We now have a group tuition policy which has as one of its aims to cluster online discussions to obtain a ‘critical mass’; this has arisen in part from the very poor levels of participation in both f2f and online tuition. My experience of a recent MOOC which had over 1000 students was that I was not inclined to join the forums – they were so huge I felt they were too impersonal to bother with. I did join the Facebook feed for the course and have a glance and the posts that pop up, which are mainly links to articles / resources but I don’t feel I have participated in any meaningful way.
As a comparison the Digipad on the online course I recently studied (over a similar time period) I have felt connected very quickly – on this course there were only 12 students – is this the smaller size, the design or both? Sadly I don’t think we can just conclude that if our OULive groups only had 12 members students would enthusiastically engage – but I do wonder if there is learning about the design and also a warning about risks of size? We cant turn back the tide of clustering, in any case we know that in single tutor group sessions participation was very low, but we can think about break out rooms, and about ways in which tutors can personalise and set up subsets of students who can actually get to know each other – there must be some tricks we are missing about how to build confidence / break down barriers that prevent students participating. Without cracking this nut of participation I don’t see how we can ever achieve an effective rhizomatic design.
The concept of rhizomatic learning is an interesting one in the context of OU pedagogy – defined here by Cormier:
A botanical metaphor, first posited by Deleuze and Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus (1987), may offer a more flexible conception of knowledge for the information age: the rhizome. A rhizomatic plant has no center and no defined boundary; rather, it is made up of a number of semi-independent nodes, each of which is capable of growing and spreading on its own, bounded only by the limits of its habitat (Cormier 2008).
This isn’t a term I have been familiar with or heard discussed in the OU context but it has some connections with Wenger’s communities of practice, which we are all familiar with. It also connects with conversations I have heard increasingly in the OU about the shift from content to – something else which includes:
student directed learning
design over content
Some of these ideas / intentions have found their way into policy documents / guidance, for example:
learning design – to build interactivity and cut content
Assessment Policy – self / peer assessment
Group Tuition Policy – not sure about this but certainly one of the aims is to improve the participation levels in interactive learning
What worried me here is that these are all changes to systems and not to pedagogy – and when they are communicated and implemented I think they become increasingly procedural and we lose the essence of what we are trying to achieve?
I think one of the really, really big challenges we have is that our educators are so massively divorced from the student that they teach – dialogue between student and teacher (if it happens at all) is slow, cumbersome and often becomes heavily focused on assessment rather than on constructing teaching….and does it involve the people who are designing the teaching? How do we understand the AL / academic relationships with students? There has been much talk for several years about increasing the student facing role of academics – but I’m not sure we have made much progress? How can we apply rhizomatic learning to our current model of academic – tutor – student ? Or maybe we can’t?