Response to Simon Ensor’s comments


Answers by Cavale CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Jenny Mackness and I are giving a presentation at the MOOCs – which way now event on Friday 27 June.  To accompany our presentation (aware that we have too much to cover) we have published a series of blog posts.

The first post was – The Rhizome as a Metaphor for Teaching and Learning in a MOOC 

The second post was – Making Sense of the Rhizome Metaphor for Teaching and Learning

The third post was – Principles of Rhizomatic Thinking

The fourth post was – Emerging Ambiguities and Issues


We received many interesting and useful comments and would welcome more but one keen reader gave very extensive comments, and we thought the best way to respond was via a blog post.  So the rest of this blog post is for Simon Ensor and was created by Frances Bell and Jenny Mackness.

Thanks for your comments Simon. They are useful, even if sometimes it felt as though our essays were being marked ;)

You raise several points that we will address later: initially in a summary response to all the feedback we receive on our presentation, and subsequently in our ongoing research. We have summarised these points as follows:

  • Potential contradiction in terms between ‘rhizomatic learning’ and ‘the community is the curriculum’, and whether or not the rhizome as a network can be a community – this is something we are already working on and it’s useful to know it’s of concern to others.
  • The centredness or otherwise of the course from a variety of participant perspectives (so thanks for your contribution here) – again already in our sights.
  • Discussion on rhizo14 that may be hidden – this is an important point that we are already aware of. We would not wish to be in an omniscient or surveillance role. However, we are finding that our data collection approach has surfaced some of the ‘hidden’ and that encourages us that we can make a contribution.
  • Multiplicity, deterritorialisation, connection and dominance are aspects we will pursue further so thanks for reinforcing that.

There are some comments that we can address now, and a few that we have probably missed/ ignored.

‘new kids on the block’

came from the thoughts of a survey respondent that interested us.

“Ah yes coming back to the rhizome metaphor for teaching and learning (or research) for me the most important contribution of it is to concentrate on complexity, mulitplicity and uncontrollable upshoots.
When we are looking for short-term ‘manageable’ research projects and ‘manageable data sets’ and ‘manageable outcomes’ we are going to look to artificially control ‘education’.”

We are very open to criticism of our research approach, and since our blog posts are informal exchanges to accompany a spoken presentation, we have not written about our methodology. We will post about that quite soon. However we can say that we don’t recognise your characterisation as fitting the research we are doing.

“The only thing worth concerning ourselves with is the essence of our connections.
This work coming from Terry Elliot says pretty much all there is:

These comments are puzzling since we would have thought that D&G were anti-essentialist, and saying one object/utterance says all there is seems against the spirit of rhizomatic thinking.

“I think that are some ‘core issues ‘ here with identifying ‘core’ groups in a rhizome. Do you consider yourself(ves) as ‘core’?”

We used the term ‘core’ as it appeared in a survey response: it was also used (not by any of us) in a recent long thread on FB group.

“A ‘key contributor’ ‘a treasure trove’ – how do you identify ‘key’ what is a ‘contributor’ what do you consider to be ‘treasure’ or a ‘trove’? (Doesn’t sound very scientific all that..)”

That was our interpretation based on our observation. Frances has already directed you to her view of research. Key is a word that you have used yourself (in an interpretive fashion) and ‘treasure trove’ is a phrase unlikely to appear in any formal research publication but hey! What’s wrong with a compliment?

When we refer to the FB group we mean that in Facebook terms see

“‘This discussion around rhizo14 continues albeit in one space’. I imagine that you are not suggesting that your blog is the ‘one space’ so clearly what you are suggesting is demonstrably inexact.”

Yes – that is probably true – the difference being that Jenny does not primarily see her blog as a space for discussion, but more for clarifying and sharing her thinking. If discussion arises here she sometimes welcomes it, sometimes not. This is her space and this is the difference between blogs and forums which John Mak Roy Williams and she wrote a paper about a few years back. (and Frances agrees with all of that).

