Lisa’s CCK08 Wordpress Blog

November 26, 2008

The Future Ain’t What it Used to Be

Filed under: Responses,Week 12 — lisahistory @ 10:24 pm
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I was intrigued by the way the FutureLab’s “2020 and beyond” parallels the Horizon Report, and yet adds these vignettes of what it will be like to live in the near future. The question I asked as I read was, “of all this, what is likely to really happen and what isn’t?”

The pervasive technology for personal use reminded me of Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward (1888). In that book, I recall two technologies standing out. One was the home music system, which piped music in to the home, and was controlled by dials on the wall. Another was the umbrella-like covering that was deployed over the entire city when it rained. The first of these came to be, in the form of our stereo systems, sensurround, Musak, satellite radio. The second did not.

In that context, perhaps it is the personal, small technologies that come to be, and the larger, environmental technologies that are predicted incorrectly.

In Star Trek, the epitome of technology prediction models, they had the hypospray, a device that injected medication through the skin without needles. They also had the transporter, which dissolved the body into molecules, sent them through space, and reassembled them at the other end. Again, the first one has come to be, through medications administered in skin patches and nasal sprays. The second (unfortunately for those of us who deal with traffic every day) has not.

In that context, perhaps it is the technologies which are close to what we already have that will come to be. In the 1960s, we were already aware of substances that could be processed into units so small they could be absorbed through the pores of skin. But we had nothing that could dissolve a human into fairy dust.

Consider, then, Future Labs’ predictions. The Personal Devices (combined devices, wearable technology) become likely on an individual basis — we already have these as novelty items. But the Intelligent Environments are less likely. Although we have the technologies (I think of the sensing devices embedded into rubbish bins in London), the infrastructure of something like a mobile game would take a concerted effort and a system with many small parts, often embedded in public spaces, to provide continuity without large base installations. A few may attempt it, but it is likely to go the way of city-wide wifi: suitable for densely populated city centres but too extravagant for anywhere else.

The Network (combining of our various communication devices at work and home)is already happening, although again I doubt the viability of cooperative effort, suggested by the Ambient Networks, to do this in a larger environment. We can’t even get cellular mobile phone companies to share towers to create efficient coverage. Competition has made the likelihood of workable networks lower, as each company tries to profit from its own. That’s what’s happened with Ricochet in my area; it’s become useless. Such network competition also produces electronic pollution, radiation from huge ugly towers just so people can say “‘sup?” to their friends. We have to go elsewhere to find analyses of market forces and how they relate to the likelihood of adoption.

Also in this Network section I began to notice a pattern. Each of the vignettes had us going somewhere (“you’re walking down the street”) and sharing the same sorts of stuff we share now (photos, video, notes). That’s where things became less innovative, and even Processing just seemed to support what we do now (sharing animations, making stories). Most of the technology here and in the Storage section was for the purpose of recording and sharing human action (film the kids, “capture an audio-visual record of every second of your life”). If we did that, when would we watch the films, view the record? Would we stop doing other things to watch ourselves, to the point of experiencing our own trivialities like reflections in multiple mirrors?

All the wonderful things mentioned in the “Questions for education” sections (experimentation, evolution of ideas, sharing information) are being done now, even without sophisticated technology. Tools for collaboration aren’t collaborators, they are still tools, at the service of people’s needs. In asking questions like “Will recall of facts and events become obsolete as a socially valued skill?” we’re missing the idea that we already act as if recall is archaic, that we’re entering a post-literate society, which is not necessarily a good thing. What use is anytime access to great ideas, writings and art when we don’t know how to read? We may not have to recall facts, but how do we decide when we want to find some?

It is telling that much of technologies predicted will be for personal, and relatively trivial, use. Everything here seems an answer to the question, “I’m bored: what should I do?” Play games, share photos, record your whole life. I won’t be one of the people ordering the communicator embedded in my belt. I think I’d rather pin it to my shirt, keeping the technology separate unless I want it there. You know, like in Star Trek.

