Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Network vs community – cc #rhizo14 autoethnog

| 48 Comments

Reading Time: 2 minutes

It’s past 2 am but I am so relieved to have read a distinction between network and community that resonates with me strongly, so had to blog about it. And there’s a question for Dave Cormier here, too.

Howard Rheingold in Net Smart writes beautifully (p. 163):

“To me, the difference between an online social network and a community has to do with the quality, continuity, and degree of commitment in the relationships between members. This comes down to whether participants care about each other and are willing to act on their feelings.

This is exactly how I feel. Earlier, I used to say that the word “network” seemed colder to me than the word “community”. I think some others agree. A funnier one is that I always felt “rhizomatic learning” was warmer than connectivism… But that’s possibly because of the “community” undertones or overtones in rhizomatic learning, or maybe it’s Dave’s writing style vs, that of Downes/Siemens… I am not sure, and would like to ask Dave to comment on this. Dave, do you agree with Howard Rheingold’s understanding of community as having that affective dimension? Is it essential to what you are trying to do when you do run a rhizomatic learning experience?

I’ve written before about how emotional I am about my teaching in general, and about some of my relationships online, especially rhizo14, and that’s why it is a community for me. I see now that it is totally ok for others to see it otherwise (but hopefully not the ones I consider real friends haha).

But anyway, my point is this: reading the narratives in the rhizo14 autoethnography, and with my interest in the community building aspect of it, I might be interested to look for those nuances in varying degrees of emotion/commitment among participants. I’m guessing that those of us currently interested in working on the autoethnography and taking it further all consider ourselves part of a community (though this does not exclude some others who are also very close to us, but just not active on that aspect of things). I love you guys, by the way 🙂

That’s all for now… Thoughts?

48 Comments

  1. Maha, I’ll answer here. I think that you are talking about a very real and valuable distinction in the ways that people perceive and engage a group, or an assemblage, to use the broadest, most neutral terms that I can think of just now, whether f2f or online. To use your terms, we relate differently in a social network than we do in a community; however, I don’t think that the differences lie in the groups but in the connections within the groups. In other words, I think that rather than saying Rhizo14 is a community, it is more accurate to say some people found community in Rhizo14. Other people, I suspect, found a social network, which also has value. Thus, the relationship or connection that you are suggesting by community is a characteristic of the types of connections that several people are able to form and sustain within a group. Others in the same group may find a social network, and social network may be more to their liking.

    So what is the difference between these two relationships or connections? This has been tugging at my head lately, and I actually spoke with Sarah Honeychurch about this in our Google Hangout the other day, unfortunately after you had left. I will definitely write about this more on my blog, but I’ll suggest here the barest outlines of what popped out of my mouth to Sarah. I think the connections within a social network are more correctly characterized by what the West has called a social contract, with all that it implies, and I don’t have time to go into that here, but suffice it to say that the social contract is a legalistic, mutually agreed upon, and explicit connection between or among parties of equal legal status, with clear rules and an understanding that any violation of the rules invalidates the connection and relieves all parties of the terms of the contract.

    I want to contrast this with an older kind of relationship: a covenant, knowing full well that this term carries, at least in the West, religious overtones that some will find uncomfortable. This is unfortunate, for it might just be a fine model, with some updating, for the kind of relationships that are most productive in an online community. This will require much more thought, but as a starter think of covenant relationships as those between parent and child in which one party fully commits to the other, regardless of the behavior of the other party. A covenant relationship says, “I will behave in good faith with you, regardless of what you do. I will not let you damage me, but neither will I abandon my commitment to you.” This is likely beyond what we can commit to in an online community, but it seems to me more in the direction of the connections that some of us feel in communities such as Rhizo14. Perhaps on further analysis covenants will not be the kind of relationship that makes sense in 21st century online communities, but its the concept that I have just now so I’m willing to work it until I prove it wrong. Or right.

    Still, even if covenant is the wrong term, you have rightly pointed to a real distinction that someone in Rhizo14 needs to clarify.

    • Hey Keith, I think i was saying the same thing in terms of some people finding community while others found a network. Since it’s about strength & quality (by quality here i mean type i.e. Not just info sharing but emotional for example) of connections – it can probably be identified between any two people (do they view each other as friends or acquaintances?)

      Thanks for explaining covenant. I can see that kind of idea for teacher/student but no, i don’t think i see rhizo14 sub-communities that way. Isn’t it more of a peer, reciprocal relationship? Will post more from Rheingold when I have time. Trying not to quote the entire book on my blog, tho haha.
      Looking fwd to your post on the matter tho, maybe more on covenants will clarify further

      • I actually used to teach workshops on covenant building within the context of religious communities. The idea being that a covenant is a ‘solemn promise’, within the context of ‘intentional community’ is a ‘solemn promise’ on how one will behave within community. In our religious community (Unitarian Universalism) covenants are typically created through consensus processes – they can be light weight created for the purpose of a weekend workshop – or they can be more formal, created as a way to help define the way we as a congregation treat each other. Since our religion doesn’t have a ‘god’ or ‘dogma’ or any specific scripture (the closest thing we have to scripture is a shared hymnal), we need more formal constructs to help govern how we interact with one another – as we are definitely an ‘intentional community’.

        From a rhizo community perspective, we are more of an ‘organic community’, although many of the activities Dave led early on could be seen as ‘intentional community building activities’ …

        • I agree on the intentional community building aspects. Ever since rhizo14 I’ve become very mindful of intentional community building, and I’ve observed how other MOOCs do it, and how f2f teachers do it, and I’ve become more careful about how I do it myself. I’ve also become more observant about how relationships evolve in the classroom and apparently it’s something I care about a lot, because nothing makes me happier than seeing community in my classes. And few things frustrate me more than a MOOC that makes no effort at all to build community, especially a cMOOC (and yes, some have not!)

