanistic knowledge, as cultural competence is necessary for successful communication and collaboration. (Kereluik, Mishra, Fahnoe and Terry 2013:132)

And this leads to the changes they see for humanistic knowledge:

  • Technology in the humanistic realm asserts itself as something “to value” both in others and in the possibilities of technology.
  • The ability to regulate one’s effort has become a multifaceted effort that necessitates organization of one’s demands in personal and professional realms of life to successful ends.
  • Ethical and moral questions arise, also in areas that have not typically been areas of doubt or discussion: individuals have to develop fine-tuned ethical and moral modes of thought and action whether considering issues of privacy and intellectual property or bio-technology and stem-cell research.
  • Ethical and emotional awareness are uniquely important when working with diverse groups of individuals in an increasingly globalized and interconnected world: it is important to develop a value system that respects differences and at the same time maintains a core of empathy and understanding. (Kereluik, Mishra, Fahnoe and Terry 2013:132)

Kereluik, Mishra, Fahnoe and Terry conclude, that “Our analysis indicates that this seeming paradox of “nothing has changed” and “everything has changed” provides us a way forward. It suggests that, though the 21st century is different from previous times, it does not mean that our core roles (to know, to act, and to value) have changed. So, in that sense, there is no disjuncture between what we have been doing as educators in the past and what we do today (and in the future). That being said, it also indicates, even as we hold onto these core ideas, that we have to continually shift and come up with newer ways of instantiating them.” (Kereluik, Mishra, Fahnoe and Terry 2013:133)

And thus, they end up with three key suggestions for teachers and teacher educators that are based on the educational goals inherent in the model of 21st century learning. They build on the pedagogical possibilities that are provided by the shift from ‘a pedagogy of scarcity’ to ‘a pedagogy of abundance’ which Martin Weller anticipated in his article “A pedagogy of abundance” (2011):

1   The need for students to develop deep disciplinary knowledge has always been important; what has chan-ged is access to disciplinary knowledge and authentic disciplinary inquiry made available through technology and subsequently experts and resources…Students and teachers must work in purposeful learning communities, engage with questions that require reflection, defend conclusions, and problem-solve like detectives while responding like investigative reporters. Therefore, the current base of disciplinary knowledge that the Common Core expresses encompasses both traditional content knowledge and concepts forwarded in modern frame-works, such as students having strong communication skills integrated across content areas, being metacog-nitive in an iterative process, engaging with complex texts and complex problem solving and developing a world focus. (Kereluik, Mishra, Fahnoe and Terry 2013:133)

2   Second, knowing the technology is important, but knowing when and why to use it is more important…digital literacy skills are essential for both students and teachers. Knowing when to use a particular technology for activities such as collaboration, or why to use a certain technology for acquiring specific disciplinary knowledge, is a vastly more important, transferable, infinitely relevant type of knowledge, one that will not quickly become antiquated with ever-changing techno-logical trends. (Kereluik, Mishra, Fahnoe and Terry 2013:133)

3   As a result of the increased opportunity for interaction across countries and around the world, teachers need to know how to foster cultural competence, emotional awareness and leadership skills to facilitate not just interactions, but meaningful interactions and relation-ships. Interestingly this specific type of knowledge is largely absent from the “standards-based” movements in education and not always seen as worthy of prolonged instructional time and effort. (Kereluik, Mishra, Fahnoe and Terry 2013:133)

So there is correspondence between Martin Weller’s list of assumptions for any pedagogy of abundance presented in part one of this series on knowledge abundance, the model of 21st century learning just presented here, and the social, situated and open networked approach to learning in rhizomatic learning – with a lot of focus on meta knowledge – as it is conceived by Dave Cormier. They have all focus on the need to rethink, reimage and recast our existing learning theories and our approaches to teaching and learning for a world of abundance. And in combination they frame the educational values, the pedagogical possibilities, and the skills, the competences, the knowledge and the cultural understanding needed in an era of digital abundance. The educational practices documented by Robin DeRosa and Scott Robison, Monika Hardy and Michael Nantais are examples of this: these practices are a way to see the world and a way to see learning in a context starting with asking why, what, how, who and where.

And yet, there is still a question left: what do students actually need to know about networks to be able to participate in rhizomatic learning?

Further reading:

DeRosa, Robin and Scott Robison (2015): Pedagogy, Technology, and The Example of Open Educational Resources,   Monday, November 9, EDUCAUSEreview

Hardy, Monika (2011):  Wanted (And Needed): ‘Radical’ Collaborations, Monday, August 01, dmlcentral.net

Jenkins, Henry, Mizuko Ito, danah boyd (2016): Participatory Culture in a Networked Era, Polity Press

Kereluik, Kristen, Punya Mishra, Chris Fahnoe and Laura Terry (2013): What Knowledge Is of Most Worth: Teacher Knowledge for 21st Century Learning, Journal of Digital learning in Teacher Education Volume 29 Number 4  

Nantais, Michael (2016): Creating an empowering school environment , Hybrid Pedagogy 02 Feb

Weller, Martin (2011): A pedagogy of abundance, revista española de pedagogia año LXIX, no 249, mayo-agosto, 223-236

Photo by Alice Lim on Flickr – CC-BY  Some rights reserved

‘Open Pedagogy for eLearning Pioneers’ by Robin DeRosa CC-BY 

Elna Mortensen

 

In an era of knowledge abundance – Part 3

In an era of knowledge abundance – Part 2

6130319471_25e42ebc0a_q“What does a pedagogy of abundance look like?”, I asked in part one of this little series of blog posts following in the footsteps of Martin Weller’s article “A pedagogy of abundance” (2011). I suggested that rhizomatic learning might be such a pedagogy of abundance, a pedagogy based on a multiplicity of theories of learning: social constructivism, connectivism, and communities of practice that are combined into a situative and social learning approach.  ‘Community’ and ‘networks’ are equally important to Dave Cormier’s conception of rhizomatic learning, and this is my continuing investigation of how rhizomatic learning can be evaluated as a pedagogy of abundance. Rhizomatic learning fits into an era of knowledge abundance: a world of complexity where knowledge is emergent, contingent and contextual, and a world where a move from Web 2.0 to Web 3.0 has its focus on connecting knowledge.

