Tag Archives: rhizo15

Quiet design. 12 simple design principles.

In my purse, stashed in behind two photos of my children, is a scrap of paper with the only design principles that have ever made sense to me. Twelve simple principles as an antithesis, to a sea of educational and instructional design frameworks, some of which need maddening interrogation to explain or understand. Twelve simple principles that seem to work, whatever I throw at them.

They are understandable, no matter what your experience in life.

You can use them to approach anything. You can navigate them as a simple list, or delve deep into thick well-thumbed books and frequently cited journal articles.  There is probably even a waiting  list in your local public library for copies of these books.

They are design principles that you can intellectualise or philosophise as you please.

They can be the cleverest thinking tool and yet can also spawn you a robust do list.

You can skim the surface of them, and build immediately. Or, you can approach them as theory and dwell on them.

Flexible. Holistic. Adaptable. Sustainable. Usable. Accessible.

They have become my personal and professional principles – they seem to fit life and learning. Not perfectly, no, nothing is ever a perfect fit. But enough.

As thought principles, they were co-conceived, by two very different minds, with two vastly different personalities, who were not the wizened sages we sometimes expect such thinking to emerge from. They were relatively young, in their early 20s, in a young country, which is generally not seen as one of the historic intellectual powerhouses of the world.

Shared slowly and informally through community, these principles are still shared primarily on the energy of individual enthusiasm,  now right across the world.  They also can be navigated more formally in books, textbooks, and formal courses, as theory and practice, and alone or guided by various leaders bringing their own personalities into our explorations of the principles.  This continual cycle shares the fundamental ideas based on that thinking of those original co-creators. Sometimes these approaches are at odds with each other, but this is part of adaptability, growing almost in the underground – surviving and thriving in constant change and chaos, for new and perhaps, unexpected audiences.

So, ahem, yes, ok….it’s permaculture.

Emerging from the 1970s, and Australia, these principles are still sometimes viewed as a bit of a sub-culture, mostly for those seeking an alternative to modern life, but if you never look further because this doesn’t appeal to you, I think you are missing an opportunity to be surprised.  Despite the fact that permaculture “emerged from within academia  and suffers only from a perception of lack of intellectual rigour, and the populist image..”. (*), these principles are still mostly pigeon-holed as ecology or organic gardening.

If you have only seen the popular visible face of permaculture, and you think that digging soil and planting veggies is not your thing, please,  just urge and nudge that thread of thinking aside, the bit that says…outside of my sphere…not in my domain…not my scene… because that is just one side, the practical side of permaculture.

Have you delved much into its rich and fertile theory?

There is SO much beneath the surface, so very rhizomatic. These are not merely principles for growing vegetables.

Unfurl your mind, to the very frontiers of your thinking:

As a holographic thinker – being open to the idea that anything one observes anywhere is likely to have parallel expressions everywhere – I am led to go beyond the usual boundaries that are put around permaculture….I encourage you to similarly try applying these Permaculture Principles to any area that might benefit from such holistic design theory and practice. Areas that immediately come to mind include human settlements and business enterprises, political and economic systems, and the health field, child rearing and learning environments.

Professor Stuart B. Hill, Foundation Chair of Social Ecology, University of Western Sydney, NSW Australia in Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability

The 12 design principles

Try using the 12 design principles of permaculture. Don’t worry about reading the “official” definitions, yet., or dwelling on each individually. Shape them to your needs.

Just try them as a thinking tool, when you are thinking about something that ignites your mind and soul.  Did they work for you?

Permaculture Design Principles

  1. Observe and interact.

  2. Catch and store energy.

  3. Obtain a yield

  4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback.

  5. Use and value renewable resources

  6. Produce no waste

  7. Design from patterns to detail.

  8. Integrate rather than segregate

  9. Use small and slow solutions.

  10. Use and value diversity.

  11. Use edges and value the marginals.

  12. Creatively use and respond to change.


(*) Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability by David Holmgren.

