Dave Cormier asks many interesting questions in his challenge for Week 5 of Rhizomatic Learning. He asks:
This week take a critical look at the rhizomatic approach. Are we just replacing one authority structure with another? Trading tradition for community? What does this mean in our classroom? How can this get us into trouble? What are the ethical implications of creating a ‘community’ for learning? Community as conformity?
In general, communities tend to homogenize around shared beliefs and practice, agenda/goals, structure and authority. Communities may be open & tolerant by choice, and forever expansive by design.
Within communities, there are similar patterns as groups of people start self-organizing and gaining power. It is to be expected that (as the SNA by Aras shows) as we evolve, we start self-organizing in sub-community clusters or groups. Each cluster (centered around a hub) will feature its own level of density of connectedness and its own sub-community rules of engagement within and with the outside world. If the charter of the community includes outreach, the community will keep on expanding and so will the clusters as new people make themselves felt. Some communities will become extinct for lack of strong leadership or sharing, and some may flourish. That is just how it is with communities, I think.
Communities are very useful entities in many ways – they indoctrinate, foster and grow in specific ways and directions, and come to represent social, political and economic forces. Over time, they may become increasingly cohesive, sometimes acquiring cult status of their own. In that sense, communities feed on and edify more and more of their own shared beliefs and practices (“more of the same”). To the extent that they believe their beliefs and practices are universal, they also acquire invasive and exclusive dimensions, particularly as their elite start focusing on goals of mutual benefit.
Communities are also able to then interact with other communities in ways dictated by power relationships and mutual value. Their interactions with each other may not be very open because they represent differing shared beliefs and other characteristics. That is just the way they behave, I think.
I believe it is not possible to pose community as an alternative to traditional structures.
I do not mean this in an operational sense (learning is different in a community as compared to learning in a formal educational equivalent), but in a structural way. Of course, it is very reasonable to talk of it as an alternative in the operational sense – at least so long as we are unable to do the “counting” in pure, un-blended community environments. But structurally, the evidence is that it is “more of the same” and will promote “those who have, get” types of structures.
So Dave asks:
How do we make sure there is always room for new and contrarian voices? Do we need to create a them to have a we? How do we cultivate a community learning ecosystem so that it continues to grow outward rather than inward? What does that mean for learning?
There is a natural asymmetry in the terms “ensure”, “make room for”, new and contrarian”, “them and we”, and “outward and inward” symptomatic of the community itself. Knowingly or unknowingly, we have let that homogenizing force compel us to differentiate between these. In that sense, communities are invasive. Not a bad thing at all in a lot of cases, but just how a community structures and evolves over time, I think.
But communities aren’t the only form that needs to become operational. Nor are “courses” the only evented-ness in learning. My own sense is that networks will be far more important in supporting and driving learning processes of the future than communities (or “courses”).