I’ve gone back to my online teaching blog at http://lisahistory.net/wordpress. Come on over!
January 2, 2009
November 13, 2008
There are numerous opportunities for changing teaching and learning through the application of connectivist ideas. The most important is the possibility of creating new designs for instruction, designs which create an exploratory environment or “ecology” where networked learning can emerge. As Stephen Downes has implied throughout the class, there is a need to do away with “sameness” or universality in terms of educational goals, assessments, and learning itself. Doing so would take the formality out of “formal” education, transforming it toward an institutionalized version of Jay Cross‘ “informal learning”. These new approaches would naturally reflect many of the global changes taking place in the production and distribution of information and ideas. Such a transformation is currently demonstrated in the decentralizing forces evident in internet sharing, blogging, and artistic creation. It threatens traditional patterns of authority, making it possible even for learners subject to the control of our educational institutions to create their own learning paths.
It is difficult to institute such change in practice for several reasons. One is that a shift to learner-controlled education would require institutions to have a commitment to quality that extends beyond the life-span of the people currently running the institution. People in today’s society are notoriously short-sighted in their goals. Unlike the townfolk who planned the Gothic cathedrals of the 12th and 13th century, current leaders do not view their creations in the longer term — they want results right now. This impatience makes experimentation less likely to receive intellectual or financial support. In addition, the structures controlling education employ people who have a vested interest in using their current skill set, authorized in the form of Ed.D. and Instructional Design degrees. Last, there is the usual resistance to change found in all human societies, from ancient Greek Sophists who hated Socrates, to medieval peasants resisting three-field rotation despite obvious benefits, to Americans persisting in a stultifying two-party political system. Such resistance is completely natural, and the concerns raised by cynics, Luddites and skeptics should be considered as part of the process by which change is created in a thoughtful way.
Such perspectives provide balance to the hype, offsetting the over-enthusiasm which can undermine the creation of a solid foundation for educational transformation.
One concern is computer dependency. Heylighen (2002, 7) notes problems of “inefficiency” in dealing with large amounts of information, but his solutions rely on systems which are at present utterly dependent on fossil-fueled electricity. His claims of the eradication of physical constraints and the “disappearance of distance”, his “ubiquitous electricity network”, are reliant on non-sustainable energy (in the parts of the world where they are even available). Like many other “hype-sters”, Heylighen sidesteps or refuses to deal with the moral implications of changes in society and resource allocation wrought by computerized communication, particularly the internet. Many are doubtful that “networked individualism” (Wellman 2001), although popular at the moment, is an appropriate or desirable substitute for local community ties or face-to-face communications.
Other objections which warrant our attention include:
- the belief that “distributed learning” cannot be assessed, that such learning creates networks but not necessarily knowledge;
- the fear that individual skills will decline, institutionalizing specialization of tasks to the point where few people will know how to chop wood, weave fabric, or cook wholesome meals;
- the concern that individual learners will be motivated only by immediate need, that intellectualism will no longer be an end in itself, that being “educated” will be so personalized as to mean nothing;
- the fact that the current education system is doing what it was designed to do, keeping little learners separate and controlled so that the adults can pursue their money-earning activities, while ensuring a standard of achievement that can guarantee competitive advantage (through degrees and social connections) and enable the next generation to achieve greater status and more possessions than the last.
These voices of resistance should cause innovators to reassess, to develop a value system based on more than freedom, openness and individualism. There should be considerations of social morality, dedication to family, service to society, intellectualism, broad knowledge, and historical foundations.
George Siemens asks, “Can our current world of weak ties and easy connections produce the depth of learning required to meet the complex challenges facing our future?” But does “depth of learning” mean in one small area, or as needed to become a thinking person? And which is necessary for the future? The idea that no one person can build an airplane or master a discipline (Siemen’s Complexity, Chaos and Emergence 2008, p. 2) implies that depth of learning need only include one specific skill (such as the knowledge of how to weld parts of the fuselage) but not depth in overall intellectual habits of mind. If knowledge is fragmented into such small sections, such specific divisions of labor, that assumes a future in which such specialization is needed. This may be a response to the perception that our world is becoming more complex, and that each of us practicing one speciality will combine in an unintentional collective (Dron and Anderson 2007) to get everything done. Certainly there is a perception of such increasing complexity, and increasing “speed”, but it may well be faulty, since most generations note the same thing. As Virgil wrote, “fugit inreparabile tempus”.