Co-founders of Permaculture: 

Rewilding the rhizome

My small, slow contribution for the final week of #rhizo15 is an invitation to none, one, and many, laid in a public library copy of A Thousand Plateaus by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, within the Introduction: Rhizome within pages.

 Written on a treasured last piece of writing paper I bought in India in 2001 and now released into the wilderness of the public library. Entanglement. I hope.      

The Fence Sitting Preservation Society

Sitting on the fence – Michael Leunig Source: http://www.writeawaywithme.com Beth Gregan

Our education system seems to loves nothing more than the hearty debate. Our ability to express our learned opinion on a two-sided argument crops up time and time again in formal assessment.

Opinion and our ability to communicate it succinctly, gains us power within a community. In education, perhaps it is supposed to demonstrate that we have grasped the domain.

We argue, and we polarise. North and South. East and West. We love our poles.

We cement our minds. Take a stand. Build our foundations.

Backtracking, communicating that you have changed your mind is sometimes respected, but most often ridiculed as a sign of absolute weakness.

Neutrality can be seen as disengagement, at worse total apathy, lack of commitment, even fear. Hesitate, and you lose credibility.

Sometimes, if a community is lucky, there might be some sort of mediating cluster in the grey zone. The peace keepers., the negotiators, the counsellors, the diffusers., the shape-shifters.

They smooth the borders of opinion, create the commons.

They shake their heads and conclude with “I don’t know” and mean it.

Could part of a rhizomatic approach to learning, be to reimagine:  the open mind.

Should we be constantly running towards the ideas that infuriate us, that tangle us up, that make us want to throw books into the fire? To run to these, do we need to stop asking about opinion and critical thinking, and looking for ways of asking questions that seek only to cross-pollinate, not to conclude? How can we fight the urge to categorisation and labelling and make ultimate decisions, that only fence us into our neat fields of our making? Can we forever be questing?

How else can we rewild our thinking, if not by running to the wild beasts of thought that cause us fear of unknowing?

If we could smash and remix every discipline we know up against each other, mountains would form, and in those new heights and valleys, might we discover something so far untold?

The truth is, I don’t know. I just don’t know.


So this week when Dave asks:

I feel defensive and protective about community. I just don’t understand how community can possibly invade. It’s like asking someone to go to the moon and map out the dark side.secret garden gate

Community only tries give us what we need. It is a reflection of our own commune with others. Our commune. Our commun(e)ication. . There is no one community. We can’t really even measure our community.

It doesn’t exist if you don’t. It is not outside of you, separate from you, it is you. It will take the energy that you emit, conduct that through people, and like all energy in our universe, will return back at you at some point. If you give a little, you will get a little in return.

If you name community learning an invasive species, it will necessarily invade. If you treat a rhizome like a weed, it will be even more weedish in response to your attempts to quell its nature.

How you commune with learning, your subjective choices in that conversation, makes learning more or less rhizomatic than any design framework or model.

I turn again to Martin Shaw, mythologist/storyteller (who was in my head for content as a myth) in which he introduces an extract from his book, (A Branch from the Lightning Tree) with this conversation about community:

“At least a third of the notion of community should live entirely in the imagination and shouldn’t continuously be wrestled into the literal.”

Will you share something that you have learned out into the #rhizowild?

Sharing and discussion of ideas online is grand, but sometimes it misses an opportunity for something beyond – to expand the conversation into the equally rich community that we may never interact with online.

Many of us may be fortunate enough to already have existing networks where sharing ideas about learning naturally sits.

But think beyond that. Not just to your family and friends, acquaintances…think wilder.

To the people you haven’t met yet, and who you may never meet. Those that swirl around your day to day life, as you walk through markets, queue in post offices, access services, wait in bus stop, drink tea in cafes, or sip beer in pubs. Community.

The #rhizowild.

Look around. Look out and beyond the shores of your rhizomatic reach.