October 30, 2008

Response to Stephen: rights and power

Filed under: Responses — lisahistory @ 3:54 pm
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[Normally, I’d be able to respond to a comment on a previous post because the commenter would put it in the comments. But in this case there was a power (or really an exposure) imbalance. Stephen Downes asked his questions in The Daily, which I believe automatically goes out to everyone in the CCK08 class. I do not have the “power” to respond the same way, but I figure the title of this post will hit at least the Contributions column in The Daily if people want to see it! 🙂 ]

Stephen wrote,

Good post, but let me question it. Lisa Lane writes, “I think I have a right to personal empowerment by virtue of my being able to take control when necessary, or to relinquish it when required.” Is this true? If one cannot take control, does this person no longer have a right to personal empowerment? Do rights depend on capacities? Or to ask the same question from the opposite question: do we exert control by virtue of our nature, our personality – or do we exert control by virtue of our actions?

The post was a continuation of the wonderful discussion we had on Wednesday in Elluminate (unposted so far, but I hope it will appear here), where we got into issues such as personal empowerment and freedom as well as education. “I think” was my effort to explore this again, and the questions are very good ones.

Thanks to Stephen, I spent my morning walk mulling over distinctions in rights, control and power. By “control”, do we mean controlling the self, or controlling others? Do we have a “right” to both? Is power about personal empowerment, or about power over others? Do we have a “right” to both of these too?

Our actions are indeed what counts, and they may be founded in our personality, but that doesn’t mean they are justified by rights.

Rights should certainly not be dependent on capacities, or there would be no concept of human rights. Most conceptions of rights, whether Lockean (life, liberty, property) or utilitarian (Mills’ “legitimate and authorized expectations“), are used to justify actions (as in overthrowing an oppressive government). I do not know of any virtuous reason why I should have a right to control others, even with good intentions and legitimate authority. It is not correct that I have a right to power because I am able to use it. I seemed to be saying that might makes right, and of course we know that’s not . . . right.

Personality is still a factor in the assertion of power, even if it does not justify a right to that power. Forceful assertion of control can lead to power. We have two presidential candidates running around right now trying to convince us that they will have power they do not have under our constitution. Asserting this power may well give it to them, if Congress (the entity where this power originates) allows it, as they have done with the current president. Once the power is given, the executive is seen as having a “right” to that power by virtue of precedent. We could get into a whole discussion of right by precedent, and even consult Edmund Burke on the subject.

As a teacher, then, I have power not by right, but by precedent and social norms. Students allow me that power, and I abuse it when I use it in a way that causes harm. (I think that using my forcefulness in a way that limited openness caused harm.) Thus I revise my statement: “My ability to exert control when necessary, and relinquish it when needed, creates greater opportunities for personal power”.

In fact, I revise the whole idea. I feel that Stephen and I actually assert our right to power by virtue of our hair, a commonality noted in some Twitter posts yesterday:

There is, of course, Biblical precedent for this.

October 21, 2008

Lessons from Locke and Rousseau

Filed under: Responses,Week 7 — lisahistory @ 9:49 pm
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I noted with interest the list shared with us this week of the many models of instructional design. Being a historian, I naturally clicked the history links first: A Hypertext History of Instructional Design by Sara McNeil, and A Brief History of Instructional Design by Douglas Leigh. The former began in 1870, and thus was of little use. Leigh, however, at least mentioned Greek philosophers (albeit out of order), Aquinas, and Locke:

The early contributions of thinkers such as Aristotle, Socrates and Plato regarding the cognitive basis of learning and memory was later expanded by the 13th century philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas who discussed the perception of teachings in terms of free will. Four hundred years later, John Locke advanced Aristotle’s notion of human’s initial state of mental blankness by proposing that almost all reason and knowledge must be gained from experience.

He then jumped to Dewey.

While I am not a historian of instructional design, this seemed brief and uninformed considering our emphasis on connectivism and this week’s topic. Even to the layman, it should be apparent that not mentioning Rousseau is doing a disservice to students in this course.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau vehemently disagreed with Locke’s theories on learning. Locke (1632-1704) had not only proposed that children come into this world tabula rosa, but that they are taught through reason and argumentation. Rousseau wrote that nature provided all the motivation and material a person needs, and that the role of the teacher was simply to provide appropriate experiences.

