Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Reflection of Rhizomatic Learning Presentation

I recently viewed a recording of Dave Cormier's presentation on Rhizomatic Learning and I found it to be very interesting.  I was intrigued by this particular posting over others because I had never heard of Rhizomatic Learning and I'm pretty open to discovering new ways to teach and learn.

Dave opened with an essential question:  Why do we educate students?  At this point he also introduced "live slides" in which all of the participants in the lecture could write on the slides and give their input.  Some of the key ideas from these students that I picked up on were:
-To prepare them for life
-So they can think for themselves
-Tomorrow's leaders
-Help them solve problems
-To think

I think it's important to think about why we educate students, because there are definitely conflicting opinions, at least here in the US.  I know that myself, and many other educators out there, believe that we educate students for all of the reasons above, and to help students grow and be able to take their knowledge and apply it in the "real world" outside of youth and school.  However, there are others who advocate standardized testing and rote memorization, which does not promote critical thinkers or creativity within students.  I think this is one of the biggest reasons why I believe standardized testing is inhibiting our students rather than growing life-long learners.

Dave noted that there are three models of students; workers, soldiers, and nomads.  Workers were the original goal of education, this type of industrial education was developed to create a workforce.  Soldiers became the defenders of the status quo and went on to establish what things we currently know that the worker should remember.  Nomads are the creative thinkers that are not restrained by the status quo.  These students carve their own paths and are divergent thinkers.  Nomads learn things because they need them.  Dave argues that this nomadic way of thinking and learning exists before students go to school, but like the TED talk video I have watched about how schools kill creativity in students, schools also kill this type of thinking.
Dave posed another question on one of his live slides:  "Should we be encouraging nomads?"
Some noteworthy responses:
-I think we should encourage children to be who they are
-We should encourage it in ourselves as educators
-We should encourage it in students, but most will give up because it's hard
-This is one option
-Nomads are the students who make it to learning in spite of schooling

I think that we should definitely be encouraging nomads in the classroom.  I think that students need to be able to connect to what they are learning and make it meaningful by being present in their learning (i.e. their culture, their lives, etc.).  I think students should have the ability to have their creativity flourish in a classroom rather than have it killed by the system.  I think that it's imperative that we teach students to critically think and problem solve, because THAT is what they'll need beyond the walls of the classroom and those are the skills that will be most useful to them.  I also think, however, that there are many things that stand in the way of teachers encouraging nomads within the classroom, and a couple of those things are standardized tests and society in general.  Like I mentioned before, standardized tests create standardized students and leaves no room for creativity or individualness.  These tests advocate memorization and conformity and are inhibiting the true, meaningful learning of our students.  Society in general also conform to these standards because it has been the way education has been as far back as anyone can remember.  It takes a lot to change the way society thinks, and it makes me sad to think that there's still a long road ahead before people realize the disservice we are doing to our students through the educational system that we currently have in place.

This idea of nomads is the basis of the Rhizomatic Learning model.  Dave explained Rhizomes as plants that are aggressive, chaotic, and resilient.  He explains that they are difficult to contain and they follow their own paths.  These Rhizomes are our students and it shows that they learn in a chaotic and resilient manner and they need to be allowed to follow their own paths.  Dave also advocates that we create an ecology (or garden) around these Rhizomes because although we allow our students to follow their own paths and cultivate their own learning, there still needs to be a structure with guidelines and goals in order to build patterns of behavior.  
In summary, Rhizomatic Learning is:
-knowledge negotiation
-open-ended learning
-student driven
-difficult to assess and script
-becoming over memory
-life long learning

I think that Rhizomatic learning is very intriguing.  I think that it is a beneficial way of structuring a class, but it is also difficult.  Not only is it difficult to manage for teachers (how do you set up the parameters, how do you ensure that students truly are following their own paths, etc.) but it can also be difficult for students.  I feel that this class is set up in a Rhizomatic manner, in which there is an open syllabus and we are given room to follow our own passions and incorporate them into different assignments as we build our PLN.  It's beneficial, but it has been a little difficult for me because I'm used to structure.  I was raised in a system that had very strict guidelines and everything was always laid out and had some written purpose.  Having an open syllabus is difficult for me because I'm a planner.  In regards to school, I make sure I know when all deadlines are and I will do assignments early sometimes if I have a lot of deadlines around the same time.  What happens with an open syllabus, though, is that isn't there and it can be overwhelming when we all of a sudden have more assignments that are expected and I don't have enough time slotted for them.  I definitely see the beneficial aspects of this model, but I think for myself and many others, it's hard to adapt to something like this when the current educational model has been so thoroughly ingrained in ourselves.

I think this quote is a powerful way to close:
"The rhizome is a metaphor, like the nomad is a metaphor.  The nomad learns rhizomatically--in directions unforseen, and, maybe, to new creative spaces.  It's a process of becoming, of coming to understand.  We are all different, and our new knowledge must become part of us."

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