Posts Tagged ‘connectivism’

In which I leave it to others to consider the rhizomes

The connection between connective learning (connectivism, if you will) and complexity was, I think, obvious from the start. I seem to recall encountering the Cynefin framework very early on in connectivism explorations– perhaps even as a session in CCK08?

And it became equally obvious that, as one begins to try to explain the whole connective learning thing to others, complexity has to be part of the conversation. So as I catch up on some reading and see that Dave Cormier has mashed up rhizomes, connective learning, and the Cynefin framework, it makes perfect sense to me.

Cynefin framework

Except, I discovered a while back, apparently it doesn’t make total sense to others. In fact, I used the very same illustration Dave did in a presentation about implications of connectivism shortly after the conclusion of CCK08. And I wound up with the impression that it left the wrong impression. Not because the framework was wrong. Or that the presenter—then or now:-)– was wrong (although perhaps my powers of explanation or lack thereof may have played a role), but simply because the graphic didn’t lend itself as well to a conversation about learning as well as it did to a conversation about problem-solving.

Don’t get me wrong—“real” learning in my mind is ALL about problems and trying to solve them. And as I understand it, considerations of rhizomatic learning are related to but not the same as connectivism, so perhaps relevance is in question. But I offer my experience as an alternative perspective with the thought that maybe it’s a shortcut for anyone who wants to go this direction. The deal with the Cynefin graphic in this permutation is that it seems to get interpreted as bins for sorting things into, kind of like when you go to Ikea in hopes of solving your household storage problems. And the result seemed to be that people walked out with the idea that complex learning concerns are best (or could be) isolated in one corner and addressed with the best practice of not using best practices.

Which, you know, seemed kinda wrong.

Fortunately, by time another presentation opportunity rolled around, I had run into an alternative view, graphically speaking. And I hereby apologize about the sourcing of this, because I think it came from several directions, none for which I can now find appropriate links. The graphic was a nifty chart I saw in a presentation deck from Michael Quinn Patton, whereby I later saw a (subsequentally mentally filed) note somewhere that suggested that it somehow stemmed from Ralph D. Tracey’s conceptualization of complex responsive processes. (The differences and relationships between complex responsive processes and complex adaptive systems are worth consideration, but are well beyond today’s scope, and in part beyond what is essentially very basic knowledge on my part regarding this whole ball of wax. Yes, I’m probably in over my head here.)

In any case, in the interest of throwing out an alternative illustration about learning complexity, here’s the “original” chart as I encountered it:

Michael Quinn Patton, 2009

And here’s my interpretation of learning imposed upon it:

Michael Quinn Patton, 2009 - Modified: C. Tschofen, 10/2010

And, finally, here’s the reason why I think this has done a better job for me in communicating how complexity creates changes in learning and challenges for people:

Michael Quinn Patton, 2009 – Modified: C. Tschofen 2011

I admit to some trepidation about the somewhat implicitly progressive implications of such a graphic, which, worse case scenario, gets interpreted as a kind of “how wild and crazy are you” challenge. But I have found it works well in exploring people’s comfort zones and even worldviews. Do you sincerely believe that most things can be planned and the future reasonably accounted for? Then here’s a zone of understanding where perhaps only the outside edges are fuzzy. But maybe other folks don’t think that way. So here’s an idea of where they might reside and perhaps a few words describing how they think, and maybe there are some blurry lines you could share. It has been useful for seeing learning as not just about outcomes, categories and choices, but about processes, options, and opportunities.

I think this illustration has helped people understand that learning is not so much about sorting as it is about various continuums. In one example I cite, very specific disciplinary learning that is machine delivered lives down in the lower left hand corner. Much of the rest of life occupies space farther afield. And developing an understanding that, while problems might be usefully categorized, learning can be shifted within and between the simple, complicated, complex, and yes, the chaotic, with some level of personal agency, has been useful. (To be clear, I am not saying that Cynefin understanding doesn’t address this in some form– just that the above graphic seems to work better for me.)

In a recent and connectively related post, George Siemens notes: “It is important to realize that MOOCs are not (yet) an answer to any particular problem. They are an open and ongoing experiment.” This view of MOOCs might explain why there is tension about expectations, responsibilities and assessment in MOOCs, and perhaps this tension can be addressed by understanding that burgeoning MOOCs reside in various locations on the agreement/certainty graphic based on the nature of the learning they offer. (Whether MOOCs are ultimately the right unit of analysis for examining complexity and change in learning is a completely different question that has me somewhat distracted.)



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In which some blogging resumes.