Wilder horizons (Kangaroo Island, South Australia)
From wilder horizons, (Kangaroo Island, South Australia) Photo: Angela Brown

These are the wildest edges of your network, beyond even the fields, beyond the neat hedgerows. Sending questions and ideas out into these wild spots, sparking conversations between people who may never usually talk together…this is where change swells and grows.

So, how do you gently spark new conversations in real life, amongst strangers? Prompt conversations about learning that you will never get to hear?  How can we send out roots underground to get more people thinking differently, and different people thinking differently,  about how we learn and teach?

One idea I quite like, is to explore some low-tech sharing:

  • scrawling a quote or a drawing about rhizomatic learning on a napkin and leaving it on the table in your favourite cafe
  • writing a message in sand on the beach
  • making a bookmark, maybe, hand-drawn and including something that resonated for you from #rhizo14 and slipping it into some educational theory textbooks in your local academic or public library
  • print something you have already shared online and leave it in a doctors’ waiting room or community centre on a magazine table


Leave a trace, a trail, an invitation to join the conversation.

I don’t mean advertising, spamming, leaflet drops or neon signs on billboards or anything er, illegal. Nor should we do this in the name of Dave Cormier  – that wouldn’t be fair to Dave I don’t think.   To be rhizomatic it should be personal, slow, secret, gentle, small, underground  – rhizomatic. Just finding a way to share something with a few strangers, something from #rhizo15 that you think is worth sending out into the wild.

Low-tech is only one approach,  but I like it because not everyone has access to technology.  I also meet people who say they don’t like the thought of being online.. Sometimes these are incredible people with good messages who deliberately shun that connection.  This is a free choice of course, everyone should be able to choose to not share online. But if they have an agenda that they seek support for, and want and need diverse ideas and resources, sometimes I like to mention another perspective:

For some people, online communication is not a choice, it is an enabler. Think about those with special needs, the blind or visually impaired, the physically challenged, those without freedom or choice to access society,  those for whom adaptive technologies and the internet are a powerful life changing resource- a powerful resource of knowledge, new ideas and community.   There are so many reasons that accessing community in-person is difficult for many people. In some way, if you do have a choice to not be online, it is also privilege, and a choice that means many will never have a chance to share in your stories.

So, I like to keep this in mind –  that the connection between offline and online community should perhaps be part of every learning experience, to make that experience meaningful. An effort to connect both spheres should somehow happen, . Even if it seems small, negligible.

Will you share beyond #rhizo15, into the #rhizowild?


Entanglement in online communities

(This is undergoing a lot of editing.)

This week for rhizo15 thoughts were steered to the role of Dave in our cosmos of rhizomatic learning – questioning whether Dave at “the helm” is surplus to requirements if the community is the curriculum.

 Patterns everywhere

If you start looking around, you might find yourself repeatedly drawn to the same patterns.

My favourite vintage brooch
My favourite vintage brooch


my favourite flower
my favourite flower

The rhizomatic learning community is distributed across multiple online platforms, and some of the visual analysis of communication suggests that there are multiple nodes on, off and beyond these platforms.

The data visualisation of #rhizo15 is fascinating (“My God Dave, it’s full of stars!”) as Daniel Lynds daily #rhizo15 dataviz shows:


So, #rhizo15 is a complex network.  I began to think about the connection between measurement and having a “Dave”. What role does a “Dave” have in the space and time of #rhizo15, #rhizo14 past and future #rhizo?? All have never really had a neat beginning or an end. Dave, as the instigator of questions, is absolutely part of these nodes – all of them – even if he’s not. A paradox. He is part of every node, whether or not he interacts now, in future, or in the past.

Yet Dave is not creating the nodes, leading the nodes, moderating or managing them, and like all of us, not even aware of many of them. He is not the centre of the network, because it is a network without centre. Yet he is also is central to the network in terms of its energy as a community. So, how can we think about Dave as a role – vital to the network, yet also expendable in the sense that rhizo15 can continue regardless of Dave and yet it also couldn’t.   Then, a tendril of curiosity began to unfurl in my mind.  All these eclectic random lunchtime readings, mucking about in quantum theory, mathematical patterns in nature, ecology, permaculture, rewilding – they all share a bond of entanglement.