Each, of course, considered education to be important to creating a productive and participatory citizenry. We have these same goals today. In Locke’s view, those citizens were highly individualistic, where the government’s job was to preserve life, liberty and property. People were inherently rational, and religion would instill whatever ethical training was needed: “Teach him to get a mastery over his inclinations, and submit his appetite to reason.” Rousseau’s goal was a more egalitarian, participatory society, whose general will determined government. He distrusted reason. It was in the nature of people to learn, and “civilization” ruined natural proclivities: “Everything is good as it leaves the hands of the author of things, everything degenerates in the hands of man.”

I have created a chart of Locke’s and Rousseau’s Instructional Design ideas. There are good ideas here whose implementation has been interrupted by the advent of industrialized education, which I consider to be the real culprit in poor instructional design. The perceived necessity of educating the multitudes, and the rise of mandatory education in the West, has created our current system of classrooms, divided by grade/age instead of learning from older and younger students. There are vestiges of the elitist systems of education, as in the use of the word “tutor” in English universities. Although open access to education has become the hallmark of democracy, the elitists had one thing right: the tutorial form of education (as opposed to group education) had a great deal to recommend it. It’s mass education that has caused rote learning, lack of differentiantion, standardized assessments. In many ways the theories of connectivist learning are designed as a tutorial system without a tutor, an effort for the individual to make connections through exploration (Rousseau) and develop rational understandings (Locke). In designing instruction, then, it might be useful to jump back to an era before industrialized education and examine the existing models.

September 19, 2008

Data, Information, Knowledge, Wisdom

Filed under: Responses,Visualisation,Week 2 — lisahistory @ 12:02 pm
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September 18, 2008

A World Run by Buffs?

Filed under: Responses,Week 2 — lisahistory @ 1:24 pm
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One possibility that’s occurred to me this week is that we may be in transition from a world where knowledge is determined by a small group of university-trained elites to one where it is developed by small groups of attention-challenged and uneducated enthusiasts. This is worrisome.Kung Fu Panda

When I first read Dave Cormier’s Rhizomatic Education: Community as Curriculum upon its publication this summer, I was intrigued by the metaphor and saw that it helped provide a needed connection between connectivism and community. Now that I’ve done a great deal more reading on connectivism, and responded so negatively to some of its premises as portrayed by Barry Wellman, I have a much more pessimistic view, unless we limit Cormier’s arguments to new disciplines only. Even then, I’m concerned.

Iconoclasm concerning new disciplines is OK

Right up front Cormier seems to restrict his thesis to “new and developing fields”, and that’s exactly where it should stay. “Disciplines” such as educational technology are in the infant stages, and like infants have a great deal of exploring to do before they come into their own. New journals and blogs spring up overnight from people who are doing extraordinary things with the web in expanding educational opportunities and connecting in fascinating ways. M.A.s and Ed.D’s are popping up all over, with certain individuals and their ideas (Siemens, Downes, Cormier, Couros, etc.) rising to the top through both popularity and usefulness in today’s world. Their community is their curriculum, for sure. Their curriculum is based on recognizing, creating and sustaining community among others interested in a very fringe field dedicated to very large concepts. I love living in that community myself, but I am aware that it is new and trendy, and subject to its own changing norms. In last night’s Elluminate meeting, Cormier was fine with admitting his idea might not apply for all fields. When talking about the field of educational technology, it makes perfect sense to attack traditional authorities, identify rhizomatic models as “overtaking traditional models”, and see the “old notion of knowledge” as “frozen in time” with its gate-keeping publication restrictions. Publishing on the web is open, and the freedom is somewhat dizzying.

The problem with interpreting these ideas beyond ed tech

So dizzying that it’s tempting to apply Cormier’s approach to the rest of the disciplines. The assignment of his article as a reading in this class suggests that it should be interpreted more widely than just in new fields like educational technology. So does his occasional broad reference (he mentions websites that create collaborative “snapshots of the knowledge of a particular field”, but all those websites are about educational technology). If one applies his argument at a larger level than new fields, one comes to the conclusion that it is promoting rhizomatic, community-developed knowledge as the response to the speed of change in today’s world, the impossibilty of traditional verification through disciplinary experts, and the almost instant obsolesence of new understandings. No need to kill the gate-keepers; just go around them.

