Posted by: Brynna Kaulback | January 17, 2014

Demon Trees and Cheating Weapons

I didn’t make a New Year’s Resolution for 2014, but, sometime in late 2013 I resolved, once again, to put aside dichotomized thinking. I believe it had been on my mind for awhile, but I most clearly articulated it in the Community Inquiry event on CP2 (a community of practice) when I stated to the group that my hope was to “Avoid demonizing! Avoid dichotomizing!”

So one when Dave Cormier suggests that I think about rhizomatic learning in opposition to the “hierarchical, linear image of the tree” (Cormier, 2014), I want to put it in the context of it is one way of learning, but that hierarchical, tree-like learning is not evil. In Western society, we have relied on it probably too heavily, but it is not all that is bad in the world. I love patterns; I love finding patterns when I am learning. It is an important part of the connections that I make in learning. The “decentralized, unpredictable” rhizomatic learning is the part of learning where I explore and uncover. It is the divergent part of learning. But I also value the part of learning where – after being surprised by what I have uncovered, I connect it to other things I have been thinking about and sort it into some kind of schema. Or where I discuss with my fellow learners and tweak or even upset my thinking about the discovery and come to some agreement about it. That is the convergent part of learning.
I want to be clear also, that I don’t believe that dichotomizing is always the wrong way to approach things. Understanding concepts in relation to other concepts is an important part of how we understand the world. We create “ideal types” so that we can characterize what we see and compare it to other ideas that are in some proximity. I only want to avoid the dichotomizing to the extent that I remember that in the world, things are messy and don’t fit into one of the other of those types. I don’t want to demonize dichotomizing!

Secondly, Dave has suggested that we use the concept of cheating as a way to uncover and “take apart the structures that [we] work in.” In reading over several of the posts from others in this course, I was happy to find comments from Jenny Mackness and by Chadi Aljundi on the differentiating cheating from collaboration or plagiarism from citing. To me, these are important distinctions. Dave’s question did make me stop and appreciate, though, how much my own thoughts are a result of reading a blog or a conversation with a colleague. The line is often blurry between repurposing and restating. And how often I use the phrase, “Can I borrow that example?” of “To borrow an idea from a noted scholar”. I think I use borrow as a word with fewer negative connotations than steal.

I think the point Dave was getting at, though, is that knowledge is not an object that one can appropriate. Learning is about connecting, separating, agreeing, disagreeing, and sorting and settling – for the moment at least. I think I cheat when I don’t do something with the ideas of others, when I make them my own without dwelling with them for awhile and putting my own sense-making into the mix. But that is about cheating myself as much as cheating anyone else.



  1. Brenda,
    We know from brain research and cognitive research that we situate learning first on learning we already know or have experienced. The challenge, as you point out, is to take that further than just situating it. How does it spark new thinking? What is its relationship to what we already know? I think it is often a challenge to take it to the next step – not just situating it but growing and nurturing new knowledge to new thoughts and concepts. Challenging ourselves. I sometimes think I am too comfortable just situating new learning to existing learning and not stretching myself to create new knowledge and learning with others. We are so used to learning silos! How do we transition to learning bubbles?

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