As mentioned, the idea of a community of practice plays a central part in Dave Cormier’s understanding of rhizomatic learning, and he has stated the social aspect of rhizomatic learning this way:

In the rhizomatic view knowledge can only be negotiated, and the contextual, collaborative learning experience shared by Constructivist and Connectivist pedagogies is a social as well as a personal knowledge-creation process with mutable goals and constantly negotiated premises. (Cormier 2008)

Cormier has more recently collected a series of texts on rhizomatic learning in a work-in-progress, the e-book “Making the community the curriculum” (2016). In the introduction of his book, Cormier has embedded “A talk on Rhizomatic Learning for ETMOOC” (2013), a video where he points to the important place communities of practice has in his thinking.

While a rhizomatic environment could seem to be a totally wild, self-directed and experimenting network-thing going all in for chance, heterogeneous perspectives, evolving knowledge and cultivating multi-diversity, Cormier lays bare in the video, that in fact there is a ‘framework’ to engage within while connecting, communicating, collaborating, cooperating, sharing and reflecting throughout the whole learning process.  And that framework is a community of practice. So even if rhizomatic learning isn’t normative as a learning approach but is defined as non-linear and non-hierarchial with no exact starting point or end due to the rhizome as a metaphor for the learning process, the community of practice is a form and a framework to understand rhizomatic learning as social learning within. In the video Cormier says:

The hope with rhizomatic learning is to take some of the great creative output that comes from communities of practice and apply them to a structured classroom…How do I take these things and apply? First rule of community learning is to give up control… (Cormier 2013)

And although all my sympathy toward rhizomatic learning, this is where I can’t help asking: wouldn’t a community of practice need some kind of balance between structure and chaos? And my answer would be, that understanding what a community of practice is, could help explicating how and why a community of practice gives direction to the learning processes taking place while engaging in finding, investigating, contributing, negotiating, collaborating, reflecting and producing knowledge.

Communities of practice

Etienne Wenger’s (now Wenger-Trayner) theory of communities of practice is a social learning theory. The concept of community of practice was initially coined by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger-Trayner in their work on situative learning (Lave and Wenger 1991) where they defined learning  as a process of social participation:

…learning does not rest with the individual but is a social process that is situated in a cultural and historical con-text. (Farnsworth, Kleanthous & Wenger-Trayner 2016:2)

As an approach to knowing and learning Wenger-Trayners theory of communities of practice from 1998 set off from the initial work with Jean Lave, investigating and defining how communities of practice are formed and developed:

Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly. (Wenger 2013)

In other words, to constitute a community of practice it requires a shared domain of interest, a community concerned about connecting and building relationships so that participants can learn from each other, a shared repertoire of practice and someone to take leadership in shaping a social learning space and seeing  to that resources are available (Wenger 2010:12). So learning happens through participation and negotiating relevant competences and meaning in the community with a core of people initiating the process and keeping it going. And moving from legitimate peripheral participation to full participation happens while you engage in the community of practice so you can get access to the knowledge of the community and take part in negotiating which knowledge is relevant and can count as knowledge in the context of that specific community of practice. In other words: moving towards full membership of a community of practice involves connecting and building competences so that the necessary cultural knowledge and experience is available to be able to participate in the ongoing negotiation of competence, knowledge and meaning.  In a recent interview Wenger-Trayner comments on the concept of community of practice this way:

“The notion of community of practice does not primarily refer to a ‘group’ of people per se . Rather it refers to a social process of negotiating competence in a domain over time. That this process ends up structuring social relationships among people involved in various ways is a secondary phenomenon. And this structuring process entails a specific type of relationship. For instance, there is a distinction between a community of practice and a team.” (Farnsworth, Kleanthous & Wenger-Trayner 2016:5)

In the interview Wenger-Trayner also states:

The theory is an attempt to place the negotiation of meaning at the core of human learning, as opposed to merely the acquisition of information and skills. And for human beings, a central drive for the negotiation of meaning is the process of becoming a certain person in a social context – or more usually a multiplicity of social contexts. That’s where the concept of identity comes in. And because this is a learning theory, identity is theorized with specific reference to changing ways of participating in a practice. (Farnsworth, Kleanthous & Wenger-Trayner 2016:7)

So learning is connecting and belonging – just as much as it is learning by doing and participating – and just as much as it is becoming through interacting and constructing identity – and likewise just as much as it is experiencing through interpreting and negotiating meaning. And these aspects of learning are all elements integrated in Wenger-Trayner’s social learning theory: learning as community, learning as identity, learning as meaning, and learning as practice.

communities-of-practice-and-professional-development-of-teaching-in-he

Enhancement Themes: Developing communities of practice

In the perspective of the digital era, the concept of community of practice has been challenged by the concept of network, and in a 2010-article, “Communities of practice and social learning systems: the career of a concept”, Wenger-Trayner has his conception of communities of practice up for evaluation (which I have written about earlier on this blog). Here Wenger-Trayner explores the uses of the concept of communities of practice, and among the perspectives that make him evaluate the concept is the critique, “…that there is too much emphasis on community for an adequate account of learning in a web-enabled globalizing world.” (Wenger 2010:10). Wenger comments the critique by saying:

“Again there is an important insight to this critique. Some of us have probably overemphasized community in our attempt to account for the directionality of learning. But it is a mistake, I believe, to think of communities and networks as distinct structures. I am often asked what the difference is between a community and a network. Rather than contrasting a community here and a network there, I think it is more useful to think of community and network as two types of structuring processes. Community emphasizes identity and network emphasizes connectivity. The two usually co-exist. Certainly communities of practice are networks in the sense that they involve connections among members; but there is also identification with a domain and commitment to a learning partnership, which are not necessarily present in a network.” (Wenger 2010:10)

