Wednesday, March 31, 2010

More Maps

I am horrified at not having written since the end of January.

Anyway, I was spurred to action when I read a marvelous post today by Dave Cormier. I left a long comment that I want to republish here, slightly edited, though my best advice is that you surf on over to Dave's original post and read it before you read my comments. You'll be glad you did.

Dave's essay talks about the rhizome as a new model for how education might structure itself in the online world. He seems to be addressing what, for me, has been the most problematic aspect of Deleuze and Guattari’s discussion of the rhizome: cartography and decalcomania, terms they use to describe new strategies for building useful maps for negotiating our way through the rhizome. The big rhizome, of course, is this universe, reality, and losing their map to reality seems to cause most people problems.

For thousands of years, we have built knowledge in hierarchical structures: from the general to the particular (deduction), or in reverse, from the particular to the general (induction). Deleuze and Guattari are recommending a new way to structure knowledge (along with all the other institutions and structures based on that knowledge), a rhizomatic way. This can be most disorienting and confusing.

I find that many people are somewhat more comfortable with the rhizomatic ideas of connectivity, heterogeneity, multiplicity, and asignifying ruptures, but they become nervous when they lose the familiar sign-posts from an established canon of knowledge, their hierarchical maps, or tracings, in Deleuzianal terms (sorry, I couldn’t resist). You hear them asking, “If I can’t tell which way is north, definitively, then how can I construct a map to tell where I am, where I’m going, and where I’ve been?” Or in the terms of educators, “How can I measure the learning?” Most of us are very reluctant to give up our tried and true fictions.

For me, the key question is quite practical: how do we map the rhizome? How do a group of people gather, form a working entity,scan and mine the rhizome (any rhizome: literature, math, physics, even business), and build a useful body of knowledge? As Chuen-Ferng Koh says in Internet: Towards a Holistic Ontology: “Rhizomatic links … are formed through mapping—or active construction based on flexible and functional experimentation, requiring and capitalizing on feedback. The map is not … a blueprint whose workability has to be taken on faith; the map is never fixed, but a changing flux of adaptation and negotiation.” This flexible and functional experimentation has not been a hallmark of our Western education system, at least not below advanced graduate school or in isolated pockets. Most of us don’t know how to engage reality through this constant experimentation with its feedback loops. We expect reality to stay put.

To my mind, the practical techniques are being developed by those thousands of people working their personal learning networks, both f2f and online. And in those learning communities they are building not only the curriculum but also the methodologies, and it looks very rhizomatic to me.