#change11 Lower layers of connectivism?

By Matthias Melcher

I am confused. In the beginning, connectivism was considered on three layers: neural, conceptual, and social/ external. While the latter, topmost, layer has become increasingly popular, the lower layers seem to fade away from researchers’ interest. Recently even Stephen seemed to focus on just the social layer: “the central claim of connectivism, that the knowledge is found in the connections between people with each other”. What has become of the other two layers?

One quick answer would be that knowledge is identical on all three layers, but this is exactly what I cannot wrap my head around.

OK I can accept that the borders between the layers may sometimes blur. The connections between concepts are so similar to neural connections that, for example, the concept of “grandmother” seems just as if it was located in a singlegrandmother neuron. And when thinking of her cookies recipe, this external resource (layer 3) might sloppily be equated with the concept/ idea of her cookies (layer 2), and I (layer 3) “connect to the idea” (layer 2). But I cannot similarly equate some knowledge in a society with the knowledge in a person. And therefore I cannot picture the social knowledge as residing in the connections between people, in the same way as individual knowledge clearly is located in the connections between the concepts, or finally, between the neurons. The very word “knowledge” simply sounds different to me in the different contexts. (Perhaps this due to my ESL limitations and the different usage in German.)

The most striking difference shows when the social knowledgegrows, i. e., when “learning” by the society occurs: Saying to “learn” something that nobody yet knows, sounds for me as a stretched, alien usage of the word where everybody would normally speak of research, or scientific or scholarly progress. And the resulting knowledge appears different, too.

In the sense of research, “learning” of the entire society would involve a shared goal, i. e. it would be collaborative while normal learning together may be cooperative. And of course, the obvious connotations of societal knowledge are much different, as well: The body of human knowledge is usually thought of as the stock of many libraries, artefacts, external resources — even though I am aware how much important knowledge does not fit to this simplistic view, is not codified and explicit but implicit and distributed: It takes the combined tacit knowledge of many people to build an airplane; Trusting the experiential knowledge of many generations is foundational for our world view; I acknowledge the importance of online resonance between persons, and I even understand howdiscussions can literally reside between people. But I cannot grasp societal knowledge as lying between people in the same way as individual knowledge resides in the connections between concepts or neurons. Using the same word “knowledge” for both phenomena, appears to me as too stretched, or as a lifelessabstraction, while the common neuronal metaphor can be much easier understood.

Any hint or reference is welcome.

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#Change 11 – Halfway Point Reflections

by Jenny Mackness

Well it’s time to take stock a bit – not the ideal time – with Xmas looming and everything that entails and needs thinking about  – mostly food. Every year I cannot believe how much food is consumed :-)

But how much of Change MOOC have I consumed and what are my tentative and first reflections at this point.

There have been 14 weeks of presentations and activities and I managed to keep up with all of them but two (and I may yet get to the two I missed – that is the beauty of this type of course) :

Week 01 : Orientation
Week 02: Zoraini Wati Abas
Week 03: Martin Weller
Week 04: Allison Littlejohn
Week 05: David Wiley
Week 06: Tony Bates
Week 07: Rory McGreal
Week 08: Nancy White
Week 09: Dave Cormier
Week 10: Eric Duval
Week 11: Jon Dron
Week 12: Clark Aldrich
Week 13: Clark Quinn
Week 14: Jan Herrington

I have found it fascinating  and very enjoyable on a number of levels.

  • I have been intrigued by which elements of the MOOC have been changed and which have been kept the same as previous CCK type MOOCs and have noted that this MOOC has had more of a conference style than previous MOOCs.
  • I have really enjoyed the range of different presenters, with their different styles and the different tasks they have set. Although not many people, including myself, have responded to the tasks, I still think these are a very valuable part of the course, as they help us to understand what is important to the presenters.
  • Some of the MOOC presentations have fed directly into research I am doing to the point where I have been anxious about whether we (my colleagues and I) can get our research out in time, before it has all been said and discussed already. There has been the element of trying to keep up with the ongoing conversations and work out how they relate to our research – and consider whether our research is going out of date as we do it!
  • The MOOC topics have helped me to feel more abreast of current discussions and issues in relation to learning, networked learning and e-learning. Some of what I have learned in the past 12 weeks that I have attended has already fed into a research paper that has been submitted and accepted, and into a forthcoming project.

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What have I found difficult or what would I change?

Despite my blog post ‘Doubts about slow learning’ there is no doubt that I am a slow thinker, reader and learner – not by choice, but simply by capability – so I have found the weekly change of topic very difficult to keep up with.  For most weeks I have managed to find the time – but for a couple of weeks, I gave in and recognized that other priorities were higher on my list.

