Lisa’s CCK08 Wordpress Blog

September 19, 2008

Concept Map: What’s New in Connectivism

Filed under: Visualisation,Week 2 — Lisa M Lane @ 12:50 pm

I know, it was last week’s topic. But I didn’t really have a grasp of it before reading Steve’s post on Wednesday in the Moodle forum, and thus the article by Kop and Hill. And besides, it was Cmap.

Data, Information, Knowledge, Wisdom

Filed under: Responses,Visualisation,Week 2 — Lisa M Lane @ 12:02 pm

September 18, 2008

A World Run by Buffs?

Filed under: Responses,Week 2 — Lisa M Lane @ 1:24 pm

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 17, 2008

Putting it into action

Filed under: Week 2 — Lisa M Lane @ 4:34 pm

So far, the most practical element I’ve gotten from the reading is Downes’ idea that teaching is modeling and demonstration, and learning is practice and reflection. I have taken it so much to heart that it is changing how I do my job in my face-to-face classes.

Like many institutions, we have been under pressure to develop Student Learning Outcomes that can be assessed. As a great proponent of academic freedom, I have helped developed for my discipline some very broad outcomes that give each instructor the opportunity to assess similar skills while each using their own examples and tests. I am thus free to create my own evolving list, in addition to the formal SLOs, of things I think students should be able to do as a result of taking my history class.

I’ve begun a pattern of lecturing with slides every Monday, after they’ve done their homework. Their homework consists of reading a chapter from the text and writing a mini-essay with a clear thesis, supported by information implied by the list of chapter terms. This way they have to use the material, not just read it. Then I’ve been making the lecture available in audio also, which I hadn’t planned to do, but my little Phillips MP3 player, Zoho Show, and Slideshare has made it drop-dead simple.

But on Wednesdays, I find myself (yes, that’s really how it feels) doing other things that are more modeling and demonstrating. One of the skills is text glossing, and instead of explaining it, I photocopied a scene from Oedipus Rex onto a transparency, and sat at the overhead glossing it with their help. Here’s what we developed:

I’ve also handed out maps, have them try to place things on their own, then encourage them to compare what they’ve done with not only their book but with their colleagues, to consider their colleagues as sources of information. I’ve handed out a document, given them class time for reading and reflection, then had them take those ideas to their groups. My attitude is good, I have lots of energy doing all this, and the students seem to be responding, although I can tell the class is very difficult for some of them.

So although some of my posts may make me appear overly skeptical, I am learning a great deal that I’m applying right away, even within the context of our assessment-bound, expert-ruled, poorly connected, industrialized community college experience.

September 15, 2008

A Sense of Constructivism Anyway

Filed under: Musings,Week 2 — Lisa M Lane @ 10:12 am

There has been much discussion in the class about the difference between connectivism (which focuses on the links in the network) and constructivism (which focuses on constructing knowledge individually with instructor guidance). And although it’s quite clear the differences between the two, as a class member, I am feeling a sense of constructivism.

The class is certainly set up to provide plenty of connections and opportunities for many kinds of networks, and I would like to be focusing more on the “pipe” rather than the content. But I’m seriously struggling with that.

One reason may be that I’m formally enrolled in the class (unlike the 2000 other people), which means I put additional pressure on myself to do all the readings, and make sure my output is timely and appropriate. To participate in the network this class entails (for we are guinea pigs to a connectivist experiment as well as students), I’ve got my blog, my feeds for Google Alerts, cck08 on several search tools, my aggregators, links to others’ blogs. I go to the Moodle forums because much of the conversation is taking there instead of where I expected (i.e. within the blogs themselves), to George’s and Stephen’s various blogs too.

I feel like I know where the class is (even with many rooms) and I’ve been given the plans, but now I’ve had to assemble my own desk, and tried to shape it for me even though a schematic have been provided. Then I’m putting my own textbook together, making judgements and decisions about what is most important to read. I gather my multimedia from the various sources, and determine which box to put them in (mp3 player, web access on desktop computer) and I take in much input and information.

So even though I would like to focus on connections, like most people in Week 1 I suffered from being overwhelmed, and now the sense of construction is even stronger. I am not free to just learn what I want from my connections. There is a set structure, and certain ideas I am supposed to not only grasp but be able to display in a concept map. I must construct not only blog posts, but a visual concept map, using the resources and guidance provided by instructors and colleagues. So thus far, the class itself is feeling very constructivist to me.

September 14, 2008

The History Problem

Filed under: Responses,Week 2 — Lisa M Lane @ 3:17 pm

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.

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