    • Keith, I like your choice of words. I associate ‘social contract’ with online classrooms and social networks, but I associate ‘covenant’ with intentional community. What is interesting about rhizo is that I’m not sure we began as ‘intentional community’ and we never formed a ‘covenant’ with one another – and yet some of us have certainly formed a ‘community’ rather than a ‘social network’. Perhaps it is just our quest to find like-minded people and an internal desire for more ‘community’ rather than more ‘network’?

  2. I agree Maha that Howard’s distinction resonates, yet you amplify it more (at least the way that I read it) in that in a community, or being communal, you have made an emotional stake, to some degree have been mutually vulnerable (in the sense of communicating or sharing at a level beyond “chat”) (why am I using so many parentheses?).

    There is some hair splitting at what you mean by social networking; the way I am thinking of it now is that it is connecting with others but in the pursuit of gaining something out of the exchange, even small. That is not necessarily negative, it can be gaining knowledge, contacts, awareness, but also bleeds over to people who connect to improve scores and follower counts. Can it be called even “selfish”?

    I tried to think of the non online equivalent, and maybe it is one of those school socials or a business cocktail party, or that thing that happens at conferences when people are glancing at your name tag and calculating the impact of talking to you versus other key players in the room. Maybe I stereotype not do not spend time at cocktail parties. It is like connecting for the same of connecting.

    The things is that social networking and communities exist in the same overlapping space, and the point at which a group of people begin to feel like a community seems like a blurry line.

    I’ve read and parsed and enjoyed reading your comment, Keith and the idea of “covenant” relationships– I can think of many online relationships that have that flavor; the thing I wonder is that elsewhere, like the parent-child is that the relationship is established from the start, whereas online perhaps that co-evolve?

    It may not be connected, but it reminds me of a time a few years ago at a conference (where I did not go to the cocktail hour) that Biz Stone described twitter as being different from email because either party cannot have an expectation of a reply. If I email Maha with something I’d like her to respond to, if she does not it has an emotional impact on me, I wonder what I did wrong that she did not reply. If I tweet something beyond a direct question, I really cannot have the expectation of a reply, though the magic happens when others reply that I do know know or did not expect.

    I would say that a community is a place where you have placed some emotional chips on the playing table and are rewarded when others do the same…. because they care.

    • Wow, this almost warrants an entire new blogpost. But for the sake of continuing the conversation, I will post here. I remember just shortly before rhizo14 started i was talking to Jesse Stommel about this idea of really “liking” someone online even tho we never met. A few weeks later, I was immersed in rhizo14 and LOVING people. Caring about them and totally emotionally invested in our relationship to the point of addiction (not sure that’s healthy hehe). I do think some online relationships start out unequal (even patronizing) – like with less famous people connecting with famous ppl. The thing w twitter is they can evolve into more equal ones, and then sometimes u make urself more vulnerable and it becomes something else. Some people are more explicit and open about their emotions online and this for me helps build relationships. I remember the moment I started considering Keith Hamon my friend, and you, Alan. Before it, you were just folks I knew online (part of a network). You’re right about emotional investment, though I learned recently not to get upset when someone doesn’t respond to email. I just pound on them on Twitter to let them know they’ve ignored my email 🙂 Yeah, I guess it means I think or know I am important enough to that person that they cannot possibly be ignoring me intentionally. Lol
      Re: selfishness, hmmm there is nothing wrong with making some connections without intent to dig deeper emotionally, right? And i think doing stuff to “get” followers are transparent and don’t last long. It’s a literacy all its own, this deciding whom to connect with and how. But the ‘why’ is the important question, as unit 1 of connected courses will discuss 🙂

      • A blog post was already brewing following our DM conversation a few weeks ago. Let me say that I had my first meeting experience like this in the mid 1990s from a colleague I only knew through a listserv, and visited him in Oregon.

        It’s been my hobby, or passion since then, to meet people I’ve known first through these tubes. Not just meet, but visit in their homes. I traveled for 6 months in 2011, 15,000 miles around the US and Canada doing this, and have stayed with my “imaginary” friends on travels to New Zealand, Australia, the UK.

        It’s more real than real.

        • Oh yeah. I have that passion, too, tho have not been able to enact it yet. Some folks know hard i am trying, though 🙂 Howard Rheingold writes about this beautifully, too. But still if I never meet them they’re still close friends. Meeting them (incl you, now) would be awesome. Looking fwd to ur blogpost on this 🙂

        • That is when all of this online connected doodah gets really interesting and transformative of educational contexts…:-)

  3. I can’t help feeling that the community/network discussion is a bit of a red herring in the same way that I think that ‘the community is the curriculum’ sits uncomfortably with (for me) the idea of rhizomatic learning.

    Yes there are distinctions, affective distinctions between community and network but I have the impression that rhizomes are active at a level of desire which is underneath but underpins expressions of affection.

    We are in ourselves networks acting within networks in which we can feel attachment or love or alienation – that is human. A rhizome is unfeeling, unthinking like a network but animated by ‘desires’ for life. Part of this ‘desire’ is connection and therefore when we feel connection with others or with a tree there is a sensation of being part of something bigger than ourselves. Feelings of community therefore may include this feeling of being part.

    I think it is essential desire of humans to feel some sort of connection to their fellows even if it is alienation. Feelings of community may enable creative production – maybe. I think in rhizomatic learning the important part is the potential for diversity of connections which driven by rhizomatic desire may lead to formation of stronger bonds at certain levels.

    Somehow I think that the rhizome is an organic version of what I have understood connectivism to be. I think that you can take a long view on activity in a network (community in this view is irrelevant) and see it like a machine – that would be connectivism for me. But nature, however machine-like is not just a machine and is clearly animated by fuel, sparks, life-force. I think this is where D&G’s expression of ‘desiring machines’ comes in. I also think that however scientific, or rational one is there is inevitably uncertainty in our perception of chaotic complexity which may be uncomfortable – desire for making sense/meaning – but there is no meaning to a rhizome (an organic network) it just is.