My discipline (history) is very old, even though many of its current methods are new. It is grounded in a tradition, however inconsistent, of the university elites who seem to be under attack in these theories that not only try to describe our changing world, but justify it. Cormier consistently attacks “canonical” sources of knowledge, and all traditional fields have a canon which is not quite as “fluid” as that of the new disciplines. But even with the new areas, frankly, if there is a “delay” that “could make the knowledge itself outdated by the time it is verified”, then it isn’t knowledge at all — it’s a fad. And if groups of voluntary participants “not only explore an established cannon but also…negotiate what qualifies as knowledge”, what’s to keep them from ignoring the canon all together? Nothing; the “rhizomatic knowledge-creation process is already overtaking traditional models”, curriculum itself is “constructed and negotiated in real time by the contributions of those engaged in the learning process.”

My discipline of history needs expertise and reflection before it needs a network

Some history students are very “engaged” in the learning process. A certain number come to class as history enthusiasts. They’ve read a lot of sources and secondary popular books, and spend much time watching the History Channel. They are history buffs. Most cannot construct a historical thesis, much less prove it with evidence. Doing so is the heart of the elitist canonical system historians endure. Enthusiasm is great, but is it not knowledge and does not substitute for knowledge. As in many fields, one uses a pattern of data, to information, to understanding, to knowledge, which can then be applied beyond the discipline. Historians negotiate this understanding and this knowledge in those nasty peer-reviewed journals, where deep differences of opinion lead to reassessments, rexamination of facts, research, and the development of new paradigms arising out of conflict. History is not at all a static field, and its methods are a fairly consistent combination of scientific inference, externally verifiable sources, and the internal goals of the historian. It is not rapid, it is deliberate and requires reflection. As my colleague Ignatia notes in her blog, “reflection demands time”. Quality may not require time in the field of educational technology, but it does in history.

Networks can subsume expertise to inappropriate negotiation

Networks may or may not have any canonically trained “experts”, and if they do it’s possible that no one would listen to them anyway. Historians tend to be pretty boring, not usually the type of internet participants prone to flaming and attention-mongering. The buffs will be the ones verifying, negotiating, “testing” the ideas. Knowledge that is “tested” in a community of enthusiasts unfamiliar with traditional methods and canonical works that came before them is not tested at all. It is shared, collaborated, socialized, negotiated, patterned, and developed, but it isn’t knowledge. To say that a voluntarily networked group of enthusiasts create knowledge would be going beyond giving them the benefit of the doubt. It would be like doing history without historiography (the study of previous historians’ ideas over time). It might lead to an understanding of historical perspectives, but it could as easily lead to a consensus that extraterrestrial aliens built the pyramids. It’s already possible to use historical sources in a semi-scientific way to argue some bizarre things (FDR knew Pearl Harbor was going to be bombed ahead of time and didn’t tell, the Holocaust didn’t happen). Faulty analysis needs only a bit of encouragement (a Hollywood movie, an internet community, a title like “Institute of Historical Review”) to justify its existence. My discipline has enough problems without bringing in every idiot who saw “Troy” and thinks Achilles had a California accent. To point to the ed tech community, which is enthusiastically led by people who are the products of the very same closed educational system they seem to wish to tear down, and use it as an example of connectivism, is a false lead. Dave Cormier is, I think, aware of this. We must be very careful where we apply the theories of networking.

A side note: It really disturbs me that this class is making me look like Edmund Burke and others who argue that traditional foundations are important. I myself have continually tried to “work” the educational system; I don’t have a PhD for precisely the reasons of traditional, canonical gate-keeping that all these wonderful innovators are arguing against. I am one of the most technologically and web savvy individuals at my institution. The result is that I’m having an online identity crisis.

