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Rhizomatic Learning: Week 1 Insights

This fall, I am teaching a course on Leadership in Higher Education at Sam Houston State University. Since this is a fully online course for students in our Master’s of Higher Education Program, I was able to creatively structure thinking about the teaching and learning of Leadership. I blogged about my pedagogical approach to this course (Rhizomatic Learning) several weeks back.

Students have just completed the first week of this course and I want to provide a quick update and some initial impressions on this approach to the study of Leadership in Higher Education.

Modules Completed

This course is designed around a series of 11 modules. Students can complete the modules in any order.  Each module contains a series of required readings, a set of Additional Readings (students choose at least 1 addiWeek 1 Modules Completedtional reading) and a set of Digital Resources (students choose at least 1 Digital Resource, such as a video or podcast).

Most students (69%) completed the first module that appears on the list of modules, “Paradigms of Leadership.” However, several students ventured off and began tackling other modules, including “College Student Leadership,” “Gender and Leadership,” and “Organizational Change Leadership.”

I anticipated that most students would choose to complete “Paradigms of Leadership” first for two reasons. First, it is helpful to get a foundational understanding of leadership prior to venturing off. Second, since it is the first module listed most students will choose to start there as we are socially conditioned to do so.  The question is whether a majority of students will always select the first module.  I will experiment with re-arranging the module order next semester when I teach the course again to see if there is a change in student behavior during Week 1.

Wiki Additions

Each module also contains a Wiki, where students are asked to “add” an additional resource centered on the topic of the module. Students who have not completed a module can then incorporate these additional resources into their understanding of the module’s topic.

Students during this first week added amazing new material to our course learning community. Poems, Infographics, news articles, scholarly articles, recorded lectures. It was inspiring.

Moreover, it provided a different insight into students interests and perspectives on module topics. For example, one student posted a scholarly article on transformational leadership practices in digital leadership teams; another student linked to information about studies on grit and determination in the study of leadership; one student posted insights about creating effective leadership development programs for minority students on campus; and there was even a link to a poem that one student posted which she said described the “trait” theory of leadership.

What is truly incredible about this aspect of the course is that students are taking ownership for their learning, and also expanding understanding for myself as instructor and others in the class.

Assignment Types Completed

Each week students submit one assignment.  In total there are 11 different assignment types, and students can complete any assignment type for any module.  These assignments are designed to help students think about different ways of presenting, integrating, and thinking about information they are learning in the course.  Week 1 Assignments Completed

Again, a majority of students (61%) completed a “reflective paper” assignment. I surmise that this is because students are comfortable with writing papers in academic courses.

However, several students tackled the podcast assignment, creating fantastic overviews of the material in their selected modules; one student recorded an incredible Pecha Kucha talk on Paradigms of Leadership (it was really fantastic); there was a video reflection assignment and a quote-a-graph assignment as well.

Each assignment is unique – and the many ways that students are “speaking” through the assignments is the powerful aspect of a course structured in this way.  Again, the students are taking ownership of their learning in very different ways.

Risk that is paying off

When I decided to structure this course rhizomatically, I knew I was taking a risk. Time will tell whether students appreciate this course format and whether it enhances their learning.  What I can say is that is definitely enhancing the “study” of Leadership in Higher Education. I was ecstatic with the student’s enthusiastic tackling of this new approach to learning and look forward to seeing everything they teach me and each other as the semester continues to unfold.

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for posting this Dr. Eaton! Love the topic.

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