Serendipity from #Rhizo14


I spend a lot of my online time evaluating tools for use in my own professional and learning life.  #Rhizo14 activity has really kickstarted that little moped.  I wanted to share a few of the highlights that have grown out of that root.

One of the problems that any MOOC-type activity generates is a need to harness the workflow of tweets, Facebookery, WordPressitude, G+Communitarity, and more that is engendered by these little hashtags.

My primary tool for coralling all these little ‘doggies’  has been the ‘Pin Tab’ feature in Firefox and Chrome.  Unfortunately, both of those browsers take a huge memory hit if you have lots of tabs open, pinned or otherwise.  My solution has been to use another Firefox extension called “Too Many Tabs”.  What this extension does is to take the tab out of memory while at the same time keeping it available for use as a tab. And it does so by allowing you to store it in easy to access toolbars.  Genius.

How does this help with #rhizo14?  All of the webspaces I need to return to (FB page, G+ page, WP page, Twitter, Blogs, etc.) I keep in separate toolbars.  When you are ready to access them, then you can click on the tab and the link is re-engaged.  You can even pin them in their own toolbar if the site is one you continually return to.

Another spinoff of my work with #rhizo14 has been my re-discovery of the iPad app, Explain Everything.  I am trying to extend my face-to-face classroom communities by sharing with them inside of Google Plus Communities.  I had a snow day today and I wanted to engage learners even if at arm’s length.  So…I have been working on a set of very short annotated videos on the reading assignment for the week.  Here is one I created with Explain Everything:

In the process of creating this I found out some better workflows and some new features of the app that are frankly astonishing. You are now able to upload an audio file and then annotate it as you listen. Here is what I mean. This is an excerpt from “Othello”with my audio annotations over the top.

My point here is that extending into open learning spaces is a rhizomatic attitude that has pragmatic consequences.  It proves one of the axioms of my life–theory is practical. Now if I can get my learners to start creating these digital texts….

Without Deviation from the Known, No Progress Is Possible.

stepping off
I made the observations below responding with some Diigo annotations to Cathleen Nardi’s post “Down the Rabbit Hole”.  She notes that
To make changes in education, we must embrace uncertainty in our teaching, and we must help our students understand that it is ok not to have the right answer.  The quest —the leap into the unknown is the learning process.
Here is my response.
It is unnatural to leap into the total darkness of the unknown. In fact I think that by definition it is impossible. Instead I think we leap into the partly known. My analogy is the Kentucky pioneer Daniel Boone. Some might say that he worked his way into virgin, unknown territory. I would say yes and no. He did blaze trails into places no Euro-American had ever been, but the territory itself shared lots of known traits with where he had already been. For example, water flows downhill to larger streams. The sun rises in the east. And the thousand other ‘knowns’ that come from a lifetime of living close to ground. And, of course, he really did blaze the trails he made by walking. He emblazened trees with marks for others to follow. Now that must’ve been an ego trip and a half!
The other half of the analogy is that we too have general knowledge that we take with us into the knowmadic life and the rhizomatic wilderness of learning. We have theoretical knowledge. I would include the whole baggage of ed school in that. But we have to dump most of that when we move into the partly known territory of deep, rhizomatic knowmadicism. You need to travel light when you are blazing the trail. You need the practical stuff in your backpack.

All week and every week I will be bringing back news as I light out into the territories. I expect to get well and truly turned around on occasion, but I don’t plan on backtracking much except to send back reports. Boone wasn’t much good at this part, but Lewis and Clark were, but I daresay I call more on the Kentuckian than I do the Virginian. All I know is that every one who reads this could be  a real guide to the undiscovered country. This week and in this post Cathleen Nardi was my Sacagewea.  Amen.


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If anyone is interested here is a Diigo annotation of Cathleen’s entire post: .And if anyone wants a deep dive, minicourse in what Cathleen is writing about, I pulled out all the links she mentions and put them into the Diigo link as well in a standalone sticky note.