Ravelry: a knitting community as a site of joy and learning

That lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne

The Parliament of Fowls by Geoffrey Chaucer

Evidence that learning starts in the womb is revealed when babies hear lullabies that they will respond to after birth; and learning continues throughout life, as Chaucer says of love. We can all remember from an early age the social nature of learning – learning from family, friends, and subsequently peers from study and work contexts.  This is a community perspective, in contrast with a more typical view of learning as being chiefly the outcome of formal education.

Social Technologies

Social technologies have focused attention on networks and online/virtual communities. Virtual communities can be traced back to 1985 (and probably earlier) when the WELL started as a dial-up bulletin board. Early adopters of virtual community needed dial-up and later Internet access for their largely text-based communication: initially this was available to a minority, even in the global north. Despite this, bulletin boards existed for a broad range of hobbies and interests.

A parallel stream of development in virtual communication was in formal education: bulletin boards, web pages, and then groupware, and virtual learning environments.  Provision of Internet access at universities and colleges meant that students had access in educational institutions before it was commonplace in their homes.  The use of digital technologies in education and learning has moved from being conducted by pioneers and enthusiasts to being standardised as part of institutional administration, such as institutional virtual learning environments, and registration and student records systems. Much research effort (some of it to good effect) has been focused on the use of technology within online/offline classrooms and according to approved curricula.  This is research that tends to focus on what is provided, rather than how and why learners learn.  Even less attention has been paid to ways in which people, who would not identify themselves as students, are learning to do things that interest them with the help of the Internet.

The current context in the global north is of more people, across demographics of age and gender (if not class), having access to the Internet via broadband and mobile services.  Simultaneously, the variety of devices that we use to access the Internet contributes to a broader demographic, more people having access, devices and software becoming easier to use – smartphones, tablets and laptops. The combination of faster Internet access and devices with digital still and video cameras has enabled more people to create and consume multimedia – images, videos, audio and text.  Internet access then becomes less of an end in itself and more of an adjunct to what we do.

Knitting – Interest-driven learning assisted by social media

People of all ages follow their interests via the Internet – learning cartooning, playing games, studying esoteric topics. Of all of these interests, let’s look at a craft that has material, knowledge and social implications – knitting.

moebius strip

Knitted Moebius Strip by Pat Knight CC BY-NC 2.0


In an era when the local wool shop is becoming rarer, the Internet offers opportunities for purchasing yarns, needles, and patterns but going beyond that, what do knitters do on the Internet? Like other makers, they enjoy the opportunities to celebrate the products of their creativity: garments, knitted moebius strips, artefacts for the home, and public works of art. Such celebrations are visible on photo sites and knitting blogs, often interlinked so that the blogs can facilitate networking of knitters (via commenting, blogrolls and links within posts).


Knitters share ‘how-to’ videos on Youtube and other video-sharing sites.  If we don’t have a grandmother to stand behind us, helping our hands learn a new technique, the next best thing is watching a video, and trying out the stitch at the same time.  Video- and image-sharing sites become knowledge repositories but not solely dedicated to knitting and crochet.

Mason Dixon washcloths

Mason-Dixon Washcloths by Frances Bell CC-by-NCSA


Knitters have adopted social media with enthusiasm,and experienced unexpected consequences.  Mason-Dixon Knitting comprises Kay Gardiner who lives in Manhattan and Ann Shayne who lives in Nashville.  They came together via blogging through their shared interest in knitting that has led to a successful book, an iconic dishcloth pattern and a very useful web site.




Saltburnolympics knitting

Knitted canoeist – Saltburn pier by Hove9 CC by 2.0

Knitters have taken their passion to the streets (and piers) by engaging in guerrilla knitting or yarn-bombing to create street art.  This may be for self-expression or just fun, or for a reason : often anonymous and cloaked in mystery. One of my favourites is a celebration of London 2012 Olympics at Saltburn pier. There is no obvious activist reason for creating this pier art but the result was joyous, enjoyed by pier visitors and became a tourist attraction in Saltburn, North Yorkshire. Craftivism ( a mix of craft and activism) is about connecting beyond the individual crafter, and acting for broader issues.

When we unpick these achievements, we see that they go beyond the stereotype of the lone, gifted knitter. Knitters, like others, engage in learning networks and communities.  One of the places that knitters congregate online is at the knitting and crochet community site .