    For us to more easily contemplate uncertainty, we need community, culture, connection, horizons, so as not freak in a nausea-prompting Wasteland. This is where I would say ‘community as curriculum’ acts as an interface for going on a voyage of discovery into nomad’s land. Dave is an aimiable, knowledgable (more than he let’s slip) pied piper. He has emotional drive which creates sparks in ways that more apparently cerebral people don’t. The sparks are what stimulates growth of connections. The key issues are how to feel part of something bigger than ourselves without ripping ourselves to shreds through power battles which distract us from a bigger picture – we are part and particle of all there is.

    Not sure how much sense I have made for you.

    Ah yes, I think that one thing which worked in #rhizo14 (but for a while) alienated some more science-bound academics was the rich diversity of media, emotional, spiritual, nonsense produced.

    • Simon, that all made a LOT of sense, even though I am personally not a fan of taking the metaphors too far. Taking the metaphors too far turns me off, because I won’t allow a metaphor to explain my experience any more than it needs to. But most of the ways you’ve done it here makes loads of sense.

      I know some stuff early on (and probably in between) in rhizo14 alienated some people, but I guess for others, the “nonsense” helped create community. As Dave said when we interviewed him, there were many sub-communities/groups within rhizo14, some i am sure i am not even aware of, and every ‘we’ is a ‘not them’ and that’s important to recognize.

      I love it when you write longform and try to be clear to share a complex thought 🙂

  4. Maha. Two things. I have been reflecting much over the genre within which I want to write, I need to have read much more before I can write in a reflective way to my satisfaction. I am still mapping the terrain. However, this post of Keith’s and my comment will perhaps enrich an expression of what I think, am thinking at the moment – http://idst-2215.blogspot.fr/2013/02/why-rhizomatic-learning-pt-3-etmooc.html. I don’t find the ‘metaphor’ a helpful word now to consider rhizomes as considered in rhizomatic learning. I would suggest something like narrative frame or story space.

  5. Maha thing 3. I think that the ‘nonsense’ was more than affective glue, I think it is a direct or indirect challenge to a dominant ‘scientific’ ‘academic’ means of communication. This is where my reflection on genre is taking me. I also think that representatives of this ‘dominant’ group were miffed that Dave didn’t reinforce their supremacy by being leader of the (their) pack. I find it interesting to question how people perceived a ‘majority’ in rhizo14. I get the impression it is linked to perceived sanctioning given first by Dave then by people recognised as ‘academic’.

    The emotional connections were surprisingly strong in rhizo14 – be interesting to study that dynamic. Can be traced no doubt to certain key nodes 🙂

    ‘rhizomatic learning’ and the web in general is a disruptive force which will inevitably redefine power structures.

    It is in no way certain that academics as we have known them as a group will not go the way of hand-loom weavers.

  6. I’m going to avoid the very tantalizing threads here and respond to the blog post. My writing has been mostly stopped lately due to an attempt to capture too many threads. Maybe tonight i can get to a blogpost to try and capture some of the lines of flight coming out of this excellent thread of comments 🙂

    I use the word community to signal caring. It’s as simple as that. I wont say that the word ‘means’ that, that would be a fairly serious epistemic departure for me. I get my feelings about community through Nancy White, who, probably, has had that conversation with Howard at some point. I’m not sure what it’s antecedents are… but it rings perfectly clear to me.

    Meh. I can’t resist. The covenant idea brings me back to a failed metaphor i tried to use a few years ago… the idea of guild. I meant it as a bridging concept to describe the space of responsibility brought on by more formal structures. http://davecormier.com/edblog/2010/01/27/community-as-curriculum-vol-2-the-guild-distribute-continuum/

    I like covenant and the overt social contract that i feel the word implies.

    To Simon’s point… ‘academic’ approaches are, to some degree, methods of validation. They are formulas (incantations you might say) that allow people to speak with confidence on a particular topic. It’s not surprising that those armed with such weaponry, would appear more certain.

    • hey Dave and all, I almost responded with a new blogpost then thought I’d keep the conversation going here instead.
      As I said on twitter, the “caring” part was something that said it all, for me. That when you say community you use it to signal caring. Not all pedagogues are like that. It is also totally OK that rhizomes technically don’t “care” because “we” as humans feel and care. When we use a metaphor, story, etc., then we know that not every characteristic of it need apply to the “real experience” we’re trying to help describe or analyze or explain (that’s a response to Simon, sort of).

      Seems this covenant part resonates with others as well (I see Rebecca’s reply also) – since it’s culturally alien to me, I’m not “getting it” but I’m sure you’ll all help me understand where you’re coming from. It sounds paternalistic (as does a lot of religious discourse) and describes maybe Dave’s relationship to us at first, but I don’t get how it describes everyone’s relationship to each other, or to the community. Clearly some people “left” early on; some people left after 6 weeks, and I don’t know if any of us have any kind of unconditional commitment to rhizo14…

      The last part was very interesting to me, though. That’s what I would have written a new blogpost about. The “academics” and “validation” and “certainty”. It made me think about how academic discourse is sort of a barrier to entry, isn’t it, into this exclusive club? But also, though, that one can be a more “open” academic, willing to question canons of knowledge, established traditions of research, established discourses even. Strangely, I can’t stand reading most postmodern texts, but I clearly have a lot of postmodern tendencies (not fully, though, because I never finish reading the texts – I start them then get lost).

      I think, though, that my own comfort with my uncertainty is that as I progressed with my PhD, I learned that the more I know, the more I realize I do NOT know, and that I can follow my own path towards pragmatically learning what I need, rather than follow some path some other person has set for me. And you know why that’s really important? Because I am here in Egypt, and all of those theories I’m reading about? They were written by some European person from a totally different context. We’re all human, a lot of if resonates with me. But how Bourdieu’s theories of social reproduction apply to me differs from how they applied in France back when he was developing them. My research on critical thinking brought this up, but it also made me think of the ways critical thinking came from my own culture (Islamic culture, and also Egyptian pop culture), but how “different” it looked from the Western literature on it, even though it was fundamentally quite similar. Maybe I should be writing a whole blog post about this. I mean, recently, I read Howard Rheingold’s term “peeragogy” and I thought, really, how’s that different from social constructivism, peer instruction, whatever. Then again, some people might ask how’s rhizomatic learning different from connectivism, and there are these subtle differences, right? Like the emotional part, which is important to me. But see, the emotional part that I’m talking about, it comes from the PRACTICE of rhizomatic learning, from the PERSON of Dave in his way of talking about it. I can see Simon’s point about RHIZOMES not themselves having feelings or caring… so it can’t be that rhizomatic learning as a “story” sees rhizomes as “caring”, but it can be that what Dave Cormier means when he talks about rhizomatic learning includes a “community as curriculum” component that need not fit neatly (though I think he believes it does – it’s probably me who is being dense or not meticulous enough in reading him and definitely I’ve not understood what I have read of D&G too well) —- anyway! My point is this: the important thing for me is: does the learning theory explain or describe my experience, or a part of it?

