Archive for September, 2008

CCK08: Reflection for Week 2: Part 2

September 28, 2008

Two weeks ago, the rhizomatic education discussion resonated with me for two reasons; first, because I think that there is great strength in using analogies from the biological sciences to understand learning, and second, because I was pleased to hear Stephen Downes discuss motivation as a key factor in motivating learners. Related to the material that I will discuss below, I have found Downes’ subtle and articulate elaboration on his views about homeschooling vs. community schooling (see the video post included about halfway down the page) most intriguing.  (more…)


Okay, I think we’ve got the confusion part…

September 23, 2008

Notes and Reflections on Selected Self-Organization and the Semiotics of Evolutionary Systems

by Luis Mateus Rocha

“You have to be confused before you can reach a new level of understanding anything” – Dudley Herschbach – Nobel Prize winner (Chemisty).

This quotation can be found at the end of George Siemens’ article, Connectivism: Learning as Network Creation. I came across it last week, right about the time that Siemens also mentioned, I think in the first UStream weekly discussion for the Connectivism and Connective Knowledge course, that he would be concerned if participants in the course were not experiencing confusion. (more…)

CCK08: Reflection for Week 2: Part 1

September 22, 2008

Last week, the rhizomatic education discussion resonated with me for two reasons; first, because I think that there is great strength in using analogies from the biological sciences to understand learning, and second, because I was pleased to hear Stephen Downes discuss motivation as a key factor in motivating learners.

Part 1: Rhizomatism

I am interested in reading Deleuze and Guatarri’s A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia, one reason being to determine the extent to which schizophrenia is being treated not just as a postmodern literary trope, but also in terms of its diagnostic features as a medical condition. Not that the DSM [insert link] has not had its share of criticisms, but that’s another issue entirely.

In Rhizomatic Education: Community as Curriculum, Dave Cormier utilizes “a botanical metaphor” to describe what he characterizes as a new form of knowledge:

A rhizomatic plant has no center and no defined boundary; rather, it is made up of a number of semi-independent nodes, each of which is capable of growing and spreading on its own, bounded only by the limits of its habitat (1).

No externally definable boundary, perhaps; however, the rhizome is certainly bounded by the internal structural limitations of the plant itself. These boundaries may change over time however, on the basis of the organism’s unique cellular phylogeny and ontogeny.

Phylogeny may be understood as “…the development or evolution of a particular group of organisms,” whereas ontogeny is defined as the “…history of the structural transformation of a unity.” (Maturana and Varela, 1980, p. 137).

Rhizomatic education is a metaphor that can be used to understand the organic nature of informal learning in context. Cormier contends that it “…represents a critical leap in coping with the loss of a canon against which to compare, judge, and value knowledge” and “may be particularly apt as a model for disciplines on the bleeding edge where the canon is fluid and knowledge is a moving target (1).”

What is knowledge in the rhizomatic context? Cormier maintains, “a clear definition of the word “knowledge” is difficult yet key to any search for shared understanding.” The historicity of the term is acknowledged through referencing Horton and Freire.

The etymology of the word “knowledge” is said to come from “the Old Icelandic kna, meaning “I can.” I find this reference especially relevant to the Connectivist framework, in that one of its tenets as identified by George Siemens is that “Learning has an end goal – namely the increased ability to “do something.” 

The closest to providing a definition of knowledge that Cormier includes is that it represents “positions from which people make sense of their worlds and their place in them, and from which they construct their concepts of agency, the possible, and their own capacities to do” (Stewart 2002, 20).

Rhizomatic knowledge entails “collaborative knoweldge construction”:

Social learning is the practice of working in groups, not only to explore an established canon but also to negotiate what qualifies as knowledge. According to Brown and Adler (2008) [insert link] “The most profound impact of the Internet, an impact that has yet to be fully realized, is its ability to support and expand the various aspects of social learning” (18). Several communities on the Internet offer some idea of what can be accomplished in a participatory social learning environment where knowledge is being negotiated (3).

This may be so; however, negotiating what qualifies as knowledge is not the same as the action of negotiating knowledge; one is a meta-analysis of the other.

Cormier claims that “…a rhizomatic knowledge-creation process…is already overtaking traditional models (3).” Can this claim be substantiated? Must the two models be in competition with one another, from a rhizomatic perspective? Further, Cormier asserts:

What is needed is a model of knowledge acquisition that accounts for socially constructed, negotiated knowledge. In such a model, the community is not the path to understanding or accessing the curriculum; rather, the community is the curriculum (3).

