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

Author: dave

I run this site... among other things.

15 thoughts on “Teaching the second little pig – rhizomatic knowledge, MOOCs and other open things”

  1. What is it that makes it a MOOC? We can talk about numbers, diversity, countries etc, but for me I need to know more about the participants.

    How much of CCK08 is genuinly new (in MOOC terms), and how much of it is people sitting at the feet of George and Stephen and listening in much the same way as didactic teaching.

    What needs to be done now is to identify the numbers involved in CCK08, survey their experience and also critically evaluate the interactions, we should also try to perceive the motivations, learning and actions of the participants before we make too many judgments about these approaches.

  2. But what about the wolf? OK, kidding aside, I attended 9 different K-12 schools, one community college and 3 universities. It didn’t matter how the instructor decided to teach me, I learned the way I wanted to learn. In fact, I pretty much negotiated my way through school by telling the teachers I didn’t like their projects, but would be happy to do something different to prove I learned. I don’t know if this is something I was born to do, or something that I learned very early in my education, but I really haven’t changed. I do the same thing at work. You can lecture me as long as you want, but then I’m going to go off on my own to really learn. I wish I could identify the person, event or situation that made me take responsibility for my own learning. That’s what I would like to pass on to others.

  3. The main underlying literacies we seem to have is the ability to inquire and the ability to communicate. Those enable us to teach ourselves and to learn from each other.

    But how did we learn those skills in the first place?

  4. @Lawrie – definitely… i’m trying to get to that definition… and, that an interesting point about how much is happening that is new… there is certainly a fair amount of ‘breaking out’ that’s been happening over the last couple of weeks

    @jen external validation kinda wanders over into the psychology realm… realistically, i see it as mostly emotional. Might be better if we found a better way of dealing with that emotion

    @injen yes. I’m exactly the same way… and too many ed theories are currently based on what the theorist ‘saw happen to them’ but, like you say, how to pass that on or how to allow for those other ways…

    @Corrie yup. that’s the question.

  5. Hello, Dave,

    First off, love the extended metaphor — not only is it a great image, it has the added benefit of making me crave a BLT. Mmmmm. Lunch.

    Some quick thoughts here:

    I question whether we are saying “literacies” when we mean curiosity, and/or the ability to communicate that curiosity using different media.

    Also, as I see it, both types of “openness” have value (although, as you already know, my personal preference is for the second, more open path). Personally, I do see the value in years/decades of experience working on a subject — it brings a familiarity that even the most enthusiastic amateur will have difficulty approaching. This should not be confused with the notion that the “expert” will always be right; rather, true expertise is gained through years of study. From the perspective of leveraging the power of the network, expertise is useful. And the MIT-type courses, with their one-way transmission of info, are one way of channelling expertise.

    When it comes time to make the case for the efficacy of opening up our educational structures, I think it’s less about deconstructing the literacies, and more about demonstrating how learning in an open environment is more closely aligned to actual work habits.

  6. Dave

    I am fascinated by stories and believe that all stories have layers of meaning. It is interesting to read the responses to your story. My comment follows on from Bill … can our public narratives embody our practice?

    Lawrie’s comment raises the interesting question of how we come to know about narratives and practice. My take on CCK08 is that we open ourselves to other stories through each person’s preferred narrative structure and that these narratives give us windows on practice that we can pursue.

    Having young children gives you the wonderful opportunity to have innocence and naivety in the midst of profound professional insight. Reading this post leads me to believe that is what your practice looks and feels like.


  7. Hi Dave,
    I read your post with great interest. I resonate with your views and insights on Online courses.

    I like your story of the 3 little pigs in the illustration of the importance of the laying of good foundation of a house (especially in learning & the prerequisite).

    Being a teacher since 1985,I think this course on Connectivism could be difficult for novice teachers, mainly because of the complicated concepts, jargons and metaphors used. It may take those beginning teachers or learners sometime before they could fully comprehend the knowledge and theory.

    My experience with University courses is that most professors would tend to emphasise more on the theoretical aspects, though they would always like to use case studies to illustrate the applications. So MIT or Harvard type of open courses may be relevant to undergraduate students, researchers and scholars who need a strong theoretical background. However, I am unsure if they could fully meet the needs of practitioners of education, due mainly to the absence of teaching practice.

    I also think an open course on rhizomatic knowledge could be a challenge to people (teachers and learners) who has little teaching experience.

    However, I have benefited from this course on Connectivism, since I could easily integrate the theory with my applications at work. Also I have already learnt the Web 2.0 tools back in 2006 and so this course is just a reinforcement of some of the concepts and applications.
    I would continue to explore the issues you highlighted and comment on my blog.
    You are welcome to visit my blog
    Renewed thanks for your great post.

  8. I like the little pigs story analogy – engineering vs bricolage!
    What fascinates me about CCK08 is trying to see how open to change the theory of connectivism is. Taking Lawrie’s point about didactics, we could discuss that as a power relation on CCK08. It seems acceptable that learners can become teachers to other learners – can they become teachers to the teachers? Or are they ignored, or become peripheral if they say the ‘wrong thing’?

  9. The heck with all the pigs who can only focus on house building; I’m the one that says f*** it and goes drinking and socializing with the other connected pigs at the pub 😉

    What George and Stephen have done is not create some perfect model in their MOOC; they have successfully generated some disruption, and people are whining about the pain of the process (“there’s too much stuff!” “I am lost” “I hate Moodle”…). The pain is needed to move ahead, to generate more iterations, experiments, etc.

    Also, hats off to all you did behind and aside the scenes on the class…

    And the pigs like stout ale.

  10. yes… the stout ale issue. it’s very important to pigs, and their is a definite shortage of it here on my island.

    I agree Alan, i think that’s exactly what george and stephen have done… they’ve offered a really interesting model for us to learn from and have offered some folks a shove… (albeit a nice one) to shake up their ideas. That’s a good thing.

  11. Hi Dave,
    I don’t think there is a perfect MOOC model, mainly because everyone has different learning style and that you can’t meet everyone’s expectations.
    As mentioned, I love your story, as I find it truly inspiring. Learning requires hardwork, though it could be fun.
    And open course on-line learning would only be successful if the participants are sharing, interacting and contributing. Otherwise, it will turn into an informal social network chat – where people don’t find much educational values or credibility, especially if the participants are professional teachers. This is not uncommon with the Friends chat on some social network such as Facebook, though they are designed for social chatting purpose, and has its own merits.
    I think George and Stephen have been very successful in demonstrating the importance of connectivism as a way to learn – distributed knowledge on the network at this digital age. The disruption as cited is anticipated in such a huge crowd, and is not uncommon even in a classroom setting. There are always some participants who would demand changes in course content, assessment and delivery, even though it is the “best of its kind” in the world. These may be due to power and authority issues, and the different backgrounds of the participants, who have different expectations. Every teacher who has conducted courses in an educational institution or on-line courses would have such experience to some extent (especially if one has delivered courses for more than 10 years in the adult education sectors). So, it all comes back to learners’ needs and expectation, and the teachers’ responses to those situations.
    I have left more comments on my blog.

  12. The main underlying literacies we seem to have is the ability to inquire and the ability to communicate. Those enable us to teach ourselves and to learn from each other.

    nice blog


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