      More in a response to Rebecca somewhere below…

  7. I really like the Rheingold quote. I really saw how the rhizo14 group was a community when I was diagnosed with cancer. It was one area that clearly went beyond connection. Other than my mother-in-law’s postcards, many of the gifts I’ve received and notes of encouragement come from rhizo community – much more so than any other social network in which I am apart. So, I have concrete ‘evidence’ of how this group is different from other social networks.

    • Right you are, Rebecca. The way I felt when you were diagnosed, how much thoughts of you came up during my day, made me realize how much you mean to me. And it’s not just because of r blogging…

  8. The comments here inspire me to think a bit more about covenants, which may have value after all, or at least, they may point in the right direction. I really like what Rebecca says about a “solemn promise” within “an intentional community”, and I hope that I can learn more about what she means by that. What I understand the phrase to mean is a commitment on my part to Rhizo14, for instance, to bring my value to the conversation and to be part of the space within which others can bring their value. This is quite different from traditional educational courses which are legalistic contractual arrangements managed by a syllabus which describes the obligations of the contracting parties, usually a school, a teacher, and some students. Whereas a contract spells out the path which all all parties must trace during the limited terms of the contract, a covenant creates a space within which all parties make a solemn promise to engage in good faith and mutual support for the benefit of the intentional community without specifying the terms too precisely. Thus, I can commit to Dave, Maha, Rebecca, and Simon to bring my value and to be open to their value-add, without specifying up front what I expect that value to be. This is critical as it allows the community to define itself from within, rhizomatically, rather than from without, contractually. Rhizo14 could not have been that rich, warm, supportive, creative space that it became if everything had been spelled out beforehand. In some ways, a contractual course is a soccer match played only after all the details of the game, including the final score, are agreed upon. A covenantal course is a soccer match played for the love of the game and the engagement with “an intentional community”.

    This is a commitment than is sustained, even enforced, not legalistically by terms of a contract but emotionally through love, affection, and mutual respect, by what Simon calls desire. This desire, I think, is critical, for it is what fuels the commitment to the community and enables us to survive the inevitable conflicts and tensions within a community. It allows us to continue to engage even when the community doesn’t want to discuss Deleuze and Guattari they way we want. Such tension breaks a contract, but it tests and even strengthens a covenant.

    Such commitment defines a group much more like Dave’s guild, which hearkens back to a time when covenants were still treated seriously. I think we are all pointing here to something that we can see and feel but don’t quite have the modern concepts to describe. Guild might be a fine term for it.

    Finally, I like Alan’s notion that modern covenants co-evolve, or co-emerge. To my mind, this addresses the problem of inequality inherent in the ancient views of covenants between a god and his people, a king and his subjects, a father and his children (yes, ancient women were always on the unequal end of covenants—receiving not making). The value that I commit to Rhizo14 is not specified nor is it up for negotiation. Rather, Rhizo14 provides space for me to offer what I have. I alone am responsible for the integrity of my value and for my own good-faith. I commit what I have, and this puts great responsibility on me. But Maha, Rebecca, Simon, and Dave are in the same situation. They, too, have great agency in the value that they commit to the community. In this sense, we are all equally responsible for the community with equal agency within the community, while individually responsible for ourselves. We are both individual and group, and agency can only be understood in the tension of between individual and group. There is always a tension in this dialogic relationship—at best, a creative tension, but sometimes a destructive tension. When the community co-emerges and co-evolves as it did in Rhizo14—for some—then it is magic. But some walked away. They didn’t find it.

    Thanks again for the chance to discuss this more.

    • Thanks, Keith (and sorry again about the previously deleted version of this). I like what you are describing, but was not what “covenant” sounded like to me when first explained. But maybe i don’t get it. I get the description of rhizo14 but have a question about those who left early on & later, and those who stayed but felt excluded (all happens in MOOCs all the time yeah?) Are those who committed to community responsible for trying to keep others “happy” or something? It’s totally ok for those who left not to have taken that vow. Is it a vow we take in advance, or somewhere in between? What about ppl who were not on facebook… R the rest of us responsible for their feelings of exclusion?

      • Don’t worry about the deleted comments. They are better for having been redone.

        As for “covenant”, it is an ancient concept and perhaps it cannot be resuscitated, but it is perhaps useful for moving us beyond the concept of contract to describe the kinds of relationships we see emerging in the best of cMOOCs, and elsewhere.

        I don’t think “those who committed to community” are “responsible for trying to keep others ‘happy’ or something”. You know I like soccer, so let me use that analogy again. When I make a “solemn promise” to an “intentional community” (to use Rebecca’s terms) of recreational soccer players, then I commit to showing up to play soccer, bringing whatever value I have as a soccer player to the game to enrich the game for all. I am responsible for the integrity of my commitment, just as the other players are responsible for their commitments. I am also responsible for maintaining a communal space where all the players can add their soccer value. I don’t cheat, I don’t intentionally injure, I don’t fight; rather, I promote good soccer play with integrity, whatever that means.

        This doesn’t mean that I am responsible alone for keeping others in the intentional community. A recreational soccer league frequently has players who try soccer, find they don’t like it or their life circumstances shift, and they disengage. This happens, and the intentional community should let it happen. Each player is responsible for determining if the group’s intention resonates with them or not. If, for instance, I learn that I really like woodworking better than recreational soccer, then I should find a woodworking community. I shouldn’t expect the soccer club to turn to woodworking to keep me in the community, as this undermines the intention of the community.