How does this claim differ from the principles of traditional social constructivism? One must revisit the initial premiss of Rhizomatic Education for the answer:

There is an assumption in [social constructivist and connectivist] theories that the learning process should happen organically but that knowledge, or what is to be learned, is still something independently verifiable with a definitive beginning and end goal determined by curriculum (1).

Cormier describes a graduate course conducted by Alec Couros, in which “students created their own rhizomatically mapped curriculum by combining their blogs with information to which Couros point them (4).” Does this “pointing” not constitute a loose curricular framework, in the same way that the Connectivism & Connective Knowledge course supplies weekly readings? I strikes me that there remains a central focus to Couros’ project, at least in that all of the students participating in the course are there with a particular end in mind which pertains to the course’s (non)agenda as part of a graduate studies program. Without having seen examples of how the course unfolded, it is difficult to ascertain Couros’ definitive role in relationship to his students. However, it would appear that Siemens’ description of various roles of educators may apply, namely through assuming one or a combination of the following parts: educator as master artist, educator as master administrator, or educator as concierge.

Cormier concludes:

Suggesting that a distributed negotiation of knowledge can allow a community of people to legitimize the work they are doing among themselves and for each member of the group, the rhizomatic model dispenses with the need for external validation of knowledge, either by an expert or by a constructed curriculum (4).

Presumably, the mechanism by which a community legitimizes the work they are doing amongst themselves, and for each member of the group, will vary depending on the community. According to this model, what are the limits of community? Can there be barriers to entry? In terms of membership, Cormier suggests:

…the members themselves will conect the node to the larger network. Most people are members of several communities—acting as core members in some, carrying more weight and engaging more extensively in the discussion, while offering more casual contributions in others, reaping knowledge from more involved members (Cormier 2007). 

Where does one community begin and another end? In accordance with a networked model of learning, nodes will expand and contract in accordance with the connections that are strengthened or weakened on the basis of members’ contributions: “If a given bit of information is recognized as useful to the community or proves itself able to do something, it can be counted as knowledge (4).”

Does it follow that there must be consensus amongst community members? What if members of a community do not agree with one another on a central point? Must a community then necessarily split, or are there protocols for the resolution of conflicts? How are community-based valuations translated and defined in ethical terms?

Cormier suggests that:

Knowledge seekers in cutting-edge fields are increasingly finding that ongoing appraisal of new developments is most effectively achieved through the participatory and negotiated experience of rhizomatic community engagement (4).

If we remove the word “rhizomatic” from the previous quotation, what difference does it make?

CCK08: Connectivism: Learning Theory of the Future or Vestige of the Past?

September 17, 2008

This paper began as what was proposed as a chapter generated on the basis of Bill Kerr’s presentation, “A Challenge to Connectivism” in the online Connectivism conference. The idea was to consolidate information from the presentation, as well as related forum posts related to the presentation, all in one work that would become part of a larger publication on the subject of Connectivism, which was to be made freely available online, and available for purchase in a printed format. The project never moved beyond the stage of individual authors posting work in wiki format for further review. 

Rita Kop, University of Chelsea, Wales, co-authored “Connectivism: Learning Theory of the Future or Vestige of the Past?” with me. We were brought together virtually by George Siemens, who suggested that the two of us work on authoring the chapter. Once it was clear that the book publication was not moving forward, we asked George whether it would be permissable to try to craft the chapter into an article for publication. Since the material was being made available under a Creative Commons license agreement, we were able to re-work it. 

The next year and a half were spent refining the article until we felt that it was worthy of publication. We had the great fortune to receive a tentatively favorable reply from the first journal to which we submitted the article, the International Review of Research on Online and Distance Learning (IRRODL). After several revisions, the article was deemed fit for publication. 

Rita and I have done our best to present Connectivism equitably, within the context of challenges raised by Bill Kerr and others regarding its status as a learning theory. Since having submitted the article, my continued explorations of related subject matter have led me to question the applicability of the formal paradigm of the scientific method to the Connectivist framework. Terry Anderson’s presentation on Research Models for Connectivist Learning and design-based research resonates strongly with me, as I have come to understand the limitations of the scientific method for research conducted within the domain of education. Another related resource of interest to me is Designing Research Autopoietically, by Antoinette Oberg and Philip Montgomery. 

