The Making of the #Rhizo15 Radio Play, or The Complexities of Collaboration

If you and I were to sit in a room together — say, over a cup of coffee — I bet we could collaborate on something interesting. A story. Or a short video. Or an image. A play. A comic. Maybe even a podcast. We’d bounce ideas off each other and emerge with something interesting, if only a story to tell about what we did. We’d make something to represent our relationship as friends and colleagues and collaborators.

Online communities, if nurtured, can facilitate that impulse to make things, too, and it is truly one of the main elements that has me diving into so many adventures like the current Rhizomatic Learning experience. The collaboration element is the draw for me, as it was with Connected Courses, and as it was with last year’s version of Rhizomatic Learning, and as it has been for DS106, and as it has been for the last two years of the Making Learning Connected MOOC.

So, when Tania started to write a play about the subjective learning/objective experience for the first week of Rhizomatic Learning, and someone suggested her play be put into Google Docs, and then other writers (such as myself) began adding to the play, and then someone suggested this whole piece of collaborative writing be turned into a podcast radio play and then someone said maybe I could coordinate it .. I said, sure, I can do that.

Collaboration is nurtured by the idea of people stepping up and saying, Sure, I can do that. Even if you are not quite aware of what you are taking on.  Even in online communities, where your only interaction is often connected with a tweet, or a status update, or a blog post. If you let it happen, you quickly can build up trust among participants. And that trust allows you to take chances on something unknown. It opens the path for collaboration.

Rhizoplay Serious

True, the complexities of online collaboration can suddenly loom quite large in this kind of undertaking where you find yourself both alone with your computing device and among many collaborators. Thankfully, I was on April break from school this week, and in between family time and other commitments, I was working on pulling together dozens of audio files as people took on parts, recorded their words, and shared them online. I would then grab the audio, pull it into Audacity and try to line things up in a way that would be coherent, and weave a tapestry of voices. I was honored to be put in charge of this task, and took my role rather seriously (well, as serious as I can be) as the curator of the voices and the collective words and spirit of the play. I also realized early on how systematic I needed to be, with organizing files and with laying the voices. Otherwise, I would have slipped into file madness (it may have happened … I’m not saying).


My aim as editor was to help nurture into place a radio play that we would all be proud of, no matter how large or how small a role that one participated — either as a writer, or a reader, or a commenter, or a voice actor. Cheerleader, too. The radio play will become an important artifact of content (the subject of the play) and collaboration, and the possibilities of true rhizomatic learning, in which so many roots were mingled together to produce something quite beautiful. Which is not to say the process wasn’t messy and a bit of mayhem.


Sill, the many hours I spent in editing mode (and I calculated about six to eight hours of messing with audio) was time well spent. Even the music was original … from the underlying soundtrack (I created it in an app called Musyc) that I hoped would musically represent the diversity of voices and add to the tension of the interaction of characters, to the acoustic version of a song written for Rhizo15 earlier. Terry had a great song earmarked for the ending (an Arabic version of Toy Story and “You’ve Got a Friend in Me”), but I could not figure out if it would violate copyright if we used it, so we abandoned it. As I told Terry, it probably is best, as Michelle Shocked wrote in one of her songs, to make your own jam anyway.

I think we will all be proud of this collaborative endeavor. There is something very powerful in “voice” and not enough of us are doing podcasting to bring that element to the surface. Here, the multitude of voices adds up to something very unique, a weaving of community that is difficult to explain. You have to hear it. You have to listen. You have to imagine. Terry had a great idea that we could not pull off: he wanted all the voice actors to gather together in a Google Hangout, and read the play live on the air, online. Then, we could strip the audio from the video, and use that as a podcast. This is where geography played against us. Too many timezones. It was a great idea that never came to fruition.

Dave Cormier, the facilitator of Rhizomatic Learning, will showcase the premiere of the radio play — A Multitude of Voices: Mr. X Loses His Battle for Objectivity — in his next post and message to the entire #rhizo15 community, probably sometime later today, or very soon (maybe even by the time you read this post). We hope you will sit back, enjoy the multitude of voices, and wonder at the collaboration. If you were one of the many who participated, then I want to extend a warm “thank you” for your contributions. It was lovely to play with our voices and our words.

