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?

References

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

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