“More generally, I find it more productive to think of community and network as combined in the same social structures – but with more or less salience. So the question is not whether a given group is a network or a community, but how the two aspects coexist as structuring processes. This is not only a richer way to think about social structures, it also has useful practical implications. Network and community processes have complementary strengths and weaknesses; they are two avenues for enhancing the learning capability of a group. If a community becomes too much of a community, too strongly identified with itself, prone to groupthink, closed or inbred, then fostering connectivity to generate some networking energy is a good way to shake it up and open its boundaries. There is something random and unpredictable about the dynamics of networking processes, which is a good counterpart to community.”(Wenger 2010:10)

This way new knowledge and content of a subject matter or a discipline could be the result of challenging the regimes of competence in a community of practice through negotiations of knowledge, competences, identity and meaning:

“Note that what is included in a curriculum is usually called knowledge, but knowledge is not a technical term in the theory. We talk about practices, regimes of competence and knowledgeability, but we refrain from defining knowledge. Whose practice and competence gets to be viewed as ‘knowledge’ is a complex historically, social and political process that it is not in the scope of the theory to define, at least in its current state.” (Farnsworth, Kleanthous & Wenger-Trayner  2016:7)

It is in this space, opening up between existing knowledge on the one hand and developing practices and competences on the other hand, I see rhizomatic learning taking place, and to me it fits very well with Dave Cormier’s idea of what education is for: “We need to make students responsible for their own learning and the learning of others”, as he puts it in the video “A talk on Rhizomatic Learning for ETMOOC”. So when dealing with education the rhizomatic way, students have to develop an understanding of the learning process they are going through while they are going through it. As Cormier highlights it in the video:

  • Students have to understand what they are looking for when joining the course.
  • Students have to take it upon themselves to engage and to continue to grow.
  • Students have to choose and to make a syllabus for themselves through connecting, responding and collaborating.
  • Students have to understand what it is to learn and what it is to know in a subject matter or a discipline and to be able to make decisions about how to create their own learning within that process. (Cormier 2013)

The open syllabus is, as far as I can see, what Wenger-Trayner calls ‘a living curriculum’. It frames the relevant knowledge and competences that emerge in the intersection between community and network and it is the result of the interaction with the regimes of competence and knowledge while developing new knowledge. The learning processes Dave Cormier describes – from students are entering a course and engaging with foundational knowledge through to a level where they have acquired the meta knowledge and the humanistic knowledge that is necessary to handle and engage in an era of knowledge abundance – are parallel to the learning processes participants have to go through while building identity in a community of practice. It takes a journey through three modes of engaging with the world – imagination, alignment and engagement – to know what you are looking for and to keep you going (Farnsworth, Kleanthous & Wenger-Trayner  2016:12). That is for example the imagination of becoming an online learner or educator, the alignment of what you need to go through to reach your goals and finally the engagement in the practices and the regimes of knowledge needed in the domain. As mentioned earlier, participation doesn’t just mean being active, it is also about being part of a shared practice and a culture. And that is what Dave Cormier tries to achieve, as I see it.

The aim of a community of practice is sharing and creating new knowledge in order to develop the domain, in the case of rhizomatic learning a complex domain, and in order to spot how the community of practice is intertwined in Cormier’s thinking about rhizomatic learning, it might be interesting to compare the list of important aspects in communities of practice with the three key elements in rhizomatic learning as they are presented in “A Talk on Rhizomatic Learning for ETMOOC”: the complex domain, the community of practice where people work collaboratively, and the rhizome that moves in different directions and at the same time is resilient while people are responding.

“Communities of practice are important because they:

  • Connect people who might not otherwise have the opportunity to interact, either as frequently or at all.
  • Provide a shared context for people to communicate and share information, stories, and personal experiences in a way that builds understanding and insight.
  • Enable dialogue between people who come together to explore new possibilities, solve challenging problems, and create new, mutually beneficial opportunities.
  • Stimulate learning by serving as a vehicle for authentic communication, mentoring, coaching, and self-reflection.
  • Capture and diffuse existing knowledge to help people improve their practice by providing a forum to identify solutions to common problems and a process to collect and evaluate best practices.
  • Introduce collaborative processes to groups and organizations as well as between organizations to encourage the free flow of ideas and exchange of information.
  • Help people organize around purposeful actions that deliver tangible results.
  • Generate new knowledge to help people transform their practice to accommodate changes in needs and technologies.” (Cambridge, Kaplan, and Suter 2005:1)

A real course

Working with complexity and problem-solving, while connecting to knowledge and responding to the unknown and to uncertainty, is at the core of the rhizomatic learning process according to Dave Cormier. But what does it look like when the principles behind it are transformed into a course design for a course in higher education?

Dave Cormier gives some insight in his own campus course – not to mistake for his cMOOCs – which he presents in his e-book, “Making the community the curriculum”. Here he not only introduces the principles behind rhizomatic learning and gives practical guidelines for a rhizomatic course, but also stresses that his focus is on the generative knowledge of networks to drive the collaboration, participation and the knowledge creation in the course as a community of practice. This is the vehicle for understanding knowledge as contingent and complex and an answer to a situation of knowledge abundance. ‘Old’, validated knowledge meets new information and data not yet evaluated, interpreted or negotiated and forms new knowledge, new approaches, new competences, and new understandings. This is echoed in the contract and the tasks for the course that require that the students engage in a rhizomatic learning process that is self-directed and based on collaboration and peer-to-peer learning: a learning process that has no marked route to follow but several pathways to try out, and also has no simple or correct answer but a multitude of answers depending on context.

So the concept of content is evolving in rhizomatic learning, and Cormier demonstrates this in the chapter “Moving your teaching up the collaborative continuum” where he explains:

I would posit that the ‘content’ of a course is just an excuse, or at least just a foundation, for getting accus-tomed to a context for a given field or discipline. We do need to get a sense of how language is used, and how concepts recombine in any new discipline, but definitions will hardly allow us to do that. We need to try things out, to test drive them, to see how they work out in conversa-tion to really round the edges of our understanding. The content is part of that ecosystem, but not the goal of it. (Cormier 2016)

This way of defining a subject matter or a discipline mirrors two of the assumptions about a pedagogy of abundance, Martin Weller has put forward:

  • Based on a generative system, unpredictability and freedom are essential characteristics of the internet.
  • The ease of content generation will see not only a greater variety of formats for content, but courses being updated and constructed from learner’s own content. (Weller 2011:229).

