Emergent outcomes from a field of weeds – or how certainty can emerge from anxiety (a #rhizo15 story)


I have just watched a video of @davecormier where he uses the metaphor of the ‘weed’ as an alternative to the dominant, normative models of curriculum.

In the normative idea of curriculum, curricula ideas (a mix of ontology and epistemology) are reduced to content (syllabus), and learning construed as a linear path from ignorant to knowledgeable, where the teacher is the one who knows.

This normative idea is reinforced through the technology of the Learning Objective. Having just taught a class on LOs and got the participants to re-work their courses in light of this I fell upon a different idea, that of Emergent Outcomes.  Now, I know why Biggs has developed the idea of learning objectives – its intent was to design in equity and not let teachers privilege those who already ‘get it’ and neglect those who don’t.

But it all too readily becomes a closed circuit – as many participants in my class argued.

And that’s when I came across emergent outcomes.  Emergent outcomes are conducive, I feel, to the connectivist approach and rhizomatic learning in that knowledge and learning are seen to emerge from the context of learning or practice.  As is becoming clear to me from exchanges with folks who were on #rhizo14 learning objectives are multiple, located (initially) in each individual (and we know from experience that despite setting LOs for our courses all students will have their own and develop new ones as they go through).

So, as I slowly lean in towards #rhizo15 my objectives are loose.

I have a recent experience that taught me to be open and resist the desire to place too much apparent order on events.  For a moment, during the recent #TJC15 (Twitter Journal Club) my attention was taken away from the buzz of tweets.  On turning back towards the dashboard I realised that I was ‘lost’.  But lost implied that perhaps I SHOULD have control.  But, following Jacque Ranciere, what if I simply enacted openness, rhizomatic thinking, and waited to see what happened?

I stepped back, I waited, and a cluster of words rose up to capture my attention.

Let’s hope I can maintain such equanimity.


10 thoughts on “Emergent outcomes from a field of weeds – or how certainty can emerge from anxiety (a #rhizo15 story)

  1. I’ve been thinking a lot how course design is made so that everything is driven by the syllabus (or the competencies of you prefer). Anything we do is only if it is on the syllabus. If we make a video, it is either an introduction to the course, or part of the content to be found on the syllabus. It seems like everything must serve the syllabus.

    I am not against syllabi (though I loathe having be directed to create a 19 page one to include all the institution requirement). But I see it more as a basic framework, a structural guide, not the driver. The structural elements of my house- foundation, beams, studs in the walls are a framework, but what makes it a home is something else all together.

    So what if there is a narrative, or a theme, or a genre topic to a course which acts as… maybe a plot? Like a movie, if the dialogue and action do not adhere to the ploy, we lose continuity to the story. So for a recent short course (more more of a seminar – http://youshow.trubox.ca/), there were topics and activities typical of a syllabus, but we created a narrative of the experience being part of a TV show, something like one where inept hosts review movies. So we create a weekly intro video, which is related to the content, but not strictly part of it (people could ignore the videos and still do the work). Why would we spend good chunks of time each week creating videos that were not part of the content?

    Because it energized us, it made us think all the time how it fit with the content and how the actions and dialogue of the course supported the story.

    Oops I think I wrote a blog post in your comments. I’m trying to flesh out this idea for a paper.

    Oh, and it was cool meeting you in the #TLC15 (thanks for spelling it out, I did not even know what the acronym was). That was my first one and I was both exhilarated and overwhelmed by the pace.

    1. Thanks Alan. You should post that on your blog. Lots there so will get back to you in order to continue the conversation. It resonates with my current reflections as part of pre-planning next year’s programmes.

    2. Alan,
      I really appreciate your comments (blog post within comments) here.
      I, too, have gotten increasingly frustrated with the conceit of a syllabus for a couple of reasons. First, it reinforces the notion that the responsibility of the journey belongs solely to me. That has always seemed off to me at some fundamental level. And the syllabus implies one direction, which I know is exactly NOT how learning really happens.

      A few years back, I got to attend a presentation by George Siemens as he was describing the first MOOCs he conducted with Stephen Downes and how one of their goals was that you could not simply keep up with everything in the course and how you had to find your own way through.
      From that perspective, I think now that my syllabi are two dimensional and that learning has three dimensions (at least). #rhizo15


    3. Creative way to think about syllabi — I wonder how it would be received if I told my class that go and watch 2001: A Space Odyssey. That is the syllabus for this course. See you next class. I know the college wouldn’t like it… but it would shake up their way of seeing the world. Cool remarks and cool ideas. Thanks.

  2. I really appreciated your blog post. I am looking forward to doing more reading about emerging outcomes. All of your thoughts really resonated with me.

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