Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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.


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.