Saturday, August 23, 2014


Try as I might, I was unable to recognize the great bear, the white rabbit or the bull raging sky left.

Clearly, I had never spent enough time gazing upwards at the night sky. 

With carefully trained eyes and an imported telescope by brother was able to recognize the constellations and point them out on his star map.

How much I wanted to be able to have his pattern-recognition-ability, but try as I might I only saw twinkle twinkle little stars, and that was enough.

I digress...

Constellation, was an image I picked up just now from Kevin Hodgson (@dogtrax) on the connected learning course I have been actively lurking in.

Frankly, it didn't really make an impression on me at all until I started writing this retitled post spurred by Frances Bell's "Reflections on Community in #Rhizo14 - more questions than answers."

As I am writing connections are sparking. 

How do other people see the stars, I mean other people apart from my brother and his big blue American map?

That was the thought that just crossed my mind....there a shooting star or a satellite or maybe a divine message?

Where my brother saw bull, the Hopi or the Cherokee saw other patterns.

Their patterns framed their spiritual existence. 

Another star discovered with my brother's telescope might have made a blemish in their cultural landscape...

As we have gained better lenses, better telescopes, so we have been able to see the appearance of new planets  in our universe like Pluto.

So with social networking graphs, we will be able to get a better view on connections and their movement in the #rhizo14 constellation.

I digress...

All this brings me to the troublesome question of community.

Where does one draw the 'community lines'? How much do people need to 'care' for each other to be part of a 'community'? Who decides who is in and who is out? What are the criteria? I am getting the distinct impression that 'community' is a problematic pattern  which hides more than it reveals.

In the case of #rhizo14 or the rhizomatic learning course, when did the 'community building' start?

In my case, I have not made any particular decision as to whether I am a member of any 'community'.

I have never felt very comfortable with tags, labels, categories for myself. I am very happy to feel attachment, to feel common purpose, to feel valued on my terms, I am interested in learning language to be able to communicate with others, to satisfy my curiosity to learn to play others' games but I don't like being part of a 'guild'.

I find it interesting that Frances writes:
"We also have to beware over-interpreting the views of others and making assumptions about their thoughts and opinions."
Indeed, this connects to my suspicion about 'science' and 'research' - whose story are we telling 'objectively'?

I am intrigued by the search for 'flower-patterns':

"How can we know about all the flowers that bloomed? And some of the ones that failed to thrive or died? Of course, the answer is we can't but we can try to draw in as many flowers as possible..."

How shall we decide on what constitutes a 'flower'? Is it appropriate when studying rhizomes to concentrate on 'flowers'? I remember here an image of Apostolos's of a desert flower and his "creativity in arid environments" week.

If we are to study the 'emergence of community' are we going to be stuck with a particular 'pattern of community' which doesn't necessarily reflect the diverse perspectives of what constitutes 'community' or 'membership to a community'?

Bearing in mind the various 'communities' which  Dave Cormier talks about existing in #rhizo14 , I would say that it would be very difficult to determine at which time a person was acting as a member of one or another community, particularly as a tweet for example might include a number of  tags #clmooc, #rhizo14 #clavier.

Another problem as to how communities may be defined is the questions of longevity of connection. Heli Nurmi illuminates us on some of the pre-existing connections which existed before the course started.  It became clearer and clearer for me as I played in #rhizo14 how these powerful relationships affected activity within the course.

As one gazes at the movement of the stars one gains new interpretations on their relationships.  As one moves within the universe, one gains new potential for pattern making.

I am coming now to my own ever changing perspectives.

My secret activity, my pattern-making would have been invisible to all those who would not have noticed that I signed on to the first MOOCs set up by Stephen Downes but did nothing more.  Nobody would have read anything that I had written or thought before 2008.  They might have seen an anoynmous presence of a reader on their blog.

Nobody would have known that Dave Cormier was fairly early on a distant twinkle in my star-map, in my world. I was not sure at that time whether it was an asteroid...

I can fully relate to Dave Cormier's upset that others took his work as their own.

It was only in 2008 that I decided that I must learn to use others arms to defend and to make public my own perspectives.