        On the other hand, the soccer club should be self-aware enough to use every loss of an engaged member as an opportunity to reflect on its intentions and to ask if its intentions and culture still sustain community. We all know examples of communities that have become toxic or whose intention has become irrelevant or damaging.

        But all of this is a dynamic relationship, not a static, contractual relationship, worked through and sustained more by desire (love, affection, passion, commitment, etc.) rather than by a legalistic contract or set of rules. Professional soccer players have contracts with their teams, recreational players have covenants.

        Keep in mind, though, that I am speaking of the extremes of both contracts and covenants for the purpose of distinguishing them from each other. In practice, they can shade into each other. I am also not suggesting that contracts are bad and covenants are good. They both have their affordances and limitations. But covenants seem to be more like the relationships that emerge in something like Rhizo14.

        • That’s much clearer and I think I’m here nodding at all of it now. One point that came to mind is that in traditional soccer there are coaches and referees, just as in traditional learning there are teachers and assessments. I take it that those roles become looser and distributed in a cMOOC situation. Is there anything in D&G that would shed light on this? It’s an instance where i think one Keith Hamon probably writes better, as do others in rhizo14, but in case they do, let me know where to read it 🙂

          • Yeah, it’s clearer for me, too. I really do my thinking through my writing, and until I’ve written it, I really haven’t thought it through.

            As for teachers and assessments, I think that both contractual and covenantal communities allow for various roles, though I suspect the interactions change as we shift from a more legalistic tone to a more affectionate tone. I’ll follow up with D&G for something to read, but as far as I know, they don’t talk about covenants as such.

            • hey Keith, writing clarifies my thinking for me, too, and writing publicly or at least sharing with others helps even more because of the interaction. This is a wonderful thread, I think.
              Now there are three thoughts on my mind now:
              1. I like the legalistic/affectionate tone – though to be honest, my own contractual teaching is heavy on the affection 🙂 I’m sure people who are naturally affectionate teachers are like that, too. But I get what you mean there, it makes sense.
              2. The thing about covenant vs. rhizomatic community that confuses me is this: the way I understood covenant at first, it seemed paternalistic, like the kind of relationship the facilitator might have with participants, but not the participants with each other. As you explained it, it sounded different and resonated more with how I saw community. The other aspect of it is that I felt what happens in a cMOOC is that facilitation and that kind of relationship becomes distributed and ever-shifting. Some participants (probably because Dave asked them) were clearly facilitating a bit (I don’t know who they were, maybe you and people like Jaap and Jenny? not sure) but all of us sort of did that at some point. would it have happened if we weren’t educators and naturally inclined to do this? I don’t know.
              3. D&G: I think one of my main reasons for not getting around to reading them (other than the difficulty) is that I am not sure how closely their writing resembles my experience. Dave’s writing on rhizomatic learning, I can resonate with. Your interpretation of D&G, yes, lovely 🙂 D&G themselves, I feel like I’d have to sift through a lot and read more closely and make connections and then it still may or may not be useful 😉 I’m enjoying reading Howard Rheingold, though. Much more accessible, obviously 🙂 So anyway,that’s why I’m asking you to help me identify parts of D&G that would help me with what I need. Because I know you know them better than I.

              • Maha, I agree with you that many of the best teachers assume a covenantal relationship with education, going far beyond the mere terms of their contractual commitment to their schools and their students. Most cMOOCs are obvious examples, as the teachers do not usually earn any extra money, though they may get some extra professional status. Again, in practice, I think these two are distinct only at far extremes.

                Covenants are paternalistic, and that is what makes them so onerous to use when discussing modern relationships. They carry so much baggage from ancient times. Still, they have some features that clarify what I see happening in Rhizo14, so I’m trying to use them, while wrenching them free of their paternalisms. But if you have a better term to use, then I’ll use it. I’m hoping Rebecca will talk more about the solemn commitments from her tradition.

                I will try to put blog some guided readings on D&G and how they might be applied to education, which was not such a keen focus of theirs. Though I’ve been blogging about them for 4 or 5 years now, I feel some need to pull together what I think I’ve learned from them. Reading through at least their chapter about rhizomes could be the way to go.

  9. This is a very interesting thread. I was thinking about nouns and verbs as I read it. It’s fairly easy to think of community as an entity even if we can’t define exactly what the community is, see its boundaries, know who’s in or out, or what it means to belong to that community. In rhizo14 we had to think about ‘community’ – it was in the title and it was where the curriculum was. Network for me brings 2 things to mind – socio-technical platforms where we connect (the noun)and our own individual networks that map our connections – the ‘performed’ network (the verb).. If the people who ‘did’ rhizo14 could map their individual networks and they were overlapped , perhaps the dense areas might be community(ies) in rhizo14 (‘performed’ communities). I think what Alan said about co-evolution is very helpful in trying to understand community(ies) at rhizo14. I am still puzzling about the formation of community and what ‘the community is the curriculum’ meant on rhizo14. Like Simon, I am not sure how ‘community is the curriculum’ fits with rhizomatic learning.
    When Simon said, “Ah yes, I think that one thing which worked in #rhizo14 (but for a while) alienated some more science-bound academics was the rich diversity of media, emotional, spiritual, nonsense produced.” I wondered who were the science-bound academics on rhizo14 and wondered if he thought I was one of them 😉 Now that’s idle speculation but of more interest to me is how the auto-ethnographies and the research that Jenny and I are doing can complement each other in producing a richer but still very partial picture of the rhizo14 experience. Dave was kind enough to give me some time recently for a conversation about some of the issues in rhizo14, and I will be blogging that soonish. I think that we can learn from those experiences and by sharing them others may learn, or at least, think too.