… space-time arises out of a series of interlinked nodes in a complex network, with individual morsels of quantum information fitted together like Legos. Entanglement is the glue that holds the network together. If we want to understand space-time, we must first think geometrically about entanglement, since that is how information is encoded between the immense number of interacting nodes in the system. Quanta  

“Dave” IS entanglement?

Stay with me here, but I think that entanglement in a quantum context, makes sense out of why we need a Dave. The more I read, the more startled with the relevance to thinking about the role of “Dave” in the #rhizo15 cosmos:

“The key to achieving this simplification is a principle called “locality.” Any given electron only interacts with its nearest neighboring electrons. Entangling each of many electrons with its neighbors produces a series of “nodes” in the network. Those nodes are the tensors, and entanglement links them together. All those interconnected nodes make up the network.”

from Network Tapestry – Quanta magazine:

Dave is to #rhizo15 as entanglement is to quantum networks. 

“Entanglement is the fabric of space-time…it’s the thread that binds the system together, that makes the collective properties different from the individual properties. But to really see the interesting collective behavior, you need to understand how that entanglement is distributed.” (Brian Swingle)

Dave – The Entangler. Bringer of locality. 

So how do we even begin to understand how entanglement is distributed?. Oops. No-one has seemed to have worked that that bit out yet and so this is not neat thinking with nice edges. Sorry. 🙂

What does entanglement look like then?

IMG_0781-0To try to understand entanglement more, maybe a visual idea of what it looks like might help.

Owen Comec who is producing beautiful interactive visualisations can help us non physics inclined folks to perceive entanglement within a quantum network.  Also, check out artist Fred Swist’s artwork, Quantum Entaglement: The absence of (spare) time.

In #rhizo15, the community seeks to understand by creating artifacts, content and sharing and remixing threads of discussion in the fabric. We’re experimenting in the space and time available.The community also measures and observes itself, seeking to understand the detail of our own collective behaviour.  Questioning our Dave’s existence. Wondering about life without Dave.

Can you see that we are in the same patterns of thinking if we scale up to thinking about the whole cosmos? Isn’t that beautiful?

We are entangled in the same way that Dave is. As we know from the change in Week 4 – individuals in community can entangle ourselves more by posing a brilliantly energetic question:

Why entanglement?

Quantum theory asks question about patterns in complex networks found in nature and in space and time. It’s hard to understand, your brain will hurt, but it is far more relevant than we might realise. This is good stuff for thinking, I think. It’s properly valuing the margins. Dunk a bit of quantum physics in your tea along with your gingernut biscuit, and we learn.

So, how you might go about the job of entangling an online community?

How do we use our big brains to encourage community entanglement?
How do we use our big brains to encourage community entanglement?

I dunno. Maybe ask Dave. My observation is that he asks questions that people strive to answer, but questions that don’t really have an answer. Questions that trawl your thinking right through the tensors in a community:

offline online
subjective  objective
local  global
self  community
tame  wild
ancient  modern
commercial  creative commons


Ahem. Problem. Understanding how entaglement works is at the very fringe of science being teased out by incredible minds. How does this help?

With this post,  I am skimming across the surface of these concepts, but there is,  I feel, some worth in exploring the concept of community through entanglement, entanglement in permaculture, entanglement in ecology….

If you follow me into entanglement, just relax:

(I know nobody made it this far. Lots of editing to come.)

The importance of content as a myth


Myth means ‘no author’. The reason why certain stories land so deeply within us is because they’ve been passed like water over dark stones through many different communities and many different people’s lives who’ve all dealt with seemingly hopeless causes. So the images have a resonance that one person alone cannot muster, no matter how brilliant.
(Dr Martin Shaw – West County School of Myth, UK)

Stumble into learning…

I was in my early 20s, in an unassuming second hand bookshop in surburban Adelaide. I was studying undegraduate literature and looking for some books I needed to read. My eye was distracted by the golden glint of the text on the spines of a plainly covered uniform series of books. I opened one and felt immediately, the mystery of finding something I had not even known I had been looking for. I had stumbled upon content – in this case – words in a book –  that connected me to something bigger, with what was to have a huge impact on my future and direction (which is a different story).

