Rhizomatic Learning

Earlier on this week, the e-Learning team at the University of Bath attended a staff development session from Steve Wheeler [profile | blog], a Senior Lecturer in Education and Information Technology at the University of Plymouth. The session itself has been reflected in part elsewhere, so I’m going to focus my own efforts on something Steve highlighted during the morning, Rhizomatic Learning.

A quick Google Search indicated that the term was was coined a little while ago, and has recently been highlighted by Dave Cormier on his blog, and in particular, in a paper entitled Rhizomatic Education: Community as Curriculum.

From Wikipedia,

In botany, a rhizome is a horizontal stem of a plant that is usually found underground, often sending out roots and shoots from its nodes… Some plants have rhizomes that grow above ground or that sit at the soil surface, including some Iris species, and ferns, whose spreading stems are rhizomes. Rhizomes may also be referred to as creeping rootstalks, or rootstocks.

During the paper, Cormier refers to the concept of a ‘rhizomatic-knowledge creation process’ that is overtaking traditional models. In part, this idea lends itself well to collaboration within wikis are the creation of a shared resource is often without structure and boundaries until an editing or review process. Contributions to a wiki, which can be both synchronous and asynchronous, often happen in real time, often supported by social discussion [either online or face-to-face]. With a wiki such as Wikipedia, hundreds and hundreds of edits can take place within a very short space of time, particularly when a world event or news story is unfolding. Keeping a structure to such pages can be problematic, particularly initially.

The ‘rhizomatic model of learning’ lends itself to a curriculum that is no longer predefined by experts but instead evolves. It is the community [of wiki users?] that determines a flexible ‘model of education’ which spontaneously shapes, constructs and reconstructs depending on external environmental factors. [Can my own classification take this into account?]

Whilst the above is just a small snapshot of some of the wider issues in the paper, it’s got me thinking.  I’ve reached a bit of an impasse when it comes to my own work, not sure where it fits it. After Gilly Salmon‘s five-stage model, Steve has now put forward his complimentary Wiki activites – 5 stages model. Which leads me to asking two questions:

  1. Can my classification be influenced with either/both of Gilly and Steve’s models?
  2. Where does my classification fit into the mix? Does it?

Exploring models for activities, collaboration and assessment in wikis

In preparation for some research project work that I’m going to be doing in relation to collaborating online using wikis, I’ve been reading 2007 a short paper by Edna Tal-Elhasid and Hagit Meishar-Tal from the The Open University of Israel.

The authors put forward a short description of teaching coordinators at the University who expressed an interest in integrating wiki usage into their courses. During the pilot project, teaching coordinators were given the freedom to design their own learning activities based on their own approaches and understanding. Following this work, authors put forward models developed during the course of the pilot, analyse the differences between them and the nature of the activities that took place.

In particular, I was interested in the collaborative models that the authors put forward. A summary of each appears below.

  • Cooperation – In this model, most of the work is performed individually by students, who each create a wiki page. Only the individual writes or edits their own page. Their peers use it solely as a resource or product.
  • Collaboration and Cooperation - All students work together on the same content, therefore increasing the level of collaboration. As a result of this, the context is edited and improved upon by the group. This is referred to as the process.
  • Cooperation, Collaboration and Peer-assessment - Collaboration is implemented with respect to all dimensions: product, process and assessment. Students work in individually or together, upload information to the wiki, edit each other’s work as well as providing peer feedback. Given the complexity of the collaboration aspect, detailed planning of the assessment part of the assignment is required. Each student should feel comfortable enough to contribute, and the ability for one student to monopolise the assignment should be avoided.

Using this model, it should be relatively easy to identify which category a particular wiki falls into. At my own institution, The University of Bath, we’re looking to construct a matrix which will make classification of such wikis easier and possibly more fine-grained. It is the peer-assessment part of this model which I believe is the most difficult for individuals and the teacher to support. I remember hearing a tale of wiki use at another University where a particular group member became so protective of their contribution to a wiki, that they restored an original version of their writing (after changes had been made by a peer), marking it with “This is mine – please do not delete”.

A couple of questions begin to emerge. How can we begin to encourage students to work collaboratively online together, where they take ownership of the space as a collective group, rather than as individuals? What is the best way of promoting a “safe” environment in which students can do this?


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