Monday, September 29, 2008

CCK08 Network Concept Map

I really enjoyed the conversations about networking that came out of the connectivism course last week. The concept swam in and out of my brain throughout the week. For example, an old friend came into town on Sunday morning. He invited a few other folks who he knew in the area when he lived here years ago. We all got together for breakfast, talked about old times, and marveled over the additional friends and acquaintances that we had in common. Human networks are not new, but technology certainly reinforces and enables those additional connections. At the end of breakfast, email addresses were exchanged and I ended up with 3 new LinkedIn connections. Once you start thinking about networks, it's difficult to break away. They are so pervasive in my daily life.

Some of the key take-aways that resonated this week include:
  • Multiple networks that come together are not purely additive. There is overlap, more so as the network evolves.
  • There are different roles within a network. Individuals can take on more than one role within a given network or across the networks in which they participate.
  • There is value in all network nodes, though it may be influenced by individual roles and possibility expertise.
Networks Concept Map
(Click on the map to enlarge)

I truly began to see that networks ARE everywhere, not just on the Internet, but in our face-to-face workspace, public transportation, social relationships, mobile communication, families, colleagiate football (bad week for the Gators), and our suffering economy. Recognizing networks in every aspect of life provides a virtual laboratory for contemplating and comparing those networks to online social networks. What makes them successful? How are they maintained? What are the roles within that network? Where is the power? How does this outside-world network compare to my online social connections?

These questions are important if we ever hope to grasp the complexity of online networked learning.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

CCK08 Network Metaphors and Week Three Recap

Week 3 of the CCK08 Connectivism course focused on networks. The metaphors and analogies have been flying in the forums, blogs, and chat rooms in Elluminate and UStream sessions. This is another example of how we, as humans, find meaning in confusion. We make connections with ideas and concepts we already know, comparisons that fit within the established schema.

George Seimens explains, "Knowledge is distributed. Learning is the process of creating networks. This is increasingly aided by technology." George posed a question this week, "If a network structure is a foundation of learning, are our education systems designed to appropriately take advantage of networking opportunities?" A number of course participants have asked for practical applications of connectivism theory. I long for that myself, but I'm beginning to realize that we're putting the cart before the horse. It's a lot easier to observe a highly functioning networked learning environment or situation than it is to create one. Though many early adopters are trying. Newer web applications such as Nings and wikis offer some structure for networked communities. But, it's still quite messy. I'm increasingly challenged to sift through the networking opportunities that come along each day, especially as someone working in the educational technology field. I personally belong to a Powerful Learning Practice Ning, an NAIS Teacher of the Future social network, a Florida Master Digital Educator's Ning, a University of Florida Department of Ed Tech Wiki, student AP Human Geography Wiki, student Great Debate 2008 Ning, K12 Online wiki, and the connectivism course. These are just the ones in which I'm supposed to be currently active.

This is not a complaint. Nor, am I trying to win the most-networked teacher award. I'm actually trying to embrace the cognitive dissonance that is the result of my immersion in this 24/7 connectedness. On the one hand, I'm picking up tidbits of useful knowledge that greatly enhance my research and pique my curiousity. I also hope that I'm sharing useful information with others. On the other hand, I'm losing a lot of sleep and feeling extremely disjointed in my participation in these networks. So, if I exist as a single node within all of these networks, what is my value to the network? Would I be of greater value in one network to which I could devote a greater amount of my thought processing? Or, am I of some value in each of these networks? Furthermore, do I personally get more out of full participation in one network - or disjointed participation in many?

Back to George's question. My answer today is.. we won't be equipped to design a system that supports networked learning until we understand it much better than we do now. It may even require us to rethink our definitions of learning, structure, scaffolding, and other concepts we relate to a learning environment. Rather than teaching students how to learn, we may have to teach them how to effectively manage learning. We don't do a good job of that, even in our current system.

Monday, September 22, 2008

CCK08 Knowledge Concept Map

Some of last week's conversations defining knowledge were very theoretical and a little difficult to follow. Still, they were thought-provoking and certainly had me questioning my perspectives with regard to knowledge and knowing. In the simplest sense, I am able to view knowledge as qualitative, quantitative, or connective. George Siemens verified via our UStream discussion that knowledge can be both qualitative or quantitative AND connective. That provided some clarification.