Hodie Quid Egisti? What Have Ye Done?–A Rhizomagic Week of ‘Blooming, Buzzing Confusion’

All week I have tried to apply rhizomatic ideas (or my version of them) in my university classroom.  The results feel sort of right. I think of this not only as a week of uncertainty in #rhizo14 but also as a time to apply these principles in the classroom.

1. Used principle of ‘enforced independence’ in first day of classes with summary assignment.  I assigned students the task of writing a one page summary of Steven Johnson’s NYT Magazine article, “Watching TV Makes You Smarter”.  I did not give any further instruction–summarize in one page.  Part of me wanted to use this as a diagnostic tool to figure out what my students’ default summaries might look like.  Several strategic students emailed me during the week to ask for further guidance.  I explained my ideas of enforced independence to them.  Silence.

2. Used cheating as a point of discussion in the name game.  I play lots of different name games in the first two weeks of class. The traditional one has you say your name to the entire class.  The next in line says their name and your name.  And then all the way around.  The last person has to say all the names.  That would be me.  I have lots of international students (Saudis in particular) who have lots of problems with this. They write down the names so they can remember when it comes to their turn.  When someone started reading from their list I stopped the presses and asked everyone if it was OK to game the name game in this way.  Lots of interesting discussion about the rules  and their intent and whether there should be fudge factors for those who speak English as a second language.  One student explained to everyone that she had had a traumatic brain injury caused in a horse fall.  She said that taking notes was a crucial short term memory aid.  I am pretty sure that I would not have had this revealing discussion without Dave’s provocation the first week of #rhizo14.

3. I created a G+ communities as a way to encourage and enforce independence,  just enough rope to trip over (I do hate the other image of enough rope to hang oneself).  I have what I am hoping will be self-sustaining Google Plus communities for my two online ‘Intro to Lit’ classes, my two advanced comp classes and my professional writing internship class.  I have a lot of faith in the wisdom of crowds.

I try to make these communities useful for the students.  I am pushing every day at the beginning of my face-to-face classes for students to use the space just as I use it–for their own purposes as a learner in the classroom.  If that means off-topic, then so be it.  We shall see, but already some learners are sharing their interests.  I am hoping that I can provide a mix of cool tools, modeling behavior, provocation, and ornery cussedness to the community.  I am pushing them to reciprocate.  Hmmm…enforced reciprocation?

4. In my F2F classes I gave each student a 3X5 card.  On one side I instructed them to outline their expectation(s) for that day.  On the other side I asked for their expectations for the course for the semester.  I wanted to know whether the idea of personal learning expectations could be crowdsourced.  Can they be sketched out?  Here is a link to the list of their short term and long term expectations that I collated from those 3X5 cards.  I showed this to them and it led to a discussion of the ideas of dependence, independence, and interdependence as well as Dave’s idea that “the community is the curriculum”.  Below is a screenshot that I placed on their G+ Community.


I am playing with the idea of ‘transplanting’  as enforced independence. How many of these ideas transplant well?  Perhaps the parable of the mustard seed is a lesson in rhizomatic learning.  Redundancy and fecundity are corollaries to rhizomatic learning? And I am just following the metaphor as it extends into the classroom.

4. My professional writing collaboration is a group of English majors (professional writing, creative writing,  comp and rhetoric, secondary language arts teachers) who are working on a collaborative blog, the English Majors’ Weblog.  This is to my mind the test of Dave’s idea that the community is the curriculum.  In our case we do have a charge from our department head to do some vague stuff, but it is up to us to decide what that might be.  Our community of six is in charge of where the rhizome will wander.  I hope it is as invasive as Johnson Grass and as useful as bamboo.


I agreed with one of my commenters (sorry, I can’t find it right now, I will look) that even the most benevolent classrooms are still enforcement-fed, but  I think that in those classrooms there is a profound distinction between an invitation and a permission.  Permission is action within bounds.  It is a closed game. Invitation is action without bound.  For me the infinite game that is afoot is one that originates within the one who is invited.  Enforced independence can be a hateful double bind.  It is up to us to find a way to reconcile that paradox.  This week was my first ‘go’ at that knot.