Teaching the second little pig – rhizomatic knowledge, MOOCs and other open things

As previously mentioned here… I was asked by Steve Warburton (congrats on the (nicely named) new project steve!) to do a presentation on MOOCs for the evolve community. This has sent me off on a wild tangent trying to come to grips with the implication of open education and the rhizomatic knowledge model (or, say, some people’s interpretation of connectivism) This is a weird kinda journey… but stick with me if you can.

The Third Little Pig
About 4 mornings a week my mother tells my 2 1/2 year old son the story of the three little pigs. It’s the friendly version, none of the pigs are eaten and the ending is usually some variation of ‘and they all play happily every after’. I’m often struck by the reasoning that the story attaches to the different kinds of houses that the kids build and my mother usually stresses that the third little pig builds his house out of brick ‘so it will last a really long time’. He has to save up all his money (she takes some liberties with the story) so that he can go down to the store and buy all the bricks he needs in order to build a house that is impervious to, among other things, wolves.

The Second Little Pig
Our second little pig is a bit less industrious (so the story implies) than the third little pig. He goes far enough to build his house out of sticks, but it isn’t solid enough to stand up to the rigours of a blowing wolf in the old story (or the rain dripping through the roof in my mom’s version. The house is built too quickly without the rigour of the third little pig.

I’m not so sure. I see the second little pig as a little more balanced than the other two. He assesses the different options, takes his best guess at what will hold up verses what it’s going to cost… The only problem is, he doesn’t have the skillset necessary to turn his quick build into the thing that it needs to be.

Hidden Literacies
One of the interesting things about this story is that all three pigs appear to be able to build houses and they all seem to be able to acquire money and tools to build those houses. They choose to work on their own and, as they journey out in the world, they make the critical decisions that lead to two of them being a snack for a strong lunged wolf.

Rhizomatic Knowledge MOOCs and open things
In thinking about open stuff… these ideas keep popping into my head. I have a feeling that the open course is something that depends on a series of hidden literacies, and that we don’t have any sane way of talking about what they are… or, more importantly what they should be. I’m more convinced than ever, after spending the last eight weeks playing with Stephen, George and their CCK08 team that the rhizomatic knowledge model makes sense. We do kinda project a version of what we ‘know’ from a community house, and those houses are out of date as soon as they are made. But…

We are all building our houses together. And we 30-70 year olds (best guess from CCK08) are all building on a set of hidden literacies that we earned through our (what, 19 years of school for me) schooling. We have all learned to write, to read, to focus, to concentrate, to recognize strong positions when we see them, to obey power, to remember, to record … a whole stream of literacies specifically designed to build a house out of brick.

If, however, our knowledge is becoming more fluid, and transient, then we need to look to our friend the second little pig, and we need to scaffold his learning so that he can build that stick house quickly, but still JUST STRONG ENOUGH to resist the big bad wolf. It’s a different series of literacies… and the models that we are using now, for open courses, for community development, are either going to serve the brick or the stick house.

Wait, what?
The point here… is that there are two different kinds of openness out there. There is the MIT open course openness where we the penitent receive the knowledge from those in the house of brick (ha… now you see where my metaphor is going). There is no confusion here about who are the purveyors of knowledge. This knowledge has been vetted and has been traditionally confirmed… it took a long time, cost alot of money etc… This model is very well suited to the way i was taught… to the literacies listed above.

And we have the other kind of openness, where the path to knowledge is actually open. The rhizomatic knowledge model is meant to suggest that by participating we are actually in the process of creating knowledge. As a member of the community of knowledge building you are RESPONSIBLE for bringing yourself to the knowlege building experience. You are responsible for finding your own path to learning, for bringing building materials for co-creating knowledge, for measuring your own learning, for assessing your own success and for applying rigour.

Whither these literacies?

Massive Open Online Course
So when i look to this course and listen to the struggles that people have gone through in the process of following along and working with us… I wonder… how do we foster these new kinds of literacies. It’s tough for me, I was told by someone who knows me very well yesterday “easy for you, you’ve always been arrogant enough to be willing to judge your own success”. 🙂

The MOOC is a very cool thing, but it brings up all kinds of issues… one of the more interesting of which is the interplay between the ‘defined course’ and the ‘realized literacies’ of the participants. Somehow we need to talk about what we are knowing while we are learning, without it just becoming some weird meta-discussion like a couple of teenagers endlessly repeating how much their relationship is great not realizing that they’ve stopped actually living the relationship.

If we are to move forward with openning the educational system, we need to be able to deconstruct our literacies, the ones that allow us to learn, and lay out how students are going to acquire them. We also need to be honest with ourselves about which of those literacies are about brick houses (which we still need) and which are to help the second little pig make it through the winter.

postscript – don’t bring me any of your straw pigs… post has been up 5 minutes and I’ve had two complaints about ignoring the #$@ing straw pig. He’s the lazy pig. QED