Over a period of maybe 5 years I had lurked, I was on the periphery, I followed, I dared to comment on Steve Wheeler's blog 'Learning with e's", and then it built momentum.

I escaped to meet up with other like-minds at the 'Learning without frontiers" conference  London in 2011, I learned to use Twitter, I began to build my network, I began to blog...

I have been working with the idea of 'community as a curriculum' for at least 8 or 9 years when I worked at building 'community' with an ever evolving group of unemployed language learners. It has been a constant feature in my pedagogy. These connections, these lines, these patterns are not haphazard, they have meaning for me even if that meaning changes over time, even when scribble emerges as stream of consciousness. Until now these patterns would have been unobservable...even to myself.

Before now, I never had the competences to participate openly in connectivist MOOC's but that doesn't mean that I wasn't participating, it doesn't mean that I wasn't trying to make sense of 'blog', 'network', 'community'...

If I let others tell my story, I am not respecting myself.

Patterns in the sky made visible may be beautiful, may make me dream that I know, but I question the authority of the astronomer who pronounces that mine is a lesser star in the universe.  I may question his choice of 'telescope', I may question his obsession with stars when what binds us is darkness.

Science bound? No we are darkness bound.

I am story-teller and researcher, I would like to enable others to share their perspectives, if they will...

There is much beauty in our patchwork existence.


  1. Lovely take on emergence as beauty.

    1. Hi Mary Ann lovely to gather your perspective here, I look forward to meeting up again to talk of all that has emerged since we met in Plymouth was it 3 years ago.

      Thank you for leaving the word emergence.

  2. Interesting reading Simon. I think that I will forever feel a part of the Rhizo14 community, primarily because it has no distinct lines. It does not seem to mater whether others see me or include me in their 'lists'. We often talk of communities as being somehow constant, when they are continually changing. That was the point that I tried to make in my post 'PLN: Verb or Noun?' I am left wondering though whether communities are really formed in the moment or are not some sort of historical construct?

    1. Hi Aaron thank you for your comment. I am very intrigued at this feeling of being 'part of a community', I wonder how many people feel this and what the community is that they describe. I replied to your blog post on your blog - thanks for sharing that. I suppose that all is historical construct.

  3. Storyteller and researcher ... and writer. There's a certain messiness to all of us understanding our role in this developing space (spaces) where we find ourselves moving in and out. I constantly feel as if it may take me a few years to really understand what am doing now. I hope I have the patience to make sense of it all.

  4. @dogtrax: @Bali_Maha @sensor63 Sometimes, stars align and the connections between the stars (the constellations) are stories of us.

  5. Thanks for this post – very thought-provoking. I have had quite a bit of time to think about this as I typed a response then lost it on my new phone so I have had to start again.
    I love the idea that something as universal as the stars in the night sky are interpreted differently by different people in different cultures and with different technologies. It made me think that this could be a good opening to a conversation between peoples from different cultures, where they could understand each other better and celebrate their differences as well as what they had in common.
    I hope that I can continue a conversation with you Simon. Let me share with you that when I wrote "We also have to beware over-interpreting the views of others and making assumptions about their thoughts and opinions." that interested you, I was thinking about me AND you. It’s something that I think about a lot when doing interpretive and critical research. Even though I strive for objectivity, I know that I cannot and should not fully achieve it. Subjectivity can bring a significant contribution to research in complex situations involving people and their relations with material things and each other. Gaining multiple perspectives and then trying to make some sort of sense of them is quite hard work. What I feel is my responsibility as a researcher is to be as clear and open as I can about my own role in the research and to conduct it as well as I can. I think that this is different from what is commonly called scientific research. Of course, I don’t know what you mean by science when you talk about science-bound academics, and signal your suspicions.
    When communicating on blogs and forums, my style is less formal and I think that I indicated in the post on which you are commenting that my ideas were tentative, exploratory.
    I am not going to say much about my use of ‘flowers’ – it was a quickly chosen metaphors for blooming/thriving of ideas/ people.
    What I would like to explore a little is the idea of storytelling. You said “If I let others tell my story, I am not respecting myself.” I am not sure what you mean by that. From the rest of your post, I think that you are emphasising the importance of telling your own story. That resonates for me – and is one of the things I like about blogging – that I can tell my own stories, even if no one else reads them. But I would say that it is pretty difficult to stop others from telling (even a small part of ) your story. When we tell our own stories that include social situations, it’s very difficult not to tell ,in part at least, the stories of others. I think that might be related to what you call our ‘patchwork existence’. When you told your story about a dominant group in rhizo14, I wondered whom you meant, whose story you were telling. This (and my own research) is what I was thinking about when I say that I think both you and I should be wary of over-interpretation.
    I applaud your wish to enable others to share their perspectives – for me this goes beyond telling our stories separately. How can we rise to the challenge of exploring the perspectives of others, and how they perceive ours. We may be bound by darkness but I do hope that there is a possibility of a glimmer of light – otherwise we might miss the beauty.