Retooling is required for implementing change. Understanding of complex systems, which have always existed, is the umbrella for the skills that are most needed as external control and authority decline. Contemporary examples, such as the unexpectedly quick spread of hoof-and-mouth disease (Seth Bullock 2006) and the lack of coordinated information preceding the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 (Surowiecki 77-78) point toward the weaknesses of decentralized learning in ordinary environments. In education, therefore, certain aspects of learning need to be emphasized in order to change the environment:
- interpretation: the ability to place events, people and objects in a useful context
- metacognition: awareness of ones own intellectual processes and bias
- awareness of the “access trust”: appreciation that channels of information may be controlled by the few
- aggregation: crucial to creating understanding, this aggregation should be intentional (diversity within decision-making groups a la James Surowiecki 2004) as well as emergent (Dron and Anderson 2007)
- ability to operate appropriately in an open environment: a new adaptation of social skills, including:
a. identity construction
b. communication skills
c. wayfinding (Siemens, Instructional Design and Connectivism 2008)
d. recognition and appreciation of diversity
Of these, interpretation has been basic to intellectual endeavor since Peter Abelard (however much he paid for that). Metacognition is becoming more popular, and every revolutionary in history is familiar with the “access trust”. The other two skills (aggregation and the ability to operate appropriately in an open environment) have increased in significance. Understanding and applying these skills, which themselves need to be learned, would provide the necessary underpinnings for successful educational change in the direction suggested by connectivism. Without these skills, and consideration of the well-founded moral and practical concerns of skeptics, new approaches will prove impossible to adopt.
October 25, 2008
It seems a little bizarre to me in a course about openness and connectivity that the grading of student work should be hidden, but I understand that there may be privacy issues. I don’t have any of these, so here’s a link to George’s evaluation of my Paper #1. I’d like to answer here some of the questions he poses:
I would like to see you develop some of your ideas on knowledge in particular. You mention that you have difficulty accepting weak-connection knowledge as equally valid with established (traditional?) knowledge. This is a significant statement and potential area of debate. While it’s partly based on Stephen’s views of knowledge, I think you’d do well to begin by defining your view of knowledge. This is a short paper and a full critique is not possible. If, however, you disagree with assertions made, it would be helpful to provide reasons. For example, the introduction of strength of connections as a value base is an interesting concept. As it stands in your article, however, it doesn’t receive the appropriate treatment. What about “connections” can serve to make value statements? Why is weak less superior to strong connections? Or, turning to the readings earlier in the course on latent semantic analysis, why is it that some connections yield greater results than is inherent in the connection itself? Is historically validated knowledge superior? If you feel it is – and can provide reasons why, then you could use it as an effective lever in addressing the technological aspects of connectivism that you find unsettling (or even the moral dimension). Filling out this area of your argument would serve as a basis for addressing the final two points you mention as well: content/connection distinction and the “presentism” that you see as part of connectivism.
History itself does not provide validation, because history is comprised of a collection of interpretations which are as embued with value judgements, emotional context, and presentism as anything in contemporary times. But each traditional thread of discussion does provide a tree of connection among ideas, and the longer the idea has been around, the larger the tree. The diversity is thus apparent through time, rather than diversity of opinion being available only through multiple views created in the same approximate timeframe. This means that historically-developed discussions of topics have a broader base of context. In other words, a discussion of anything taking place only within the last 20 years or so would be a discussion among people whom, despite their differences of opinion, are all working within a similar context: the recent timeframe. Discussions with historical reference propose arguments from within different temporal contexts. To me, that makes them broader, more diverse, and thus more valid.
If one wishes, validity of a sort can also be found by researching particular timeframes, so long as one doesn’t lose sight of the context. For ideas about reason versus passion, for example, the Enlightenment (Voltaire versus Rousseau) is, well, enlightening. Anything implying categorization can be referred to Aristotle, and educational ideas involving “the greatest good for the greatest number” might benefit from access to the 19th century utilitarians. Discussions of voluntary society should at least make mention of utopian socialist conversations, even if they don’t reference Kropotkin or Proudhon directly.
Concerning value in weak versus strong connections, I was not arguing against the value of the former, rather I was raising the issue of automatic validity, as if every idea coming through any connection carried similar weight until shown otherwise. As I noted, I see this as a step toward justifying a disregard of the quality of information (and even, now that I think of it, interpretation). If, as my definition of knowledge states, true knowledge is a higher form of cognition, than more highly-informed nodes would originate connections that carry greater weight. But their connections only do so because the originator is well-informed, or highly educated, or very wise. All pipes are not created equal, and I continue to struggle with seeing “connections” without reference to the “connectors”.
September 29, 2008
There is a natural tendency toward history. We each have a history, and modern psychology has taught us that, to a certain extent, we are each a product of our own historical experience. We learned in the classroom (well, most pre-college classrooms) that history is a recitation of names, events, and dates.
Of course, that is not the case when referring to history as an intellectual endeavor. Notice that I say “intellectual endeavor”, not “academic discipline”. Herodotus was not a member of the academy, and many a historian has been trained only by reading and writing (doing) history.