Moving up along Cormier’s collaborative continuum – from a content perspective – ending up at the student-centered end would meet these assumptions while building on the advantages of them in a course, so that students not only discover and master content together, but  also create and use new knowledge in the world. Social practices and new technology give possibilities for a radically different pedagogy, and that is what rhizomatic learning is about:  a pedagogy of investigation, serendipity and networking set within a community of practice, where Cormier’s  idea of ‘an open syllabus’ aligns with Wenger-Trayner’s concept of ‘a living curriculum’.  And as Wenger-Trayner has said it himself in a brief introduction to communities of practice: “However, the very characteristics that make communities of practice a good fit for stewarding knowledge – autonomy, practitioner-orientation, informality, crossing boundaries – are also characteristics that make them a challenge for traditional hierarchial organizations. (Wenger 2013)

Dave Cormier warns, that rhizomatic learning is not for any course, and I would say that it is only for subject matters and courses that can cope with the epistemological challenge that knowledge is under dispute, and that we don’t have a uniform agreement about what the facts are, as Henry Jenkins has put it.

And this just leaves the question: what else could rhizomatic learning look like across the entire educational system from primary school to higher education?

Further reading:

Cambridge, Darren, Soren Kaplan, and Vicki Suter (2005): Community of Practice Design Guide, EDUCAUSE

Cormier, Dave (2016): Making the community the curriculum, davecormier.pressbooks.com

Cormier, Dave (2013): A talk on Rhizomatic Learning for ETMOOC

Cormier, Dave (2008): Rhizomatic Education: Community as Curriculum , Dave’s Educational Blog

Farnsworth, Valerie, Irene Kleanthous & Etienne Wenger-Trayner (2016):  Communities of Practice as a Social Theory of Learning: a Conversation with Etienne Wenger, British Journal of Educational Studies, DOI: 10.1080/00071005.2015.1133799

Lave, Jean and Etienne Wenger (1991): Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation, Cambridge University Press

Weller, Martin (2011): A pedagogy of abundance, revista española de pedagogia año LXIX, no 249, mayo-agosto, 223-236

Wenger, Etienne (2010): Communities of practice and social learning systems: the career of a concept. In Social learning systems and communities of practice, pp. 179-198, Springer London

Wenger, Etienne (2013): Communities of Practice: A Brief Introduction

Wenger, Etienne (1998): Communities of Practice. Learning, Meaning, and Identity, Cambridge University Press

Photo by KamalJith –  CC- BY  Some rights reserved on Flickr

Elna Mortensen

 

 

In an era of knowledge abundance – Part 2

In an era of knowledge abundance – Part 1

2061381703_a57d8d4cb4_qWe live in an era of knowledge abundance – but what does that mean and what are the impli-cations for learning and education? In his article “A pedagogy of abundance”, Martin Weller stresses that “We are witnessing a fundamental change in the production of knowledge and our relationship to content. This is producing an abundance of content which is unprecedented.” (Weller 2011:232). Weller strives for mapping and conceptualizing the effect the abundance of lear-ning content and resources has on how we approach learning and education, while he presents the assumptions that any pedagogy of abundance must take into account. This perspective of abundance extends the presen-tation of the Visitors and Residents framework and  the discussions about credibility and what counts for valid knowledge in an age of digital abundance, I wrote about in my most recent blogposts.

As a background for his examinations of how education may shift as a result of abundance, Martin Weller anticipates and describes a shift in education from ‘a pedagogy of scarcity’ to ‘a pedagogy of abundance’.

A traditional model of education is based on that:

  • Expertise is scarce.
  • Learners come to the place where the experts are located.
  • The lecture is the place for students’ physical interaction with the expert.
  • Content – books and journals – are manufactured according to demand.
  • Access to content is scarce and only accessible through libraries. (Weller 2011:226)

and hence a pedagogy of scarcity has developed promoting:

  • A one to many model to make the best use of the scarce resource – that is the expert.
  • The lecture.
  • An instructivist pedagogy as a direct consequence of the demands for scarcity. (Weller 2011:226)

Now facing a necessity for education to be relevant to the digital society, another model of education emerges  where:

  • Expertise is still rare, but access to content associated with it is now much easier – e.g. resources, critical analysis, dialogue, discussion and reflection are abundant.
  • The traditional model of supply-push needs to be replaced with one of demand-pull due to the growing demand for education and lifelong learning.
  • A shift to active participation will characterize students’ interaction with content and expertise.
  • A change to a more participatory, socially constructed view of knowledge is needed to suit a demand-pull model of education.
  • New technologies are the basis in realizing this new conception of knowledge as networked and socially constructed. (Weller 2011:226-228)

This view on new technologies as the cause of a shift from an era of knowledge scarcity to an era of knowledge abundance is elaborated on by Bonnie Stewart:

“Prior to the digital era, scholarly knowledge was traditionally organized around the premise that knowledge is scarce and its artifacts materially vulnerable. Eye’s (1974) seminal article on knowledge abundance asserts, “[M]aterial can be transformed from one state to another but the original state is diminished…materials are exhaustible “ (p. 445). Manuscripts and books as knowledge artifacts are exhaustible, and costly to produce and distribute. Digital content, however, is persistent, replicable, scalable and searchable (boyd, 2011, p. 46); digital knowledge artifacts can be distributed with negligible cost to the originator or user, and without being consumed or diminished in the process. Thus widespread and increasingly mobile access to digital knowledge artifacts in “an abundant and continually changing world of information” (Jenkins, 2006, Netwotking section para. 1)) marks a shift from an era of knowledge scarcity to an era of knowledge abundance, even though access remains inequitably distributed.“ (Stewart 2015)

The shift to an era of knowledge abundance leaves Weller with one key question:

This scale and range of learning related content at least raises the question of whether we have developed the appropriate teaching and learning approaches to make best use of it. In short, what would a pedagogy of abundance look like? (Weller 2011:227).