Until the release of the play itself, which I will embed here another day in its full glory, I have sprinkled some promotional media for the play in this blog post. A few of us were having fun making media for the virtual promotional tour in the last few days to spark interest in the play and in the nature of collaboration. Keep an eye on Dave, and …. enjoy the show.

Peace (in the collaboration),

The Struggles of MultiModal Assessment Design

I had an interesting conversation with a doctoral student who is doing her work on how teachers are evaluating and assessing student digital writing projects. I am part of her study (well, as a teacher, I am participating) and yesterday, we had a 90 minute chat about assessing digital work. Interestingly, this connected in my head to the inquiry going on at Rhizomatic Learning this week, too.

During our time, she asked me a lot of questions and I admit, I struggled to explain how I best assess digital writing projects that my sixth graders make. Even after co-editing a book on assessment of digital writing (Teaching The New Writing), and even after years of bringing various projects into my classroom to push at the notions of what it means to write in a digital age …. I am often as lost as I have ever been.

In particular, yesterday, I did a very close look at a video game design project and “talked through” what I was seeing, using my own project indicator sheet as my guide.

It had been some time since I had played this game called Into An Animal Cell (you can play it, too) , and I remained impressed by the work of this student. Talking the game through with my assessment lens on as I played it was another way to examine the moves of the student around game design, story narrative and the use of science as the underpinning theme.

But I openly admitted to her: grading/assessing something that has many modalities — here, for example, game design, science concept, story narrative, science vocabulary, etc. — is something I continue to grapple with on so many levels. If I get too specific, then I lose the flavor of the whole. Too general, as I am in the assessment tool for this project, and it is nearly meaningless. And then there is the element of “newness” here — I’m lucky if one of two of my 80-odd students ever designed and published a video game. Assessing the newness of the skill tugs in contrast to the learning experience I want them to have in the end, which is a design mentality and expanded notion of story narrative flow in a multimodal space.

I still seek (and yet, have not yet found) the balance here to create an assessment that will do what an assessment tool is designed to do: guide the student to make improvements so that they can further their work and learn from the experience. I still feel as if I am designing assessment tools to give them a grade. The tool is for me more than for them, as a way for me to justify why we are making video games.

I need to turn that whole perspective on its head. I need to better figure out how to create something more meaningful for my students. I’m still struggling with this. As it turns out, so are many others, as evidenced by some of this researcher’s other interviewees.

Peace (in the pondering),

Talk Back to Video: Encouraging Dialogue

Terry introduced me to Vialogues long ago and I still return to it as an easy-entry way to interact with videos. Here, I took Dave Cormier’s video for the second week of Rhizomatic Learning, and invite others to join me in “talking back to Dave” this week. You are invited, too.
Here is the direct link (the embed is looking funky right now … HalfDave or something)

Peace (in the talk),

Utterly Irrelevant #Rhizo15 Data

In this second cycle of Rhizomatic Learning, Dave Cormier asks us to examine our notions of data and measurement, and if I read between the lines of what he wrote, we should be seeking to turn data analysis on its head. So, with that in mind, I offer up the Utterly Irrelevant Data Chart for the work that a bunch of us are doing on a collaborative RhizoRadio Play in the works ….


The only category that “counts” here (in my opinion) is the last one and that is the one that I had no data on. So I made it up. I gave it a number. It looks impressive, right? The other categories are close to being true but I would not stake my house on it.

Peace (off the chart),

A Rhizomatic Quote Parade

I spent a part of my day yesterday (when the family was out of the house) reading through blog posts from the Rhizomatic Learning community. What smart peeps! I saw so many quotes and lines that I started to grab the words and format them. I was sharing them out on Twitter when I realized I should pull them together into a single file, so I used Animoto and the soundtrack to the Quote Parade video is one that Ron and I worked on collaboratively earlier in the #rhizo15.

What’s intriguing about quote pulling is that the words are out of context, and yet, if one right, they can stand on their own. I think they do here, and I am grateful to be running around with such insightful writers and thinkers and educators.

Peace (in the “words”),


Untethered Spaces: A #digipoetry for #rhizo15

Yesterday, I shared out an audio file that represented a converted image of the nodes of connections in the Rhizomatic Learning network. I wanted to take it another step further, so I decided to create a digital story, with a poem as narration, using a phrase that I tossed out onto Twitter the other day about the “untethered spaces” of #rhizo15. The soundtrack is the audio from the image of the network. The visuals are representations of the connections. The digital story format brings those pieces together. My aim with the poem itself was to emphasis the invitation to “you.”

