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DAY 2: Rhizomatic Learning

January 13, 2014

lisa hammershaimb

Hello Rhizomatic Learning Community. My name is Lisa. I am a graphic designer and design educator. I am unfamiliar with rhizomatic learning but I am familiar with rhizomes as a food group. Most recently I fell in love with ginger, juiced with pears, cranberries, and persimmon. Turns out, ginger burns just enough to heighten the sweetness of the other flavors. Totally addicting.

I know the rhizome analogy came about because of the nodes, etc. but I can’t help wonder if the analogy could also embrace the ways so many rhizomes seem to look all knobby and foreboding on the outside but then once you cut them open–get involved—they release potent flavor and nourishment beyond so many other plants. It’s perhaps a stretch (indeed anything can be constructed with enough time+whiskey) but rhizomes seem an apt metaphor for community. Community that transforms is made of crazy knobby awkward people/situations and yet in time it turns out to be far more potent than ever imagined.

This past weekend I had a cocktail party to celebrate my impending 32 birthday. The party guest list was a Venn Diagram of relationships and I was the one peg that held it all together. My thought was to just mix everyone together and see what happened. Very rhizomatic of me, eh? And…it was an amazing night of love, community, and prosecco.

As I was going to sleep I sent myself an email with the following text:
New Class Format: Cocktail Party Curriculum

  • Classrooms as cocktail parties
  • Knowledge as Food
  • Community as Teacher

…humanity affirmed. Everyone at the table together. Hosted by but not overly hierarchical, welcomed, celebrated…with open minds and open hands.

I love the idea of learning as an organic structure, guided with a gentle hand, where people connect together and learn not through memorized facts but in the full narrative structure of life. The things I learn from those close to me stick with me not because they’re super profound but because they’re situated in the relationships that I have with the people who told them to me.

It’s an interesting twist on the traditional learning structure and I wonder about how I can take these ideas and let them bleed into my everyday job of teaching undergraduate graphic design. The program I teach in is entirely online, heavily monitored for accreditation purposes, and filled with students who are high-risk in almost every possible definition of the word.

Could something like this even work in my daily context? How would it need to be scaled and how would the students learn to be empowered to speak out rather than only look to the authority figure to parcel out knowledge? My students seem very desperate for the “right” answer over the process. If rhizomatic learning is about taking the things that we all understand and find a new way to talk about them, how can you begin to build this new vocabulary from the ground up?

So…I’m here curious and ready to probe questions, hear stories, send out a few tentative new nods, and see just what might happen.

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