Assumptions for a pedagogy of abundance

In order to pin down the assumptions for any pedagogy of abundance, Martin Weller provides a list to reflect on when looking for a pedagogy of abundance:

  • Content is free – not all content is free and not yet.
  • Content is abundant.
  • Content is varied – content is no longer predominantly text based.
  • Sharing is easy – through the use of tools like social bookmarking, tagging and linking the ‘cost’ of sharing has largely disappeared.
  • Social based.
  • Connections are ‘light’ – as with sharing, it is easy to make and preserve connections within a network since they do not necessitate one to one maintenance.
  • Organisation is cheap – Clay Shirky (2008, 31) argues that the ‘cost’ of organising people has collapsed, which makes informal groupings more likely to occur and often more successful.
  • Based on a generative system – Zittrain (2008) argues that unpredictability and freedom are essential characteristics of the internet and the reasons why it has generated so many innovative developments.
  • User generated content – related to the above, the ease of content generation will see not only a greater variety of formats for content, but courses being updated and constructed from learner’s own content. (Weller 2011:228-229).

This list might seem obvious to many, but I think it is important to keep it in mind to be able to figure out what abundance in all its complexity means to teaching and learning. Weller points to that we may not be needing new pedagogies to meet the assumptions on his list, although we can’t just continue designing and practicing teaching and learning the traditional scarcity way in an era of knowledge abundance, and to stress this apparent contradiction he quotes  Grainné Conole (2008):

Arguably, then there has never been a better alignment of current thinking in terms of good pedagogy – i.e. emphasizing the social and situated nature of learning, rather than a focus on knowledge recall with current practices in the use of technologies – i.e. user-generated content, user-added value and aggregated network effects. Despite this, the impact of Web 2.0 on education has been less dramatic than its impact on other spheres of society – use for social purposes, supporting niche communities, collective political action, amateur journalism and social commentary. (Weller 2011:227-228)

Weller concludes while pursuing this line of thinking:

Many of our approaches to teaching and learning were developed in a different age, and this basic shift from moderate scarcity to excessive abundance constitutes a challenge to higher education, and to individual information processing abilities. It may well be that our existing theories are sufficient, they just need recasting and reimagining for a world of abundance. (Weller 2011:232)

iIn his article Martin Weller examines some of the pedagogies that emphasize the benefit of social and situated learning and also meet at least some of the assumptions on his list. Problem based learning, Constructivism, Communities of practice and Connectivism end up being the ones that are positively evaluated as pedagogies suited for recasting and reimagining for a world of knowledge abundance. All  of these pedagogies and learning theories are convertible into supporting participatory culture as well as collaborative and situative learning as key ingredients in any pedagogy of abundance, although connectivism has been criticized for not being a theory of learning but rather a theory about education. These theories can be recasted and reimagined towards building learning on connections, on networks, in communities and in communities of practice in order to align with a more participatory and socially constructed view of knowledge. Anyhow, the quest for a pedagogy of abundance resembles the move from Learning 2.0 to Learning 3.0 as Steve Wheeler has described it:

Learning Modes Grid

Steve Wheeler: Next generation learning

And indeed, the shift from moderate scarcity to excessive abundance is a challenge, not only to Higher Education but to the educational system altogether. Martin Weller comments the challenge this way:

The issue for educators is twofold I would suggest: firstly how can they best take advantage of abundance in their own teaching practice, and secondly how do they best equip learners to make use of it? It is the second challenge that is perhaps the most significant. Exploring pedagogies of abundance will be essential for educators to meet the challenge and equip their learners with the skills they need in an age of digital abundance. (Weller 2011:232-233)

This final challenge leaves all the hard work to the educators, so I think it is only fair to give further attention to the double question put to educators by Weller and recast the two questions within the mode of Learning 3.0 dominated by learner-centered learning, networks and communities, and rhizomatic structures.

Rhizomatic learning

Rhizomatic learning is Dave Cormier’s metaphor for ‘chaotic learning’ (Wheeler 2015:42-43), that is learning that takes you across borders when hyperlinks take you to places, content and things you didn’t expect to learn, or connect you with people you have never heard of before:

Rhizomatic learning invokes the biological metaphor of a rhizome where the stem of a plant sends out roots and shoots, each of which can grow into a new plant. Rhizomes resist organizational structure and have no distinct beginning or end; they grow and propagate in a ‘nomadic’ fashion, the only restrictions to growth being those that exist in the surrounding habitat. Seen as a model for the construction of knowledge, rhizomatic processes hint at the interconnectedness of ideas as well as boundless exploration across many fronts from many different starting points. (Innovative Pedagogy 2012:33)

Cormier describes these rhizomatic processes as a way of going beyond the canon of what has traditionally been considered knowledge and the way knowledge traditionally has been validated and verified in an era of scarcity:

“In the rhizomatic view, knowledge can only be negotiated, and the contextual, collaborative learning experience shared by constructivist and connectivist pedagogies is a social as well as a personal knowledge-creation process with mutable goals and constantly negotiated premises. The rhizome metaphor, which represents a critical leap in coping with the loss of a canon against which to compare, judge, and value knowledge, may be particularly apt as a model for disciplines on the bleeding edge where the canon is fluid and knowledge is a moving target.” (Cormier 2008)

And so, rhizomatic learning is Cormier’s theory of learning in a time of abundance. In the video “Rhizomes and Open Learning”, Dave Cormier introduces rhizomatic learning and how he sees it in relation to education:

With the rhizome as his metaphor for learning in an era of abundance, inspired by Deleuze and Guattari, Dave Cormier draws on pedagogies and approaches to learning like connectivism,  paragogy based on peer-to-peer learning and knowledge exchange, and distributed cognition including communities.

Self-directed learning is a keyword in this landscape of pedagogies meant to accommodate and deal with knowledge abundance. How to find, handle, interpret, validate, negotiate, create, improve, apply and share information and knowledge through connecting, communicating  and collaborating with online resources, experts, peers, networks, communities and communities of practice is essential in the processes of knowledge creation. They are also an inherent part of current practices in the use of technologies and emphasize the social and situated nature of learning in a culture of knowledge abundance.

