Posts Tagged ‘assumptions’

In which educationalists should feel free to roll their eyes….

CCK09: Guilty as charged– lurking. It’s a factor of time, schedule, and attention, but also perhaps one of sloth. While writing for academic and literary purposes needs to be approached as regularly as any serious work  (a friend compares it to laying pipe), writing about something immediately compelling is… so much easier. And after CCK08 I figured that, even with a low and random level of monitoring, CCK09 would probably prompt a few compelling thoughts somewhere along the line.

Hark! Whilst peeling fava beans in my Midwestern kitchen on a rainy fall day and listening to this week’s Elluminate session, some thoughts converged. In this mundane setting and in the midst of this mindless task, I realized that one of the difficult things about connectivism is the large amount of imagination and creativity it requires. (Online resources for these topics are really fluffy, but work by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi seems a reasonable entry point, and this resource at the Open University provides some toeholds.)

tomatoesThese aspects have come into play on several levels. On one, I’ve needed on several occasions to transcend language/linguistic conventions and limits in order to understand the entities and concepts being described. So many of the terms in use here, as in most of education, are highly connotative, perhaps particularly so for those most versed and expert in various related fields. Groups, networks, teacher, school, knowledge, learning… Instead of mincing descriptive and definitive language (and I do differentiate these) down to even more precise levels (and I’m usually among the first to appreciate precision in language), I’ve found it useful to abandon or bypass the mental pictures these words first bring to mind from various perspectives of understanding. It has been important to clarify my own underlying assumptions about whatever term is in question, and then to be able to recognize that they might not be applicable here, even if they seem to have the contextual hallmarks of conventionality or use within a discipline.

This doesn’t mean dismissing all previous conceptualizations out of hand, but it does mean putting them at least temporarily on hold, no matter how tightly we are wedded to them. Take the basic associations for the term “networks,” for example. From the lay/popular culture side: way too overloaded and intermingled with “networking” as a self-promotion strategy to be useful here. On the technology side: way too mechanistic and clear cut. (True, these are unsophisticated examples, but they serve for the purpose of illustration.) Jenny Mackness mentioned last year that network visualizations seem to need a third or other dimension. For me this idea was, to use a current turn of phrase, resonant, and is indeed descriptive how I satisfy my “sense” of what is described. My mental image of the relationships and manifestations of networks and groups is still much more amorphous and multi-dimensional than anything that I’ve seen on a page; it’s more of a sculpture or some form of art installation (with lights, I think, yes, colored lights… that move, and with a range of emergent sounds…) than any type of graphic illustration. Attempting to understand connectivism has become, in this respect, an almost synesthetic experience.

On a second level, creativity and imagination have been needed to edge into the realm of innovation; that is, to identify how and where the implications of connectivism are realized. Connectivism is a descriptive entity (realm?) rather than a tool or an approach or, heaven forbid, a program. And yet it seems that some come to CCK manifestations with an idea of “applying” connectivism “in practice.” And so here’s another epiphany (it sounds easy, but it was rather grinding, really) I needed to have: The implications of the concepts under consideration, whether packaged under connectivism or some other understanding, are not necessarily something that one can work towards. They are something we have to leap to, and then, only after this leap of imagination and the fundamental revisioning of the possible, does it become fully clear where the understandings of connectivism are “applicable.”

In some ways, my understandings (which I don’t claim to be comprehensive or completely accurate) come from a process of working backward to accommodate existing realities, rather than working forward to an envisioned potential.(See also: backcasting.) And so something like “How can I use/apply/integrate connectivism in my classroom?” becomes, from this perspective, a totally irrelevant, and perhaps misguided, question. I would encourage anyone struggling with connectivism to work hard at inventing a mental world where connectivism makes total sense and is completely feasible… and then work back through the details. A quote I enjoyed today:

Society is not always quick to understand game-changing innovation. In fact, according to MIT professor Lant Pritchett, there is a very particular pattern of acceptance and understanding we go through that can be summarized as “Crazy. Crazy. Crazy. Obvious.”

I’d say connectivism is at least nominally easier to grasp if you envision a world in which it is “obvious” first, and then work back through the layers of crazy.

As a bit of a tangential disclaimer, I would note that I don’t have much interest in science fiction or fantasy literature, should anyone see this as the approach I am taking. Instead, in studying culture, I have an innate interest in unpacking the layers of understanding and meaning within events, stories and objects. That means “seeing” the invisible, the worldview, contained in or implied by such entities. And this is how I tackle connectivism. Connectivism requires and supports creativity as it becomes both an object of interpretive study, and a viewpoint that inherently encompasses personal narratives/constructions of learning processes. (Out on an intuitive limb here.)

Finally, one other thought about connectivism, creativity, and the sense of “different” participation this year: There is an association between creativity and risk-taking, and yes, novelty. And for intellectual risk-takers and novelty-seekers in a number of related fields, whether lurking or dueling (or engaging in scorched earth warfare), the CCK08 MOOC was a pretty compelling place to be/play. So if participation is down/different, I don’t think it’s a referendum on the course or connectivism itself. Indeed, after adrenaline junkies finish the parachute jumping, someone has to inspect and fold the chutes. Many jumpers pack their own, I hear, but for the sake of metaphor, let’s say that might be what CCK09 participants are doing. That said, it’s still early. BASE jumpers (gratuitous video) could still be lurking.

