October 2008

Don’t know what to say this week. The flood of emails created a range of emotions for me. There was a certain voyeuristic pleasure in following the responses whether humourous or vitriolic. Listening now to the recording of the Elluminate session I’m now trying to recall what similar power plays I have pulled over the years – sometimes unconsciously.

Then Lisa again provoked my interest in another thoughtful post about control by personality. The closest I came was to look at how my expectations, demeanor and yeah my teaching style changes depending on the audience. I would readily adopt micro management techniques with mostly teenage students and very communicative and collaborative approaches with adult learners of English as a Second Language. Both seemed relatively successful according to feedback. Wendy, in the Moodle Forum, called this “structure.

Regardless, the power over a student’s ability to progress further or not was never far from the surface.

In the online environment the ability to rely on “personality” is more difficult as spoken words look very different on paper and out of context.


Wonder at the meaning of instructional design! At our workplace it means very talented people who have both technical and educational skills who produce complex multimedia resources for others (this also requires high level project management skills). George’s presentation implies instructional design is more akin to teachers planning lessons and courses. Wonder if there’s a cultural difference here – an Aussie thing? It again highlights for me the importance of assumptions around terminology.

I enjoyed Wendy’s summary of the the Grainne Conole papers. I was interested in her questions related to the desire to move students from one quadrant to another in Grainne’s Pedagogy framework (Conole, figure 1). Does this assume learning most effectively takes place in the bottom right hand corner?

George, in his presentation this week, talks about the importance of context for the design process. The ecology needed for a fireman is different for a poet. So perhaps learning design needs to vary according to the context. Different situations/contexts/outcomes require different quadrants. Think this may become part of my next paper on the Changing Role of the Educator

In another piece supplied by a colleague, (MY) Three Principles of Effective Online Pedagogy, Bill Pelz emphasises the importance of the learner being at the centre of the learning process. The more the learner is engaged with the content, with the teacher as the “guide on the side”, the more learning occurs. His three principles very clearly mirror Stephen and George’s notion that learning is about making connections. Pelz structures his “teaching” around allowing students to make as many connections as possible to allow collaboration and problem solving to give them control over their own learning.

The Pelz paper gives some terrific examples of specific strategies to achieve his aims as well as a lovely quote about traditional lectures: “One of my education professors put it this way: “A lecture is the best way to get information from the professor’s notebook into the student’s notebook without passing through either brain.” (Pelz, p.33)

Found this week harder to get into -subject matter less obvious. Noted a big drop in the discussion happening in Moodle, perhaps lots of people also worn out from last week’s vigorous discussion on Networks which was certainly passionate and sometimes unreasonable.

I’ve attempted to understand chaos theory some time ago, it left me cold then as well. However, this time I probably have the beginnings of some insight thanks to the parenting analogy outlined by Renata Phelps (p.6). What I’m trying to get a handle on is how any of this will impact on the upcoming “changing role of the educator”. Phelps’ article really sparked some more thoughts on how the whole paradigm of teaching must change as a result of the non linear opportunities presented by the new technologies.

Perhaps another analogy to help understand the nature of complexity is via the current global financial crisis. As stocks gyrate wildly from day to day there can’t be any Newtonian clock work mechanism in place here. The complexities surrounding the mood and emotion are immense as well as the distinct lack of reason or consideration of the so called fundamentals. Each news item or announcement from a government officer is greeted with either the expected reaction for example, a drop in interest rates helps to raise stock prices. Or the announcement is greeted by an unexpected reaction – the drop in interest rates pushes stock prices further down because the market now suspects the government is really worried about something.

In one of the readings this week (apologies for not sourcing this – I can’t remember where I read it) the author outlined the incredible complexity of each classroom. In a place where each person acts in response to the teacher and the content as well as all the other things going on in their lives, there must be complexity.  So much for lesson plans.

At this stage the discussion on groups and networks seems to come down to two views:

  1. Stephen’s view “groups require unity and networks require diversity. Groups require coherence, networks require autonomy and so onDownes (2007)
  2. George’s view that groups are one type of network where the context is critical. A critical difference though is that networks encourage the autonomy of the self where groups often result in the subsuming of the self.  Siemens (2008)

It will be interesting to see where my first discussion topic in the Moodle Forum goes. Here I’ve posed a question re context: the structure(s) we set up for teaching and learning (a group or a network) will depend on the context and the required outcomes. Often the same “group” eg a class, will operate in the different modes depending on what’s happening – as a group for safety issues, as a network to solve a problem.

I like photography and would like to take better photos more consistently. Recently I enrolled in a class at the local community college. Here I brushed up on some theory. More importantly the tutor helped us to focus on the key elements of a good photograph. One of his very effective techniques was to bring in photos of his own to show various techniques and qualities. Class members were also asked to bring in their own photos to discuss. Finally, we were encouraged to upload our photos to Flickr where a group was set up for ongoing feedback on our work. I am now planning a wiki as a means to revise my notes and continue the learning.

The last time I did a photography course (in the 1970s) it was theoretical only and text book based – any feedback was usually self imposed or from “adoring” family members. Downes(2007) tells us that connectivism “is the thesis that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks”. My photography has begun to improve because I now tap into a small part of the distributed photographic knowledge that is out there. It will be my problem if this learning ceases.

As a theory, connectivism gives us a tool to question our current teaching practices in the light of technological advances. The technology provides the opportunity to question our approach to teaching and learning. What is curious here is the varying impacts on the so called Generation Y (most of our students) and the aging population of teachers looking after them.

To give our students the knowledge, skills and attitudes to become lifelong learners is potentially one of the best things we can do as teachers. The potential offered by new technologies, in an age where content is increasingly ephemeral, makes these lifelong skills even more critical.