    • Hi Frances, was just thinking of u 🙂 no, really, i was thinking of doing some new research and linking to ur post (or Jenny’s?) on ethics of digital research.
      But in response to your comment above: i was also thinking how the auto-ethnog and ur research might complement each other. Thinking we might even convince a journal to run papers on them in same issue or in tandem or some such thing. Tho ur stuff might be ready way before ours! Too messy 😉
      The other thing about community/curriculum vs rhizomatic learning – I also asked Dave that question… Trying to remember what he said 🙂 he said they were intimately related or sthg. I’m in the process of finalizing that interview and will post link when it’s ready. I don’t think he answered it in the google hangout we did to interview him, but in the private gdoc i was using. Looking fwd to ur blogpost on ur convo with Dave 🙂

      • OK. Back again. So let me paraphrase my understanding of Dave’s regarding rhizomatic learning vis-a-vis community as curriculum (I am paraphrasing because the exact text will be published in JPD soon so I don’t wanna jump the gun; so this is my interpretation): Basically, if we learn in a rhizomatic sense, we’re all teachers, learners, content, interacting, where neither the teacher nor the content are central, nor do they set the curriculum; this means that each of us in the “environment” are creating our own learning paths/maps and benefiting from the intersections/interactions with each others’ – and so in that sense, his role as facilitator is to create the fertile ground or the ecosystem that would nourish those connections & that learning to form and to grow. In that sense, the forming of community is essential in that without it, the individuals in the network would not be able to grow as strongly, I guess. This becomes the curriculum in the sense that learners are creating the content and creating the process even as they go along. I’ll ask Dave to come in and confirm I got this right 🙂

      • You are most welcome to cite any of my blog posts or use the ideas in the ethical framework. It has been used in various forms and adaptations since I first drafted it for a women’s networking project in 2007.
        I am glad you too are considering the complementarity of these two research projects since I, personally, would like to avoid treating them as being in binary opposition to each other (which is why I mentioned Simon’s comments). That could be a risk of posing 2 articles side by side in a journal – it could be a case of definition by difference.
        Dualisms were used quite frequently in discussion on rhizo14 – I think dualities are a more fruitful way to look at ‘different’ things (knowledges, activities, …) http://francesbell.wordpress.com/2014/02/13/you-cant-have-one-without-the-other/

    • Frances I hadn’t noticed that you were suggesting how the auto-ethnographies and your research with Jenny can complement each other. That I think is a very interesting step which I wanted to propose. I think this is indeed a very rich thread.

  10. Francis, you were thinking of nouns and verbs, and I was thinking of prepositions. I’m coming to think that the prepositions are more instructive in a rhizomatic field, and I intend to blog about this soon, but I’ll steal my own thunder here.

    You say, “Like Simon, I am not sure how ‘community is the curriculum’ fits with rhizomatic learning.” I won’t presume to speak for Dave Cormier, but I have an answer that makes sense to me. For me, ‘community is the curriculum’ means that the learning is defined from the inside out, not the outside in. The traditional curriculum (I’ll speak in extremes to make my point) defines the entire learning from the outside with some kind of syllabus that makes explicit the terms, the objectives, and the assessments of the learning. The class, then, is defined by the contractual terms of the syllabus. The successful student, then, traces over the readings, activities, and assessments of the course, arriving at or near the appointed learning objectives of the course.

    This did not happen in Rhizo14; rather, the class was defined from the inside-out. The curriculum/syllabus emerged from the engagement of the community and cannot be written until after the class, if at all. The curriculum follows from the course; whereas, traditionally, the course follows from the curriculum. The successful student, then, maps the activities that emerge in the course, arriving in no particular place, but having traversed a more, or less, interesting terrain.

    What does this have to do with prepositions? I’ve just read about 50 different meanings for the preposition “to”. Prepositions are infamously polysemous, and this suggests to me that they don’t really have a definition, a specific meaning. They are not defined from the outside-in. Rather, they attain their meaning from within each particular sentence. Meaning hardly precedes use for prepositions; rather, use precedes meaning. That is highly rhizomatic.

    Nouns and verbs tend to be more anchored in a specific meaning; thus, their meanings tend to precede usage.

    Well, maybe. I’ll think on this some more. Later. 🙂

  11. That’s a good explanation Keith – prepositions are useful in that they adapt to context but I don’t think you have fully engaged with what I was trying to say about ‘performed’ networks and communities – they permit multiple interpretations I think. . One of the things that I have been thinking about with #rhizo14 is the process of emergence of community AND curriculum at the same time and in a short space of time. In that case what is inside/out is constantly changing. That happens with any community but in this case it’s the speed that is one of the relevant issues I think.

    • Agree on the speed, Frances. Any ideas how it happened so fast?

      • It had to happen fast because the course was six weeks and people were , as usual, most active in the first few weeks. I am not saying it was a good thing – it may have been for you and many others but not for everyone it seems.

        • Yeah, i realize that. But i also am the same person and didn’t experience that in other cMOOCs

          • This is what I mean about complementarity. Early indications are that our research is uncovering some very positive experiences of community in rhizo14 (and I could guess that yours will do too). You comment suggests that rhizo14 was a better community experience for you than in other MOOCs – that’s great and it clearly was for many (but by no means all) people too. If it makes you feel uncomfortable, I can talk about the variety of experiences elsewhere. I am conscious that this is your blog.

            • Hey Frances, of course one of the probs with the autoethnog is that it leans more towards positive because it is open and so many ppl did not participate or may not have said everything. Tho some ppl talk about early discomfort, they were ppl who stayed. I have spoken privately w ppl who left, but not for research. Have spoken privately w ppl who actually STILL feel discomfort but continue to stay (but also haven’t contributed to autoethnog). It’s tricky. Am sure ur research will uncover other sides and i can’t wait to hear them, question whether my imagination captures them or not. Maybe i am clueless 🙂 I did read a blogpost by Mariana that was quite critical near end of rhizo14 and remember feeling bad but also knowing much of it was “true” (truth not being one thing, but i mean, true for her and some others). But here’s the thing. Ethnography is not just the narratives in that document. It can and should incl other stuff like blogs, etc. if someone is not in the “auto” then we can’t speak for them, but we can acknowledge their blog writing (w their permission, even tho i think it’s public info) and record our own reactions, if that makes sense. I did convince someone (well more than one, but this one took persuasion) who was totally outside fb to contribute, and it provided a diff view

  12. Good luck with your work. Reflexive research carries significant responsibilities and challenges as we have found. I will be interested to see how you resolve that in your work. I can’t see that it remains as auto-ethnography but I am sure that you will explain in due course.

