The idea of a rhizomatic knowledge community draws on a strong current tradition of random ideas and solid scholarship. There is a sense in which we all understand the way that these types of things come together… certainly every time i hear George Siemens talk about network theory and connectivism, I see people nodding their heads… “yes I’m a node in my community,” “yes I decide that things are good because other people that I trust say that they’re good”. These things are, in a sense, the common sense that I heard someone at my workplace today claim was not so common.
Part of my attraction to the concept of the rhizome has to do with the hours I’ve spent in the side garden fighting with Bishop’s weed(not my post… but my feelings exactly). It’s a nasty little garden weed that grows frighteningly fast wherever it’s dropped, it seems to grow and expand to fill whatever space is available, and is frighteningly difficult to control. It’s actually quite a cool ‘plant’ if it makes sense to talk about it in the singular… it’s a connection of intertwined roots underground, with big leafy stalks that pop up wherever it might be convenient to grab the sunlight. There’s no precise centre, no ‘central’ plant that you can kill to get rid of it all… just a network of leaves and roots that suck up nutrients where available and deliver them to the rest through whichever root/stalk is nearby. It’s an incredible survivor and very much has a mind of it’s own. Those weeds that you see there are what you’d pull out of about a cubic foot of soil… maybe less.
That, in my mind, is what were looking at with knowledge right now. We have this incredibly dense, complicated underlayer of connections too complicated to really sort out or root out. These communities are created by the introduction of the tiniest bit of root into the right kind of habitat and then are only bounded and understood by the limits of that habitat. They adapt and adjust to the habitat that they are in, popping up in the most convenient places and connecting wherever possible. Together, they make ‘a plant’ but no piece of them is essential or permanent. The loss of any given root, stalk, leaf or flower is not relevant to the whole. Love the rhizome. Lets look at a couple of examples.
Edtechtalk is alot of things… in a sense it is a website created by jeff lebow and I a little less than three years ago. It’s also a community of eleven interactive webcasts that run every week out in the ether of the internet. It’s also a running conversation in a community skype chat, it’s also a collection of over 500 podcasts on every subject related to educational technology I can imagine. Each of those shows has a slightly different take on the industry and yet everyone of those shows is bounded by a concept we call ‘worldbridgyness’… There is an openness a willingness to have everyone engaged in an open discussion on any given topic that infects each and everyone of those shows. There is a sense in which in working together and helping each other we make connections between each others ideas and the ideas on the site contain a certain similarity of flavour that would allow someone to recognize them as kin.
A person could, if they wished and were willing to follow through the various connections of tags and headlines, find out a great deal about what’s going on in educational technology. I feel pretty comfortable saying that a large part of what’s going on in the industry is available from at least one of those shows, and, in the majority of cases has been has been covered by a variety of shows. The trick is that what is considered cool or new or interesting might change by the week/month/year as people try it out, as new ideas come on board as new technologies are released out into the wild. At any given time, there is a sense that what the range of ‘should’ choices are are covered somewhere in that network of ideas that is edtechtalk… it’s amorphous and tangled and no one central idea is holding all the pieces together… but as a whole the rhizome does a pretty good job of offering me the knowledge that I need.
Webcasting, like Educational Technology, is another field that is changing at a wild pace. The truth is, the field is not a particular large one and before products like Ustream popped their head into our event horizon, we were one of the few pods of live internet streaming out there outside of the HUGE companies. The kind of webcasting that is ‘taught’ at the academy is a ‘homegrown’ webcasting. We are not so much interested in creating picture perfect NPR quality audio, but listenable interesting audio that is controlled by the people who put the show on.
The fun part about this community is that, different from edtechtalk, it was created to fit a particular purpose. Through the starting of EdTechTalk we realized that other people were going to want to webcast and we needed some place for them to go to learn. The academy is now on it’s ninth or tenth session, much of it currently guided by people who were taught in the earlier sessions. When we started, we were using some products that aren’t even on the market anymore… the best practices continue to evolve as the community expands and the ‘knowledge’ really does live in the communication between the membership on that site.
As opposed to what?
There is one critical difference now that makes this possible. The long tail. We can throw hundreds of fanatical people at any given topic given the access provided by the web. Hundreds of people from around the world can work on a given topic and, by force of work done, research combined, instincts matched and connections made, be equivalent or better than those who may have tried to acquire knowledge in a more traditional way… clearly some fields are better served by this… fields that are changing quickly, that depend on uptodate current information from which to draw the conclusions that morph into rhizomatic knowledge.