Lisa’s CCK08 Wordpress Blog

September 11, 2008

Response: Connectivism & Constructivism

Filed under: Responses,Week 1 — Lisa M Lane @ 8:34 am

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 9, 2008

Response: What is Connectivism — Three Types of Network Learning

Filed under: Responses,Week 1 — Lisa M Lane @ 10:41 am

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.

Musing: teaching and learning goals

Filed under: Musings,Week 1 — Lisa M Lane @ 10:20 am
Tags: ,

The goals of teaching are antithetical to the goals of learning. The goal of teaching is the inculcation of values inherent in a subject and the promotion of a set of norms that fits the subject into the overall realm of knowledge as has been determined by historical forces. No one takes a class to learn such a thing.

The role of schools is to teach, not adopt the currently trendy communication style as if it were the content. The technologies should be used to stimulate communication and collaboration, which is what they do best. The use of such technologies for augmenting knowledge through communication does not create the knowledge.

Response: Wellman article

Filed under: Responses,Week 1 — Lisa M Lane @ 6:13 am

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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