On the other hand – you can’t get bored when the topic changes weekly – so there is a fine balance to be maintained here and I suppose everyone’s personal balance point will depend on his or her personal context.

What have I done differently this time?

I have now participated in 6 MOOCs and written 5 research papers as a result – either loosely or closely related. I realize that I am all the time slowly learning more about how to participate in MOOCs and each time I approach it a bit differently. This time, I wanted to make more of an effort to make connections across the MOOC network. I have not been brilliant at this, as I still haven’t spent enough time reading other people’s blog or Twitter posts, but I have tried to respond to anyone who has commented on my blog. If I’ve missed anyone it is because of lack of skills, organization etc. rather than intent.

Initial reflections

I am all the time reflecting on what it means to learn and participate in MOOCs and why I find this way of learning so intriguing. I notice that Heli (who I met in CCK08) is also thinking about this. What is interesting for me, is that in my ‘day job’, i.e. the job that earns the money – only a few have so far been interested in MOOC pedagogy as Heli calls it. But I sense that this is changing. I remember talking about CCK08 to a group of academics in 2009 and being met by a wall of blank faces. That group is now hoping to design a course on MOOC principles. Exciting times!

I think participation in Change11 has not been that high – but personally I don’t see that as a problem. As I have mentioned before in a post – a colleague once said to me that however small the numbers, those who are at the table are those who are meant to be there.  I always find that very helpful.

There have also been those who have missed having a central discussion forum, e.g. a Moodle forum as we had in CCK08 – but personally I am OK with no central forum – in fact I sincerely hope that Stephen, George and Dave stick to their principles of how they think learning in MOOCs should be modeled, demonstrated and exemplified and don’t get swayed by low engagement figures to cave in and provide more structured courses. For me – the whole point is to recognize that we need to learn in distributed open spaces and educators need to help learners to develop the skills to do this.

20-12-11 Postscript

Evidently I was wrong about the low engagement – which is good to hear. :-) Here are the figures that Stephen has posted on his blog today

it’s not really that low, in my view: in addition to the more than 2000 people receiving the daily newsletter, we’ve had 38,000 visits and 135,000 pages read during the 14 weeks of the course – and that’s just on the main site, not counting all the Twitter and blog posts read on other sites. And the have been 1300 blog posts harvested and almost 2500 tweets – you can read 766 blog posts online.

Connecting, Sharing and Curating

by Keith Lyons

The New Year has prompted a range of posts about trends in connecting, sharing and curating.

Some examples I have found in the last few days:

Stephen Downes linked to Nick DeNardis’s post Why now is a great time to do an OAuth audit. Nick points out that “The beginning of the year is a great opportunity to start fresh and look at everything with a new set of eyes. Something that is easily overlooked is who (or what) has access to your social media accounts. It’s easy to change your password and revoke access from co-workers but it isn’t as easy to identify which websites and services have access to your accounts.”

Alistair Gray shared a link with the International Sports Management LinkedIn Group to a Dan Schawbel discussion of optimising use of LinkedIn. Dan identifies two fundamental principles of networking in his conversation with Jan Vermeiren, the founder of Networking Coach: the networking attitude (give and receive); and the Know, Like, Trust factor.

A Diigo Teacher-Librarian Group link from a Scoop.it page to an Apollo Research Institute Report (April 2011) on Future Work Skills. The Report identified ten skills “vital for success in the workforce”:

  • Sense-making: an ability to determine the deeper meaning or significance of what is being expressed
  • Social intelligence: an ability to connect to others in a deep and direct way, to sense and stimulate reactions and desired interactions
  • Novel and adaptive thinking: a proficiency at thinking and coming up with solutions and responses beyond that which is rote or rule-based
  • Cross-cultural competency: an ability to operate in different cultural settings
  • Computational thinking: an ability to translate vast amounts of data into abstract concepts and to understand data-based reasoning
  • New media literacy: an ability to assess critically and develop content that uses new media forms, and to leverage these media for persuasive communication
  • Transdisciplinarity: literacy in and ability to understand concepts across multiple disciplines
  • Design mindset: an ability to represent and develop tasks and work processes for desired outcomes
  • Cognitive load management: an ability to discriminate and filter information for importance, and to understand how to maximize cognitive functioning using a variety of tools and techniques
  • Virtual collaboration: an ability to work productively, drive engagement, and demonstrate presence as a member of a virtual team

Robin Good observes that:

By looking at the set of emerging skills that this research identifies as vital for future workers, I can’t avoid but recognize the very skillset needed by any professional curator or newsmaster.