I didn’t need a complicated search algorithm to find it, I didn’t know that I was looking for it, no one selected that content on my behalf, it was accidental. I had found the relatively obscure poetic writings of Scottish writer, Fiona Macleod (aka William Sharp).

2015-05-01 12.07.50The series was incomplete, being sold separately at $18 per book. I had just started a part-time job in a bookshop to pay my way through my degree, and I couldn’t afford them all. So, I bought one every few months (I was too unsure of my finances to ask to hold them).  Then, one time when I went back,  the shop had closed down. Dissapeared.

Thankfully, this was the awakening of the internet and in the last 15 years I have not only tracked down the whole set, but picked up some incredible additional Fiona Macleod books. Some have the most fragile and beautiful art plates and prints. As content, they are physical treasure to me. These books are objects that contain the published words of my favourite writer and I love them, because they are a touchstone. Most of Fiona Macleod’s writings are now available online. You can read the entire texts.

So why I would I bother still seeking these obscure, fragile, musty little containers of words, when I can have all of Fiona Macleods words for free?

Dig underneath…

It’s because of what you get when you dig underneath. In so many pages of these books I have collected over the years, there are unwritten and even more intriguing stories than the ones published within. The traces of people and the never-ending questions about them.

Leave breadcrumbs…

In the pages, are traces of navigation. Bent corners, pencil marks. Annotations, handwritten notes, dedications in the cover, little mini-books that people have made, a pressed-flower, and my favourite,  the wonderful tiny Christmas card shown below.

2015-05-01 12.12.02

Dear Frank, who were you? 

2015-05-01 12.10.26Who was Miss Moss, or Miss Morse? Can I call you Miss M?

Is this card, nothing more than a useful bookmark, or did you give Miss M this book?

And you Miss M, did you perhaps place this little card from Frank, deliberately on the page that had the book plate for May?

Did this page symbolise your connection?  Did this book bring you together?

Make myth…

Content is our human platform for conversation, communication and connection – artifact. This is perhaps why we love content so much in online learning. The most passionate educators often collate and lay out huge collections in a single pathway of content, intending a specific journey based on their their choice, their voice. It is easy to dismiss that approach as restrictive, but seen for what it is – it is the art of collecting and sense making, born from generosity and a desire to share.  We naturally want to take each other on a journey of shared experience, of shared learning. However, within the boundary of learning within a period of time, with completion dates, having one voice only choosing the “core” content is a missed opportunity to learn holistically.  Prescriptiveness lessens exploration, stumbling, exploring, get lost, getting found, thinking upside-down and sideways, navigating or maybe more importantly, community-led annotation.

We know content sparks conversation, humour, art, friendship, and most of all – is homage to our desire to share. Pulling back from the desire to lead, and allowing every person in a community to be content, to annotate with their own voice, is a beautiful gateway to diversity.  An opportunity to explore how the same questions and desires are interpreted globally, in the context of different locations and cultures. For the person at the helm, they see the unique myth-making power of the cohort. Something unique, never to be exactly repeated. A truly unique and experimental learning experience every time. You get, in effect, mythic learning. A new resonance. A multitude of voices.

So, I do think content is a myth, and myth is necessary and should be encouraged.   Content is how we conjure and trigger our stories, in ourselves, and each other.

Maybe we should all be myth makers with content,  and even if we struggle to be great story tellers, we can always be story carriers. Here’s the incredible mythologist Martin Shaw, (West Country School of Myth, UK) explaining that idea (story carriers) far better than I can.