    1. I think Frances we can usefully continue our conversations. I have much to gain in trust. Not sure what that means - that's why I write :-)

  6. I didn't understand your comment Simon. So you are sensitive to others telling your story but happy enough to tell the story of others eg the astonishing statement you made here ? Citing Gloria Estefan - it cuts both ways;)
    I reached out to you in my comment. I was trying to connect with you, to listen, to understand what you meant, to share my puzzlement over something you said, and I hoped for a response. I wasn't point-scoring - I did not start by assuming that you were point-scoring. Please let me know how we can usefully continue our conversations - I am floundering here.

  7. Hello Frances, excellent! Our conversation continues.

    I am not telling anybody else's story, I am simply expressing feelings that I had at particular moments during the course. Those feelings may well be due to my own prejudices but not only, I feel.

    I shall blog through those feelings as I think it is important for me to analyse and to make explicit my often contradictory positions concerning 'academia' particularly in the context of rhizomatic learning. I am sure that I am not the only one 'floundering' with uncertainty or the only one who expresses contradictoryness.

    I think that it is important to identify, to curate and to analyse strong feelings which concern 'academic discourses', to bring together ethical questions as regards 'story-telling', 'referencing', researching learning in this and other learning situations.

    There were a number of occasions when 'academia' and power issues flare up, I can think of a number:

    The question of whether people were going to dig deeper into D&G.
    The question around books.
    The use of academic language and Cath Ellis' reflections.
    The use of data from the autoethnography by people not involved in rhizo14
    The choice of people to be cited or not in the autoethnography
    The discussions around authorship and ethics
    The discussions of ethics and spaces (FB, blogs etc)
    The discussion around people not citing Dave Cormier in 2008
    The questions around genre and research methodology to express learning in its complexity.
    The questions of access to positions of academia - Phd, Adjunct etc
    Story telling, art, music, poetry, jokes vs academic publishing...

    I have already responded to the question of 'science-bound' in this post and will do so again.
    Bound does not only imply tied-it also implies direction. I also have written a post entitled 'story-bound' which indicates an ongoing discussion I seem to be having.

    This is clearly a rich seam of investigation - of all the people involved in rhizo14 why would you consider I was talking of you being 'science bound'?

    If people were to say there were some people who were 'poetry-bound' in rhizo14, I am not sure that I would respond in any way as I don't consider that it refers to me. If it does, it would be potentially interesting.

    You have "reached out to me" in your comments and I appreciate that. I value connections which enable me to question and to learn.

    I think that I have much to learn through our conversations and through reading your work and that of others and that is what I am continuing to do.

    I am intrigued by your use of 'point-scoring', I am not sure what one needs to do to score points. What is the game? I like games.

    I have started a line of investigation as to what constitutes poles of attraction for people in this online course starting with myself. I think that there is enormous scope for enquiry here.

    I would repeat what I said in my last reply - I (we) have much to gain in trust...
    If I have indirectly or directly hurt your or anybody else's feelings by my comments, posts, or else I am sorry.

    You coming from Manchester means that I feel a certain afffinity as I spent many years in Manchester and the Northwest is where my roots are. I also tried to do a partnership with Salford University which never happened. I have for a number of years had Cristina Costa on my radar from the PLE movement.

    The question of affinity interests me as regards the 'pole of attraction' question. To what extent people are able to go beyond homophilly and be challenged and to be changed in these networked interactions is something which intrigues me.