I am now most interested in providing an alternative response to Kerr’s introduction of Dennett’s Creatures as an explanation for evolutionary development from within the Connectivist framework. I see very strong relationships between Connectivism and the work of Francisco Varelo and Humberto Maturana in The Tree of Knowledge: The Biological Roots of Human Understanding, as well as The Embodied Mind by Varela et al. I do not have a background in evolutionary biology, nor cognitive psychology, but in philosophy. I find the material challenging, but feel that there is a very tangible quality to this work that can be applied to Connectivism: namely the theory of autopoeisis. Literally translated, “autopoeisis” means self-design. Its definition is used in the context of self-organizing systems in nature, which are governed by two prevailing principles in terms of their ontogeny and their phylogeny: structural coupling, and natural drift. More on these concepts in future posts…


CCK08: Connectivist Ethics

September 16, 2008

“Never apologize, never explain” 

I like this aphorism. Stephen Downes explained in last week’s Ustream Connectivism discussion that a former philosophy professor by the name of John Baker said this to him. It took him some time before Downes recognized that instead of being a carte blanche for arrogant behaviour, in fact what was really being suggested was “Never engage in activities that would force you to apologize, never engage in activities that will force you to explain.” Even more simply stated, never cause harm. 

Siemens mentioned that Buddhist monks upon whom ECG readings have been conducted to register brain activity during meditation have yielded some remarkable results in terms of their responses to stimuli. The monks’ ability to remain calm in spite of the stimuli would appear to be linked to the ability to remain in a highly concentrated meditative state which has been perfected over time. By extension, Siemens suggests, “Activity influences the function of our brain, and in turn influences what our brain is capable of in the future.” What is the role of ethical behaviour in Connectivism, with regards to this proposition? 

The Connectivist framework for learning and distributed knowledge encompasses a vast territory in terms of human behaviour, from the minutae of neural-biological systems, to the formation of concepts, to behaviours of individuals and societies. It strikes me that the question ought to at least be posed whether the Connectivism context would not benefit from exploring questions of ethical conduct. 

With the ability to traverse the globe and connect with one another via the Internet, are there protocols common to all cultures designed to govern online behaviour? Is there a need for a Connectivist ethics? Does it already exist implicitly? 

Is it enough to assume that unaccaptable behaviour will decrease the strength of a node within which that behaviour occurs, and that communities of practice are capable of self-monitoring their activities online? 

What about communities of practice that are not open, and that wish to hoard information, in the interests of maintaining a position of power? Downes has suggested that the military might benefit from sharing information, since the very act of hoarding it precludes the risk of its being discovered at some point in the future. What is the military’s contingency plan in the event that this occurs? 

From a non-military perspective, I find this an interesting and compelling argument. However, my interest is less in how hoarding information may be detrimental to the hoarder, and more in how this behaviour factors into the Connectivist framework. Does it follow that information hoarding is not Connectivist? What about the fact that amongst military personnel, a strong network exists? To the extent that the information being shared is top secret and confidential, does it follow that this closed network operates in parallel to open ones, and that there is a place for this within a Connectivist perspective? 

CCK08: Taking “The Course”

September 15, 2008

Where it is useful to differentiate between a course and a curriculum, a curriculum might be understood as a framework for instruction in which learning objectives, performance, and/or proficiency indicators are organized according to thematic groupings. The learning objectives may be broad in scope, as is generally the case in English Language Arts, or they may be narrow and task-oriented; for instance, in a welding course, there may be an expectation that a specific hands-on skill related to a specific task is demonstrated in order to realize a proficiency.

A course, on the other hand, may be understood as an instance of a curriculum. It is a course of study, but is only one of a number of different courses of study, all of which may purport to respond to a curriculum that the course is designed to meet, and to which individual lessons are aligned.

A textbook or a reading list may sometimes be considered a course of study in and of itself; however, generally textbooks are used by a teacher who guides and facilitates navigation through the text. Teachers may draw on their own personal experiences to bring textbook content to life, they may choose to emphasize certain elements in a text and de-emphasize others, and they may broaden the scope of instruction to include cross-curricular or multidisciplinary elements to light during delivery of the course content.

Some textbooks are rigorous in their presentation of information, to the extent that the table of contents is an unequivocal presentation of a curriculum. In this case, when each lesson item included in the contents has been learned, a de facto outcome of the course curriculum has been met.

Where does this leave us with the Connectivism & Connective Knowledge course? We know that this particular “course” has been assigned a start date and an end date. A particular scope and sequence has been delineated, within which discrete instructional material is to be covered off in the form of readings and other varied media presentations, in addition to blog posts and forum discussions on the topics in question.

What then, makes this course different? And what makes it a course, for those individuals who have chosen not to pursue the credit-based assessment option?