The nature of geographically and temporally distributed conversations sometimes means participation feels like walking into a room in the middle of a conversation, and indeed, this is what I’m going to do here. To provide some very basic context for this “wandering in”:

  1. Jenny Mackness and I wrote a paper related to connectivism.
  2. Heli Nurmi, Sui Fai John Mak and Stephen Downes have addressed some elements of the paper in their own blogs in varying detail, with several others adding comments to Jenny’s posts about the paper.
  3. The paper has thus far seemed to have sparked three lines of discussion, focusing around concepts of peer review; open scholarship and open-access resources; and the content of the paper itself, which explores in very rudimentary terms a potential meeting ground or overlap between principles of connectivism and two theories of psychological understanding.

Jenny has done a fabulous job in laying out the issues and our experiences with the scholarship and publishing process, and I want to both expand a bit on these ideas and take up the third thread on the paper’s content in responding to questions about the choices we made in the paper, following in particular Heli’s questions. (Why Jungian theory of all possible options? Why not include identity as a further element? Why self-determination theory?)

There are actually at least two directions to take with Heli’s questions so far.  One is to discuss these topics and their relative merits within the confines of the disciplines to which they traditionally belong. The other, and the tack I would like to take first for the purposes of this post, is to talk a bit about the broader contexts and additional aspects of “process” that cropped up in relation to the “differentness” of the type of scholarship/exploration that Jenny and I (and Matthias Melcher) rather inadvertently embarked upon.

First, I must admit the answers to some of Heli’s questions are much more mundane than sublime. It is not that we actively rejected other options or ideas, but rather, in a further irony of the formal publication process, that we ran out of room. The resulting paper is, perhaps, more a result of triage and semi-arbitrary prioritization than deliberate selection. (Although I don’t mean to speak for Jenny on this, who may have felt more focused!) As it was, I believe IRRODL rather generously let us ever-so-slightly exceed the recommended word count, and as Stephen Downes noted, the paper begs for at least four separate discussions, one on each connectivist principle. As Jenny said, this is where we started our conversations—with the single concept of autonomy—but we (or I, in particular, I think) found the complexity and entanglements between concepts almost hopelessly snarled at this point in the evolution of our (my) understanding.  Ultimately, it seemed that anything less than the whole four-strand ball of connectivism yarn would leave us more “wanting” in terms of introductory discussion than the perils of “not enough” explication of each term individually. The big picture– or lots of threads— first, in other words.

Lest the “not enough room” sound like a cop-out or a refutation of responsibility, I think there’s a second important recognition here that goes well beyond the issue of imposed limits and quantity. As I noted in a response on Jenny’s blog: “…the review and publication process seemed cumbersome for a discussion that was based in and developed at least in part by an ongoing “feed” rather than deep-diving “search.” In what I interpret as a similar thought, Stephen recently remarked: “The next three generations of web and learning technology will be based on the idea of flow… Flow is when we cease to think of things like contents and communications and even people and environments as things and start thinking of them as (for lack of a better word) media – like the water in a river, like the electricity in our pipes, like the air in the sky.”

I would suggest that the explorations we introduced in our paper are indeed better viewed as and serve in and as “flow.” The “signaling” aspect of academic journal publication– that an argument is definitive and rigorously defensible within limited parameters – is perhaps one source of confusion that blogs avoid when “flow” becomes a hallmark of learning. I have to wonder if the idea of looking for learning and discussion as flow is a critical leap both in understanding the fundamental implications of connectivism and in understanding the emergence of relatively unorthodox conceptual juxtapositions such as those in the paper.

Now to speak specifically to Heli’s discipline-oriented questions so far…


I would note that in the course of events we did veer, thanks to Jenny’s familiarity with Etienne Wenger’s work, into discussions of identity, and that ideas related to the performance of identity (Goffman and others) seem particularly relevant in thinking about the reflection, expression and projection of psychological needs and variables of individuals in connectivist learning (whether on or offline—a whole different can of worms). Ultimately, we edited our “identity” explorations down to about a paragraph, and so think Heli’s expansion and illustrations in this area are very valuable.

Why focus on the “Big Five?”

The Big Five offered an easily identifiable and widely accepted model of understanding, with the language/vocabulary “overlapping” that inspired our explorations in the first place. While recognizing that there are many alternative theories of personality (and that these all may soon be eclipsed through neuroscience), in terms of determining adequate validity, I defer to Kirwan, et. al. (2010; quoted in the paper) on this: “…the Big Five model of personality traits … is widely accepted as a unified, parsimonious model of normal personality that has been validated in many different cultures and across several research settings (De Raad, 2000; Digman, 1997), with supporting studies based on many different demographic and personal characteristics of individuals (Costa & McCrae, 1994).”

(I would also note that Kirwan and, I believe, some subsequent researchers now prefer the term “emotional stability” over its traditionally utilized inverse, neuroticism.)

Why self-determination theory?

