Month: February 2014

#rhizo14 collaborative autoethnography


I had started the year intent on pursuing personal and professional development. I joined #rhizo14 after some lurking adventures, and once I’d read some thought-provoking stuff in the blogosphere, I was totally compelled to ‘take whatever those people were taking’, for it really sounded like some hard-core deep learning/intellectual/creative experiences were unfolding…

I joined the course half-way through (week 4) and from there on I made an effort to participate as much as possible within my 40-hour-week job as EFL teacher/course supervisor and personal life (I have a 3-year-old). I was added to the FB group as soon as I made up my mind to join the course (on P2PU), and I was warmly welcomed right away. I became more active on Twitter – #rhizo14 towards the end of the course (on week 5-6, I’d say). I read a lot more blog posts and social media exchanges than I was able to comment on, but I did make a point of commenting on those which spoke to me more intimately. I was happy to see some rhizoers were exploring their artistic veins, and that’s something that emerged quite strongly in me during the course.

I felt pretty much a part of the rhizo14 community. It was quite clear to me from the start that I was shoulder to shoulder with people who were mostly active in the field of Education and who had all types of academic and professional backgrounds, not to mention the diverse cultural backgrounds, which made the experience all the more enticing and rich worthwhile for me. I didn’t feel excluded. I did feel that I was naturally drawn closer to specific individuals and ideas, and I took on the role of learner. I didn’t care that I was around people who were clearly accomplished, with PhDs and stuff; all I cared for was that I felt absolutely privileged to be getting to connect with such brilliant people.

My #rhizo14 experience was visceral, in that it enabled me to explore deep levels of creativity and intellectual skills which might have been unknown to me, or at least in the depth and density I experienced in #rhizo14. That is absolutely precious to me. That is my perception of success. I am changed by the #rhizo14 learning experience. I made connections that I look to nurture from here on end. I’m lucky to have you in my audience and to be in your audience, as well. It has all been worth it. Thank you, rhizoers.


“Tudo vale a pena quando a alma não é pequena.”  Fernando Pessoa

(“All is worthwhile when the soul is not small.”)

Planned, yet unrehearsed obsolescence #rhizo14



sensory experience: wanna try? Listen to this while reading

I see rhizomes everywhere

Last friday I conducted a routine test validation session with a group of twenty teachers. Although the ultimate purpose of meetings such as this one is to calibrate and make adjustments to a specific assessment instrument, it is also a precious opportunity to tap into the collective knowledge and experiences that those teachers are having in their piloting experiences using recently adopted course books. This was the second time I tried out  a specific set of group dynamics in which  small clusters of 4 to 5 people engage with the instrument being assessed and with each other. Once those nodes were all set, we were off. As we progressed in the assessment of the instrument, relevant connections began to sprang up in conversation about pertinent classroom situations, activities, approaches to a given subject/skill, and as we seized these opportunitites to ask questions, discuss issues, share difficulties, our co-constructed space seemed to be teeming with dense connection. Never before had I found myself answering so many questions with… questions… The silences that followed some of those, along with the intensity of their engagement with the instrument and each other, first within their smaller, more intimate networks, and then with the larger network, the community of teachers. Ideas abound in a free flow, it was all happening. And all I had been doing was answering questions with more questions.



On Power & Force

As a supervisor I am regarded as a leader, and with leadership comes responsibility and power. Which reminds me of the considerations Keith Hammon made in our last (and brilliant) #rhizo14 unhangout regarding the power play in human relations. 

“I don’t know a way to engage with other people without engaging in power. I do distinguish between power and force. (…) what I mean force is… I have a small gravitational pull which will, in your presence, act upon you however slightly. Power is different in that it seems to imply some sort of intention, or some sort of decision on the part of the person exercising it. The power issue is as problematic for me as it appears to be for Clarissa, but I don’t know how to do away with it (…) and my only take is to recognize that everyone has power.”

I really might have been experimenting with the <power> <force> interface that day with my fellow teachers. My force being perceived in the mediation of interactions among the networks and, in specific moments, the exertion of power might have been more concrete when a decision had to me made, for example in my decision of reallocating a specific amount of points from one section to the other, but decisions which were, nonetheless, informed by the force of the individuals who were there, sharing that space with me, sometimes kicking the ball to a secret corner, one which had never been openly spoken of/reflected upon. Experts on tap.

Unrehearsed obsolescence

So many were the moments during that gathering in which my role as supervisor faded in the background. I answered questions with other questions also because I didn’t have the answers, and I came clean about it. (I’ll remix Dave’s words in our unhangout now.) > So much a part of performing the role of supervisor/teacher properly is to be honest and emotional about what you’re doing. It really might be that the way you make it work is by coming clean about your own vulnerabilities, candidly admitting your own uncertainties. Could that be the untold secret about leveraging the power play to create a space of equality?

And since I feel like exercising with my newly acquired literacy of remix, I’ll mash in some of Keith’s thoughts on obsolescence. I might be looking to make my supervisor/teacher role obsolete, which doesn’t mean that I want to make me obsolete. I don’t want to be above, and nor do I want to be left behind. I wanna be in equal footing with others, my students and my teachers. How else could I achieve that if not by becoming a co-learner and a co-constructor? As Keith so clearly put it

“I appreciate the fact that you (Dave) were able to share power (in #rhizo14), and maybe that’s another strategy for dealing with power. You can’t do away with power, but you can share it. And if you share it intelligently and sympathetically, maybe you’ve done the best you can do in handling power.”