September 14, 2008

The History Problem

Filed under: Responses,Week 2 — lisahistory @ 3:17 pm
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In discussing Dreyfus as part of Connectivism: Learning Theory or Pastime of the Self-Amused?, Siemens notes that to “assess a concept, in absence of the context of occurrence…is to largely ignore the process aspect of learning and focus instead only on the product aspect”.

And yet the discussion of connectivism itself seems somewhat confined to modern learning theorists (most of the sources are within the last several years, with the exception of Wittgenstein). A much larger historical context is necessary for the process of learning this topic (connectivism) to stay in focus.

This historical perspective is either missing or faulty. For example:

“The more rapidly knowledge develops the less likely it will be that we will possess all knowledge internally.” (p.37), and for this reason we need networks to keep learning. And yet, no one has every carried all his/her knowledge internally. This is why we have bookshelves at home, libraries to visit, newspapers, friends to write to, people to consult, and individual specialties in science, medicine, law. The huge amount of information may or may not be expanding (a subject for another post), but it’s always been huge, which is why Aristotle created categories.

“In eras of religious focus, the development of morals provided the foundation of learning”, then the industrial era “shifted the educational focus to preparing individuals to function in work environments”. But the first goal did not disappear with the second. And the “internet era” similar does not reject either goal. Siemens must know this, because a few sentences later he says the needs of society include “the quest to become better people”. This is a moral goal, it always has been, and networks have existed for centuries in an effort to achieve it.

There has always been a “virtual world”, a life of the mind. It has been shared through letters, books, pamphlets, even before printing made its accessibility so much better. On the internet, everyone fancies himself a More or an Erasmus. The networks of the Sanhedrin during the Hellenistic and Roman eras, the Abbasid Caliphate state-sponsored scholars of the 9th century, and those of medieval scholars (Christian, Jewish and Muslim) are the predecessors of the networks that expanded even more with global trade, networks that during the Enlightenment expanded knowledge enormously in politics, philosophy, practical subjects, and social sciences. All this was not only before the internet, it was before the typewriter.

If “too many educators fail to understand how technology is changed society”, then I am one of those educators. Like the copying of manuscripts, the printing press, and the Telex machine, the development of technology represents an ongoing cultural goal to spread information, and social connections are a side effect. This is true of the computers and the internet, set up to process information but later becoming a means of social connection.

Part of the problem is in the limited understanding of such previous information technologies and their context. In the section on Language and Learning, Siemens characterizes text as a static format, a more formalized version of the oral cutlure that came before. First, oral culture was not freewheeling. Without the recording properties of written text, oral cultures possessed expansive memories. Modern literate societies don’t even realize how much the preliterate memory can hold in verbatim form (though you can try by reading your three -year-old a 20-item shopping list and asking for recall.) Hours of songs and stories could be repeated verbatim after being heard once — oral culture had its own “static” forms, as adaptable to new conditions as any printed text in its second “edition”. Next, Gutenberg wasn’t transitioning from “the previous dialogue or vocal base (Socrates, Plato, religious leaders)”. The press was a continuation of centuries of communicating through writing. If it expanded anything, it was visual communication, because block printing enabled illustrations to be part of the book, for little extra cost. Diagrams aren’t textual. So oral culture is more static than presented, and text-based culture more flexible and visual.

Books (particularly in revised editions), newspaper articles, journals, saved letters, have for centuries created a conversation on every conceivable topic. Whether such communications were formal or informal, they have created and preserved knowledge networks. What’s different about the internet is not the content, but the increased accessibility for both readers and writers (a similar expansion to Gutenberg’s), the existence of a medium that can accept other media (movies, audio, animation), the increased opportunity to interact with models sans laboraties, and the speed of the communications. These do indeed need to be considered, as they do have an impact on society. But while they are exponential increases, they are increases in aspects that have already existed for centuries. I don’t buy that our world has changed “fundamentally”, and have seen no proof for the assertion that [web] technology-augmented learning “permits the assimilation and expression of knowledge elements in a manner than enables understanding not possible without technology”. Deep understanding, even of extremely complex issues, has been happening for a long time.

