Exploring a Rhizomic Model for the Design and Dissemination of Professional Development in Online Teaching

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A rhizome is a horizontal system of roots that grows underground, comprising a series of nodes and connecting shoots, that continues to expand and form new connections as it grows. The Internet, with its increasing number of servers and connections could be considered as an ever- expanding system that enables new types of rhizome-like connections between people, knowledge and communities to occur. These connections can often seem random, but those involved usually have an underlying, if not immediately obvious common interest or purpose. Web 2.0 tools and digital networks are becoming increasingly ubiquitous in many aspects of contemporary society, and are in many ways similar to the nodes of a rhizome - a place where connections may form. Yet understanding how to maximise the potential of being able to connect with a diverse range of individuals, professional entities and institutions via these mediums can be difficult. What is the purpose of such connectivity, and how can the design and implementation of professional development resources utilise the concept of a rhizome as an effective means to maximise the constructivist potential offered by the digital age? The Learning to Teach Online project http://bit.ly/d18ac5 is a free Open Educational Resource (OER), designed to offer educators proven advice from a wide range of colleagues in different institutions and disciplines, about the pedagogies, challenges and rewards of online teaching. Following its release in 2010 by COFA Online at The University of New South Wales, the spread of the resources around the world via Twitter, Facebook, blogs, institutional links and word of mouth far exceeded initial expectations. While the use of social media to promote the project was always considered from the outset, the extent of the spread within K-12, vocational, higher education and private consultancies, and the subsequent penetration of the resources into existing educational programs was not expected. In this respect, the dissemination of the Learning to Teach Online project mirrored the behaviour of a rhizome, being widely spread to seemingly disparate educational communities globally, in a manner that was neither precisely controlled nor predictable. This paper is a snapshot of ongoing research within the author’s doctoral thesis, into the behaviour and significance of the ever-growing digital rhizome surrounding Learning to Teach Online. It begins to unravel how the design of the resource enabled social media to be used for rapid dissemination on a global scale. The paper also explores how, as a result of some members of existing academic communities connecting with the project’s digital rhizome, the resources were able to benefit other teachers not familiar with online teaching or web 2.0 technologies. In these cases, the penetration of the rhizome into many different types of existing academic communities has enabled the transmission and acceptance of new ideas that have begun to positively effect perception and adoption of online teaching practices amongst their members.
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McIntyre, Simon
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