One question that continued to resonate with me...What has changed that makes connectivism a viable learning theory at this point in history? Many of the components of the theory apply to face-to-face communities as much as they do to virtual ones. Why don't we view connectivism as a general theory of group learning rather than a theory that applies the use of technology to learning? Relating connectivism to changes in the knowledge environment helped clarify the role of technology. Knowledge-sharing is becoming easier, knowledge itself more accessible. A number of trends are changing the knowledge environment. These trends facilitate connected learning. (See concept map below.) Technology is making the environmental change possible.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Connective Knowledge CCK08

Connective Knowledge is this week's focus in CCK08. George Siemens' book, Knowing Knowledge (included in my summer reading) provides a good foundation for this week's discussions. A few course members are already contemplating the difference between knowledge and information. From a conceptual point of view, I see value in differentiating between
  • Information
  • Knowledge
  • Learning
  • Education
As these are English words, I don't want to get caught up in semantics. The differences are subtle, but important to note. The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition is italicized with my comments below.

1: the communication or reception of knowledge or intelligence2 a (1): knowledge obtained from investigation, study, or instruction

Webster uses the words "communication" and "knowledge" in the definition for information. I would argue that information exists without necessary communication. Information is everywhere, not necessarily communicated. In some cases, it just is.

1 obsolete : cognizance 2 a (1): the fact or condition of knowing something with familiarity gained through experience or association (2): acquaintance with or understanding of a science, art, or technique b (1): the fact or condition of being aware of something (2): the range of one's information or understanding knowledge

Knowledge is a noun, but attaining it requires action, either passive or active on the part of the one acquiring it. Note the phrase "through experience", "being aware", "understanding".

1 : the act or experience of one that learns 2 : knowledge or skill acquired by instruction or study 3 : modification of a behavioral tendency by experience (as exposure to conditioning)

Learning is the action. It is what happens as one acquires knowledge.

1 a: the action or process of educating or of being educated ; also : a stage of such a process b: the knowledge and development resulting from an educational process education>

A favorite quote of mine: Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school.
- Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

I digress. Seriously, Education is what exists after exposure to information, acquisition of knowledge, and the learning process take place. Education is dynamic and continuous. It is constantly being constructed or built upon.

This is where it is important to differentiate between an individual's experience within a networked learning community and the overall group experience or contribution. One person may contribute a lot of content or very little. Another may learn extensively from that content, or barely skim the surface.

From an individual's perspective within a networked learning environment, varying levels of knowledge may be negotiated and/or acquired. I'm going to use the
Teach Web 2.0 Wiki as an example of networked learning because I'm close to it. But, I believe that this is a simplistic view compared to the connected learning going on in CCK08 where numerous tools are being used at once.

One of the frustrations of the Teach Web 2.0 design is getting participants to move beyond information gathering to application, synthesis, and evaluation of content (Blooms Taxonomy, 1956). Arguably, this transition must take place for deeper learning to occur. Information is the low hanging fruit in a learning network. People are happy cutting and pasting, moving content from one location to another. But, is that really learning? Is than even knowledge? The Teach Web 2.0 wiki was designed to encourage participants to evaluate Web applications and their potential value to teaching and learning. However, few contribute at this level without guidance. There's a much greater commitment of time and thought processing required to participate in this way. It's very easy to list a new tool, much harder to assess and articulate how to use it effectively.

I see a similar circumstance within the CCK08 community. Many are in the discussion forums typing a paragraph or so. Others offer drive by praise or criticisms. Still others pop in for Elluminate or UStream sessions. How many are diving into all of these things while closely digesting the readings and trying to offer new perspectives? I want to be in that last category, but time is an enemy.

I'm very interested in understanding connectivism from an instructional design and learner role perspective. How do we move from information collection to knowledge construction? I wonder if we'll skim this topic when we look at power, control, validity, and authority in week 8?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Learning can be painful and very messy

Thank you George, for your comments to my "disconnectivism" blog post. Now that I've had the chance to vent some of my frustration, I should clarify. While following the discussion has been overwhelming and at times (I REALLY hate to admit this) intimidating, I feel extremely fortunate to be part of the process. I appreciate Andreas' Walk in the Woods analogy and Stephen's reflection that "people want to cover the entire subject in the first five days". It's clear that the discomfort stems from trying to make sense of a complex environment. It almost feels like I'm personally experiencing every learning theory to which I have been exposed in my educational graduate work. Learning can be painful, confusing, and very messy. In this case, I see that as a positive.