What does it mean to ‘end’ an experience in rhizomatic learning?

I confessed to my fellow rhizoers that the rhizo journey has been, for me, a journey of deconstruction. In so many ways the rizhome has been creeping up all over me. In so many ways I have been unable to find the words that encapsulate bits of that experience. Little did I know at the time I had you locked on my radar that I had been about to embark in the deepest, densest, most significant learning experience I have ever had to this day. The rhizome did find an awful lot of fertile ground in me, at this time of my life – this, and not before, not after, not even by a day.

This is not a rhizo farewell post, even though I have been awkwardly postponing it in an attempt to un-end, suspend.

Having said that, I also feel the urge of declaring my absolute admiration and gratefulness to all of you rhizoers out there who have been pouring out your hearts, and sharing the works of your brilliant minds. What a privilege it has been.

Let us rhizo on together. > #rhizo15



rhizoidimagery> all of the photos are of my street (1st photo) and my home (2nd and 3rd) .. you’re welcome

On Community as Curriculum & Absolute beginners #rhizo14


Just as week 5 draws to a close, I finally found the time to do some catching up on some ‘fiery’ blog posts, among which are Jenny Mackness’s and Frances Bell’s, and kinda grasped Jaap’s jokingly (or not) warning me about joining #Rhizo14 over half-way through as I did. Apparently, things got a bit messy in the scholar/ignoramus interplay, and funnily (or happy-go-luckily) enough, I myself made a comment on FB in which I expressed my astonishment at the degree of erudition I’d been encountering in the course. I had no idea at the time I made the comment that all that frisson had been developing, although I began to grow suspicious that there was something in between the lines of the hush-hush tone of the replies to my ‘erudite’ comment. “Down with the power structures!” was my humorous reply to the thread. I hadn’t yet lost my innocence at that time. I have now…

Little did I know that, at the moment of my verbal fist, I’d already been tapping into an underlying issue regarding the very nature of Moocs – that which in the context of TEFL we refer to as a mixed-abilities/mixed-levels groups. How does one go about teaching any curriculum to a group of absolute beginners, plus a couple of lower-int, upper-int, and a handful of near-native speakers (a CEFR letter soup, literally)? That, to me, seems to bear some resemblance to what I’ve been experiencing with you guys, among whom I’ve found myself to feel like an upper-int student (at best!) Taking this course with such a richly varied collection of individuals is an absolute privilege, and one hell of a ride, I tell you. I have been exposed to more hard-core theory in this course than I ever was, say, taking Anthropological Theory 2 back as an undergrad. Not that I was able to decode a lot of it, but still, as much as I, too, feel a bit ‘cold’ when theorizing ensues, I also appreciate the fact that these guys are exercising their vast academic knowledge and I’m getting to be an avid listener, sometimes even an interlocutor in my own terms, of course. I deviate a bit… but back to the point I am trying to make here, it takes one extremely self-confident, experienced and flexible individual to fulfill the role of the ‘teacher’ in a group of this nature.

Again in the universe of TEFL, having a ‘misplaced’ student in a group may generate an array of issues, one of them being that an obvious approach from the part of the teacher will need to involve catering to that specific learner’s needs, customizing the input and trying out different approaches to see which one will engage that learner and hopefully bring about some learning. How would that play out in a massive open online course, in which “absolute beginners” find themselves shoulder to shoulder with “educated native speakers”? Easy. Instill a sense of community among them. Get them to engage with each other, disagree with each other, share seemingly unrelated content with each other, and you just might end up having some sort of assemblage of individuals that share a sense of belonging, an intuition that there are no dumb questions, that the scholar may learn a thing or two from the absolute beginner, that insights may spring up from such conversations, and breakthroughs might be just waiting to happen to some of us. What a wonderful aura of potential!

A lot has been said about the meanings of ‘community’ and ‘network’ this week. My impression is that the word ‘community’ implies affective bonds that commonly ensue among people who occupy neighboring/common spaces. ‘Network’ has a more dynamic feel to it, in that it pressuposes connections with a purpose in mind. Having said that, I am left wondering whether the attempt at defining these concepts is at all helpful (or even useful) to an understanding of community as curriculum. One thing is certain, a communal feeling of unity is fertile ground for relationships, which could possibly result in strong connections. People (as opposed to machines) are socially-oriented. It is in their nature to look for supportive environments, for it is in those environments that they feel comfortable enough to be. Be whoever they are, whoever they want to become, modified and improved by the connections made with others.

The journey of Rhizo14 has made me think deeply and intensely about the meanders of the learning process. It has also made me challenge the established system in which education has been commodified, primed and packaged as something unattainable by the masses. Coming from a country in which 85% of its population spend their free time watching television, such issues speak closely to me, both as an educator and a citizen. I don’t wish to be naive to the point of believing that there are no power plays in the network society. However, I find it rather positive that more and more educators, scholars and absolute beginners alike, are using the available connections to think, to converse, to theorize, and hopefully begin spinning the wheel of change.

Thank you to all scholars and absolute beginners that have enticed me to learn through cheating (from you all), to enforce my own independence (and go looking around for connections and sources so as to acquire new literacies), and to question the status-quo of print media (which made me linger towards the tribal campfire). It’s all worth it. It’s co-constructed learning, and what’s more communal than that?


Absolute beginner