the unsettling headiness of #rhizo15


(image: A network diagram showing the distributive nature of Stephen Downes’ and George Siemens’ CCK08 course, one of the first MOOCs and the course that inspired the term MOOC to become adopted. Source:

The pre-rhizo15 cMOOC chatter builds up and a sense of unease wraps itself around me.

This is another step into the digital scholar space, the #connectedlearning space, the #connectivist space that I have ventured into over the past few (only a few?) months, and which is having a transformative effect on my practice and conceptualisation of my professional identity.

Already there are some good pointers as to how to approach this different mode of educational engagement.  Dave Cormier (is he the instigator/facilitator?) has blogged and produced a neat video on ‘managing’ engagement with #rhizo15 and cMOOCs more generally.

Yet there is still that unease, that nervousness, that “maybe I’ll leave this one till next year” feeling.

I know this anxiety well, and the aversion to unfamiliar situations well.  In my everyday teaching, which is overwhelmingly f-2-f these days I deal with this by building in lots of ‘signposting’ for course participants.  I justify this, reasonably, as providing some clarity of direction so that participants can get to grips with the difficult stuff they will encounter.  This is reasonable, but I know it is me transferring my own sense of panic in new situations.

I take a deep breath and steel myself for the adventure (it will be an adventure won’t it?).

So, what’s the source of my unease?

The lack of an explicit, GIVEN syllabus and objectives provokes both desire and aversion in almost equal measure.  Desire because it is liberating (more on this in a moment).  Aversion because my inner voice is screaming: “BUT WHERE’S THE MAP? WON’T YOU GET LOST? WON’T YOU MAKE A FOOL OF YOURSELF BY NOT GETTING THE RULES OF THE GAME?”.  And of course, that’ s cMOOCs for you, that’s ‘connectivism’.

And yet…and yet am I not also irritated by the (over)abundance of course ‘content’ that yearly I seek to reduce believing, knowing that a richer strain of educational engagement can often emerge when we (learner/teacher participants) are challenged with the invitation/threat of open space?  There has been an intuitive understanding of connectivism that has driven me to open my teaching to more uncertainty (or at least less definitiveness), an approach that has sometimes led to conflict.  It is an approach that underpinned my more creative days as a community educator/artist where I used drama techniques with adults with intellectual disabilities in creating rich and powerful narratives about their lives where all the content and action came from them, and not a learning objective in site.

I have stated that my approach to this uncertain terrain is that of the dérive, a concept that has has guided me over the past year or so professionally and intellectually.


I will meander through this new landscape, slowly picking out the features that resonate with (or frighten) me, and begin to see the social structure of this ‘openness’ – that is see the rules-walls-and-public-spaces.  I will explore the contours of this connectivist mode, and try to grasp (which is impossible) the rhizomatic metaphor, of enjoying its inbetweeness:

‘rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo.’ (Deleuze & Guattari ‘Capitalism and Schizophrenia’)


Some useful ideas emerging on #rhizo15



12 thoughts on “the unsettling headiness of #rhizo15

  1. HI Simon!

    Very interested to hear more about your drama stuff. I like what u write about mapping. For me mapping is at the heart of the D&G stuff. I like to explore connections, ideas, behaviours, without any preconceived ideas of what or who I will find. I suppose I am used to going out in the wild and I find prearranged courses often unsettling. So I have to realise that for others lack of recognisable course plan unsettling. It sounds from this blog post you have a good idea of what you are setting out to explore. Thanks for sharing 🙂 Good post!!!

    1. Hi Simon, thanks for your kind words. As for the drama it feels such a long time ago now. I drew on drama in education ideas where the drama worker focuses on structure not content, on working with participants to move towards clarity of idea/s. Messiness is approved of in that model and it was a delight to work with those adults. I learned so much. I am conscious that it is often my need for signposting and ontological security that orders my own practice. I am looking at this course as a kind of ‘live’ experiment, to see different ways of being and doing that can inspire me as I re-work my own courses. We will see.

  2. I love your honesty, Simon. I guess I always approach these as Simon Esner did: I make myself a very concrete learning goal (in the most abstract sense possible, if you catch my rather confusing meaning…his is a perfect example) and let the rest pass by in the stream. And then I pick up a buddy. For example, in Connected Courses, I established a learning goal completely separate from anything being offered (I wanted to learn how to establish a network that would allow me to advertise my intention of doing research on the Connected Courses experience – as part of an ethical approach to Internet research) and then I found Maha Bali, who became the best supporter/teacher/friend that I learner-researcher could ever want. It was a great experience, no unrest required, and yet there was so much more I could have done if I had had the time, etc etc. So if you want a #rhizo15 buddy, know that I’m around and I’m looking for one myself :).

    1. Thanks Laura. ‘Losing the thread’ of yesterday’s #TJC15 was instructive for me. At first I was panicked as I saw more and more tweets coming up on the dashboard. Then I decided to sit back and observe for a while till a conversation caught my attention. That’s derive. Its an idea that has inspired me for a while, helped be loosen up and be open to possibilities. I’m going to try not to rely too much on those I already know and to make new connections. We’ll see.

  3. Meander, wander, explore … that’s me all over the map (that is barely a map). I hear you, on the unease, and hope that is an invitation into the territory, not a barrier of entrance.

    1. Definitely an invitation. In a sense the point where I feel discomfort is where the learning might happen. On maps I was in a flea market some years ago where this guy was selling ‘Maps of the Sahara Desert’ – they were sheets of sandpaper. Loved it. I bought 2.

  4. I love your confession here. You are a learner. You sound willing to explore and meader, though fearing a map. No worries. Create the map when you are done. Who has a eulogy before they are dead? Pick desire. Aversion is so yesterday. And thanks for connecting me to the idea of dérive. Oh, and D&G didn’t see the rhizome as a metaphor. It’s more of a lens rather than a thing. Just a way to conceptualize another way of thinking.

    1. Maps are made AFTER the event – definitely. Thanks for the update on D&G and rhizome as lens. I’ve been catching up on some of the connectivism/rhizome materials and slowly orienting myself there. I have questions and doubts as well – so feels like some learning going on and not simply acquisition.

  5. Oh man I just lost a really long comment coz i tried to get this link for you. The link is for an open learning recipe evolving thru #rhizo15 (i may have tweeted it to you, but pasting here anyway):

    I think Others must be feeling like you are – it’s the sense of liking order and clarity while recognizing some learning value in lack of it, but also that it is risky, and is it worth the investment? As Laura said, setting a goal for yourself, and focusing either on certain people, spaces, or areas helps. You’ll find your sweetspot of ways of keeping track and filtering thru it all to make it valuable to you. Sometimes it takes afew days or a few weeks, or sometimes you decide to stay only loosely connected to a MOOC. It depends. I’m right here and you can shout out any time.

    P.S. I did not know I was Laura’s #ccourses buddy but I am so grateful I got close to her then and that we’re still close. One of the best connections I ever made (not just online). Those are really tough to make outside of an “event” like a MOOC.

    1. Maha – I am going to try and not ‘keep up’, if that makes sense, because that’s not the point (I’ll have to remind myself of that). One simple goal is to ‘experience’ participating in this kind of ‘story’ (as Dave might put it?). Beyond that I am not sure. I am putting some faith in the idea of emergent outcomes (am writing a quick blog on that straight after this). I know I don’t have to buy into the whole rhizomatic thing, but if feels like a space that can move me in valuable directions as an educator, especially the idea of all participants being simultaneously teacher and learner. I will see where that takes me. I might well call out to both you and Laura but I know that I can ‘cling’ to those I know, so will push myself to test out new connections.

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