  13. Frances, I really like your comment about speed and how Rhizo14 community and curriculum emerged so quickly. Speed, of course, is a relative term, a scalable term, and 1000 years is a blink of an eye on the geological scale, but your point is insightful. On the scale of classes, six weeks is a short time for the emergence of such an energetic and sustained community. Why and how did it happen? Let’s play with this a bit.

    First, I think it had to happen or totally fail. Rhizo14 was an all or nothing approach. It had no clear path for students to trace; thus, they either had to engage quickly or disengage. Cormier brought the barest of provocative questions to the learning space at great risk. It was certainly possible that no one would respond, or that the initial responses would be weak, unable to generate any perturbations that might coalesce out of the noise and into a conversation. I think enough participants realized quickly that Dave was opening a space but providing no maps; rather, he was pointing vaguely over that way or maybe this way. Enough people started talking that others could find sufficient activity to engage and eventually interact with. But I suspect that more walked away, unable to engage what they perceived as empty space or unable or unwilling to engage the nascent chatter within that space.

    Okay, but what mechanisms enabled enough people to respond to the space and create community and conversation? Conversely, why did others fail to engage?

    I believe in chaotics, complexity and chaos, so I don’t think there is a single, local cause, but I do think I can point to some forces at work—first, Dave’s ethos, to use a rhetorical term. Most participants likely believed in Dave’s integrity and commitment. This touches back on covenantal rather than contractual relationships. Enough people believed that Dave was doing Rhizo14 out of desire for knowledge and engagement, so they were willing to engage even if they were not sure where things were going. They also believed in the integrity and commitment of their fellow participants. No one was earning any brownie points, money, or credentials by engaging Rhizo14, and most people tend to respond to honest, mutually beneficial desire to connect and learn more. By the way, a troll could have been disastrous at this early point, causing everyone to scatter. Luckily, Rhizo14 attracted no trolls. This mostly positive ethos, then, was more a global cause that allowed the conversation and community to emerge despite an early tension over Deleuze and Guattari.

    Then, Rhizo14 benefitted from kairos. It was a good time to be talking about rhizomatic education. Chaotics, or complexity and chaos, is a ripe conversation across most knowledge domains, but certainly within education, and I think people want to talk about it, to explore it. To my mind, Deleuze and Guattari can be summarized as exploring chaotics in the philosophical, psychological, social, and political domains. I think their insights can apply to education, and Rhizo14 expressed that, though not in the way that I expected and even hoped for. Like many, I wanted a more philosophical discussion that dealt more directly with D&G. I think what emerged has value as an embodiment of D&G rather than a discussion about D&G. I’m satisfied in the end.

    Thus, Rhizo14 benefitted from a particular logos, not a traditional logic and reason, as Simon has pointed out, but a more creative, poetic, rhizomatic form of reasoning and saying. Again, this did not appeal to some, and they left, but enough could share this language and engage through this language that a wonderfully rich community could emerge. Again, Dave provided no over-coding that set the terms of the conversation; thus, the particular mix of posts, tweets, FB discussions, poems, videos, and what-not emerged as the Rhizo14 language. This included some, excluded others, and kept some of us (me certainly) in a constant state of tension.

    I’ll close this by saying that those who participated found the various technologies an affordance rather than a hinderance. Thus, we all brought at least a minimal command of the tools of the conversation. This cannot be over-estimated. It’s the ticket to get in the door. We are all 21st century literate. To borrow a quote from George Siemens: “Literacy is the ability to engage in the dominant conversations of the age.” Rhizo14 literacy includes FB, Twitter, P2PU, blogs, and more. This literacy included some and excluded others—even within the community as some missed a FB or Google+ conversation because of their discomfort with the particular platform.

    If I had to pick the most important force, I would choose ethos, our shared belief that the community was engaged for our mutual benefit. We maintained a sense of high integrity and honesty that allowed us to overcome the tensions inherent in any group and around which some of the best conversations emerge. As Simon points out, D&G desire is at the heart of it, and had any of us suspected a predatory desire at work, we would have fled. This desire is what I’ve been trying to capture in my discussion of covenants vs. contracts. I’m not there yet, but I expect lots of help from this fine community.

    I can understand Rhizo14 in this current thread: honest, resourceful, committed people desiring connection and sharing value with each other to increase the value of the conversation for all. Most of the time, most of us enjoy that kind of community. To my mind, this is one of the most critical differences between rhizomatic education and traditional education: too many of my students are in class for purely selfish, competitive reasons. They don’t see their classmates as colleagues in community but as competitors to be trounced. Rhizo14 could never have emerged in that spirit.

    • Let me respond to Keith’s comments to Frances. I think one of the issues some people had was they felt Dave took sides. That he sided with the non-theorists. Tho my view is different. Will explain. The key thing for rhizo compared to other cMOOCs was the v low barrier to participation, knowledge-wise. Digital literacy and social literacy are needed for all cMOOCs, but in rhizo14 there was no prerequisite content to read, video to watch (well v brief stuff) and no complicated set of activities to choose from (now other MOOCs have great activities but rhizo was the least structured i had seen). The discussion of theory, in my mind, was brought up as “u can’t really participate in this course if u don’t read the theory” (this was prob a misunderstanding, but it came across that way) and i think Dave supported the backlash to that because he did not want some ppl to feel excluded for it. I can’t speak for him. But that’s how it felt to me. I will continue this later … Gotta run

      • Coincidentally found a video (I hate videos, as a loose rule) entitled “What is a rhizome” and there is a part where they talk about contingent events – which I take to mean unexpected ones that disrupt the system? That was the theory-tension discussion for rhizo14, I guess. The (German) speaker (probably a really well known guy, but I am no philosopher) talks about how causality is difficult to establish in such incidents, and I guess that’s why we are still struggling with this issue today, months and months later! Anyway, I do think the philosopher speaking is well-known, so I’ll go focus on that video. But just wanted to note that part.