The so called “Employability Skills” resonate with connectivism theory. Employers are seeking staff who can problem solve, communicate and work in teams i.e. collaboration and networking (Jenkins, 2006, p.4). A lot of vocational education in Australia is now based on skill sets. People don’t enrol in whole courses as much but rather enrol in the bits of most relevance to them at the time. This personalisation is at the nub of many of the readings. In fact an increasing amount of the accreditation for our students is coming from formal processes of “Recognition of Prior Learning” and gap training happening in the workplace (Siemens, 2008, p.14). The networks here are critical.

Geoff Cain (2008) asked “can knowledge exist in networks”? Geoff answered his own question with an excellent Shakespeare example. As teachers in a connected world, we can help our students to sift, incorporate a range of ideas and then somehow validate what they’ve “learnt” against a set of criteria. This validation is one of the challenges of the connectivism “theory”, especially in areas where licensing is required e.g. an electrician.

Another challenge for connectivism was posed by Jenni Parker (2008), who wondered “who in a network would be a good informant”. From a teacher/facilitator perspective the question is how to explicitly “teach” the key skill of discernment. How to make sensible meaning from the huge amounts of information we receive daily? This skill may be more important than the content we are often obsessed with.

For many of our students, it’s also about recognising the challenges of “validating information accuracy and determining quality” (Siemens, 2008, p. 4) to meet the needs of the standards based curriculum. McLoughlin and Lee (2008, p.3) emphasise the need to allow these networks to develop “ while still providing necessary structure and scaffolding.” New technologies can greatly assist the formation of these networks, the structure and the scaffolding.

Connectivism is the process by which we collect all of the information from all of the sources bombarding us each day and then working out which bits we need and making some sense of it. One of the real advantages of enrolling in a course like this is the “pressure” to reflect through things like this paper, my blog, the Moodle posts and reading the dailies. This reflection is critical to making the connections. How can we help our students make these connections?


Cain, G. (2008), A funny thing happened on the way to the forum, Connectivism and Connective Knowledge Moodle site, viewed 11 September, http://ltc.umanitoba.ca:83/moodle/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=599#3084

Casey, G. (2008), Grant Casey’s Weblog, WordPress, https://grantcasey.wordpress.com/

CISCO, 2008, Equipping Every Learner for the 21st Century, viewed 11 September 2008, http://newsroom.cisco.com/dlls/2008/ekits/Equipping_Every_Learner_for_21st_Century_White_Paper.pdf?POSITION=LINK&COUNTRY_SITE=us&CAMPAIGN=Century21Learning2008&CREATIVE=Equipping+Every+Global+Learner+for+the+21st+Century&REFERRING_SITE=NewsatCiscoPressKit

Downes, S. 2007, What Connectivism Is, Half an Hour Blog, viewed 2 September 2008, http://halfanhour.blogspot.com/2007/02/what-connectivism-is.html

Jenkins, H. (2006), Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century”, viewed 15 September 2008, http://digitallearning.macfound.org/atf/cf/%7B7E45C7E0-A3E0-4B89-AC9C-E807E1B0AE4E%7D/JENKINS_WHITE_PAPER.PDF

McLoughlin, C. & Lee, J.W. (2008), Transforming Pedagogy through Social Software, journal of online education, viewed June 2008, http://www.innovateonline.info/index.php?view=article&id=539&action=article

Parker, J. (2008), What is connectivism?, Connectivism and Connective Knowledge Moodle site, viewed 11 September,

Siemens, G. (2008), New Structures and Spaces of Learning: the systemic impact of connective knowledge, connectivism and networked learning, viewed 10 September 2008, http://elearnspace.org/Articles/systemic_impact.htm

I first tried to create with CMap but got too caught up in the technology and not quite “getting it” – it wasn’t intuitive for me.

Downloaded “The Brain” and it was a breeze. Found it really easy and thought how closely aligned it’s principles are to the key ideas of how I currently understand Connectivism.

As a left handed Taurean wonder whether the more effective concept maps for me are simple to look at with an ordered arrangement such as Lisa Lane’s in her CCK08 blog or showing the full complexities as in Bradley Shoebottom’s – see “The Daily” post of September 23.

Clearly there are no simple answers but perhaps the concept is often more useful to the author than a reader. I’m also leaning more to the visual simplicity as espoused by Garr Reynolds in his work through Presentation Zen.

Still struggling with which way to go with my own concept. Maybe I write one for myself and one for others to comment upon.

Here is version #1 – the brainstorming unprocessed version.

Grant's Concept map v1

Grant's Concept map v1

The article by Trebor Scholz reminded me of how far we have come so quickly. Although a lot of the advancements were more about the technicalities and not about the imagination. I enjoyed the story about the first Mailing  List where “the second email on that list was an apology by the system’s administrator for doing such a lousy job in keeping up with everybody’s requests.” Little did they know what was coming.

George’s paper (Brief History of Network Learning) reminds us that the technology comes first eg the physical infrastructure. However, as mentioned throughout this blog, in many cases these tools have not yet led to a paradigm shift in how most education is done to students. Tools to assist the existing paradigm – the sage on the stage.

One of the better pieces I’ve read on this is from McLoughlin and Lee (Transforming Pedagogy through Social Software). They discuss traditional approaches to teaching which involve “prepackaged elarning materials, fixed deadlines and assessment tasks and criteria defined by teachers“. Whereas the challenge is to “enable self-direction, knowledge building, and learner control by offering flexible options for students to engage in learning that is authentic and relevant to their needs and to those of the networked society while still providing necessary structure and scaffolding.” The new Web 2.0 technologies will greatly assist the formation of these networks.