This week’s presenter in the #change11 MOOC, Howard Rheingold has discussed five essential literacies:

I’ve concluded that one important step that people can take is to become more adept at five essential literacies for a world of mobile, social, and always-on media: attention, crap detection, participation, collaboration, and network know-how. The effects of these literacies can both empower the individuals who master them and improve the quality of the digital culture commons.

Stephen Downes shared a great link to Alec Couros’s end of year Social Media and Open Education blog post about student work. Alec notes that:

I wanted to use the last post of the year to share a few examples of the great work that is being done by my graduate and undergraduate students. I am so very fortunate to have creative & hard-working students who are committed to improving their knowledge of teaching and learning in light of our new digital landscape. I hope that some of these examples will inspire you to take up new challenges in your own context.

These examples included student projects using: stop-motion technique; Glogster; Freemind; Xtranormal; Screenr; Jing; Voicethread; TikaTok; Prezi; and Knovio.

SlideShare compiled 12 presentations that look at change in 2012. I was particularly interested in Skytide’s 7 Online Video Trends to Watch in 2012 and the discussion of Adaptive Bitrate Streaming. Skytide suggest “As adoption of adaptive bitrate protocols grows, providers of legacy streaming methods will find themselves under increased pressure to prove their added value. Witness the recent decision by Adobe to cease further development of its mobile FlashPlayer.”

I noted from an iSportConnect alert that the Philadelphia Wings Lacrosse team is using Twitter handles on its shirts (and following on a lead from two football teams (Valencia and Jaguares de Chiapas). Whilst looking at the Twitter possibilities I saw the Twitter blog post about New Year’s Eve activity. The post includes a video visualisation of tweets.

Phil Davis has written a post for The Scholarly Kitchen, Tweets and Our Obsession with Alt Metrics, that offers another perspective on tweeting. He discusses Gunther Eysenbach’s paper in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR), Can tweets predict citations? Metrics of social impact based on twitter and correlation with traditional metrics of scientific impact. The comments on this post make for fascinating reading and raise some salutary issues for me about connecting, sharing and curating.

I thought I would end this post with a link to Tagxedo. It is a word cloud generator and I have used it here to summarise the content of this post.

Photo Credits

Connecting

Share Your Ideas

Librarian Action Figure

Creating the Connectivist Course

By Stephen Downes

Creating the Connectivist Course

When George Siemens and I created the first MOOC in 2008 we were not setting out to create a MOOC. So the form was not something we designed and implemented, at least, not explicitly so. But we had very clear ideas of where we wanted to go, and I would argue that it was those clear ideas that led to the definition of the MOOC as it exists today.

There were two major influences. One was the beginning of open online courses. We had both seen them in operation in the past, and had most recently been influenced by Alec Couros’s online graduate course and David Wiley’s wiki-based course. What made these courses important was that they invoked the idea of including outsiders into university courses in some way. The course was no longer bounded by the institution.

The other major influence was the emergence of massive online conferences. George had run a major conference on Connectivism, in which I was a participant. This was just the latest in a series of such conferences. Again, what made the format work was that the conference was open. And it was the success of the conference that made it worth considering a longer and more involved enterprise.

We set up Connectivism and Connective Knowledge 2008 (CCK08) as credit course in Manitoba’s Certificate in Adult Education (CAE), offered by the University of Manitoba. It was a bit of Old Home Week for me, as Manitoba’s first-ever online course was also offered through the CAE program, Introduction to Instruction, designed by Conrad Albertson and myself, and offered by Shirley Chapman.

What made CCK08 different was that we both decided at the outset that it would be designed along explicitly connectivist lines, whatever those were. Which was great in theory, but then we began almost immediately to accommodate the demands of a formal course offered by a traditional institution. The course would have a start date and an end date, and a series of dates in between, which would constitute a course schedule. Students would be able to sign up for credit, but if they did, they would have assignments that would be marked (by George; I had no interest in marking).

But beyond that, the course was non-traditional. Because when you make a claim like the central claim of connectivism, that the knowledge is found in the connections between people with each other and that learning is the development and traversal of those connections, then you can’t just offer a body of content in an LMS and call it a course. Had we simply presented the ‘theory of connectivism‘ as a body of content to be learned by participants, we would have undercut the central thesis of connectivism.

