Jenny Mackness and Frances Bell have published findings from Rhizo14 in Open Praxis, vol 7, issue 1, Jan-March 2015, pp. 25-38. The title of the article is “Rhizo14: A Rhizomatic Learning cMOOC in Sunlight and in Shade”. I have written about their research earlier and I was very interested in reading this publication. What is new, are there any deeper interpretations about learning in cMOOCs?
First I’ll refer to the data collection and the main results. The main data consisted of answers to four open questions in open Survey Monkey. The questions were as follows:
- How does the image of a rhizome relate to your prior experience of teaching, learning?
- How does the image of a rhizome relate to your experience of learning during Rhizo14?
- How might the image of a rhizome represent your future practice?
- If the above questions did not allow you to fully explain your learning experience in Rhizo14, then please comment in the box below on those aspects of the course which were significant for you, and what kept you in the course or caused you to leave early.
Following this initial survey – they got 47 answers -the researchers sent further questions by email to 35 survey respondents who agreed to receive these followup questions. The final stage of data collection was a Skype interview with Dave Cormier, convener of the Rhizo14. And then the results (p. 31) :
For many participants Rhizo14 was a very positive experience. They valued the metaphor of the rhizome for teaching and learning. It gave a new way of framing education, exploring education and thinking about education. (A long list of adjectives which I can’t follow 🙂 ). These participants valued the lack of a centre = the lack of traditional tutoring and the lack of prescribed content. They valued the high emphasis of learner autonomy, self-organization and handing over control to learners. The course was experienced as a spirit of exploration, openness and experimentation. These were thought to be important aspects of Rhizo14. The Facebook group was active also after the official course time and this was the light side of Rhizo14 (page 32). The majority of survey results were positive.
There was also a dark side for those participants who did not feel connected and could not find a voice in the community. They felt isolated, They felt unable to make meaningful connections despite in some cases being experienced MOOCers.
- One viewed the emphasis on community as an unnecessary pressure, which led to artificial effects, exclusion and limited learning.
- Another viewed the community as disjointed networks of pre-established subgroups.
- Another described the community as having a dark edge.
These participants felt that there was a lack of appropriate facilitation, and there were inappropriate exhibitions of power and politics in the course. Some felt that the course was based on weak philosophical foundations and that the rhizome was an empty signifier, Some questioned the lack of content and felt that the course lacked depth and theoretical discussion (and many adjectives again which I can’t follow).
This was a short summary of what I consider as essential results in the article. I agree with the researchers that it was valuable to get some descriptions about the dark side of MOOC learning. Usually those participants leave the courses without telling more about their experiences. The positive side of learning communities is so well known that I suppose educational researchers are tired of reading praises of the pedagogy which the researcher supports him/herself. They are mostly pseudo-science more like religious confessions.
My orientation differs in some parts of the article. I do not think that Rhizo14 is an exceptional pedagogy or a new experiment. I think that the internet is the experiment in which we all are taking part. The background of the research could consist of the developers of the free internet and describe the Rhizo14 as part of this continuum. Dave Cormier began with Jeff Lebow in the year 2005 or so and they have proved that interaction can really work. The roots of pedagogy in the free internet are very old and well-known in the history of educational sciences and practices as well as politics demanding democracy.
I am not sure what is the value of connectivism. It is a list of good principles or aims – and those can be easily forgotten in praxis. I don’t believe that the differences between c and x MOOCs are true. There is political discussion between the free individuals versus all institutions. The world of education is not so simple.
What else could I say to the researchers? There is no need to excuse the number of responses when you have 47 participants who write to your quite open questions. The data is always partial, it is never complete. The research aims to find qualitative differences, not quantitative numbers. I had a feeling that you excused also the results about the dark side of Rhizo14 (even you told that it aroused your attention). You are so deeply engaged in developing cMOOCs that you want to be closer to the positive side of your results 🙂
How to dive deeper into the qualitative data? The human consciousness of the participants is limited and the ways to illustrate own thoughts or feelings are partial if I use the concept you used describing the data. I can see that some of the descriptions of the dark side used psychological concepts but those concepts are not well known. We speak about autonomous learning but we cannot be autonomous …
Now I am so tired of using this language that I have to take a break …