In connectivism learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources (Weller 2011:231), and Dave Cormier takes the idea of connectivism a step further when he introduces rhizomatic learning as a learning theory underlining a non-linear, experimenting, multiperspectivist and participatory approach to learning. In rhizomatic learning serendipity, that is accidental discovery, is an important dimension of networking, and bricolage becomes an aspect of knowledge creation within the context of a community that helps finding, interpreting, validating, negotiating and sharing informations and knowledge while co-creating new, accurate and up-to-date knowledge. As Dave Cormier says it in the video:  “to know what it is to know inside this space” is what you need  to learn, whether it is a subject matter, a problem based task, a case or a theme that is your common purpose and the reason why you got together in the community. This way ‘the community becomes the curriculum’:

In the rhizomatic model of learning, curriculum is not driven by predefined inputs from experts; it is constructed and negotiated in real time by the contributions of those engaged in the learning process. This community acts as the curriculum, spontaneously shaping, constructing, and reconstructing itself and the n subject of its learning in the same way that the rhizome responds to changing environmental conditions… (Cormier 2008)

And so, rhizomatic learning is a variation of open networked learning and a model for the construction of knowledge suited for an era of ever changing knowledge.

I think rhizomatic learning is one way to go, when it comes to finding a pedagogy of abundance that corresponds with the affordances of Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 while predicting and shaping Learning 3.0. But I don’t think rhizomatic learning is an as seamless process to engage in for many people as it might seem. In Bonnie Stewart’s opinion it requires networked or digital literacies to navigate in an open networked  learning environment, and she has nicely put this into words in “Learning in the Open: Networked Student Identities”, a blogpost written some years ago:

“But I believe learning – whether in online social networks or straight from the canon, bound in leather – involves being able to read and make sense of the codes and signals being given off by those you interact with, particularly those you expect to learn from. These are what I refer to when I talk about “legitimacy structures” within academia and networks…” (Stewart 2013a)

Screen-shot-2013-02-10-at-4.15.47-PM

Bonnie Stewart: Learning in the Open: Networked Student Identities

These two sets of legitimacy structures and practices are reflected in Cormier’s traditional and rhizomatic models for knowledge validation – and they are both essential to understanding the pedagogies and the two models of education, the traditional scarcity model and the model of abundance and open practices, that are up for discussion in this blogpost.

As Bonnie Stewart says, her legitimacy structures and practices are in a sense literacies, and to me the challenging part for education is to make students  and learners embrace these digital and networked literacies that belong to networked learning while learning how to engage online in a Residents mode as mapped by Alison Le Cornu and David White and presented in my most recent blogposts . Bonnie Stewart talks about these digital and networked literacies as new literacies of participation in relation to learning in MOOCs in her article “Massiveness + Openness = New Literacies of Participation?”. As I see it, this also applies to rhizomatic learning:

“The studies in new literacies (Barton, 1994) established the use of the plural “literacies” rather than the singular “literacy” in order to push beyond the binary of “literate” and “illiterate” that still shapes our cultural threshold-based conceptions surrounding literacy (Belshaw, 2012). Lankshear and Knobel (2007) frame new literacies as follows:

The more a literacy practice privileges participation over publishing, distributed expertise over centralized expertise, collective intelligence over individual possessive intelligence, collaboration over individuated authorship, dispersion over scarcity, sharing over ownership, experimentation over “normalization,” innovation and evolution over stability and fixity, creative-innovative rule breaking over generic purity and policing, relationship over information broadcast, and so on, the more we should regard it as a “new” literacy. (p. 21)

… Belshaw (2012) notes that skills are subject to objective thresholds, whereas “literacy is a condition, not a threshold … you cannot become literate merely through skill acquisition – there are meta-level processes also required”…

To be digitally literate is to be able to engage the connections and communications possibilities of digital technologies, in their capacity to generate, remix, repurpose, and share new knowledge as well as simply deliver existing information. Many people have no experience or conception of these types of possibilities: simply being online does not necessarily build social and communicative familiarity with what Lankshear and Knobel (2007) refer to as the “distinctive ethos” of participatory culture (Jenkins, 2006). But interacting within an environment that exposes and encourages meta-level processing as well as knowledge generation, remixing, repurposing, and sharing can help create that condition of literacy.” (Stewart 2013b)

These digital and networked literacies correspond with Le Cornu and Whites definition of the Resident mode and with my own views on digital and learning literacies, and they can be results of rhizomatic learning as a pedagogy of abundance, too, but they are also learning literacies and dimensions of social and situated learning that needs to be deliberately and consciously developed to keep rhizomatic learning a relevant  pedagogy of abundance. I think this focus on digital and networked literacies could be an answer to Martin Wellers second question to educators: how do you best equip learners to make use of abundance?

Rhizomatic learning is a suggestion for a pedagogy of abundance that has been born of open networked learning and Higher Education, but this leaves an extra question for educators, as I see it: Is it possible to introduce rhizomatic learning and the principles behind it as a pedagogical perspective on knowledge abundance across the entire educational system from primary school to Higher Education?

This blogpost has been edited on 5. June 2016 in order to make the distinction between ‘community’ and ‘community of practice’ clearer in three passages.

Further reading:

Conole, Grainné (2008): New Schemas for Mapping Pedagogies and Technologies, Ariadne, 56

Cormier, Dave (2008): Rhizomatic Education: Community as Curriculum

Sharples, M., McAndrew, P., Weller, M., Ferguson, R., FitzGerald, E., Hirst, T., Mor, Y., Gaved, M. and Whitelock, D. (2012): Innovating Pedagogy 2012: Open University Innovation Report 1, The Open University

Stewart, Bonnie E (2015): In Abundance: Networked Participatory Practices as Scholarship, The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, Vol 16, No 3

Stewart, Bonnie (2013a): Learning in the Open: Networked Student Identities

Stewart, Bonnie (2013b): Massiveness + Openness = New Literacies of Participation?, MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, Vol. 9, No.2

Weller, Martin (2011): A pedagogy of abundance, revista española de pedagogia año LXIX, no 249, mayo-agosto, 223-236

Wheeler, Steve (2015): Learning with ‘e’s. Educational theory and practice in the digital age, Carmarthen

Photo:  AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by . .Jef Safi.  on Flickr

Elna Mortensen

In an era of knowledge abundance – Part 1

Visitors and Residents approaches – crossing boundaries, bridging the gap

3209856136_111f60b925_mMapping Visitors and Residents approaches to the web as different ways of engaging online today was up for consideration in my last blogpost. I’m quite intrigued by the at once simplicity and complexity of the Visitors and Residents framework as it puts forward a possibility to explore and explain not only what we are doing on the web but also how and why and with whom we are engaging. At the same time this mapping gives possibilities for teaching digital and learning literacies that nurture and provide students with Residents approaches towards studies and learning in higher education. This ambition links the Visitors and Residents framework to the shift in learning modes from Learning 2.0 to Learning 3.0: these are digital and learning literacies that come from immersion into a present context and into a present culture.

