Thursday, January 23, 2014

Enforcing Independence in #rhizo14

The challenge in Week 2 of Rhizo14 is to explore enforcing independence in education. Frances Bell has noted problems with these rhizomatic concepts in formal educational settings, and Jenny Mackness and others have reasonably objected to independence, favoring interdependence instead. They both address real issues with rhizomatic education: creating space for the rhizome. Higher ed doesn't seem to mind ivy on the walls, but they don't much want it in their classrooms, and what sense does independence convey in a structure where every point can and must be connected to every other point. If independence is to keep its classical liberal sense of the discrete individual, then there doesn't seem to be much room for it in the rhizome which Deleuze and Guattari characterize more as a swarm or a pack—not strong images for the rugged, self-sufficient individual of American mythology.

I agree with Jenny Mackness that interdependence is the better term for what happens in a rhizomatic structure such as a MOOC—this MOOC, for instance. I am not alone here, not even discrete. I have joined Rhizo14, and how I choose to express myself is up to me but always expressed within the context of the MOOC. I ignore that context at my peril. I have independence in terms of dependence.

I am independent in the sense that I bring to the MOOC my own professional and personal trajectories, interests, and goals, but no sooner do I engage the MOOC than it begins to shape, feed, and mold me. I express myself, but that expression is tempered and fed back to me, and that feedback changes me. Of course, I feedback into the MOOC to change it, but the MOOC is much larger than I am, so I'm betting that its influence on me is larger than my influence on it. I help create the MOOC, but it also helps to create me. I cannot conceive of what I learn in the MOOC apart from the MOOC. It isn't my own learning, though of course, I own it and am responsible for it. In short, the MOOC and I are interdependent.

In what sense, then, can I have some kind of autonomy in a MOOC, or any other rhizomatic structure?

First, I have to own my internal integrity. In educational terms, what I accept as knowledge is really up to me, or ought to be. Of course, I immediately see a point of contention with traditional education which gives me almost no say in what I can claim as knowledge. This MOOC is different. The knowledge that each of us takes away from our engagement with the MOOC is ours, kind of like the food we eat, and we are responsible for it. Though that knowledge is created through interdependent activities, what stays inside and is taken away is my responsibility (even though I am not totally aware of my knowledge and how I acquire it, but that's another post).

Then, my degree of autonomy depends on how well I can manage my boundaries within the MOOC. The more that I can decide what info comes in and what I put out, what exchanges I make and don't, then the more autonomy I have. Again, I see tension with traditional education which overpowers students' power to manage their own time, space, and knowledge, unlike this MOOC in which I pretty much control what info I take in and put out and when and where I engage it.

Next, my degree of autonomy depends on how free I am to grow and express myself within this space, this MOOC. Of course, traditional education is a master at channeling the growth and expression of students. In contrast, I sense encouragement on the part of this MOOC for me to expand and express myself. Unlike traditional education, I don't learn beneath the shadow of censure and power.

This does not imply at all that the MOOC does not exert a force on me. It does. It must. If I enter the gravitational field of the MOOC, then it of necessity exerts forces on me as I exert forces on it, and those forces change both of us. I think of this something like a card game: I'm free to play my hand as I please, but I would be foolish to ignore the other players in the game or the value of the cards I'm holding. I can express my autonomy only within the dynamics of the game. The game itself, then, exerts a force on me and modifies how I play my hand, but this is quite different from another playing pointing a gun at me and telling me what bet to make next. That's power, not force. It seems to me that traditional education is big on power, and rhizomatic education is big on force. Autonomy can deal with and thrive in relation to force. Autonomy is destroyed by power. The harmonious dance between the Earth and Moon depends on the forces each exerts on the other. Power would destroy that dance.

Well, I'm not finished, but I have to go teach a class. Tomorrow I will take up the issue of autonomy and space.
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