Ravelry is free to members, funded mainly by advertising but also by merchandising, pattern sales, Amazon and other affiliate programs.  Ravelry also engaged in donation drives at an earlier stage of its community development.

saartjeravelryRavelry – individual view by Frances Bell

Ravelry offers interesting affordances for becoming and being a knitter, learning in an active form.  Members can find patterns and yarns with the help of Ravelry, and create projects to record ongoing and completed knitting projects Figure 4.  Ravelry has a highly connected architecture, automatically displaying links to other projects using the same pattern and yarn. This means I can easily click a link to find the pattern, or images from one of the other 13900 projects using that pattern (to give me ideas on other yarns or colourways). Project owners are encouraged to rate patterns and yarns for sharing with other community members; and errors are soon corrected in this open community.  Ravelry is an international community with over four million members, who not only volunteer to translate popular patterns into other languages, but also moderate forums and collate help pages on collaborative wikipages within Ravelry itself. The whole thing runs with only 4 staff, one programmer and three editor/moderator/merchandising staff.

The Ravelry shop showcases Ravelry merchandise such as t-shirts and bags; the Marketplace where members offer supplies and services for knitting and crochet; and a Pattern Store where members sell their patterns.

The strong social element to Ravelry goes beyond member profiles and display spaces. Members can organise into groups to have local meetings, swap yarns, engage in knit-alongs (all making the same item), or associate with a particular shop.  Other groups are organised around a common interest, say in machine knitting or spinning.  Less formal opportunities for conversation are offered by forums, where members can help each other to solve problems or engage in general chat about knitting or crochet.

In our comparison of with, Gordon Fletcher and I found that Ravelry had strong community aspects and exhibited a permeable boundary compared with Etsy.  Ravelry seems to be a community that is happy to acknowledge activity and objects elsewhere, thus increasing its networking and social potential.

This openness and support for the community member makes it a source of good ideas for those wishing to support other learners in a community setting. Facebook, the very successful social networking site (SNS), would superficially seem to support the social aspects of learning, but a learner wishing to keep track of what they and others have created and learned might become frustrated with the ephemeral nature of sharing there. Ravelry exhibits a strong focus on the learning and doing of knitting, where social interaction becomes the glue that helps this happen.

Designers and implementers of learning environments aiming to promote learning community could learn a lot from studying Ravelry, especially if they are tempted to delegate the social aspects to a self-organised group on a general purpose SNS.

Properly practiced, knitting soothes the troubled spirit, and it doesn’t hurt the untroubled spirit, either. – Elizabeth Zimmerman, Knitting without tears.



Many thanks to Suzanne Hardy (Ravelry id: glittrgirl) for improving my interpretation of Ravelry. All errors are mine.


This article, written by Frances Bell,  is used under Creative Commons license  BBy-BY-NC-ND  from ISSUE 10 JUNE 2014
Using Social Media in the Social Age of Learning
Guest Editors Chrissi Nerantzi and Sue Beckingham

The Best Laid Plans …

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men,
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

Still, thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But Och! I backward cast my e’e,
On prospects drear!
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear!

Robert Burns

Research into complex phenomena such as networks of people and complex, connected technologies will almost certainly involve people working together who have different ways of seeing the world, and different ideas about what and how we humans and non-humans can know. I think that such research is needed to help us make decisions if we are to shape technologies, services, systems, even as they shape us.

On Saturday, I watched a recording of Stephen’s presentation on MOOC Research at Tübingen, Germany. I surprised myself with my very mixed reaction to what he said – agreement, disagreement but it certainly made me think.  I really appreciate that Stephen Downes lays out so clearly what his thinking is even if I don’t always understand what he means; and sometimes when I do understand him, I don’t agree with him. I am glad he is in my learning network, and I think on the whole I probably agree with him more often than I disagree with him.

Anyway, I just wanted to share some of thoughts that his presentation provoked for me..

Stephen has had quite a lot to say about theory in this and recent writings, and I was very interested in the idea that theory is already embedded in our interpretation of experience.  I wonder how that relates to our everyday theorising about the world around us that seems to me to be both conscious and unconscious.   For me, theories (from others’ writing and research) can be very useful, and they can help me (re-)evaluate past/current experience. So I do think that many theories are applied in context, especially ones that relate to the complex phenomena that I already mentioned.

