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