This post was written in reponse to Week 3 of #rhizo15 –The Myth of Content – Dave Cormier but also because I opened one of my favourite books today, to the page for May, and found a Christmas card from Frank.

Quantum wanderings

mind meltdown

I am still thinking about of how we find our way through unstructured learning in #rhizo15.

One way that I have found to approach learning something that seems out of reach,  is by reading stuff completely unrelated alongside each other.   I like to go with the flow of the eclectic book partnerships brought together in time through the simple serendipity of my requests for holds coming through at the public library.  Here is one such partnership of light bedtime reading.

Somehow, Satish Kumar’s No Destination,  his story of his young life as wandering Jain monk and Quantum Mechanics: The theoretical Minimum by Leonard Susskind, Art Friedman  – make sense, in the context of learning about learning in #rhizo15.  They somehow create their own trembling, discordant energy side-by- side.  I see learning and wanderingobservation/measurement in both from the start.

I have quite a strong belief, that physics is out of my reach to understand.  I feel tiny and small-brained amongst actual scientists, and that I’m just not “smart enough” or born with the mathematical brain to even be a serious contender for “getting it”. At my most vulnerable, I think people might laugh at me for trying to grasp something so complex. A disclipline for the greatest of minds. But I am really very drawn to want to understand it.  It’s like a super-magnet. I can’t help it. In the same mysterious and thought-provoking enchantment that philosophy holds. .

But, believe me, I quickly hid that quantum physics book in my library bag after I checked it out. I had this feeling of being embarrassed if “busted” walking around in public on a weekend with this book, as though somehow deluding myself about my own intelligence. As if people would say “Ha, as if you have any hope of understanding that.”   I absolutely would feel a bit silly to seen reading this at work where real scientists wander around the corridors. I don’t feel like I’m a league to understand it. I’m not one of the initiated.

Did this self-perception of my own learning limitations,  impact my engagement with the material? Well, as it turns out, I decided that this definitely is not the “beginners” Quantum Mechanics book for me at the moment. I read the first chapter, flipped a lot of pages, stayed awake for hours with an addled mind wondering how those who dedicate their lives to this quest for understanding, can even cope with the mundane chores like going to the shop for milk. The more I tried to focus on the concepts, the more my mind wandered when I tried.

Yes it’s true, I could not make it through the theoretical minimum of quantum mechanics. Perhaps, not unlike Satish Kumar who ran away from his life in the Jain monk order,  I too ran away. I returned the library book well prior to its due date. Not the failing of the authors. A failing of me.

I ran first to the “bastardised theories” in Dave Bacon’s ‘Learn Quantum Theory in 10 minutes“. Awww cute little quantum birdies and duckies!    I began to listen to podcasts and physics lectures as part of routine life (outside of work) whilst ironing, cooking or folding clothes. This seems even more bizarre. This isn’t properly how you learn, distracted by mundanity!

And in trying to move sideways into a topic like this,  what would my measurement for “success” look like anyway? Would it mean that I would then somehow use this approach to  “learn”, “know” and be able to communicate and share my understanding to others?. So – is this an objective? To talk physics over a pilsner with a friend (or ex-friend after that evening). Or to explain it to my kids? Or to get my mum to talk physics with the postman around the corner? How would I know if I get it right? What feedback would I receive?  Who is along for this ride? Am I being observed? Do I know who is observing?  What impact does this observation have on my output and behaviour?

In these random wanderings amongst tricky disciplines – I am aware that I am deliberately being selfishly subjective. What if my wayfinding is actually misleading my understanding?   And if decide to deliberately share my understanding of quantum physics, imperfect and fledgling as it is, in turn misleading others, is this bad?   How do my own subjective intentions impact on those exposed to my voice in this wilderness?

But, every tiny glimpse into this field – it does *something* for my understanding of this world, and that is all.observatory

This is how it feels with rhizo15 too – entanglement in big thoughts.

To deal with these on a practical level, I will use the opportunities and instruments I have to hand.

On clear nights, I will point my telescope to the sky and just simply observe and let my mind wander.