I explored the possible use of theories and approaches in research and practice in a paper I wrote for IRRODL that I hope illustrates how what we are trying to achieve and the context in which we are making our efforts can influence both the theory and methodology we might use (see Table 2).


Stephen spoke about research methodology(ies) and proposed a model that was somehow common to research in general, but different to what he does.  I wanted to challenge this as it seemed to me that he was posing the scientific model of research that can be useful, but for me is incomplete on its own in the complex research that is my concern.  So technology-driven services can generate useful ‘big data’ as people use them but the rich picture of people’s experience requires a bit more work to tease out relevant data that can enlighten us about users’/ learners’ experiences and outcomes.  For me, this is part of the tendency of education technology research towards provider-centric (that concentrates on the resources and environments that are provided) rather than learner-centric research (that takes the perspective of the learner, looking across their experiences and use of technology).  In my own home discipline of Information Systems, there is an extensive resource on Qualitative Research that highlights many approaches eg Action Research, Ethnography that can contribute to these richer perspectives. These approaches do not rely on hypotheses, proof or refutation.

A criticism of research that Stephen made was that it tends to find what it is looking for.  This is a very valid potential criticism but I would claim that a combination of planning and flexibility can guard against this. An interesting example is from the PhD of Cristina Costa where in order to deal with the power relations and conflicts that emerged from the first two stages of analysis, she enrolled the theory of Pierre Bourdieu to help understand the data that confronted her.  I think that this is an excellent example of how, with a flexible approach, plans that are useful to guide a research study can be changed to accommodate the unexpected and to generate the richest understanding possible.


In April, I saw a really lovely example of the value of plans that can’t anticipate the context in which they will be completed when I visited La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, due to be completed in 2026.  Gaudi started his plans for the Basilica in 1893, died in 1926 yet today people are working to complete his vision with the help of technology of which he knew nothing.

3d-printer in crypt workshop of La Sagrada Familia

3d-printer in crypt workshop of La Sagrada Familia


I would really like to tease out what are Stephen’s assumptions in his talk – but of, course I don’t really know what those are, he would have to help me here.  I know it would help me to explore my initial thinking provoked by his talk.  Here are some areas where I wonder what his assumptions might be:

In talking about learning theories, Stephen Downes poses theories as explaining why learning occurs. I wondered if he thinks that a theory can generate the explanation (which feels a bit like prediction) or that some theories might help generate explanations that are more or less plausible depending on the context in which they are applied.

Stephen describes how he conducts his research in MOOCS – I wonder how he works (cooperates?) with others and how their research informs each other’s contributions.

I wonder if Stephen against methodology (flexible and open to change) or just against rigid method.


In between first watching Stephen’s presentation and writing this, I have been fortunate enough to have an exchange with Jenny Mackness and to have watched George Veletsianos’s keynote.  Both were very useful – not implying sameness of views, of course.  So thanks to all three of you.

Ethics and soft boundaries between Facebook groups  and other web services

doorway used as metaphor for boundary

Is this a space I can enter?

As part of a MOOC on rhizomatic learning that performs itself in many different spaces (Facebook, P2PU, G+, Twitter and others), I am a member of an ‘open’ Facebook group.  It is endlessly fascinating, and has given me a lot of scope for reflection about back channels and the exchange of information between open and closed spaces. Of course, I say that as if a space could be categorised as open or closed:  it’s often a lot more complicated than that, acted out by technical aspects of the space and by the agency of the people who interact there. Facebook groups can be open, closed or secret, the meanings of these being laid out in the Facebook help.

See what I did there, I linked to the ‘closed’ space of Facebook, only visible to one of the 1.3 billion members of Facebook.  Now of course, we don’t know if there are that exactly many Facebook members, but let’s settle for there being a very large number of them. Facebook is not completely open from the outside but doesn’t seem very closed. For example, if I log out of Facebook and Google for “Facebook pictures dog”, I will see lots of peeks into Facebook groups that might entice me to sign up or log in.

