Saturday, January 29, 2011

Mapping Knowledge in CCK11

I want to talk more about what I find engaging about this MOOC: CCK11, even at the risk of sounding as if I'm sucking up, but it seems to me that a number of people have recognized that learning the MOOC way is in fact the main content/task of the course. As Tracy Parrish said in one of her early posts about CCK11: "It's amazing (and slightly sneaky) that what I'm learning about is how I'm learning about it." So I want to clarify for myself what is working for me. I may eventually get around to what isn't working. We'll see.

I have sensed some uneasiness within the MOOC with the refusal by Siemens and Downes to behave like traditional teachers. Many of the group want these teachers to tell us what to learn and how to learn it and to verify that we have, in fact, learned it. On their side, Siemens and Downes are always pushing us to become independent learners, to grab the mic in the Elluminate sessions. (ASIDE to S & D: the group's reluctance to take the mic may merely indicate that those who wish to talk are already doing so within the chat area and feel no real need to speak aloud on the mic. Those who are lurking don't want to talk in either space.) At any rate, Siemens' and Downes' refusal to act as traditional teachers makes sense to me especially in light of the concept of rhizomatic structures as outlined in Delueze and Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus (1987).

I see this MOOC as a rhizomatic structure (something like a network structure and my preferred term), and one of the characteristics of such structures, according to D and G, is mapping, or cartography, as differentiated from tracing. Unlike tracing, mapping "is entirely oriented toward an experimentation in contact with the real. The map does not reproduce an unconscious closed in upon itself; it constructs the unconscious. It fosters connections between fields" (12). 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.” Tracing begins with a conception that is not necessarily part of a structure such as a class and appliqu├ęs (formerly not a verb) that conception to the structure (a class, for instance). Mapping begins with a structure (such as a class), and through a process of flexible and functional experimentation and response to feedback, builds an image that becomes a living part of the class, shifting and growing as the class shifts and grows and as the attention of the map-maker becomes sharper, better informed, more capable.

Deleuze and Guattari use a quote from Carlos Casteneda's Don Juan to illustrate the difference between tracing and mapping. When the Yaqui shaman Don Juan teaches Carlos how to map a garden for cultivating his psychedelic herbs, he says: "Go first to your old plant and watch carefully the watercourse made by the rain. By now the rain must have carried the seeds far away. Watch the crevices made by the runoff, and from them determine the direction of the flow. Then find the plant that is growing at the farthest point from your plant. All the devil's weed plants that are growing in between are yours. Later … you can extend the size of your territory by following the watercourse from each point along the way" (The Teachings of Don Juan, 88). See? The shaman doesn't say trace out a space 100 feet by 100 feet, clear the soil, and trace rows in the dirt to plant your seeds. That's starting with a blueprint of a garden, fixing the garden before it ever grows. Rather, the shaman advises that Carlos start with one plant, an anchor, a point to which he can connect, and then map the various pathways from that point, constantly checking, marking, mapping until he discovers how large his garden is and what shape it has taken.

Tracy Parrish is making maps of this MOOC here and displaying other maps of other network structures here. This map making is an essential part of participating in a MOOC, and it is fundamentally distinguished from making a tracing, or a blueprint, of a class. Traditional education assumes a blueprint, and most us, particularly those of us who were the best students, have become quite adept at following the blueprint. I think Siemens and Downes are suggesting that we quit following blueprints and learn to map knowledge. More on this later.


  1. Monday through Friday, for the employed, are tracing. Saturday, and even Sunday, are meant for mapping.

  2. Hi Keith,

    This is a really thoughtful post--thanks for sharing. I wanted to query a little bit how you (and D&G) use the example. When Don Juan provides "teaching" to Carlos, though, how does that affect the notion of the rhizomatic structure?

    Don Juan is providing guidance, direct instruction really, out of his experience and knowledge when asked. It's not the traditional advice for gardening, but he is still being a pretty traditional teacher: "here's the way to do it."

    For me, that's not a bad thing. After all, Carlos sought the connection to Don Juan and that connection was a "teaching" one. Just like I'm seeking a teaching connection with our facilitators as well as my colleages in CCK2011. He (and they) don't have power to affect me that I haven't given them (and that I can't rescind when I decide).


  3. Leah, as I understand Casteneda's point, Don Juan is quite often engaged in teaching Carlos the difference between rhizomatic and hierarchical structures and between mapping and tracing, to use Deleuze's terms. Teaching is not exclusive to either domain, though I suspect the techniques can vary considerably. However, I don't think Don Juan is a traditional teacher. He does not trace a set curriculum and text; rather, he guides Carlos through a series of mapping exercises. I have the sense that Don Juan doesn't often know the point of a lesson until after Carlos has completed it, and even then, Don Juan often refuses to make the point explicit, forcing Carlos to make his own sense of the lesson.

    Similarly, this MOOC does not start with a fixed end point. Rather, it's an experience that we map our way through and then draw our own lessons, make our own connections, though usually in concert with our fellow cartographers.