Here is the poem:

Peace (in the share),

What #Rhizo15 Connections Sound Like (sort of)

Rhizo15 Network Visualization

A friend, Daniel Lynds, in the Rhizomatic Learning network has been collecting and sharing out daily visualizations of the connections people are making in the #rhizo15 community on Twitter. It’s interesting to see the nodes shifting and changing. Simon Ensor had this idea of animating the visualization. That got me thinking of stopmotion/time-lapse but I haven’t figured out an easy way to do that yet with any of the data visualization tools that I have seen or have access to.

Instead, I wondered: what does this all sound like? This plays into a big audio push of the #rhizo15 network this first week. What are we hearing?

So, I took a screenshot of Daniel’s visualization sharing from yesterday and I jumped into the Audio Paint program I have on my PC. This nifty little freeware takes a digital image, maps it out as digital bits and bytes, and then converts that information back into a sound file that you can download and use. Basically, your image becomes audio.

Here, then, is what the Rhizomatic Learning community connections sounded like on April 18. Pretty spacey. I did only a little editing of the sound, tinkering with the settings in Audio Paint and then merging two different audio files (of the same image, just different settings) to make one track. Notice how the intensity increases as the connections get tighter, and calm down where the connections are lighter. And of course, my screenshot of Daniel’s sharing shows three different views in one image file (in fact, I think they are three different image files from Daniel.)

Peace (in the sound),

#Rhizo15: Annotating to Understand

Annotating Susan

One of the lines of inquiry this week for Rhizomatic Learning is about the subjective element of learning spaces. While Dave Cormier suggests we think about this in terms of designing a course, I can’t help but think about it as a learner in online communities, too. Unfortunately, I am grappling with the objective vs subjective ideas, so I am seeking out others in the Rhizo15 who are explaining it better than I can, in hopes they can explain it to me.

Of course, in doing so, I am letting their subjective experiences influence my subjective experiences. Not very objective of me, is it? But this is how I learn, from gathering ideas from others and trying to figure out my own line of truth. Or as close to an understanding as I can help to get.

Take Susan, for example. Her post this morning really was what I was looking for, in terms of teasing out the various terminology and allowing me to think about my own understanding. I ended up annotating her blog post in Diigo as a way to interact with her words and ideas.

My takeaways on this topic:

  • I never go into a course as a student with an objective outlook. I bring all of my experiences with me, and those experiences form my expectations. This can be good (I am open to whatever comes my way as long as I am engaged) and this can be bad (what do you mean, there is no plan for where we are going?) but I know that if a course/event does not work for me, I can pull out with no regrets (sorry, but the fedwiki project a few weeks ago did not work for me).
  • Note: if ever there was a course that is not a course, and the role of student that does not feel like a student, that would be Rhizomatic Learning. There is always the sense of, we’re all in this together. If you are used to a course having a clear syllabus, and course objectives laid out, this line of cloudy inquiry can be discomforting.
  • As a teacher, I realize how much the “objective” lesson planning expectation is baked into the language of our profession. I suspect this is from the data-driven culture, where learning must be reduced to numbers so that it can be converted into charts that can be shared in Powerpoints that an influence policy that trickles down like a ton of bricks to us classroom teachers. I am gathering my “evidence” of student learning for my principal and noting how much is boiled down into those outcomes. We lose the individual when we do this. I know that. Still, I fall in line. My artifact portfolio has graphs, and numbers, and data … and my students as learners and writers … they get lost in the mix. That’s where the objective inquiry fails miserably to the subjective, right?
  • I was glad that Susan brought the concept of “subversive” into the mix, and while her tone seems more negative than I would have put it, I see my own learning style as a subversive learner, as someone pushing at the edges and using humor and remixing and other non-traditional methods to find the heart of what I need to know, and maybe bring along a few collaborators as I go. I don’t consider this an act of disrespect … I see it as an act of independence.
  • I’m still struggling with the line of our inherent bias that we bring to the table and the concept of being subjective as a learner. Some friends on Twitter have provided me with some helpful insights. Certainly our biases shape our experiences, as both teacher and student. Sarah suggested that subjective goals are what we want out of an experience — we have agency over articulating our expectations — while bias is the shape of us (not her words here, mine).

