Mapping Lines of Flight


The rhizome cannot be followed. It cannot be copied or traced or reproduced. There is no grammar of rhizomatic learning. 

I came upon the idea of rhizomatic learning when I was trying to understand what was happening  in the first year of developing an alternative learning environment for 10 high school students with a broad range of academic abilities. The question posed to them was, “What do you want to learn?” I had no idea what I was doing and I tried to keep it that way. Let me explain.

If I was to create an alternative learning environment, then it had to truly be an alternative to traditional notions of learning in school. Considering I had taught for 20 years, I had to do a brain reset. Not easy. The focus would be, well, learning. That’s it.  I stuck with a few ground rules:

1. I cannot do here what is being done in regular classrooms.

2. Learners must be given the freedom to experiment and fail while trying.

3. We’ll figure out how to assess the learning after it has happened.

The theory was mapped after the action. The idea of the rhizome as a theory? of learning was useful in discussing and sharing the kind of learning that occurred. Here I agree with Bonnie Stewart‘s previous writing that the rhizome idea of learning is a lens to view learning:

“Rhizomatic learning lenses are…intended to make you see differently.”

Terry Elliot asks why the new language for learning. Why can’t “learning” just be “learning?” Because the connotation of  learning created by institutions (What did you learn today?) is about reproducing a body of knowledge created by someone else. I did not set out to create a “program” that could be reproduced. I did set out to do learning differently and needed language to talk about what the students and I experienced. The meaning came through the doing.

We have this tendency to organize and categorize and label and to not want to be confounded. How boring. I want to be forced to be a participator in constructing meaning by having to wrestle with ideas, to hack off some and to let others grow. We are pattern-making meaning-makers. Grilled Cheese

How do you assess this mess?
Assessing learning, when the community is the curriculum is problematic as the learning is part of the community and not just the individual. Learning is the community. We certify certain kinds of learning, placing a value on it so that it can be redeemed for work. Will MOOC learners and unschoolers and uncollegers gain equal community value for their learning?

I joined this course to make connections, to add nodes to my network of knowledge. I want to be part of others’ networks, hence I blog and flog my blogging seeking connecting responses.

P.S. I’m going to hack Cormier’s and Taylor’s hacked CormierHack learner contracts for my own context. I’ll share when I am done and am interested if others are doing or have done anything similar.


12 thoughts on “Mapping Lines of Flight

  1. jollyroger

    Hey Barry! I guess the tension that we find in relation to assessment, a tension which comes up when we are dealing with institutionalized settings and alternative models inside those settings, is not so problematic outside institutionalized learning. For an unschooler, the reward is in the result of the endeavour of obtaining knowledge (not restricted to theoretical knowledge). Self-assessment is much more straightforward, and I would think it is the only relevant answer to your question “How to assess this mess?”. I don’t really care about how my results are assessed by anyone else in my learning forays. What matters is what I personally got from them, not what someone says I seem to have got. Now for a teacher, it is important to assess the progress of pupils – but again, outside institutionalized settings, this is done through personal interaction. Here I’m thinking about the examples of bodily skills – like dancing, martial arts, etc. – or playing musical instruments, or crafts, etc., or tech skills. But more theoretical knowledge also shows up through personal interacticon – conversation & communication. I don’t know if I’m going off the mark here.

    1. barrydyck Post author

      You are right on the mark. One student in my first year of alternative learning spent 99% of his time outside the school. He was very “unschooled,” living part of the winter in a small shack by a lake, reading about philosophy and permaculture and anything else he was interested in. Very rhizo. The notion of an institution measuring his knowledge and skills was meaningless to him (and me). The social construction of “educated” requires a high school diploma as a sign of achievement regardless of the actual usefulness of it.

  2. Jenny Mackness

    Hi Barry – my immediate thought was that it is because of your 20 years prior experience that you have been able to do this. In Dave’s video (this week I think) he has said (this is how I interpreted it) that teachers have to be sufficiently confident in what they are talking about to be able to take on a rhizomatic approach. This fits with my experience of teacher training – where to begin with all that the trainees can think of is themselves and their own teaching performance. As they become more confident they begin to see that teaching is about learners not about them and their teaching.

    1. barrydyck Post author

      It’s confidence and a way that one views the world. If one sees “reality” as a social construction (our Manitoba curriculum is constructivist in design), then I would expect (at least a strong hope) that teachers would try to construct knowledge with their students. Perhaps it would be different if the modeling and learning were to happen in teacher training.

  3. Frances Bell

    “The theory was mapped after the action”

    I keep thinking about that. You have twenty years of experience, and appear to be thoughtful and reflective, evidenced by the ground rules you had and the lovely story you have told. I imagine a series of cycles over those twenty years of doing, reflecting, learning, doing….. So now I am really curious to know what difference the theory is making, will make.

    What does the mapping look like? And how does it link to the growing rhizome?

    What is so exciting about this class is that the focus is learning, and the learners are choosing what to learn.

    1. barrydyck Post author

      The mapping took place formally in my thesis. I came upon the ideas of rhizomatic learning (among others) during my experiences with the students, but it was in trying to write about what happened that my various failed attempts to explain it left me with using a rhizomatic lens as the one thing that made the most sense to describe it. Working with the uncertainties of a rhizome of learning that has no beginning and no end, and essentially defies definition, it was very hard to write about in a linear thesis. It is equally hard to “structure” an uncertain rhizome within the confines and restraints of curricula and grades–those @#!$ trees.

      1. Frances Bell

        I am working on a blog post at present, trying to make some sense of breaking free from the constraints that you describe (at least in our minds) but I know all too well the frustrations of institutional frames. I was teaching (fortunately in a team) where the ratio of lectures to small group sessions was fixed and the lectures could be 120-250 students, and an examination was mandated for 50% of the assessment. The gap between understanding and change can be painful, but where the understanding is rich, I think it helps one to live with the limits of possible change.
        It’s quite a challenge for us on this MOOC to deal with the tension between the trees of institutions, national policy, etc. and the rhizome that we want to foster in the classroom.

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  5. Keith Hamon

    Barry, thanks for the practical differentiation between tracing and mapping. It’s at the heart of what I understand Deleuze and Guattari to be talking about—as much about being in the world as it is about learning.

    In that sense, then, I think I will take issue with my colleagues Jenny and Frances and say that mapping (rhizomatic learning) is for kids, not for experts. From my experience, unless they’ve been traumatized, kids will engage most any sandbox and will welcome most anyone else in the sandbox so long as they play nice and share. They will be your immediate best friend without worrying about your name—certainly not about your degree. They will figure out a way to play even if they don’t understand your language. I’m an expert educator, and I don’t know how to be that rhizomatic. I wish I did.

    1. Barry Dyck Post author

      Keith, I’ve very much enjoyed your rhizomatic explorations on your blog. This digital sandbox is a great place for us learners (expert educators or not) to mutter our understandings, and strike up some deep and engaging conversations as well.


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