One possible answer to this question pertains to what we bring to the course as individual learners, and as a community of learners. We know that there are no prerequisites for participation in the “open instance” of the Connectivism & Connective Knowledge course; nor are there prerequisites for the credit version, other than paying. However, each one of us is here for a reason, and we bring with us a particular trajectory as learners. By asking the questions, “Why are you taking this course?” and “What will make this course a success for you?”, we as individuals are defining our learning path. We are situating ourselves in time and space in terms of our understanding of where we’re coming from, where we are now, and where we hope to arrive by the course’s end.

The first time I came across the use of this pedagogical approach was in an education course called “Language and Literacy Across the Curriculum”, in the work of Garth Boomer. Boomer wrote an article called “Negotiating the Curriculum” [insert link], included in a volume called Negotiating the Curriculum: Education for the 21st Century. That was back in 1996. In Boomer’s article, he invited teachers to negotiate the English Language Arts curriculum by asking students a series of questions that would serve to identify their learning “needs”:

  • What do we know already?
  • What do want, and need to find out?
  • How will will we go about finding out?
  • How will will we know, and show, that we’ve found out when we’re finished?

Time passes. These questions and this method now seem tired and cliché to me, and yet they remain at the heart of the individualized learning path. What else would we ask?

There are course readings that comprise a body of literature pertaining to the Connectivist model in Connectivism & Connective Knowledge. In this case, there is not a strict correlation between the readings and a curricular framework that has been designed to explicitly deliver a mandated or required body of information. To use Connectivist language, the readings are situated within a node, specifically, the learning community that is participating in this course instance. All of the learners participating in the course are both connecting to the community, as well as bringing information to it through dialogue and the sharing of resources. Perhaps herein lies the main difference between this and other courses; a tremendous decentralization of power and information is being made available to all who are prepared and willing to engage in this experiment in what is simultaneously autonomous and collaborative learning. Tools are being made available to learners in order that their learning may transpire from within a loosely pre-determined open framework or network.

 With a variety of different formal groups (for-credit participants, translation groups) already having been expressly formed, in addition to informal communities of learning technologists and bloggers, teachers, researchers, etc., it is safe to assert that there are multiple nodes which in turn comprise a larger network (networks?) of learners connected to the course, thus strengthening the Connectivism & Connective Knowledge node.


CCK08: Reflections on Week 1

September 14, 2008

It’s been an interesting week. After experimenting with both Blogger and WordPress, I have committed to maintaining a blog in WordPress. As is so often the case, knowing where to look to figure out how to use new programs is half the battle.

I also took a look at FreeMind, a concept-mapping tool, and it took very little time before it became clear how extremely powerful C-map is for its simplicity in comparison.

I concentrated on reading through posts in two forums, “What is connectivism” and “What is a Learning Theory?” Even the 136 (!) posts in the former included too much information to adequately take in, and I had to resort to skimming, scanning and speed-reading to plow through the threads.

Keyword searches in specific fora will be useful to find information related to any reformulations, extensions and additions that I might make to that material. I know already that a big part of my own focus for this course will be on exploring the concept of autopoeisis in relation to connectivism. I was glad to see that Stephen and others have outlined some considerations about evolution in the context of connectivism and learning theory.

Although providing weekly reflections for the course may allow participants to make sense of their relationship and engagement with others involved in this process, my own feeling is that I would probably find much greater benefit in taking more time before reflecting. I don’t even feel as though I have enough time to respond to posts in the fora or on participants’ personal blogs, because not only do I feel that I don’t have enough time to think about the posts, but I don’t even have enough time to read and re-read them! Obviously picking and choosing becomes very important at this stage. However, as has been expressed by others, even the exercise of filtering information becomes difficult when such a broad range of base understandings related to different aspects of the course are being brought to the conversation(s).

CCKO8: Speaking of MOOCs…

September 9, 2008

On the subject of Massive, Open Online Courses (MOOCs), I saw reference in the paper lately to Oprah Winfrey’s online course about Eckart Tolle’s new book, A New Earth. I haven’t read this one, nor have I read his first book, but I think that it is worth bringing attention to this course since it is arguably the largest MOOC in existence at this time, with 500 000 students enrolling to listen to Tolle’s videocast concerning the first chapter.

It would appear that at this time the course consists of videocasts, an accompanying downloadable workbook, and links under construction for readers to participate in discussion forums of some sort.

I am neither espousing nor disparaging the course, only bringing it to others’ attention as one example of what the MOOC might look like.

CCK08: The Irony Does Not Escape Me

September 7, 2008

Although my motivation for enrolling in the Connectivism & Connective Knowledge course is largely curiosity-based, the expectation for credit-enrolled participants to interact with one another via the Web was the extrinsic nudge that I needed to start a blog.