This seems to entail offering a course without content – how do you offer a course without content? The answer is that the course is not without content, but rather, that the content does not define the course. That there is no core of content that everyone must learn does not entail that there is zero content. Quite the opposite. It entails that there is a surplus of content. When you don’t select a certain set of canonical contents, everything becomes potential content, and as we saw in practice, we ended up with a lot of content.

Running the course over fourteen weeks, with each week devoted to a different topic, actually helped us out. It allowed us to mitigate to some degree the effects an undifferentiated torrent of content would produce. It allowed us to say to ourselves that we’ll look at ‘this’ first and ‘that’ later. It was a minimal structure, but one that seemed to be a minimal requirement for any sot of coherence at all.

Even so, as it was, participants complained that there was too much information. This led to the articulation of exactly what connectivism meant in a networked information environment, and resulted in the definition of a key feature of MOOCs. Learning in a MOOC, we advised, is in the first instance a matter of learning how to select content.

By navigating the content environment, and selecting content that is relevant to your own personal preferences and context, you are creating an individual view or perspective. So you are first creating connections between contents with each other and with your own background and experience. And working with content in a connectivist course does not involve learning or remembering the content. Rather, it is to engage in a process of creation and sharing. Each person in the course, speaking from his or her unique perspective, participates in a conversation that brings these perspectives together.

Why not learn content? Why not assemble a body of information that people would know in common? The particular circumstances of CCK08 make the answer clear, but we can also see how it generalizes. In the case of CCK08, there is no core body of knowledge. Connectivism is a theory in development (many argued that it isn’t even a theory), and the development of connective knowledge even more so. We were hesitant to teach people something definitive when even we did not know what that would be.

Even more importantly, identifying and highlighting some core principles of connectivism would undermine what it was we thought connectivism was. It’s not a simple set of principles or equations you apply mechanically to obtain a result. Sure, there are primitive elements – the component of a connection, for example – but you move very quickly into a realm where any articulation of the theory, any abstraction of the principles, distorts it. The fuzzy reality is what we want to teach, but you can’t teach that merely by assembling content and having people remember it.

So in order to teach connectivism, we found it necessary for people to immerse themselves in a connectivist teaching environment. The content itself could have been anything – we have since run courses in critical literacies, learning analytics, and personal learning environments. The content is the material that we work with, that forms the creative clay we use to communicate with each other as we develop the actual learning, the finely grained and nuanced understanding of learning in a network environment that develops as a result of our working within a networked environment.

In order to support this aspect of the learning, we decided to make the course as much of a network as possible, and therefore, as little like an ordered, structured and centralized presentation as possible. Drawing on work we’d done previously, we set up a system whereby people would use their own environments, whatever they were, and make connections between each other (and each other’s content) in these environments.

To do this, we encouraged each person to create his or her own online presence; these would be their nodes in the course networks. We collected RSS feeds from these and aggregated them into a single thread, which became the course newsletter. We emphasized further that this thread was only one of any number of possible ways of looking at the course contents, and we encouraged participants to connect in any other way they deemed appropriate.

This part of the course was a significant success. Of the 2200 people who signed up for CCK08, 170 of them created their own blogs, the feeds of which were aggregated a tool I created, called gRSShopper, and the contents delivered by email to a total of 1870 subscribers (this number remained constant for the duration of the course). Students also participated in a Moodle discussion forum, in a Google Groups forum, in three separate Second Life communities, and in other ways we didn’t know about.

The idea was that in addition to gaining experience making connections between people and ideas, participants were making connections between different systems and places. What we wanted people to experience was that connectivism functions not as a cognitive theory – not as a theory about how ideas are created and transmitted – but as a theory describing how we live and grow together. We learn, in connectivism, not by acquiring knowledge as though it were so many bricks or puzzle pieces, but by becoming the sort of person we want to be.

In this, in the offering of a course such as CCK08, and in the offering of various courses after, and in the experience of other people offering courses as varied as MobiMOOC and ds106 and eduMOOC, we see directly the growth of individuals into the theory (which they take and mold in their own way) as well as the growth of the community of connected technologies, individuals and ideas. And it is in what we learn in this way that the challenge to more traditional theories becomes evident.

What we’ve learned – at least to me – is that cooperation is better than collaboration, that diversity is better than sameness, that harmony is better than competition, that openness is better than exclusivity, and that understanding complexity is better than reduction to simplicity. These are, to my mind, the opposite of the bases on which traditional education is designed. Does that make connectivism a theory? In a real sense, that question is irrelevant. ‘Theory’ implies principles and abstraction; connectivism is, in practice, the opposite of that.

If that all we’ve learned, that’s enough. But I think, as we read what follows in this series, that the learning is just beginning.