Connectivism

 A word which I’d never encountered before three weeks ago.

A theory which is beginning to make sense to me.

An area I’m growing my confidence in.

 

This is my current understanding of what it means:

Connectivism is the next evolution of the learning “-isms”: behaviourism, cognitivism, constructivism. It differs from the others in that connectivism strives to make sense of the impact that technology has had on how we connect and communicate, live and learn (Siemens, 2004).

It is a learning theory for the digital age – one which acknowledges we live in a world of multiplicity. Individuals and communities are nodes of knowledge, scattered about, complicatedly connected. Chaos theory, an integral part of connectivism states that while yes, our information networks are multifaceted, unpredictable and diverse, there is meaning distributed across and within this network of connections (Downes, 2012).

It’s the job of the participant in this new information ecology to uncover patterns, make sense of these connections, and make new connections (Siemens, 2004). To make sense of the chaos. How individuals go about doing this, within learning communities and networked environments, is something which connectivism strives to understand.

To participate fully within the diverse ‘knowledgefield’ technology has afforded us today, individuals need to be “confident in their ability to make connections, understand concepts, critique, create and share knowledge” (Starkey, 2011, p37). If these are some of the competencies integral to living well in the future, then we want students leaving our schools to be well versed in their arts.

While it’s clear that the students of today are changing in response to the digital age it’s a myth that they come hard-wired to participate effectively in this world (the digital native argument). Learning design, therefore, needs to focus on providing experiences that will grow these literacies and competencies. A revamped set of literacies – digital literacies – indeed a reimagined pedagogy, is required.

Ford (2008) outlines one way learning can be designed within a connectivist framework. A central theme of Ford’s work is the flow between the concepts of mediation and autonomy.

The web is the source of a massive amount of knowledge. Students may have the autonomy to surf these networks, but the extent to which they are able to source information, critically evaluate and make sense of information may be limited. The goal is to help students along the path to becoming autonomous seekers and users of information, to be flexible and versatile navigating the digital currents. Mediation is required in assisting students to achieve this goal – in particular, fostering meta-cognitive awareness.

Much exploration has also been undertaken in regard to what exactly these new literacies that students require are. It’s a diverse area of research, with many different frameworks, strategies and models.

Bawden (2008) breaks down digital literacy into information literacy (which is actively finding and using information – the “pull”) and media literacy (dealing with and understanding media “pushed” at the individual). Added into this is the necessary elements of digital citizenship – the social and moral components required for effective participation and safety.

Retrieved from http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3193/2829658906_0e94c592a8.jpg

The Digital Literacy Handbook from Future Lab UK highlights creativity, effective communication, collaboration, the ability to find and select information, e-safety, functional skills, critical thinking and evaluation, and cultural and social understanding as core dimensions of digital literacy.

Finding the commonalities between these facets of digital literacy then moulding them into the particular context of your school and community is key.

We are developing our understandings of the world in which we live in and the future the students of today will enter. Connectivism seeks to understand the role of learning in our new, diverse knowledge ecology, while models of digital literacy aim to provide educators with a framework of skills and competencies required for effective participation within them.

 

References

Bawden, D. (2008). CHAPTER ONE: Origins and Concepts Of Digital Literacy. In Digital Literacies: Concepts, Policies & Practices (pp. 17–32). Peter Lang Publishing, Inc. Retrieved from http://sites.google.com/site/colinlankshear/DigitalLiteracies.pdf#page=19

Downes, S. (2012). Connectivism and Connective Knowledge: Essays on meaning and learning networks. National Research Council Canada

Ford, N. (2008). Education. In Web-based learning through educational informatics: Information science meets educational computing (pp. 75-109). Hershey, PA: IGI Global. Retrieved from: http://www.igi-global.com.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/gateway/chapter/full-text-pdf/31399

Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. Retrieved March 29, 2014, from http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm

Starkey, L. (2011). Evaluating learning in the 21st century: A digital age learning matrix. Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 20(1), 19-39.

New media tools and frameworks have facilitated the rapid expansion of participatory, collaborative learning opportunities. I say expansion rather than generation because humans have always learned from one another throughout history. The New Zealand curriculum states “facilitating shared learning” as a valid, effective pedagogy. It’s just that in our current times, more than ever, we have the tools and infrastructure to enable these kinds of interactions to a previously unavailable extent.

The web allows people to come together in communities of like minded individuals, communicate with one another – work, play, and think together. The world has become more open. Content and data which was previously holed up in libraries or labs can now be accessed, commented on, and developed further. The world’s history is in the process of being digitised, catalogued and made searchable.

These nodes of knowledge are being connected together like synapses in the brain to other nodes – both real people (amateurs, experts, communities) and other pieces of data. Connections between previously unconnected nodes create new avenues of thinking, help solve problems and drive further questioning.

This availability of knowledge however, is challenging the traditional definitions of “teacher” and “student”. It begs the question – if all of the knowledge I’ll ever possibly need is a Google away, why do I need to be taught things from a teacher? Does the role of “teacher as expert” still exist?

This is one of my personal aims in this course – to explore what it means to be a teacher in these times of enormous change; the interplay between new forms of learning possible and the core skills needed to be taught to enable effective participation with them. As a primary school teacher responsible for laying foundational skills and knowledge to students aged 6 to 11, as well as growing their capability to live well in the future, this is of high personal interest.

        
So while without a doubt, some core sets of skills and knowledge remain central to our ability to learn and participate effectively, what Thomas and Seely Brown (2011) call our “new culture of learning” challenges our traditional emphasis on certain literacies. It calls upon a new model of competencies. It revises the toolbox of skills students need to actively participate in the world of the future. And this is butting up against what is traditionally thought of as “schooling” or “a good education” – notions particularly derived from the industrial, factory model set in the early 20th century. Notions which exist today in the form of standards and formal assessment, among others.

One of the competencies key to success in the future is the ability to adapt to rapid change. As people living in these times, how well are we dealing with these dynamic, often conflicting ideas of education?

This is the sharp end of the spear as I see it. Change, in practice, comes slowly to education – how can we speed it up? How can we move from isolated pockets of teachers and innovative schools trialling, thinking and doing, to a more mainstream application and understanding of 21st century learning? How can we get parents and community stakeholders understanding what it means to teach and learn in our connected, networked now?

These are some of the challenging questions I hope to investigate as I move through this course, and why I’ve decided to choose “Digital Leadership” by Eric Sheninger as the focus of my book review.

I’m looking forward to the journey ahead, in particular “walking the talk” – being actively engaged and participating in our community of learners.

 

References

How Humans Learn Best. Retrieved from http://changelearning.ca/get-informed/understanding-human-learning/how-humans-learn-best

Thomas, D., & Brown, J. S. (2011). A new culture of learning. Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change. Educause: Berkley, Thomas D & Brown J, Souellis Studio.

TKI: Effective Pedagogy. Retrieved from http://nzcurriculum.tki.org.nz/The-New-Zealand-Curriculum/Effective-pedagogy