Community learning – the zombie resurrection

On January 14th of this year i started a 6 week course to help me explore something I’ve been working on for most of my professional career. The term ‘rhizomatic learning’ is an approach to teaching and learning that is based in the works of Deleuze and Guattari, and presents learning as uncertain, destabilized and both very individual (in the sense that everyone’s experience is different) and communal (in the sense that making sense is a collaborative journey). I’ve been trying to teach this way for many years and have been trying to find a place to talk to others about it so that I too can have that communal experience while I’m working on telling stories about the rhizome.

Well… the course started and about 500 people signed up in way way or another. Some registered to the P2PU site, others only to a facebook group or played around with the #rhizo14 hashtag on twitter. The course was designed around challenging questions (eg. how do we enforce independence?) that are meant to elicit conversations that focus on the messiness of learning… a messiness that is very much at the heart of why i think Rhizomatic Learning is useful to talk about.

The conversation started, and started to pick up steam. Lots of interesting discussions, often taking off in directions that I hadn’t anticipated, or, frankly, that weren’t about what I thought the question ‘should’ be about. In week 2 i realized that this ‘should’ was inappropriate and I just allowed myself to have more fun with the conversations and enjoy the communal atmosphere. The course was to ‘end’ in the middle of February… and then it didn’t.

Zombie MOOC
Always with the zombie trope you say? The zombie is mindless and reanimated (though recently this definition has expanded 🙂 ) and this course came back to life without a ‘head’ as it were. After my last goodbye was sent out to the participants, a week 7 popped up on the website. The participants continued the course, but without any ‘teacher’ filling the role as guide or decision maker. They continued on like this for another 6 weeks, and while activity is now only active in the facebook/twitter/gplus realm (that i know of), the communal learning process continues. The course (now called #rhizo14 by all involved) has refused to die.

It has become that individual/community space that i was hoping for when the course started. People post ideas, challenges and thoughts and others bring their perspective to it… we learn, often in vastly different ways, from each interaction. And then this post shows up on the original P2PU course today –

Very cool/weird, don’t know if I’ve joined the course or not. Lots to learn as the whole rhizmatic learning thing is a new concept/term to me, but very interested none the less.

Invitation to a Zombie dinner party?
Zombie’s aren’t always the best hosts. Well… if you’re not a zombie already. I’m sure they’re fine for other zombies. But this person who has signed up is new to the idea (of RL), open to engaging, and willing to put themselves out there. I love to see a new person admitting their uncertainty from the outset, it often opens the door for lots of good things later on. But do we just invite them to join in the conversation with the zombies created by the #rhizo14 experience?

We decided during the course (before the zombies existed) to go ahead and run the course again next year. I had, at the time, considered it a way of onboarding folks to the rhizomatic learning experience and then leaning on the people from this year to form a layer of community organizers that could enrich the experience for those who were coming in for the first time. And while we do get new registrants to the old course… this is the first person that has actually commented in a month or so. It’s time to decide, how do we get to the next step of this course (if we even should)? More specifically

If we care about community learning, how do we integrate new people into an existing community learning ecosystem? How do we keep the zombies from eating them? 🙂

Resurrection
So we focus on a new course that will allow the wonderfulness to happen, or, to put it more succinctly from our facebook rhizo14 chat… “dave, what do u want”. And my answer, as it often is with regards to learning, is that it depends.

Researcher Dave is fascinated by the problem of integrating people into learning communities. Anything that tests out the possibilities of or develops new practices for this tricky little problem is something that is pretty much at the top of my interest list. The challenge of seeing community as a learning approach is that communities tend to harden a little bit, with shared language and practices, and slowly become more difficult (but by no means impossible) to join. As everyone’s content is mostly their own, i should be able to burn last year’s course and simply start again… from scratch. Researcher dave is not invested in the success of the course, necessarily, but in learning from the process. Bye bye rhizo14 hello rhizo15!

Teacher Dave has slightly different feelings about things. I want the 2015 version of the course to go as well or better than 2014. This includes being fair to both the returning participants and the new participants. How do we integrate the two groups in the most seamless manner possible? How do we ask challenging questions that respect the community knowledge carried over and still allows for there to be new material for people to negotiate knowledge with? Maybe keep the old one on P2PU and then create a second, connect the two…? Simply reopen the P2PU site and keep going? #rhizoforever?

Community Dave thinks that we need to open that question much more broadly and see what the disparate but still engaged #rhizoers think about the subject. The crowd, in this case, could have a fair amount of wisdom to share, and the experience of going through that question could be very valuable in and of itself. I’m not sure what they’d say… but that the whole reason for asking them 🙂 #rhizo?

Leadership in community
So, I guess, this is my attempt at number 3 on that list. I’d be interested to hear what people think about continuing with an existing community and integrating new people. Send along some links to other people chatting about it if you can find it…

One way or the other I will ‘decide’ whether it be by weight of a community opinion, or a last minute shot in the dark. In the end balancing community opinions and the need to actually make yes/no decisions might be one of the critical literacies in a rhizomatic learning approach. Many things can live in complexity and should stay there… but… well, we’ll see how the buts work out. I care about keeping the #rhizo14 community, I like those people, i enjoy the way they interact. How to keep it going…?