A few reflections on rhizo14

Late on, I realized most were construing rhizo14 as a MOOC. I hadn’t characterised it that way, and I am still not sure how useful it is to think of this as a MOOC, as it drives the conversation in directions that smell of rust and must. Of course it ostensibly complies with the definition…whole bunch of people (probably more than the Dunbar limit, so subjectively massive), online, sort of “coursey”… and there was the usual wilful dispersion of the conversation that cMOOCs seem to espouse, to which I contributed enthusiastically by focusing on Twitter and the occasional blog, and staying away from Facebook as I would Mordor… but all that mattered was that it was open, in all the ways it needed to be. Thus far the MOOC distraction.

I joined out of curiosity, aware as usual that, due to other commitments, I would miss some chats, come in late to others, and fail to respond to anything on time. I was interested in the notion of the rhizome, as a metaphor worth exploring. I got to explore it. I had the sense that despite the common thread of Dave Cormier’s questions, which were stimulating catalysts, most participants were fairly focused on their own rabbit holes, and we congregated in fairly close groups of common interest. This was my case, and while I found old and new online friends in the process, with whom we are slowly chasing new and old rabbits, what I found most interesting is that many of the conversations I participated in a as a result of rhizo14 were not online, and not with participants. I took issues that arose and discussed them elsewhere. The online storm of tweets turned into soft, solid conversations in RT. This gave rise to a lot of fruitful reflection about the nature of online interaction and what it really affords. Interestingly the most exciting avenue of collaboration that arises out of this involves someone I have not met in RT, yet, but the nature of our exploration has to do with the limits of the possibilities of online discourse, contrasted with the potentials of dialogue in RT contexts. This is not a simple online/ offline dichotomy, more an exploration of what is feasible in each and/or both contexts. We would never have met offline, but the online conversation, at least on social networking platforms, appears to reach a limit.

I have spent some time working around informal and self-directed learning, and the notion of the rhizome metaphor has always seemed to me as an interesting “via negativa”, in the sense that, though it does not on close examination quite hold together, it does help us get closer to what learning may be. I found the conversations in this process, on Twitter and on blogs in my case, to be useful in exploring its nature and potentials.

The idea of inclusion or exclusion in a community seems to me to be irrelevant. Community is a construct we use to frame our conversations, and comprehend them. In this sense it is useful, but when we start to label that, and create our cosy echo chambers, we start to lose the potential, the only really rich potential of these experiences, which is the value of cross-fertilization. The rhizome metaphor focuses on continuous exploration, though particular patches of nutrients may help the organism to send up temporary flowers. And we may wish to cultivate these. In rhizo14 we were free to do so. The rhizome may in fact be a “legitimate peripheral participant”J

The notion of success, against this background, falls away, except in the sense that the experience furthers the journey. Yes, I learned new things, I met new people, I found new rabbits to chase. But the idea of success implies a stop, to reify the process. If I need to reify the experience, or get it certified, I can do so, and the generation of this text is a case in point, but for me rhizo14 was a participatory journey. Not a place but a movement. And the criterion for success may be only that this movement continues.

Dave Cormier described the course at one point as a beacon, an attractor. I think he got that right, and many, many thanks to him for creating that. We came together, or crossed paths, each in our trajectory, and new fires developed, and around them conversations. Now we move on…