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?