So, yeah, more confusion than clarity, but I am OK with that. The more I read from others, like Susan, the more my own thinking expands. I like that.

Peace (in the think),

A #Rhizo15 Song Takes Root (And We Find Our Way Through)


For the last few days, I’ve been collaborating on a song with some friends around the world as part of the pre-start of Rhizomatic Learning (the event officially starts to day). This is the messy and interesting story of how the song — We Find Our Way Through — came to be ….

It began, for me, with a tweet and then a blog post by Sarah, who wrote an intriguing piece about being fine with being private and then mentioned playing her ukulele. I know this goes completely against what she wrote about, but I suggested that if she ever wanted to take the plunge into the public, perhaps we could collaborate.

It turns out that Ron was already moving her in that direction, after reading the same blog post. So, I proposed, let’s try to see if we can collaborate on a song. I didn’t have a song at the time, but during the day, I sat down with my guitar and wrote a very simple song about the idea of community and rhizomatic learning, with the song itself being an example of the swirling, unknown nature of learning experiences.

rhizo15 Song Collaboration

I went back to a music site that I have tinkered with, Soundtrap, and recorded the rhythm guitar and vocals (first mistake: not recording separate tracks here. Lesson learned). I then invited Sarah and Ron into Soundtrap (and Ron and I even did a loop collaboration as a test), and sent out the lyrics and chords. I think Ron used his MIDI system to record a few tracks and Sarah may have recorded offline and then uploaded into Soundtrap. There are a few places here and there with the timing is off, but we all worked with what we had to work with.

Meanwhile, Jeff had seen a tweet in the #Rhizo15 stream and asked a question. I saw on his profile picture that he is playing a guitar … bingo … consider that an invitation. Jeff came in and added some background guitar and a few tasty licks.

Sarah then wondered, can we do background vocals? She asked me for the notes I was singing. Eh. I have no idea. I’m not that kind of a singer. Barely a singer at all. I sing to write songs. But Sarah kindly worked out a simple harmonic arrangement and Maha responded to a tweet for singers. Soundtrap did not work for Maha, so she recorded herself singing and then emailed me the file, which I loaded up and tried to sync as best as I could into the song (she has a lovely voice). Sarah also suggested that others sing the lead, but the mistake I made in the first track (unable to remove my voice and leave the guitar) made that idea difficult. My track is the glue that everything is built around, for good or bad.

It was while mixing Maha that I noticed my main track had gotten accidentally cut into, so there is now a glitch midway through. Dang. Nothing I can do about it, though. I had saved an earlier version in Soundtrap as a backup but even that one had the glitch. I probably did something at some time. Who knows. But, just as in Wreck-it Ralph, the Glitch is the thing that makes the game unique, I have convinced myself this morning that the glitch gives the song a reminder that anything rhizomatic is messy by nature, and rough around the edges. I almost believe it. Give me time.

I’m pretty proud of how We Find Our Way Through came out and even more proud of how the song emerged as a collaboration, given that we worked remotely from the United States, Scotland and Egypt in just a few days time. We found our way through. We may do a second version, giving other people a chance to sing the lead. I’d like that.

Peace (in the rhizomatic collaboration),

Rhizo15: Even When You Know What It Is, You Don’t Know What It Is

I was sharing Jabberwocky with my students last week. They are sixth graders and most had never heard nor read the poem, although a few remembered the name a bit from the last Alice in Wonderland movie (with Johnny Depp). After I read the poem, and then get students to read the poem, and after we talk about it from the writing and narrative stance, I show them The Muppets version.

What stuck with me was the line that Scooter says at the start, along the lines of “Even when you know what it is, you don’t know what it is ” as the Rhizomatic Learning event kicks off this week, and lots of folks are wondering about syllabus and stuff. Dave Cormier sent out a nice note this week, saying that the questions and uncertainty are what will drive the activities.

Thus, a remix of the Muppets for Rhizo15:

Feel free to remix the video yourself. See that remix button. Click it. See what happens. Go forth into the unknown and be creative. Make something new.

Peace (in the share),