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?

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

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.

My background is in the Humanities – Economics. I’ve always thought it a no-brainer that people and groups working together in networks achieved better results than individuals working alone. At work, my staff rooms have always included colleagues who readily shared and assisted each other – despite regular philosophic and political differences. Learning was truly about the ability to create and navigate networks (thanks George) – our working definition of Connectivism.

Recently, the Vocational Education sector in Australia has seen a seismic shift in the nature of its networks. Legislation and some managerial practices have encouraged a paradigm of competition and commercialisation between our Registered Training Organisations. One of the outcomes has been the dismantling and discouragement of many of the effective networks we relied upon and the subsequent need to re-create these in different formats for different purposes. Stephen’s outline of “Learning Networks – Theory and Practice” tells us this growth and change is essential, as networks can’t be controlled and the democratic processes need to take their course to allow the participants to learn how to tap into this distributed knowledge.

It’s intriguing to watch the range of networks in operation- those that are “officially” sanctioned and those which spring up as professionals see the need.

Another outcome has been the unwillingness of some to share their resources and ideas as this may give an advantage to a competitor and therefore lead to a loss of students. All of this at a time when the infrastructure and the tools exist to enhance and improve the sharing that we have used successfully for a long time.

Speaking of tools, in my readings and research this week I came across a paper from Macquarie University in Sydney. Gibbs and Gosper in “The Upside Down World of E-Learning” outline the way that e-learning and its implementation has been driven by the tools and not by the pedagogy. They assert that many of the early technologies “promote narrow pedagogies – the delivery of content – centric instruction via a transmission model of learning” (p47). Instead the technology needs to lead to “the creation of learning environments and sequences that provide opportunities for multi-user collaborative activities or the co-construction of knowledge – both representative of current learning theory” (p48).”

In one of my recent roles I facilitated a range of professional development activities with teachers outlining to them many of new Web 2.0 and other technology tools available to them. At one point a team of teachers concluded a session by saying “don’t give us choices, just tell what you want us to do”.  Looking forward to exploring this further with some upcoming topics.

Began this week needing to look-up epistemology. The Stanford online dictionary tells us it is “the study of knowledge and justified belief.” Added to my ongoing confusion over the meaning of connectivism I did the weekly readings, studied most of the dailies, watched George’s video introduction to the week and spent quite a bit of time beginning my second concept map (this time using the Brain). I didn’t write anything – couldn’t get my head around a useful theme.

Woke up this morning with a few ideas buzzing in my head. Does this mean I literally needed to sleep on it to make the connection? Perhaps 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 advatntages of enrolling in a course like this is the “pressure” to reflect through things like this blog, the Moodle posts and reading the dailies. This reflection is critical to making the connections.

At times there are things we are not ready to hear (and which wish we could recall when we need to). Increasingly we forget as much as we remember – probably due to to information overload.

So what does that mean for us as teachers? Do we continue to filter this information for our students? or do we spend more time facilitating and “teaching” the skills of skimming, sorting, discerning and validating? These employability skills are potentially the best thing we can tache rather than increasingly ephemeral pieces of information

Then of course, in a quick read of yesterday’s daily I see George telling us exactly the same thing “As we filter information. As we create content and engage with others. Traditionally, education has provided much of the filtering work for us through the bounded information structures provided by instructors/faculty

Found the readings variable. For this post I am looking at the pre-readings, the week #1 readings and some of my own.

Really enjoyed CISCO’s Equipping Every Learner for the 21st Century, Challenges of Participatory Culture and the New Structures and Spaces of Learning.  Each of these allowed me to grapple with some of the concepts related to Connectivism, while mapping the ideas to the big picture changes which are impacting on my area of Vocational Education and Training in NSW (Australia).  Our legislators and financial controllers are asking us to be more flexible in our delivery and assessment of our courses whilst at the same time ensuring we incorporate Workforce Capability development, Recognition of Prior learning (RPL) and Workplace Delivery and Assessment. Each of these articles resonated for me in these areas and have helped me to give an educational framework for these principles. i will pursue this theme through the course.

Another emerging theme for me is the concept of the technologies versus the required paradigm shift in our teaching and learning practices. Stephen in his course blog post of Sept 10 said of the connectivism critics: “These arguments, it seems to me, are circular. They defend the current practice by the current practice.” All of the web 2.0 and other Internet based tools available to us as teachers can become either tools to augment our current practices or a means to seriously change the way we do things. We need to get over the operational aspects of the technology first eg look and feel, functionality, etc.

The paradigm shift requires us to ensure we explicitly teach the life long and work based learning skills mentioned by CISCO, Jenkins and Siemens in the readings. Building these into our facilitated delivery and assessment will be an important part of this shift. At the same time that delivery and assessment to incorporate the key aspects of connections, collaboration, creation and employability skills.

I suspect Wellman’s piece on Little Boxes, Glocalisation and Networked Individualism will resonate more as the course progresses. One of the ironies for me will be how this mass participation course with no f2f contact will create a meaningful network or “Affinity Space” (Clinton et al) rather than a convenience.