Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Writing the Rhizome

Okay, for the sake of discussion, let's just accept that my last post is correct and that a network view of knowledge is indeed part of the DNA of connectivism. Let's even assume that this distinguishes connectivism from constructivism, cognitivism, and behaviorism as learning theories. Is this such a big deal?

I think so. Starting with a view that knowledge is a function of complex networks changes how I view everything else, especially everything about my own discipline. Also, starting from this vantage point allows me to connect to and cultivate different streams on energy. I'm fed differently than if I were starting from another point of view about how knowledge is produced and propagated.

My professional gig is writing — I write and I teach others to write. Connectivism, then, encourages me to say that writing is a function of complex networks at any scale I choose to consider it.

This is worth exploring, and for ease, let me start at the scale I'm working on just now. I'm writing a blog post about connectivism to mostly educators — at least the audience I'm aware of is mostly educators, and most of them at the college level. I write to connect to the conversation of those people. This conversation is a network structure facilitated by many other network structures: my own neural network, the Internet, a MOOC, the English language, educational theory, etc. Through writing, I both connect to the conversation (the network), and I exchange value with the other nodes (people and their own texts, mostly) in the network. I am writing, now, to connect to you and to exchange value with you.

Now, compare this view of writing to the traditional view of writing: a solitary student struggling to complete an assignment, writing about a topic that far too often does not interest him and writing to people (the teacher) to whom he does want to connect. The literary version of this image is not much better: a solitary, starving poet in his lonely garret overlooking Paris struggling to capture his vision of Life for an audience that will not find him until decades after his consumptive, wretched death. Neither of these writers connects to an ecosystem that feeds and nourishes them. None of us would want to be one of these poor wretches.

Actually, the student has an ecosystem, but he is punished for connecting to it (no talking in class). Notice that when students find that they can use writing to connect to their ecosystems (their peeps, gangs, and posses), then they will write their tails off. The last estimates I saw said that the world is now generating over 5 billion text messages per day. No other period in history can approach this volume of writing. Are you not amazed that most teenagers today would rather write to their friends than talk to them? That makes no sense from the traditional views of writing. It makes great sense if you think of writing as a function of complex networks in which nodes connect to nodes, exchange energy and value, and all are enriched. (I know that not all connections are enriching, and that way too often, people connect for the purpose of abusing, but even that kind of bullying is more easily understood — and dealt with — from a network perspective that looks at interconnected nodes in a functioning network than from the perspective of the morally deficient individual preying on others.)

Starting with the notion that the production and propagation of knowledge through writing is a function of complex networks allows me to think very differently about how and why people write. That prompts me to change the way I teach writing to others. I'll explore that soon, but likely I have not finished thinking about writing as a function of complex networks. There are other scales to play in this tune.


  1. I must say that I'm so happy that I have subscribed to your blog. I thoroughly enjoy your explorations of connectivism as it keeps me connected with the theory that really inspired me in taking an online masters course. I am now in the stare-at-the-blank-page stage of writing a paper on community in transformative education and your blog post in my inbox has inspired me to look back to connectivism to help me figure out what I want to say about community. Without community - people, ideas, words, neurons, - there is no knowledge. This is as difficult to imagine as one hand clapping. Of course we often take this for granted - like telling the fish about the water its living in - but when we begin to see it, we can begin to appreciate how it sustains our very existence - our constructions of self and everything beyond.

  2. Yes, Leslie, I agree. I just wish I had said it as well as you have. Thanks for reminding me why connections to a community are so important. Please let me know how your writing goes, and if you are comfortable with sharing, then I'd love to see what you are doing.