Now I am neglecting those of you who aren’t Facebook members, and can’t see the Facebook help page .  Facebook describe the visibility of posts as:

Open Closed Secret
Who can see what members post in the group? Anyone Only members Only members


Yes that means that anyone who has the link to an open Facebook group post or comment, can share it inside or outside Facebook, and it can be opened by any Facebook (not just group) member.  In the case of the rhizo14 MOOC, participants who are not Facebook members are excluded from sight of posts in the Facebook group, whilst a very large number of Facebook members who have never heard of rhizo14 could check it out if you sent them the link.

Ethical dilemmas

I will sketch out a few of the ethical dilemmas I have observed in the rhizo14 Facebook group.  These are early reflections, and I would welcome your comments on this post.

  1. How do we behave around here?

The rhizo14 MOOC offers no explicit written norms, behavioural or otherwise, and the strapline for the FB group is “An attempt to create a feed for Rhizomatic Learning posts from around the web.” The Facebook group has become not only a site for sharing blog posts, other rhizo14 creations and links to interesting and relevant stuff, it has also become a place for demonstrations of friendship and affection by some members.  It’s clear that a number of people (significantly less than the full 240 ish membership) regard the group as a semi-private backchannel where they can expect support and sympathy for their encounters elsewhere.  What the remainder of the membership think about this is less clear.  They may be just letting it all flow past or ‘lurking’ – a behaviour that has attracted discussion in the FB group.  The implicit norms on lurking in the FB group are to some extent discernible, but the norms on other behaviours sometimes seem to be taken as read by some active members of the group.  I posited a relational approach to power early on in the rhizo14 MOOC but that is not a common view in the Facebook group where a one-dimensional view of power is more common.  We can discern a flexible approach to ‘rule-breaking’ in rhizomatic learning in the discussion around rhizomatic learning and ethics in the comments on this post so it’s unlikely that a set of ‘rules’ to govern behaviour would work on rhizo14. Teachers and moderators can model ethical behaviour, and communities usually engage with norm-building online where misunderstanding is not uncommon. Overt moderation and norm-building activities have been generally absent from rhizo14 in general and the FB group in particular.


  1. What does sharing mean within and beyond the rhizo14 community?

A lot of sharing goes on at rhizo14, and there is a sense that openness is a value of rhizo14. The remix culture has been very evident in rhizo14, and creativity and remix have brought a lot of pleasure.  Communities of Practice literature and others have identified the importance of the boundary in the propagation of knowledge.  The facility for stuff and people to cross boundaries presents great opportunities, but with these come tricky questions of how we share and what we do with what is shared.  A great set of ‘rules’ that has helped sharing is Creative Commons Licenses, not always enforceable but signifying intent in a sharing and use context.
opendiscusspt1 opendiscusspt2opendiscusspt3














A dilemma presented by research data sharing is current at rhizo14 FB group, and raises, for me at any rate, some very interesting issues about how we do Open Research.  The twitter stream fragment gives an indication of the controversy, and the discussion of what is appropriate uses of open research data by ‘others’ (those ‘outside’ the community) is playing out on the rhizo14 Facebook group.  I raised the issue of ethics of use of open/closed data for research purposes in rhizo14 at the time it became clear that a group doing auto-ethnography, and a group of which I am a part were both doing research around rhizo14.

The data arrangements for the second group are at whilst those for the first group are the subject of discussion at the FB group and publicly here and here.*

I became involved in this discussion because I had contributed to the auto-ethnography open Google document but had deferred on authorship of any subsequent outputs (as was possible within the invitation).  The complication that I presented was that I had asked not to be quoted (on reflection this created problems for the auto-ethnographers).
I resolved my personal dilemma by deleting my contribution, in consultation with members of the auto-ethnography group. However, the issue of who can use the information in the auto-ethnography is still the subject of discussion – on the FB group and publicly on Twitter.


Discussion of Agency

As humans we can have moral agency – this may be the different thoughts and feelings that guide the way we act.  I suggest that sharing our ethical stance with others can help our moral agency within a network of human and technical agents.  I am not thinking of a set of rules but rather our expectations and ethical stance that we could share with other moral agents.  What I have observed in the discussion on the ethics of use of information from the auto-ethnography document is that some participants seem to assume there is a ‘common decency’ approach to the use of ‘open’ information. This is a little dangerous I think and may be explained by an unwarranted assumption of community.

