A ‘rhizomatic’ take on Semester one so far

Last week I had the good fortune to hear Professor Diana Masny speak about her Deleuzian approach to researching multiliteracies theory (which she referred to as ‘MLT’). Masny is from Ottowa, Canada, and is an adjunct prof at QUT.

In this presentation I was returned to the idea of ‘the rhizome’, something that had interested me when I encountered the work of Deleuze and Guattari. The idea behind looking at things rhizomatically is that we can stop focussing on binary oppositions, or organising concepts into ordered taxonomies and such. Instead, rhizomatic analysis involves looking at things and ideas spread/propagate…and at where new possibilities ‘shoot off’ out of of what already exists.

A rhizome in plant form

A rhizome in plant form

This talk by Masny was interesting for a number of reasons to do with designing research methodology, as well as considering MLT from new angles. One thing that inspired me was the way that her presentation was organised around ‘entry points’ to her own topic as a rhizomatic collection of findings. This is in contrast to a presentation that tries to summarise ‘key findings’ or ‘ways forward’. Seeing as I most often use my blog to reflect on ‘findings’ and ‘planning’, I thought it might make a nice change to adopt Masny’s (after Deleuze’s) approach of exploring the ‘entry points’ into my practice so far this semester…

ENTRY POINT: Attendance

At QUT we have a policy that attendance is not to be counted in any way toward assessment, and that students choosing to catch up on their study from home are to be supported in that choice. I have heard some lecturers complain about this – they think students would learn better if they turned up to all the classes, and wish the university would enforce this. Most of us, however, respect the purpose of this arrangement, which is to provide flexible study options for the grown-up human beings that are our ‘students’, and cater for a range of learning styles. Personally I find it very motivating, as it forces me to think about HOW I can make my lessons “worth coming to”!

I’m really happy with the attendance rate in my classes at the moment. Out of the 110 students I have studying on campus, almost 100% turned up in Week one, and the students that were away mostly emailed in their apologies. In Week 2, attendance in tutorials and the lecture was down to about 85%, which is to be expected. What I am eager to see is that 85% attendance rate maintained for the rest of the 9-week semester, rather than drop of over time to 20-50%, as other lecturers often report. I’m pleased to say that in the past few years here, I haven’t noticed the same kind of drop of, and I like to think this reflects the usefulness of my classes.

ENTRY POINT: Engagement

As always it has been a slow start on Twitter…but as always, there are several students ‘coming around’ to the tool already and engaging with informal peer tutoring as well. Once again, I am glad I chose to persevere with introducing students to an unfamiliar (and for many of them, unloved) social media tool.

I had a really great out-of-context engagement moment as well last week, on Pinterest. I use Pinterest among other things to collect useful resources for English teachers, and one day I saw a collage about English teaching and ‘re-pinned it’ to my board. I thought (and commented) ‘wow…this is just like an activity I do in class!’. Then I realised that I was following one of my students already, and that it was her! Funniest bit was though, she had been following me too without realising who I was, or making any connection to out uni lives. Good times!

There has been a growth in socia media profiles and ‘chats’ that I can now connect my students to, and the most important of these is the #ozengchat that takes place on Twitter on Tuesday nights. Feeling like they are engaging with ‘real teachers’ seems to be helping with motivation in the class, but at the moment that’s just my anecdotal take on the situation.

ENTRY POINT: Assessment

In my class students undertake THREE assessment tasks:

  1. Personal essay on teaching philosophy and resource analysis (individual, 30%)
  2. Lessons plans for a junior English class (in pairs, 40%)
  3. Portfolio of completed learning ‘challenge tasks’ (individual, 30%)

What I like about what I have achieved with this set of assessments is that there is a balance of individual and group work, that there is a variety of tasks, and that no task is worth more that 40%.

At this point I’ll put myself out there to say I am disappointed to see how many uni coordinators choose to use just TWO assessment piece in their own classes. This is not good practice imo! Having less assignments does mean a smaller marking load for the lecturer, and less due dates for the student, but at what cost?

I really do believe that students in uni should not have assessments that are worth 50% or over, as this is too high-stakes to promote good learning. To do this, you must have more than two assessments for a unit in a semester.

FINAL WORDS: The CLB018 ‘assemblage’

In the theory of Deleuze and Guattari, the context of my CLB018 class provides an assemblage of bodies and things that can produce any number of effects. I hoe to keep reporting throughout the semester on the effects (and affects) of our assemblage!

In the meantime, any comments on these POINTS OF ENTRY are most welcome.

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  1. #1 by @malynmawby on March 12, 2013 - 3:57 pm

    When I first heard of rhizomatic learning (via G Siemens) a couple of years ago, I thought it was a really good way to describe learning; my learning, at least. This is also probably why Inquiry learning appeals to me because inquiry can shoot off in multiple ways and in various directions. It is full of opportunities for serendipitous learning.

    That aside, ‘entry points’ as a rhizomatic learning term is new to me. Can you please explain it more?

    I like that you have 3 formal assessments and agree that just having 2 is too few. Your portfolio idea has also given me an idea for one of my classes; not sure if I’ll use it as end-of-year assessment activity but it sure fits. Do you provide options for modes of submission for portfolios?


  2. #2 by kmcg2375 on March 14, 2013 - 5:12 pm

    Thanks for the comment Malyn; I hadn’t seen Siemens referencing rhizomatic learning, and I like his connectivism theory so will have to chase it up. Actually, the link between connectivism and this Deleuze stuff hadn’t occurred to me before…but it makes sense now I’m thinking about it!

    I’m not confident that ‘entry points’ was a Deleuzian term, of whether Masny constructed the term to describe the different sections of her presentation. I haven’t read enough Deleuze to recognise the term from there, but maybe Greg or Linda can help us?

    I think I can explain the concept though. The thing about a rhizome is that it has no beginning and no end. So, this suits our model of learning (no beginning, no end, lifelong etc.), and helps to describe the chaos of everything. That is, we are all linked as parts of the rhizome (we learn from each other and co-construct our world), but those links are not orderly or predictable. You can’t interpret the way we branch off or split, because it’s not like a branching (?) root system, its more like …a rhizome!

    So, if things aren’t orderly or predictable, and nothing has a beginning or an end, how can we talk about anything? Mansy’s answer to this was to explore ‘entry points’ into her ideas/practice. The idea, I think, is that we can enter the rhizome at any place, and simply have to choose where, rather than trying to fathom the ‘most important’ points, because interpretation is not the point of the learning.

    Yep, I’m really hoping someone else explains this better!

    • #3 by @malynmawby on March 20, 2013 - 9:31 pm

      Actually, your explanation makes sense!
      I haven’t read any Deleuze and have promised Tomaz Lasic and Greg that I would. Problem is, it’s one of those that’s too heavy to digest on one’s own. That is, I’d rather read it and bounce off others as I read it. I’m well and truly a rhizomatic learner!

      Apologies too. It wasn’t Siemens. Rather, it was Dave Cormier (I get those 2 mixed up a lot!!!). Here’s his explanation of Rhizomatic Learning fit for a five-year-old…which makes the concept accessible, even for me. haha.

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