History, at least writing history, always has a purpose. For the Greeks, the purpose of writing about the past was to emphasize and justify moral lessons. Since then, history has been written for the purpose of creating social reform, supporting a political party, shoring up a public argument, etc.
My point is this: at no time in history has the purpose of history been the listing of dates and events. There must be a thesis, a point of view or guiding idea, a purpose for creating the list. In creating a list, choices are made as to what to include and what to leave out. We must cull our evidence. And in writing history, the reason for the culling is to support a particular contention.
In this week’s readings, I am having trouble finding those contentions.
Trebor Scholz’s A History of the Social Web was the original assigned reading for this week. Despite the fact that is was written last year, it remains in draft form. I tried to find a thesis in the first several paragraphs. He came close with
Emphasizing the role of women whenever possible, this history shows that the interests of those who used the Net as social platform shaped it in the interplay of military, scientific, entrepreneurial, activist, artistic, and altrustic agnedas.
I would not likely allow a student to write a paper using such a thesis, because it is very vague (“in the interplay of”?) and would probably lead to a list. Thinking that perhaps the point was about women, I then counted forty-three men mentioned in the article before a single woman appeared. (Be aware that I wasn’t concerned about this as a woman, but as a historian analyzing a thesis — don’t worry, it’s a common mistake.)
I did read the entire rambling, poorly written, disjointed, short-paragraphed, blog-style thing. A point of view popped up in a couple of areas, but nothing overall, no point to the article. It’s a list.
This morning I printed (I like to print to read, no surprise there) George Siemens’ A brief history of networked learning. Grateful that he mentioned right away the reality of networks existing since, well, forever, after three paragraphs Siemens detailed, not a history of networked learning, but rather the history (there was a thesis and everything!) of computer-assisted global networks and the learning theories accompanying them. I’d like to suggest a change in title to:
Late 20th and Early 21st Century Developments in Theories of Computer-Based Social Learning Network Models for Education
Does that work?
Stephen’s list, entitled A Folk History of the Internet, is a tracking list that said it was a tracking list and invited some participation. It’s just a list of links by year. No claims to “history” beyond the name and the chronological nature of the listing. Honest, I thought.
Now, if only I could get people to avoid using the word “technology” when they mean something like “the internet”…
September 25, 2008
Most of the members of my network are dead.
I raised this idea in a Sept 19 Ustream session (audio from 28:00) and promised to blog about it. At first, the concept was gently ridiculed (“dead people don’t answer email”), but gradually participants began to realize that since most of what we know about others are just their artifacts anyway (particularly if we’ve only met them online), we may indeed be networking with those we read, many of whom lived long ago. (I thought it was particularly important for Stephen Downes to understand this, since his network includes so many wonderful philosophers, like Wittgenstein, about whom he writes as if they were still around.)
If we say that our networks are made up of ties we have with people, then my knowledge (which I define much more deeply than is often done in this class) is dependent on many people who are no longer living. If we say that networks are comprised of hubs at the center of their own networks, I can see Jefferson, Voltaire, Rousseau, Adams, Madison as hubs. If we say they are influenced by power laws, you betcha. Scale free? Definitely. Made up of connectors and those who are highly influenced? Uh huh. Emphasizing weak ties? Oh sure (although I think Jefferson and Madison’s families were close, geographically and as friends).
Dead people have the following advantages in a network:
Their ideas are often well-indexed (though perhaps not prior to the 18th century), and their writing better focused. I do not have to use Search for blog posts or deal with a 404 error when they move something. I don’t have to read what they had for breakfast while looking for something important. (Although it is more fun to know what Thomas Jefferson had for breakfast than, say, Andrew Keen.)
Many famous dead writers have had their work repeatedly analyzed within the context of various historic eras, providing not only access to secondary analysis but a history of the application of their ideas.
Context for “New” Ideas
Whenever the Salesmen of our age try to sell us something as new and different, distinct and unique, dead people in the network can provide good balance and a healthy dose of skepticism.
Reminders of our Humanity
If their lives have been researched and studied as well as their work, they remind us of our own humanity. Although all public work is what the author wants us to see, historical biography often reveals what they didn’t want us to see. This reminds us that even great thinkers of the past were subject to the same vices and failings as ourselves.
Their disadvantages are:
They don’t answer email.
Well, perhaps not, but neither do many live people I know.
They don’t have the current research.
Very true, and yet current research is constructed within our current social context. Thus it only has enduring value in historical perspective, which is what your dead people provide: a context for that new research.
They aren’t going to come out with anything new.
Again, many live people don’t either, and every new reading or interpretation does bring something new to the conversation.
They don’t Twitter.
OK, you’ve got me there.
The false assumptions are:
They can’t talk to you.
They don’t talk to you personally, perhaps, but they do talk to you. All of the past talks to you if you are the type of person who enjoys reading and thinking.
They won’t answer.