We can also think of technology as ‘moral agent’ where permissions and constraints on agency can be coded into a system, as I described in who can access a FB group.  This can be useful, especially if helps clarify expectations-  hard rules, hard boundaries can be explained in help pages and observed in action when we fail to access the FB group link because we are not logged into Facebook.   Even these hard rules can be overcome by human agency.  I cut and paste one part of FB help page – this was within my personal ethics where doing the same with a rhizo14 FB group post would not be. When I did accidentally violate that in a blog post, I tried to resolve the situation, by consulting the person affected.

Some Tentative Conclusions

An important element of the digital moral agent’s backpack to complement their ethical literacy is the digital literacy of having an active understanding of the ethical and other implications of using a digital space/service for communication.  This is especially important when one’s practice in spaces is research.

As well as the overhead of ‘cluttering ‘ the communication, there are benefits in clarifying use of information, utterances, multimedia in practice.  This may be done informally within a close group of friends, rarely discussed, but the more open the use and sharing of information, the more important it is to clarify how we expect that information to be used, if we wish to minimise problems.  This applies just as much to Facebook (with their unclear use in the above extract from Help of the words member – Facebook or group?- and anyone – anyone on the Internet or anyone on Facebook) as to those of us participating and researching in rhizo14.  I hope that rhizo14 research subjects benefit from our statement of how we use the research data.  I know I would have benefited from a clearer statement of expectations and behaviours in rhizo14.  I am not suggesting a set of hard and fast rules but rather a starting point for discussion on how we behave around rhizo14.


Because digital literacies are a moving target (digital literacy is ongoing) and communication in open spaces is tricky, we need flexible repair strategies for when things go wrong.  If we state our expectations and promote discussion of expectations within a group  as starting point, then we may be able to minimise but not eliminate problems.  That’s when it’s useful to promote friendly interpretation of the words and actions of others, and to have some strategies for conflict resolution.


Who said it was easy to practice learning and research in online spaces?

* edited because links to Maha’s blog had mysteriously repositioned themselves

Wonderful Women I follow on Twitter

To celebrate International Women’s Day, I trawled through those I follow on Twitter to create a list of women I follow on Twitter, then create a composite image of their avatars.  This was quite a labour-intensive task but was time well spent as it made me think about these women.  I am impressed -they are a very interesting and talented bunch.  As my gift to you on this day of celebration of women, I offer you:

This Twitter list – as you  might find some lovely new people to follow.

The lovely image that makes me smile

women I follow

Reflecting, recollecting, research – Auf wiedersehen #rhizo14


Many flowers blooming (none of them rhizomes;)

I have been enjoying seeing traces of rhizo14ers reflections and recollections over the last few days. Thanks Dave for hosting the longest party I have ever attended and thanks to all the rhizo14 folks from whom I have learned and will learn so much.

All participants will see changes in themselves and their networks as they move on from #rhizo14 and there are traces in many different Internet spaces – text, audio, video – poems, songs, jokes, writing, drawings  and delicious remixes.  A few of us are collecting data, some for research purposes – trying to reify our learning through more traditional avenues. The spaces we have used have generated an abundance of data, including data for network models.

At #rhizo14 we have modelled our ethics by discussing the use of data.  We have collaborated on an end of course survey coordinated by Dave Cormier, due out soon.  If it follows on from the first survey, the submissions will be anonymous but the results will be public.

I know of two pieces of research going on at rhizo14, but there are probably more (please update in comments).

1. There is a collaborative auto-ethnography underway – based on some previous work on MOOCs done by participants.  It’s collaborative and public so that’s a new form of research for me. I can’t wait to see the outcome.

2.  Jenny Mackness and Frances Bell are doing qualitative research on the learner / participant experience in rhizo14 .  The reasons for including qualititative and interpretive research are explained very well by George Veletsianos.  We plan to ask for contributions in the next two weeks – on G+ community, on Facebook group, and on Twitter at #rhizo14.   If you want to be sure of catching the invitation you could (temporarily) follow this blog, as I will be posting  the details here. Your contribution will be completely anonymous, unless you specifically opt to the contrary.  There will be only three four questions/ prompts for your response – the others relating to your confidentiality choices.