So far, this has been one of the most intriguing and personally enlightening learning experiences I have encountered. I'm now mentally prepared for week two. :-)

Friday, September 12, 2008

Connectivism or Disconnectivism

My head hurts. It is day 5 of the connectivism course, and I have more disconnects than connects. I've been reading through the Moodle forums, specifically the skeptic thread. I strongly support challenging discourse and disagreement. However, I'm frustrated by the human tendency to over-simplify complex concepts and ideas. It's even more frustrating because I can't adamantly disagree with anyone at this point. All of the arguments have merit. I'm questioning everything - my educational philosophy, my profession, even the name of my blog and wiki.

The skeptic discussion thread includes a number of Web 2.0 criticisms. We tend to put every new web-related technology under the Web 2.0 umbrella. That's a mistake. I want to strike out the "Web 2.0" in my blog and just leave "Teach". At the same time, some of the so-called Web 2.0 tools have significant educational potential. Those of us who live in educational technology must continually remind ourselves that many of our colleagues do not. There has to be some guidance to help teachers navigate emerging tools and differentiate between those that facilitate learning and those that don't. I do not apologize for that. The tools are especially important if we are able to harness them to manage complex learning environments. Why bother? For one thing, our current system of education is not working, at least not for everyone. More importantly, I've seen a flash of light and I'm curious.

Professional experience at IBM in a socially networked environment and countless online courses in my graduate program have given me glimpses of earth shattering learning events, moments when concepts, contributions of others, and epiphanies collide on multiple levels - monumental a-ha's. How do I replicate that for my own students? Is it even possible to create an environment conducive to those experiences, or does it happen just as randomly with the help of technology as it does in a face-to-face classroom? I'm not sure, but those brief moments are what I hope to capture. My interest in connectivism is rooted deeply in the quest for understanding those "connected" moments.

I see the tools of technology as future potential to manage those moments. We're not there yet. The contributions of over 2000 participants in this course are confusing, overwhelming, and uncomfortable. I have to keep walking away. Then again, they certainly have me thinking.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Motivation and Connectivism

My previous post asked the question...

Shouldn't motivation be included as an influencing factor in Connectivism?

With a little more time to think about this, I realize that we have to differentiate between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Stephen Downes post Connectivism and its Critics: What Connectivism is Not states that "learners are not managed through some sort of motivating process, and the amount of learning is not (solely or reliably) influenced by motivating behaviours (such as reward and punishment, say, or social engagement)."

Delliotthk (see comment to post below) related my motivation question to our system in Florida, in which 1/3 of students do not graduate, contemplating whether networked learning might be a motivator for these students. I think it might, but my gut feeling (for lack of the requisite knowledge to make a stronger assertion) is that connectivism does not address this type of external motivation. In other words, it does not encompass those things we do as teachers to get our students to care about the work and do it.

I would, however, argue that intrinsic motivation is an influencing factor in the quality of networked learning. I do not mean the motivation of individuals. I'm talking about the motivation that exists within some larger number of participants. Not much learning will take place if no one is motivated to contribute. This begs the question, how much learning takes place when the network includes just a few highly motivated participants versus large numbers of motivated participants? What about those who lurk, but do not contribute? The thought-provoking concept here is just how does learning take place within a connectivist framework? Isn't motivation a critical factor?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Connectivism and Connective Knowledge

I'm taking George Siemens' and Stephen Downes' open Connectivism and Connective Knowledge course through the University of Manitoba. My blog is coming back to life with thoughts and questions based on the experience. Hopefully, you will see a deeper understanding begin to evolve. George posted a number of supporting documents for review, one of which was a comparison chart that differentiates connectivism from various other learning theories. This is helpful as I am still trying to grasp the concept of connectivism.

A couple questions came to mind as I read through the comparison chart.

  • If learning is distributed within a network, how do you centralize understanding? In other words, each participant only holds a piece of the complete puzzle.
  • Are the tools that help put those pieces together the new tools of learning?
  • Shouldn't motivation be included as an influencing factor? My personal experience with online learning communities is that levels of contribution vary greatly. Learning therefore depends on individual participants' motivation to support and contribute to the group.
More to come.