As with live people, if you pose a question appropriate to the source, you will get a good answer; otherwise you won’t.
We don’t need them here.
The field of educational technology in particular has Marshall McLuhan as a vital network member, to name just one.
Contrary to the Pirates of the Caribbean mentality, dead men do tell tales. When I told a colleague, “what they said was: dead people don’t answer email”, his response was, “no, but they do answer questions”. If we’re going to value meta-cognition as an intellectual skill, it would be good to acknowledge those ideas that help form our perspective, and cite our sources. Filling ones network with dead people will make it deeper, more sustainable, more holistic and more useful.
While listening to George’s Introduction to Networks and Valdis Krebs’ presentation Wednesday morning in Elluminate, I recalled Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point. In the book, not only does he discuss strong and weak ties, but he denotes three kinds of people who spread “word-of-mouth epidemics”: Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen.
I found the book to be a very interesting discussion of the way ideas spread, and my particular interest in reading it was my realization that a great deal of our understanding about networks comes from people in marketing. At the same time as I read this book, I was also reading Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath, which, although I was reading it to help my teaching, certainly noted many marketing examples.
Determining customer’s desires is what most companies do, in order, of course, to sell stuff. They also want to go beyond that to create demand where there wasn’t any. A great deal of the development of ideas about “networking” is associated with business: in fact, the word itself first became popular in a business context.
I don’t know whether that’s why I’m having trouble applying it to education? Certainly, whenever college professors are subjected to business models (I recall the Total Quality Management movement of the last decade), we wince and insist that what we’re doing is not commercial, and should not be subject to business motives, structures, or accountability. By “accountability” we mean the immediate quantifying justification of teaching, the inability of many people to realize what they’ve learned in college until many years later, and the difficulty in quantifying it even then.
So now we have an entire course that relates learning to networks, and thus by extension to business models, although I know that this is not the focus of research for folks like Siemens and Downes. But with Krebs, certainly, and the focus on six degrees and such, I see the spectre of TQM hovering in the background. I suspect a number of “the 2000” joining us here are business people, seeking to sell me not only products, but also ideas. Perhaps I am overly sensitive, but I think I’ll just review the Week 3 ideas for now. The main attributes of network are:
- Small Worlds (like six degrees of separation)
- Hubs: highly connected nodes (like Google, or the secretary’s desk at a school)
- Power laws: ideas of power being distributed fairly or unfairly, but usually unevenly
- Scale free: a large number of notes does not denote better connections
- Connectors: as in Gladwell’s book, people who spread trends through weak ties, although Watts and Dodds says that may happen more through people who are easily influenced
- Weak ties: I prefer shallow and deep to weak and strong, but the idea that people with whom you have a connection in only one area may be quite meaningful
Again, I can see all of these in business, and many of them socially. I’ll work on applying them as we go along.
September 11, 2008
It’s a start. A bit miffed I can’t really do those curving links to connect things on the end of each branch.
September 9, 2008
From What is the Unique Idea in Connectivism? “What is new in constructivism, and please provide commentary if you disagree, is that it combined existing ideas into a framework that resonated with the needs and trends of the current era” and what is unique in connectivism is “the particular combination and integration of ideas that reflect the broader societal and information-based trends”. In this blog article, George Siemens presents some of the theoretical foundations of connectivism and a list of what is unique about his approach.
Some of the foundations include the ideas that all tools (technology) carry with them an ideology (a point I’ve carried in my work on the pedagogy of course management systems), learning takes place in a context and in a social way, cognition may be distributed rather than focused, technologies can change our conception of humanity, and networks exist everywhere. The theoretical foundations range from Wittgenstein and Marshall McLuhan to a set of noted contemporary scholars.
“Connectivism is the application of network principles to define both knowledge and the process of learning. ” These networks are not just computer-based, but exist in the mind itself, in society, and in individual cognitive frameworks. The metaphor of neural network-building in the brain can provide one model, but here it’s placed in the context of social interaction and a post-modern technological world of shared concepts and opinions.
I am trying to categorize my thoughts as I’m reading, because they are varied. Some are direct analyses of what I’ve read or heard/seen in a presentation, others are tangential thoughts that are related and I may want to come back to later.
So in addition to temporal categories (Week 1, Week 2, etc) I am adding:
* Summaries: summaries of articles or conversations
* Responses: analyses of assigned reading
* Musings: disparate thoughts occurring as a result of thinking about the class
* Conversations: topics I’ll get involved in on other blogs or at the Moodle forum
I want to make things easier to sort, for myself and anyone coming here. I have also added our syllabus elements to the sidebar, to help me get organized. It makes sense that I should create my own “central” area in a decentralized class, and that it be the place where I have my original work.
September 6, 2008
Welcome to my blog for the Connectivism Massive Open Online Course, offered by George Siemens and Stephen Downes, Sept-Nov 2008.