Historical perspective also prevents us getting overly enamored of the internet age, where communications are, after all, based on electrically-powered connections. Siemens suggests that society is moving away from basic skills (his example is operating a forklift). The “shift to higher-level models of learning” may not be necessary or appropriate for everyone. I have an image of a post-apocalyptic world, or even one where electricity is priced out, and no one who knows how to survive without a computer.

September 11, 2008

Response: Connectivism & Constructivism

Filed under: Responses,Week 1 — lisahistory @ 8:34 am
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Before the discussion of fraud broke out, I had posted a response on the Connectivism blog where I tried to help delineate constructivism and connectivism:

I am not a specialist in educational theory of any kind, merely a practitioner, so I tend to think in terms of classroom application. When I think of constructivism, I see students in groups, constructing or building something, some kind of model, usually one that reflects at least the parameters of something held in the mind of the instructor. With connectivism, the students could be in the same arrangement, but the point of what they’re doing is the connection itself, the “growing” of the ideas as they interact, which may well not be in any form in the mind of the instructor. Or am I way off?

Last night, I read more and replied to Stephen’s entry on Connectivism and its Critics about using connectivism in a traditional university setting. Right after I posted this:

The current traditional university model is not inherently conducive to the adoption of connectivist learning, and yet it is possible to introduce it subversively as a pedagogical practice. For many of us, I suspect that is what we’ll be able to achieve, within the confines of policy, which determines the necessity not only for assessment but for certain types of assessments. I would be quite unhappy if I thought that connectivism could only succeed in a perfect world (like communism or capitalism). The more likely use is that elements of connectivism will be introduced in such a way that, while not creating the non-course-based, lifelong-learning world we wish for, can be a step in the right direction.

(hey! there’s no Edit button!) I happened to end up at George’s post on the Connectivism Blog from February on Getting started with connectivism/networked learning. Here he lists things that someone new to networked technologies could use to improve learning. I encapsulate:

  1. create a class blog
  2. use collaborative activities
  3. open resources for sharing (wiki)
  4. balance openness and privacy
  5. use open resources
  6. direct students to conference presentations
  7. contribute resources on your blog
  8. experiment with tools and approaches
  9. provide learners with post-course resources
  10. help learners develop meta-skills
  11. combine students from different levels
  12. bring in guest speakers

And as I’m reading these ideas, I’m thinking, “couldn’t you do all that as a constructivist?” The only difference is, as Siemens writes, “[t]he educator continues to play a vital role in the process…but her/his role becomes one of assisting learners in creating networks that will enable the development of needed skills and will model the attitudes and skills needed to effectively participate in information abundant environments.”

So perhaps connectivists are constructivists, but the new task is to construct a skill set in making connections, rather than providing the opportunity to create a specific construction of thought or learning.

September 10, 2008

Summary and Response: What Connectivism Is

Filed under: Responses,Summaries — lisahistory @ 9:43 pm
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This was a collection Downes’ answers, in fisking format, at the Connectivism Conference forum, where he replied to a number of people questioning connectivist theory. Despite the title, this was more about what connectivism is NOT, which was actually more useful.

Downes defined connectivism as the theory that “knowledge is distributed across a network of connections” and that learning is “the ability to construct and transverse those networks”. Thus the process of learning is the creation of connections, and “knowledge” is “the set of connections formed by actions and experience”.

The role of the instructor is to model and demonstrate; the role of the learner to practice and reflect. I’ve read that in Downes’ work before, and it is to me the most profound thing I’ve heard about pedagogy. It is already changing the way I do things.

Where I run into trouble is where he says that “an understanding” is distributed across a network of connections. To “know” something seems unique and personal. I’m seeing conflict here between the collective and the networked individual noted by Wellman. Could they be the same thing?

Downes also says that whatever mental models there are are not built, but grown “like a plant”. I assume there’s a connection there to neural network growth in the brain, except that in the brain neurological connections seem to become stronger with repeated use, although I suppose an initial pathway could be seen as being “grown”.

The fact that Downes notes that understanding previous theories won’t translate well into connectivism may make it the strongest argument for its being a new theory I’ve heard so far.

