Rhizo14 Week 3: Democratizing Uncertainty

Dave Cormier’s MOOC on P2PU, Rhizomatic Learning, in week 3 is focusing on the topic Embracing Uncertainty. He says:

At the heart of the rhizome is a very messy network, one where not all the dots connect to all the lines. No centre. Multiple paths. Where we have beliefs and facts that contradict each other. Where our decisions are founded on an ever shifting knowledge base. Our challenge this week… how do we make our learning experience reflect (and celebrate) this uncertainty?

Uncertainty exists in all forms of education and learning. It is not mostly celebrated. In fact, it is suppressed. Or attempted to be. In traditional education, it is systematically constrained by the dimensions of time, network boundaries (class/batch), regulatory requirements and pedagogical biases. It is even systematically constrained in other (non-traditional) environments, even informal ones at most times.

However, it underpins these environments in dramatic ways, so much so that it is a wonder that any intended outcomes are even met. As an example, even the understanding of what a degree program in any subject should contain (content, pedagogy, assessments) is not shared or common across the world. It is therefore uncertain, at least to me, what an MBA degree really means!

Let us talk instead of democratizing uncertainty. That implies thinking of uncertainty as by, for and of learning (and its stakeholders).

Uncertainty by learning is the adoption of certain uncertainties  by learners, teachers and administrators. It is their ability to practice those uncertainties.

Uncertainty for learning is the “framework” or the ecology for uncertainty to flourish and where the participants of the educational system are encouraged to embrace certain uncertainties.

Uncertainty of learning is the uncertainty that society owns and celebrates, and that is what change is all about anyways. This is the most important change that can happen to learning – when there is purpose to driving certain uncertainties through the system.

Not all certainties may be “good” or “appropriate”. What is good or appropriate may differ widely, but no uncertainty can be good if it does not result in the “overall” good (atleast directionally and democratically speaking). There could be more consensus on bad and undesired uncertainties – those that result in (directionally) negative consequences such as high unemployment or obstacles to (say) scientific development.

Some people would then argue that uncertainty should be harnessed in certain ways, and this could progressively lead us to the same traditional paradigm that exists today. We shall also need to “prove” in many ways, that more “good” uncertainty in the system will impact social outcomes positively. We may even need to “prove” that either this is an articulate and cogent alternative to the existing system or stands as an important option in a pluralized education system.

What may happen as well (as with the xMOOCs) that these positive uncertainties may be usurped, distorted and made to work within traditional environments in a manner that is ineffective and diluted (e.g. you want 21st century skills to be “built”, so why don’t you create a new subject called “collaboration” and assign it graded assessments and specialized new content & teaching). In fact, I think we need to see uncertainty as culture, as a way of being rather than a specialized skill or value.

5 thoughts on “Rhizo14 Week 3: Democratizing Uncertainty

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    1. Not sure I understand this. No place for things being the way they are makes the theory of uncertainty as an operational practice, a weakness. Humans are wired to “know.” Even things that are wrong can be made to fit and especially if they confer survival benefits. That makes certainties questionable and wipes out uncertainties altogether. Uncertainty is used all the time in arguments against global warming and Darwin so I think we need to be careful building anything from it.

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  1. I like the phrase “certain uncertainties” – very Runsfeldian. Your discussion made me think of knowledge radiating outward, or inward – systems are either closed or open – c or x. I’ll have to think about negative uncertainties …

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