All that remains is for me to wish you Auf Wiedersehen: in the way of #rhizo14, in multiple versions. I collected a random set if images from blogs, and annotated them with the words that sprang into my mind when I looked at the picture.  William’s song was a great inspiration.

First, the original Zeega that WordPress won’t allow me to embed in the post – you scroll through this at your own speed.

Second a recorded version that I uploaded to youtube

Here’s the the music without hissing – thanks William for writing and performing this.

And finally, in cheesy, retro, old school fashion

You can’t have one without the other

Over the last few weeks on Rhizo14, I have been troubled with the either/or nature of some of our weekly tasks. We could argue about whether or not that was intended but at least some of the students have perceived concepts as being presented in opposition to each other:  Cheating as Learning , Enforcing Independence, Is Books Making Us Stupid?

More and more I kept thinking about dualities (more of that later), and it reminded me of a heated discussion on CCK08 about networks and groups. The discussion itself has disappeared from the web, but I can find a snippet of it in an xtranormal video that I made in 2009.  The scenario it presents is a conversation between Stephen Downes and Si Si Kate who is a composite character with words taken from the forum and blog postings of Stephen Downes and CCK08 participants. Maybe here on rhizo14, it’s the relationship of apparently opposite things like trees and rhizomes, books and the participatory web that’s of concern. You can jump to the conversation by clicking or watch the video here.

Hildreth and Kimble conceived of the two types of knowledge that we have discussed here as a duality:

“Rather than seeing knowledge as opposites, perhaps we should think of it as consisting of two complementary facets: a duality consisting simultaneously and inextricably of both what was previously termed ‘structured’ and ‘less structured’ knowledge.” Hildreth and Kimble

A duality that has been nagging away at me is the duality of participation and reification identified by Wenger in his work on Communities of Practice.  I think it is particularly relevant to our experience on rhizo14, and this is an occasion when we need some theory to help us make sense of our practice when dichotomies just don’t work.  Reification is a horrible word, but we grappled with one reification of knowledge last week, the book, and it turned out that the villain of the piece still has a place in some hearts.

I took the diagram from Hildreth and Kimble, and annotated it with my idea of some the places we have been participating, and some of the ways have been reifying on rhizo14.


It’s pretty obvious to think of the reifications that structure the course – we all look for the next week’s task on P2PU.  A by-product of online participation is that it makes concrete the to and fro of conversation. We might re-read a thread in the FB group whereas if we were having an oral conversation, we would not be rewinding.

An example that springs to mind is my own product for Week 4.  I recorded a video (hoping it would be less book-like), published it on youtube, then my blog and encouraged rhizo14ers to post comments on the blog. Then Terry Elliott, put my video into Vialogue, and people have come to comment there.  I am thrilled and have a real sense of engagement  in the conversations at my blog and on Vialogue.

The duality of participation and reification really helps me to make sense of what has happened.  The question was the video more participatory than, say, a (reified) text blog post? just doesn’t make sense.  Everything was reified, my speaking (as a video), the blog post and comments, the conversation at Vialogue.  There was participation in everything but my original recording. What can shed light is thinking about the mutuality between the participation and the reified objects.

You can’t have one without the other

P.S. please don’t treat the words of the song literally – I know you can have love without marriage;)

Framework for Virtual Communities

Framework for Virtual Communities

after Steinmueller

This is a very hastily written blog post to contribute to discussion about real or imagined community at Heli’s blog.

The diagram above is my visualisation of Steinmueller’s view of virtual community.  If you want to find out more about my thoughts in 2003 please click.

I’d just like to pick out a few points:

In the diagram, you can see the 3Ps that are common to most early 21st century views of online or virtual communities – People (membership), Policies (governance), and Purpose (individual and/or group attribute).

The aspect (that is Steinmueller’s contribution) that seems particularly relevant to me is Sustainability.  Steinmueller characterised this as something that is lost

either when the costs of participation exceed the willingness to participate

or there is a coordination failure .

The coordination failure could be that horrible experience when you log in one morning to find that the space no longer exists, or something else goes wrong.

Anyway, this is for you – take it or leave it.