Bill Kerr had written that there seem to be two different versions of this theory (he doesn’t like considering it a theory), George’s version and Stephen’s version. Downes answers this by saying that theories postulate “the existence of some entities and the non-existence of others”. Using Newtonian gravitation as the example (apparently Newton rejected “impetus” in favor of “mass”), he says that he is using the language of mass (the new model), while George makes his work more accessible by using “impetus”. Presumably, then, this would mean that Siemen’s focuses on what is no longer the case, moving away from earlier models. But from what I have seen so far, Seimen’s perception of the past is somewhat tenuous, while Downes (using the “new” view) seems more concretely to understand connectivism in a continuum of thought about knowledge.

Always the philosopher (for which I am profoundly grateful), Downes makes me more aware that knowledge is a matter of seeing the whole enchilada (in his example, a holistic view of a chessboard rather than remembering series of moves). I think that the recognition he is discussing may be deductive, and the inference that detractors think is necessary to knowledge is inductive. I have to put at least some of this into my current theoretical models, or I’ll lose it entirely!).

Some of the things here that might be useful for my short paper include:

  • previous theories won’t translate well into connectivism, supporting the idea of its being a new theory
  • still keeps knowledge as individual — I am not seeing anything here supporting collective or networks “knowing” anything
  • there may be a contradiction here with Wellman, which is fine with me!
  • knowledge is something you can’t not know, and it’s holistic, more based in recognition than in reasoning, perhaps more like intuition

Question:
* I’d like to know what Stephen would make of the word “content” in regard to knowledge?

September 9, 2008

Response: What is Connectivism — Three Types of Network Learning

Filed under: Responses,Week 1 — lisahistory @ 10:41 am
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This morning I listened to the audio for George Siemen’s What Is Connectivism? presentation (made yesterday!). Here a helpful tripartite system was set up as “Types of network learning”:

  • neural/brain networks (biological) — neuroscience as source, formation of neural connections
  • conceptual networks (internal/cognitive — I would say of the mind, associations between ideas, deep understanding, ability to learn related to conceptual network)
  • social/external networks (the focus of connectivist theory)

All are, of course, connected. I agree that we need a better understanding in general of how networks are formed, but I find myself drawn to conceptual networks rather than social networks. Siemens says that cannot guarantee (through research) that network properties exist at the conceptual level, despite the fact that our intuition says they can.

I am not clear how we can discuss revising curriculum if we only reference the social network aspects that seem central to connectivism. It worries me that we have lots of research about neural networks, and now lots of research about social learning networks, there isn’t enough about internal/cognitive networks. I am having trouble shaking my “belief” that knowledge building (or growing) is primarily an internal process.

Response: Wellman article

Filed under: Responses,Week 1 — lisahistory @ 6:13 am
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Analysis of Little Boxes, Glocalization, and Network Individualism
Barry Wellman

I went on way too long about this article, because I found it to have profound amoral implications. I think I was supposed to take it as a factual description of how our society is moving from geographically-dependent to computer-mediated communities, which would help us understand that online classes and current modes of communication are based on networks rather than proximity. But it implied much more.

Although initially dismayed only by its vocabulary (his typology was offered provisionally as a heuristic), by the time I got to the end of this article, I was saddened by its dystopian vision and vaguely horrified by its amorality. Wellman describes a world in transition from “little boxes” (groups of people thrown together by virtual of geographic location) through “glocalization” (still defined by place but increasingly privatized and voluntary) to networked individualism (person-to-person networks).

The “little boxes” reminded me of Levittown, a prototypical suburb created during the 1940s. But Wellman claims that such communities are of deeper historical origin; they are “traditional”. The implication is that communal relationships have been somewhat consistent for thousands of years, which of course they have not. The only thing the “iteinerant bands, agrarian villages, trading towns, and urban neighborhoods” of his “preindustrial” society (I rarely have seen this word used so inclusively) have in common is indeed some sense of geographic location; otherwise their own shifting relationships and portrayal of community varies widely throughout history, and paradigm shifts occur that are even greater than those he portrays for contemporary and “emerging” eras. But such issues raise my hackles only because I am a historian, and since this is not a history class I can ignore his massive oversimplification of social history.