      • I don’t think Dave took sides with the non-theorists- or saw any evidence that anyone did. In the limited discussion of theory in which I participated, I saw theory being treated as a topic that might be of interest to some rather than a pre-requisite for participation. I think that your misunderstanding suggestion is more appealing and the whole issue of moderation/ facilitation (top-down and bottom-up) is worthy of consideration. I will be posting later on some of the ideas provoked by this thread.

        • hi Frances,

          I took some time before responding to this comment (something I rarely do; I’m often more spontaneous).

          You said, “I don’t think Dave took sides”, but I know for sure that someone either blogged about this or wrote to me about it privately (but pretty sure it was public). I think the whole debate took place on GMT timezones and by the time Dave woke up it had morphed into something bigger…
          You said, “I saw theory being treated as a topic that might be of interest to some rather than a pre-requisite for participation”. Forgive me, but this is something that I think was very subtle (even with the misunderstanding which I figured out weeks later, and after someone had changed their original blogpost to remove some of the offensive material; making it v difficult to trace back), and I know from responses on my blog, on facebook, and privately (as well as a blogpost Jaap posted before mine, and the whole Maddie and Ary viewpoint, which was slightly different from mine) – that other people also felt that there was an underlying attitude about the theory discussion that was exclusionary. All my blogpost did was to offer my views on why people who did not want to discuss D&G should still be allowed to participate fully in rhizo14. It’s not a lot of fun to be called on one’s privilege. It’s downright offensive, I guess. But you need to put yourself in the shoes of the people who got offended (and like I said, I was by no means the only one; I think I just might have been loud; I know that I myself am privileged in many ways and exert a lot of power in this community, but I’m just one person and I’d have no power if others did not agree with me, right?). But you know when the Maddie thing got really serious, and Dave asked what happened, I emailed him and basically told him that no one had actually done anything directly offensive, which is true, in my view of the world.

          So when you say, “I think that your misunderstanding suggestion is more appealing and the whole issue of moderation/ facilitation (top-down and bottom-up) is worthy of consideration” – I think that’s simplifying the issue. Yes, people like Jaap and me did some bottom-up facilitation I guess… dunno if that’s what you meant. But I mean, my aim was to make sure people did not feel left out because they found D&G hard (and I am half-way privileged, I *can* actually read them, I just wanted to spend my time experiencing rhizo14 not reading about what inspired the thinking behind it – other people are much more privileged and can read them much easier/faster or had read them before and can jump into discussion; still others would have much more difficulty than me reading them, and were not speaking about it). One important thing, though, is that some people who continue to be in the facebook group STILL sometimes feel there is some elitism going on. I’ve also been told that I’ve got an elitism thing going on, so I’m not pointing fingers at other people here.

          I feel like we’ve talked this topic black and blue and are still not seeing eye-to-eye on it. I have a lot of privately-shared info and perspectives on it from both sides, but cannot use it for research. They do, however, influence my own perspective on the issue. And I do know this: No (theorist) one meant to exclude anyone intentionally. No one means to be elitist (I can’t get into their hearts but am pretty sure everyone is/was well-intentioned). However, others did feel excluded and offended. In the same way that the people on the facebook group did not mean to exclude people who were not on it. They just wanted to find a space to talk.

          The facebook thing… It would be kind of like me getting upset that people decided to meet in a bar, when I don’t like to go to bars because I am Muslim (not all Muslims are like me, so it’s a choice; I could always go and not drink, but I don’t like being in places where people drink – it’s a conservative Muslim view, and I’m not conservative on all things, but I recently became conservative on this one). There are other exclusions related to technology: synchronous sessions make it difficult for people on certain timezones and with all sorts of restrictions of tech and family responsibilities (I published an entire article on this on HybridPed).

          I’ve recently experienced a MOOC where g+ was much more active than facebook and twitter. I did dip into g+ but am not comfy with the platform, so strangely ended up still engaging with the same group who were active on twitter and facebook, even when I commented on g+!!!

          Anyway. Thanks as always for pushing me to think further.

          I look forward to your blogpost 🙂 I don’t know if it’s been written yet, but I follow your blog so I’m sure I’ll come across it when it’s out inshallah.

          • @maha When I said that I didn’t think Dave took sides that was about what I thought – I can’t speak about what others have said if I haven’t seen that. I agree that time differences made it difficult for Dave to intervene in the theory discussion on FB group. The 24 hour nature of rhizo14 was something Dave and I discussed in our recent discussion.
            If you were to look back at the FB group you would see that I and Sarah Honeychurch, and possibly others, did try to address Maddie’s concerns about theory as pre-requisite so bottom-up moderation was wider than you (or I ) may recognise.
            I am quite happy that we don’t see eye to eye on this – can’t we inhabit a space where we can see things differently?
            I have blogged about my reflections http://francesbell.wordpress.com/2014/08/22/reflections-on-community-in-rhizo14-more-questions-than-answers/

            • Yes Frances, of course we can see things differently. I think I was trying to say that our positionality (each of us) makes us see things differently. I do remember ur response and Sarah’s. i remember Maddie’s response “not you”. And it was not you who was creating the problem, from my perspective as well. I just wanted that to be clear. I don’t think you were perpetuating that underlying subtle elitism. But I do think you might not be seeing my view on it because of where each of us is coming from, and yes, that’s totally fine. It’s almost inevitable. And that’s why the autoethnography will have gaps, will always be partial (both incomplete and biased, as Ellsworth 1989 says). I just wanted to clarify where I was coming from. I mean, I guess I keep hoping we reach something, but it actually makes more sense that we explore it but still continue to not see it in its wholeness. And anyway lots of people involved are no longer part of the discussion, so… That,s all missing now, their hindsight. Will read ur post now

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