Coda: We had “Gigantes” once in a restaurant and found this to be a tasty dish. I’m not big on recipes, except for broad outlines, and my dislike of big box grocery shopping stands in the way of any precision in ingredients required for authenticity, but this is what I do with the aforementioned beans:

favaplateCook and peel 1 lb of fava beans or large lima beans while listing to CCK09.  Chop one or two (depending on how close it is to carpool time) onions and sauté in a small pan with olive oil; simultaneously roast two or three red peppers on another burner, steam in paper bag. Return from driving to wake up the computer; peel and chop peppers and five or six farmer’s market tomatoes. Do not drip on the keyboard while occasionally waking up the screen with your wrist in order to read the chatroom comments.

Mix all of the above (minus the paper bag and the computer) in a baking dish with olive oil, pepper, salt, oregano, marjoram and crushed garlic. Bake for about an hour or until household citizens are done practicing their instruments. Add liquid as needed  if there’s a jazz combo still rehearsing in the basement. Mix in whatever fresh, chopped parsley the first Minnesota frost hasn’t wilted, and crumbled feta cheese. Serve with some form of green vegetable, because it makes a pretty picture on the plate.



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The last time I traveled, the Transportation Security Administration managed to inspect every single bag from every single person in the family… at least according to the little cards they left behind inside the suitcases. Were they bored, or were we a suspicious lot? We’ll never know.

What's in your luggage?

What's in your luggage?

The thought of strangers rummaging through all those undergarments is a bit disquieting. But I have been wondering if such scrutiny, as uneasy as it might make us, might be useful in other venues.

For example, I’m still unpacking the implications of George Siemens’ question “does education need to change?” My answer was yes, but– surprise!!– not everyone agrees on how, if at all. Here are a few things I’ve heard from other adults in the last month or so:


“I can’t imagine ‘going to school’ in my jammies.” (In response a description of the connectivism course. Yes, there were air quotes.)

“It’s not healthy for kids to learn too much from computers.”

“Our [professional education] group has to meet in person [as opposed to using online communications], or we can’t sense each other’s electrical emanations.”

I know, I know: this raises questions about where and with whom I hang out. Actually, these were three separate and rather casual encounters, so it’s probably not fair to hold the speakers to these comments in perpetuity. But as a quick view off the top, they stuck with me, because they serve as a good reminder that while we share some demographics or geography, shared thoughts on education are not as easy to find.

Of the people above, two are female, one male. Each was born on a different continent. Two are currently employed in professional positions, one is currently a stay-at-home parent. All have lived or traveled extensively abroad. All are what I would consider current-events savvy. Two are politically “liberal,” one “conservative.” They all know how to use “the Google.” All have master’s degrees. (One has two).

All have kids under the age of 12.

And, taken in isolation, their comments suggest that ideas related to educational change have some pretty big hurdles.

In unpacking these statements, it strikes me how difficult it is to counter them with data or facts or logic or examples. They reside in an affective zone that is not quite neo-Ludditism, but something…else. And while these parents would certainly argue that their concern is for their children’s futures, the statements seem to be rooted in their individual presents.

Change advocates sometimes see present and even future-oriented resistance to educational change as people just “not getting it.” But I do wonder if it’s helpful to ask why people aren’t “getting it.” What allows people to stare changing circumstances in the face and choose to continue on in a linear trajectory? And, conversely, what causes people to see radical change in what others view as an unaffected or mildly transitional situation? (Is it brain wiring?)

There is a lot of uninspected baggage when it comes to change. Jamais Cascio recently wrote about the concept of legacy futures, old beliefs about what will happen in the future that obstruct our ability to construct new visions. (The classic example: How many of us are still waiting for our jet packs?)

… We get legacy futures in business from old strategies and plans, legacy futures in politics from old budgets and forecasts, and legacy futures in environmentalism from earlier bits of analysis. Legacy futures are rarely still useful, but have so thoroughly colonized our minds that even new scenarios and futures models may end up making explicit or implicit references to them… we have to figure out how to deal with the leftover visions of the future that still colonize our minds.

I’d say that education is not immune to this phenomenon. I hear a pre-industrial, knowledge scarcity “legacy future” in the demands for standardized content. I hear a Sputnik-Cold War “legacy future” in the pervasive statements that students will have to “compete” globally. I might even hear a Puritan “legacy future” in the insistence on “rigor.”

In thinking about how to address or bridge different understandings about change, I have been intrigued by ethnographic and action research processes that are intended to develop community-based understandings of how people view their futures and why. In particular, Sohail Inayatullah’s causal layered analysis explores beliefs about and expectations for the future on four levels: litany, social system and structure, worldview, and myth and metaphor. All of these layers, as suggested by the situations outlined above, seem to be part of educational viewpoints.

Some baggage seems heavier than others

Some baggage weighs less...


One intention of such layered explorations is to create conversations with multiple perspectives within a community or communities. Another is to create futures scenarios. These descriptions of what could happen in the future, based on a deep view of spoken and (previously) unspoken understandings, open opportunities for making (hopefully wise and insightful) choices in the present.

My knowledge of causal layered analysis is rudimentary. Additionally, reports from this rather marginalized field suggest that the space, time, and tolerance for such explorations are limited or non-existent. For the non-futurist, it may seem that such explorations are nothing but blind conjecture, or that the speed at which the future arrives makes such explorations impossible — or moot. And there is a certain truth to the idea that educational changes are coming, no matter what, thus suggesting that the best advice for those who are not interested in understanding and exploring them is indeed to “hunker down, keep doing what you’re doing, and take early retirement.”

But since a lot of folks can’t afford to retire for a while (or ever), it might not hurt to respectfully examine the luggage of assumptions we’re all toting around.

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