The development of the Visitors and Residents framework is connected with the work of David White and Alison Le Cornu, but to be more precise the background for the extended framework, I mentioned in my last blogpost, is a research project, The Visitors and Residents project, presented in the Jisc Guide “Evaluating digital services: a visitors and residents approach” (2014) by David White, Lynn Silipigni Connaway, Donna Lanclos, Erin M. Hood and Carrie Vass.

The Visitors and Residents project investigated:

  • if individual approaches shift according to learners’ educational stage starting with students in their last year of high school/secondary school and first year undergraduate college/university students and following three later educational stages through to an experienced academic stage
  • what motivates different types of engagement with the digital environment for learning
  • which sources learners turn to when they search for information and which sources learners choose to interact with online and offline as part of their learning process
  • the learners’ modes of engagement in both personal and institutional contexts
  • potential cultural differences between two countries, as learners from both the UK and the US participated in the project.
  • (Project background In: White et al (2014))

Open practices

From an educational point of view the project has assessed to what degree students and scholars are prepared for the open, networked and participatory practices the Resident web build on:  the practices of web 2.0 and social media and the possibilities of Learning 3.0. The research results show that in early educational stages students are not terribly well-prepared for participating in Residents modes in professional and institutional contexts. The concerns and the possibilities in relation to open practices in higher education are introduced by David White in this video drawing on the results from The Visitors and Residents project:

So to foster experiences with open practices, educators can choose to engage students online in communities of practice, while facilitating Resident modes of interaction within these online spaces/places. The benefits of this are according to The Visitors and Residents project that:

In this way both the teaching and the learning process become Resident in nature and students are challenged to develop their thinking and express their thoughts as part of an open discourse… (Stakeholder snapshots – resident mode In: White et al (2014))

It is also relevant to any discipline at the point where individuals feel it is important for their point of view to become part of the discourse around a given subject. In this way Resident practices can be an important part of students developing their ‘voice’ within their chosen field. (Stakeholder snapshots – resident mode In: White et al (2014))

Credibility

As David White stresses, the Resident web is a space/place where we can be co-present, but it involves identity, reputation and credibility. So it also challenges what counts for valid knowledge when education engages students and educators in the Resident web and open practices. This issue of credibility is at stake in the results from the research project, too: it is not just a question of discourse but also a question of what knowledge is and how it can be acquired. In a manner of speaking students’ everyday practices, based on ‘we search and connect’, meet and clash with the traditional scholarly practices of how knowledge is acquired, tested, validated and shared in our culture. David White comments and reflects on these matters in the following video:

The informal learning of students’ everyday open practices on social media and the web seems to be difficult to transfer to the contexts of the mainly closed world of formal learning in higher education, as David White sums it up in the video. So the discussion on how to integrate students’ informal learning into formal learning in meaningful ways has moved from being an important issue at primary and secondary educational levels to be a relevant issue for higher education, too. Here the Visitors and Residents framework comes in as a way of mapping and reflecting on students’ informal and formal learning spaces/places and practices and as a starting point for meeting the open, networked and participatory practices of the Resident web in an institutional context. And so, a concluding comment from David White on the research project could be this:

Taking a more Resident approach to education is more than just a question of technology. It confronts under-lying conceptions of what it means to learn and what it means to know. (Visitors and Residents Part 2: Credibility (2014))

A double agenda

The research project on Visitors and Residents approaches has a double agenda, although the development of students’ digital and learning literacies appears to be the heart of the matter. Because the challenges and possibilities of a more Resident approach to education also meet the educators. So, while aiming at turning students into contributors, collaborators and co-creators within connected learning communities of practice, educational institutions should also encourage and embrace the increasing value of online currency that goes along with educators’ presence online. Educators’ open, networked, and participatory practices are a precondition for teaching and designing learning activities that foster digital and learning literacies by using open practices. Donna Lanclos and David White elaborate on this aspect of The Visitors and Residents project in their article “The Resident Web and Its Impact on the Academy” (2015). Here they challenge the understanding of what scholarship is:

In the industrialized, commodified model of intellectual labor that has come to dominate late 20th and early 21st century academia, the focus has historically been on producing units (articles, books, grants awarded, etc.) to be consumed rather than on forming the relationships and networks from which work can emerge. This now needs to be reconsidered as the Web influences the academy to re-position itself within a larger knowledge landscape in a more connected manner. The academy can no longer simply serve its own communities in the context of the networked Web, and it is under increasing cultural pressure to reach out and appear relevant. The web breaks us out of a product-centered publishing cycle and allows us to become part of an ongoing flow, in which knowledge is perpetually negotiated within networks. (Lanclos and White (2015))

Lanclos and White reflect on and work up their understanding of the Resident web in accordance with the concept of ‘Networked Participatory Scholarship’ defined by George Veletsianos and Royce Kimmons:

Networked Participatory Scholarship is the emergent practice of scholars’ use of participatory technologies and online social networks to share, reflect upon, critique, im-prove, validate and further their scholarship.(Veletsianos and Kimmons (2012:768))

And as students might resist the open practices of the Resident web in an institutional context, educators in higher education might resist institutional expectations of true openness and networked participatory scholarship, as I have touched on in a previous blogpost. So in many ways the double agenda in The Visitors and Residents project leaves students and educators alike to cross the borders and align with networked participatory scholarly practices and epistemological issues.

