A bit of an image sandpit….

I sometimes find hunting for images to be a creative exploration – it can lead to some unexpected places and ideas so I thought it might be fun to have a thread just for images.

So – to get the ball rolling I have added a Feature Image and also these two based on rhizomatic learning, but feel free to change / add and to go in any direction!

This is one I’ve seen before – but a helpful reminder of equal opportunities in assessment – I was curious about why this came up in a search on rhizomatic learning?
I like natural, non-linear and multi-dimensional – but ‘self-centered’ jars a bit?
Again not an obvious connection to rhitomatic learning - but one that emphasis the links to the political dimensions of learning. It challenges the expert - student paradigm that I think we frequently fall into in teaching.
Again not an obvious connection to rhizomatic learning – but one that emphasis the links to the political dimensions of learning. It challenges the expert – student paradigm that I think we frequently fall into in teaching.

Too big? Too small?

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.


To get the ball rolling…..rhizomatic learning to OU policy rigamortis?

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
  • self assessment
  • peer assessment
  • collaborative learning
  • interactivity
  • active 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?

Shifting pedagogy – online, technology enhanced, digital, hybrid or something else?


We have been through a (quite painful) process of moving from a predominantly print based model of distance learning to where we are now – but where are we now and are we clear about the pedagogical implications of the shifts that are (or should be) occurring?

We may be (almost) unique in that our journey began with mass print based distance learning but we are in good company in the journey towards the use digital / hybrid technologies. For most Universities the shift has been from face to face, but are the challenges of teaching effectively in a digital and hybrid environment actually that different? I think what has been different is our approach –

Unlike f2f universities we already had a very effective, and much loved, high quality distance learning product. We can debate how effective it was in terms of outcomes for learning but it was very effective when measured in terms of student satisfaction. We didn’t want to break the jewel – so we tried to keep it as intact as possible, delicately shifting it to an ‘online’ environment. We didn’t significantly change the assessment or the tuition – just the ‘content’. We quickly learnt that content designed for print was horrible online – students hated it and so did we.

But we have struggled as academics and educators to envisage the alternative – we understand that there need to be fewer words on the screen and that there needs to be more interactivity – and we have (I think) looked to the technology to help us achieve this. But this has taken many if us away from where our true expertise lies – we are subject specialists and educators not technologists. This is where we share a fundamental experience with our f2f colleagues- we are being asked to shift our communicative and pedagogic practices into not only a new interface but a new pedagogy. This is because the digital environment (dare I say revolution) is not just about the medium that we deliver our materials in, it is fundamental shift in the way we (as societies) communicate and create knowledge, a world of social media and participative knowledge creation.

So this blog is to help us begin to think about some of the big challenges facing us, which I suggest includes moving from a focus on content to a focus on enabling / encouraging / facilitating students to be in the driving seat of their own learning. Delivering content is our comfort zone as academics – and students like it. It is a familiar and safe model – we deliver content, students learn it and are then assessed on how well they can reproduce that knowledge, albeit critically. We have founded education on this model for a very long time – but times are changing.  But I am at risk of modelling exactly the approach to teaching that I am challenging, so I will stop here and ask some questions which I hope will enable you to join in a journey of learning that involves exploration, reflection and, perhaps most importantly conversations with each other to worry at the challenges we face. To kick the thinking off have a look at this and then think about these questions:

  1.  Does learning inevitably need to be driven by the assessment of curriculum content, possibly driven by external bodies (professional bodies / QAA). What might the alternative look like?
  2. How could a module of learning rooted in context sensitive exploratory, participatory learning strengthen the value of higher education for our students – in particular our vocational / professional students?
  3.  What could we do , as educators, to shift student expectations and practices so that the most highly valued element of what we provide is dialogue (with teachers, peers, the academic and professional / disciplinary community) rather than content (however beautifully packaged)?

Please comment and share your thoughts…….