    Much to think about.

    Thank you.

  8. Let me start by saying that I admire your blogging of ideas as a means of working through them - I do that and appreciate it when others help me and challenge me in that process. Actually, I think that you and I have some overlapping concerns about community in rhizo14.
    But, when we blog we do expose our statements to question.
    OK, when you say " I think it is a direct or indirect challenge to a dominant ‘scientific’ ‘academic’ means of communication. This is where my reflection on genre is taking me. I also think that representatives of this ‘dominant’ group were miffed that Dave didn’t reinforce their supremacy by being leader of the (their) pack. I find it interesting to question how people perceived a ‘majority’ in rhizo14." I think you ARE telling someone else's story (reading their minds even) but it's a story that I can't even begin to associate with #rhizo14. I am not hurt because I think it is my story, but rather mystified because I don't recognise the events and behaviour that you describe. I did wonder if you thought I was science-bound as I can't really think of any science academics on rhizo14 that you could be talking about.

    As you know, I am interested in DLG theory and would seek out places where it was discussed, so would be likely to be in the presence of a dominant group should such a group exist.

    I am aware of some of the background to the early sensitivities around discussions on theory in spaces where newcomers felt 'talked down to'. I tried and failed to address that at the time and that's OK - I can live with that. What really disappoints me is our collective failure on rhizo14 to respond and to learn from what happened. We can't rely on Dave to zoom in on a magic carpet and wave a wand over the situation (he's a busy man - it's a 24 hour global course). So what did we do? We categorised people into theorists/ pragmatists all the better to put them in contention with each other. We became fearful of anything that might be seen as 'too academic'. For me, the term academic on rhizo14 is faintly ridiculous as any sort of label. What does it mean? someone in employment in education - full-time or part-time - well that rules me out but probably rules in a large %age of the remainder of the participants . Someone who only uses text and the odd image as a means of expression. Someone who uses words of more than one syllable and doesn't listen to others. Someone who cites sources. I don't see these latter or similar distinctions as particularly helpful.
    When rhizo14 was in full swing, I observed people with different interests that intersected differently at different times. That was so fruitful and sometimes rich but I am currently wondering whether the preponderance of provocative weekly questions and statements about categorisations of participants didn't solidify 'community'.
    I have stayed around rhizo14 because of the research and am often just an observer. But sometimes, I am moved to question, to disturb the cosiness of some of the conversation. So I may have some power related to my previous academic experience - I don't know. I do know that, however imperfectly, I try to be aware of my voice, and try to avoid silencing less powerful ones. I don't think anyone in their right minds could place me in a dominant group in rhizo14, and I always try to treat the views of others with respect.
    Simon, I like your list of power flare-ups. It seemed to me that some were where power was central to the conduct of the discussion, some where power was the subject, and some where both of those applied.

  9. Replies
    1. It would be necessary to go back to what actually was said by people about 'majority'. I shall if I get round to it. I think that there is inevitably a lot of imagination going on in any relationships.

    2. No matter. Did people learn?

  10. Hi Simon
    I came to re-read this blog post and tell that I consider this is your "real" autoethnography and reading this helps me to understand who you are
    Thanks for writing

    1. Yes Heli I think these blog posts are 'real' autoethnography ;-)

  11. TERRY ELLIOTT: Filter limestone water through sour corn mash and you too can see the light.

  12. TERRY ELLIOTT: Sometimes all you need is to engage the proper filter, your filter.   Kentucky, my mater familias,  is called the Bluegrass State and its namesake is pasture grass, bluegrass.  It isn't blue, but if you go out deep in the hollar during a supermoon in August with a generous portion of bourbon, lay down and look at it askance, then you will remark to yourself, "Well, I'll is blue."  Eureka! A proper filter wins the day.

  13. TERRY ELLIOTT: Sometimes all you need is to engage the proper filter, your filter.   Kentucky, my mater familias,  is called the Bluegrass State and its namesake is pasture grass, bluegrass.  It isn't blue, but if you go out deep in the hollar during a supermoon in August with a generous portion of bourbon, lay down and look at it askance, then you will remark to yourself, "Well, I'll is blue."  Eureka! A proper filter wins the day.