Rhizomatic Translations 1 – Buying tech for learning

You might call it babble… you might call it context
After i posted an upcoming book chapter (article 2 of the rhizomatic education series) Nancy White asked me what the same article would sound like with a 16-year old audience. This isn’t going to be that… but her comments reminded me why i went on the journal writing odyssey in the first place. I was trying to get clear in my head about what I had seen on the internet, what my experiences meant and how I saw things moving. The intention was ALWAYS to be able to explain in plain language what I was trying to say. To be clear. This is my first try… how do you buy tech for rhizomatic learning.

Catch 22 – I’m buying but for what?
This is the trick. You either have the money… or you have the plan. People interested in education will probably smile at that line, and have probably been in that position many times. They have been approached by people with money (i have $500 i need to spend in the next week… I just got $150,000 to do research), or been approached with the money itself. This doesn’t happen all the time, but I’ve probably had the conversation 8-10 times. More often, you run into the need. Before things like Ning, we (at worldbridges) used to host these kinds of projects (personallearningspace.com (now defunct) youthvoices (still running under excellent new management)). Excellent learners, or educational practitioners, community members and idea havers just looking for the resources they need to do a specific thing.

If you have the money, you generally do not have a clear idea of how it is going to be used. You cannot line up hundreds (thousands/millions) or folks without any way to promise them that the technology will come through. You can have an extraordinarily detailed plan but if you do… that means that you’ve already pretty much decided what the needs are of the people that you are going to teach… and probably what they are going to learn. It is much, much easier to have a clear idea of the things you wish to purchase if what you are going to do is rigid, top-down – read: clear.

If you have a plan, this probably means that you have already gotten into a learning situation, you are a real learner amongst learners and you know what you need. Then comes the rub… it can take years to identify funding, apply for funding, wait for approval and actually get it in the bank. It can take 100s of hours to do the work, you need partners (who might not have been part of your initial vision) you need, usually, to make concessions to the needs of the funder (it is, after all, their money) and then you can only hope that the needs that you identified is still there and you haven’t lost the hours you spent on the project funding application.

Rhizomes to the rescue
We’ll need to set up a couple of premises

  • In the rhizomatic model, experts do not create curriculum, it is co-created by the learners
  • Educators prepare the context and the scaffold (maybe the syllabus, depending on the situation)
  • There is a surplus of information (lets call them open educational resources) that can be used to provide the content of curriculum, there need not be A resource… any resource will do
  • As we move passed a ‘knowledge economy’ towards one where being creative with that knowledge is more important (or put another way not knowing, but, knowing how to know) facilitating access to collaboration and collaborative skills is key (I might want to say community rather than collaborative)

If you take these things as given, all of a sudden buying the technology becomes a little more interesting. You can look at the affordances provided by each of the technologies and ask yourself if these are the kinds of things that fit with what you are trying to do.

ex 1
The IPad is at the middle of a number of debates right now, but the general consensus is, in its current release (sans camera for instance) it is primarily a consumption/ticking device. It will do an excellent job of allowing you to consume media. It will also do an excellent job allowing you to ‘tick’ things off a pad. I was thinking, for instance of my trainer who constantly has a paper pad he carries around with reps and weights and excercises which he then collates back in his office. Ipad is perfect. If you want a student to be able to write a professional paper, the lack of being able to hold a pdf, an email a website and an image open at the same time is going to be a real impediment. Impossible? no. But the affordances are mainly consumpion/ticking related.

A headset is one of the most useful tools anyone can have (when they already have a computer). It is critical for collaborative participation on the internet. In 5 years of running web based conference type events (webcasts/conferences) the “are you wearing a headset” question is still first and foremost. It allows you to participate in an online discussion without irritating the community that you are participating in and also allows for things like VOIP. It’s cheap and allows for that critical audio connection.

But but but what about training and what about…
Training and support is critical. Just in time technical support is critical. Clear models for how to succeed are critical. These things are also ephemeral. Training and support programs don’t really seem to last, good technical support (that can actually assess the needs of a learner and give them confidence) is tres hard to find, there is NO ONE CLEAR MODEL for success.

You need to be flexible, you need to plan projects with a strong focus on problem solving by the learners. You need to plan your systems for perfect simplicity… complexity is easily added if its necessary (and it rarely is). If the focus of any learning activity is centred directly on the leaners and those learners have technology that provides the affordances they need… you’re going to be able to find solutions on the fly that are far better than pre-planned responses for presumed problems.

A few more affordance examples
For instance…


  • opening documents (gmail will open anything – open office)
  • voice (headsets… can you say headsets)
  • video (a decent webcam takes pretty good video/mino HD provides the simplicity etc)

You could argue forever about what audio recording software to use, but, really… what do you NEED it to do. There are very few cases where someone needs to record awesome audio. Reasonable audio designed to share people’s thinking/learning is cheap and easy to use. Ease of use encourages use.

I’m not sure this has been a very strong start to my attempts at being clear… but, to put things simply, you need not buy (stuff) directly for the plan… but

buy(stuff) for the kind of learning you believe in. I believe in collaborative/community learning.(depending). I need/want to allow people to create, to participate and to understand that they can be part of what they are interested in.

Author: dave

I run this site... among other things.

8 thoughts on “Rhizomatic Translations 1 – Buying tech for learning”

  1. I’m afraid that you lost me in the first sentence when you referred to an ‘upcoming’ book chapter. I can’t find any verb, ‘to upcome’, in the English language so was at a loss as to how a book chapter might set about performing this activity.

    As for ‘Rhizomatic Translations’: I suggest we don’t even contemplate venturing there!

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