As part of this transition to networked individualism, Wellman notes that scholars in particular enjoy the autonomy created by the ability of distance communications such as email to permit them to focus by isolating scholarly communications. I have certainly found it convenient to be able to relate to people without the necessity for the personal, how-ya-doing, how’s-the-wife-and-kids communication patterns necessary in face-to-face interactions. I also agreed with his contention that when “strong ties” (those people we associate with daily in regular life) don’t provide enough information, we use “weaker ties”. Certainly this is true for many people seeking medical advice, who comb the web for clues to their own condition or that of a loved one.

The author also claims a flattening of social interaction in the sense that one is less aware of differences in class, social status, income, race, gender, etc. in an online environment. Perhaps the “lack of social and physical cues” make it difficult to determine such things. But while the “focus on shared interests” is primary, the way people write can tell a great deal about them. And although he is most interested in the way groups of people operate in this environment, I have found that most online interactions I’ve experienced over the last decade or so are networked in the sense that I am one-on-one with someone, and they are also one-on-one with a variety of other people. I have only once done anything that could be considered collaborating with a “group” in a non-synchronous way, and even though I teach groups we call classes, the pressure is toward a more tutorial relationship (as much as I try to prevent this and create “community”).

Now, for the dystopianism and amorality. I first noticed it in his casual mention that family get-togethers, even at mealtime, are on the decline. Several times throughout the article, divorce is implicated in creating more complex networks of relationships. The “densely-knit milieus” he describes in his idealistic past were based not only on geographic proximity, but on a consensus conception of moral community. Those who were “in” were core because they fit into a conforming set of ethics and modes of behavior, not just because they lived in the same neighborhood. All were voluntary in the sense that those who chose to ignore the dominant moral paradigm were in danger of losing livelihood and sometimes their life (witchcraft hunts, in all their various forms, come to mind). While the destruction of such a system may seem to be a good thing (I have fought such mindless conformity my whole life), the premise on which it is based is the preservation of the community as a place of common values.

As he blithely talks about its destruction, I could not help feeling that if he’s right we are entering a world of temporary connectivity, superficial relationships, decline of kinship ties, and the manifestation of an echo-chamber culture where people only associate with individuals with whom they already agree. I do not see a flattening based on ignorance of people’s class and race, but small associations of like-minded individuals bypassing those elements for the sake of a shared, but often insignficant interest, like bird-watching or rollerblading or stamp collection or bomb making. Is that worth giving up a family dinner?

Indeed, his “networked individualism” is an appropriate term, and his emphasis on the creation of autonomy is insightful. But the moral result of such a thing is ignored in the article, which focuses on whether or not “groupware” should really be “networkware” in the light of the paradigm shift he postulates. The lack of actual evidence and referencing in the article, only a list of ten references at the end, gives an even greater sense of this being a treatise rather than a study, a pronouncement of the way things are. The charts at the end blithely intersperse categories like “domesticity” (with its “Nanny cares for Jane” result) with technical apsects like Interruptabiltiy and Frequency of Contact. Does he not realize he’s writing a moral treatise?

The trends he notes are, I hope, not inevitable. As a historian, I sense they are in no way permanent, and I found his article to be a warning rather than an examination. The problem at the heart of it seems to be individualism itself. This search for autonomy described throughout is left rudderless if tied only to voluntary community. I realize that makes me sound like a Levittown social conservative, but actually my politics is much more toward the radical, communitarian goals of socialism. The result of unchecked individualism is a lack of social empathy, not with ones “friends” online but with the transient homeless person on the expressway off-ramp you see every day. It is the vote for oneself instead of for the good of the community, the willingness to let a toxic dump open over there so long as it is not over here, the triumph of small-minded NIMBYism.

The social networks he describes are thus not even social in the sense of considering the larger society. While he claims “[t]his is not social disintegration”, that’s exactly what it is: the supremacy of selfish goals over the good of the whole. He says that “[a]utonomy, opportunity and uncertainty are the rule” in his networked world, but human beings naturaly seek interdependence and love, ethical choices, and a sense of certainty. I simply don’t want to live in the world he describes.

No, my article analyses won’t usually go on so long. But this one hit too hard at things I found important.

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