Crossing boundaries, bridging the gab

In my last blogpost I came up with a small list on what students need to know about open practices and how to participate on the Resident web. Some of my suggestions overlap the initiatives the research project recommends explicitly and implicitly. So to give a further idea of how to understand and anticipate the digital gap and the clash between informal learning and formal learning, students experience in higher education according to the research project, I would like to turn to Catherine Cronin. She addresses the challenges of being open in higher education in her keynote speech “Navigating the Marvellous: Openness in education” (2014) in the video below.  For a very short moment during the speech, the sound is not the best, but I think it is worthwhile to listen through the minute it takes, if you are interested in the process of opening up education.

Further reading:

Lanclos, Donna and David White (2015): The Resident Web and Its Impact on the Academy, Hybrid Pedagogy, October 8

Veletsianos, George and Royce Kimmons (2012): Networked Participatory Scholarship: Emergent techno-cultural pressures toward open and digital scholarship in online networks In: Computers & Education 58 p. 766-774

White, David, Lynn Silipigni Connaway, Donna Lanclos, Erin M. Hood and Carrie Vass: (2014): Evaluating digital services: a visitors and residents approach, Jisc

Photo: AttributionNoncommercial Some rights reserved by tanakawho on Flickr

Elna Mortensen

 

 

 

Visitors and Residents approaches – crossing boundaries, bridging the gap

A digital gap

15199950717_95822308c4_n’Digital natives’ and ’digital immigrants’ often turn up as part of an argument about digital media, digital literacies and the use of the internet and the web in education, in everyday life, or in peoples professional lives. A few days ago I experienced it again. The two concepts have become the truth, and in many cases people don’t realize that Marc Prensky’s distinction between ‘digital natives’ (those born in the era of digital and social media) and ‘digital immigrants’ (those born before the internet and the web became part of everyday live) is a myth. And a much-criticised myth. So although Marc Prensky was right about the existence of a digital gap, a gap between people who are at ease within digital environments  and people who are not, the digital gap is not about age, as Prensky claimed, but has to do with attitude and motivation. This is the main critique against Prensky as it goes according to David White and Alison Le Cornu.

In the article “Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement” (2011) White and Le Cornu introduce the concepts “visitors” and “residents” to describe people’s engagement online and to analyse  the different ways people use tools and social media:

We propose that Visitors understand the Web as akin to an untidy garden tool shed. They have defined a goal or task and go into the shed to select an appropriate tool which they use to attain their goal. Task over, the tool is returned to shed. It may not have been perfect for the task, but they are happy to do so long as some progress is made…Ultimately to Visitors the Web is simply one of many tools they can use to achieve certain goals; it is categorized alongside the telephone, books, pen and paper and off-line software. It is not a ‘place’ to think or to develop ideas and to put it crudely, and at its most extreme, Visitors do their thinking off-line. So, Visitors are users, not members, of the Web and place little value in belonging online. (White and Le Cornu 2011:5-6).

Residents, on the other hand, see the Web as a place, perhaps like a park or a building in which there are clusters of friends and colleagues whom they can approach and with whom they can share information about their life and work. A proportion of their lives is actually lived out online where the distinction between online and off-line is increasingly blurred. Residents are happy to go online simply to spend time with others and they are likely to consider that they ‘belong’ to a commu-nity which is located in the virtual…

Residents see the Web primarily as a network of indivi-duals or clusters of individuals who in turn generate content. Value online is assessed in terms of relationships as well as knowledge. (White and Le Cornu 2011:6).

The two concepts ‘visitors’ and ‘residents’ are not to be seen as a dichotomy but as a continuum where people slide to and fro:

Our Visitors and Residents typology should be under-stood as a continuum and not a binary opposition. Individuals may be able to place themselves at a particular point along this continuum rather than in one of two boxes. Nor is a predominantly Visitor approach necessarily any less effective or of less value than a predominantly Resident approach since the value of either has to be set against a given context and set of goals. Similarly, we don’t consider the Visitor to be necessarily any less technically adept than the Resident. (White and Le Cornu 2011:6).

As Wenger (1998) has highlighted, we are all members of multiple communities and have to negotiate our roles and identities as we navigate the ‘nexus’ of communities we belong to. In a similar manner an individual’s approach to the Web is likely to change dependent on context. For example, an individual might take a Resident approach in their private life but a Visitor approach in their role as a professional.  Similarly it is not unusual for someone in a leadership role in a special interest group to manage that responsibility in a Resident style online while in a personal or professional context they choose to act as a Visitor. (White and Le Cornu 2011:7).

An extended framework

David White has been engaged in developing this first model for analyzing online engagement into a framework that sees the visitor and resident modes in relation to private and institutional contexts as well. We have to take into account, too, that context decides our mode of engagement online. In this video David White presents this extended framework and the critique of Marc Prensky’s concepts that set off the work on developing a new typology in the first place:

The question is now, what education can do about the digital gap, that started the hullabaloo? An answer could be, that since the digital gap isn’t running between generations but is an established fact across generations, the visitors – residents framework can be a basis for designing activities and teaching digital and learning literacies, so that students get the chance to develop residential modes relevant to their subjects, their disciplines and the contexts they engage in as students. So to me, students at least need to know how to:

  • be present in places/spaces online where goals and activities lead to dialogue, collaboration, cooperation, and sharing.
  • develop digital literacies relevant to their subjects, disciplines and studies through using tools and developing modes of engagement and participation while evolving civic education/civics.
  • build communities as places/spaces through connecting with individuals, groups and resources while developing participatory culture and sharing.
  • go on developing skills, competences and digital literacies to be able to take up both visitors’ and residents’ modes in the future – and in my last two blogposts I have suggested that Mozilla’s web literacies could be a place to start.

This blogpost has been edited on 25. November 2015 where two extra titles – often referenced to on this blog – were added to the reading list below.

Further reading:

Jenkins, Henry et al. (2009): Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century, MacArthur, The MIT Press

Wenger, E. (2010): Communities of practice and social learning systems: the career of a concept. In Social learning systems and communities of practice (pp. 179-198), Springer London

White, D. & Le Cornu, A. (2011): Visitors and residents: A new typology for online engagement. First Monday, 16(9).

Photo: AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by Alex Harbich on Flickr

Elna Mortensen

A digital gap