I would be the first to agree that a focus on self-determination theory may seem a bit random for someone coming “fresh” to this conversation. In my case, my attention to SDT arose from other explorations related to motivation and performance/expertise/talent development, which included (and whereby you can now breathe a sigh of relief that I did not try and cram this into the already overloaded paper as well) older work by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (who also uses the term “flow” in learning), Benjamin Bloom, and K. Anders Ericcson, among others.

In addition, there seemed to be, at least for a while, some focus within connectivism conversations on the roles of “sharing” and “participation” that warranted an exploration of why people do or don’t do something that went beyond simple “motivation” or “selfishness.” And I personally have found SDT to be very applicable in terms of developing conceptual tools and vocabulary to address the “emotional labor” of learning and learning support in complexity.

The choice of SDT for the purposes of the paper also seemed appropriate in that it, like connectivism, both acknowledges and explores complexity in ways that completely reframe “schooling-oriented” visions of self-guided, self-determined and self-directed learning. As a very brief example: Schooling-oriented discussions often focus negatively on the “unmotivated learner,” whereby there is little acknowledgment that, for example, what may be interpreted as a lack of motivation may actually be an expression of healthy autonomy through the rejection of imposed goals. By the same token, schooling—and perhaps even more so social learning– often requires as sense of cooperative “relatedness” or “connection” among classmates or fellow learners, whereby a learner may have other  sources of relatedness (or competency or autonomy or relatedness needs) that compete with these demands. This discussion seems to have the potential to expand conversations about lurking and other aspects of participatory or social learning– again, whether online or off.  (And, for anyone wanting a shortcut, an easily accessible discussion of SDT and its implications can be found in Daniel Pink’s popular journalistic exploration of this theory, Drive.)

From my perspective, many of the choices for the paper were informed by, as the blog title notes, equal parts serendipity and purpose. This is, of course, not a fashionable admission in terms of academic rigor or defensibility, but then again,  I’m not sure that’s what we were aiming for. In fact, Heli and John have done exactly what I think we hoped would happen: knowledgeable others gather up some of our strands of yarn and commence to knit a warmer sweater:-)

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In which I craft a table with wobbly legs.

As connectivism and connective learning gain a wider audience, or at least acknowledgment, I’ve been plagued by the suspicion that, upon first exposure, connectivism is sounding an awful lot like a shaken, not stirred, version of constructivism to a lot of people.

Complicating matters is the recognition that theories have various instantiations in practice. This is undoubtedly true for constructivism and its formal classroom companion, inquiry learning, especially as this is implemented in its spectrum of shadings (guided inquiry, open inquiry, “Understanding by Design,” project learning, active learning, etc.).

(Is this also true for connectivism? Hard to say, since the idea of connectivism as a “practice,” especially classroom practice, seems to create some cognitive dissonance for me.  But I’ve used the term “connective learning” below as an expression of  the “practice” of connectivism.)

Connectivism, constructivism, behaviorism, humanism and cognitivism have been laid out in a variety of comparative tables.  It is also important to point to Stephen Downes’ assessment that constructivism and connectivism are not the same thing.

[Connectivism] shares with some other theories a core proposition, that knowledge is not acquired, as though it were a thing. Hence people see a relation between connectivism and constructivism or active learning (to name a couple). Where connectivism differs from those theories, I would argue, is that connectivism denies that knowledge is propositional. That is to say, these other theories are ‘cognitivist’, in the sense that they depict knowledge and learning as being grounded in language and logic. Connectivism is, by contrast, ‘connectionist’. Knowledge is, on this theory, literally the set of connections formed by actions and experience. It may consist in part of linguistic structures, but it is not essentially based in linguistic structures, and the properties and constraints of linguistic structures are not the properties and constraints of connectivism. In connectivism, a phrase like ‘constructing meaning’ makes no sense. Connections form naturally, through a process of association, and are not ‘constructed’ through some sort of intentional action. And ‘meaning’ is a property of language and logic, connoting referential and representational properties of physical symbol systems. Such systems are epiphenomena of (some) networks, and not descriptive of or essential to these networks. Hence, in connectivism, there is no real concept of transferring knowledge, making knowledge, or building knowledge. Rather, the activities we undertake when we conduct practices in order to learn are more like growing or developing ourselves and our society in certain (connected) ways.

That said, constructivism and connectivism are, if certainly not the same, allied in a few significant ways.  One is in their common respect for the learner, and another is in the concept of learner empowerment. Both theories also require, at least to some degree, reconsideration of the traditional conceptions of teaching, of the goals of learning, and of the idea of schools.

So while both theories are a difficult sell in traditional and formal educational settings, I’d posit that constructivism’s relatively long history and basic inroads in education to date offer a credible scaffold for discussing connectivism, and that those who have been able to at least initially incorporate ideas and practice related to constructivism may be best in the position to approach—and personally engage with—connective learning.

A perhaps minor roadblock I’m seeing, however, is that connectivism discussions to date haven’t necessarily used language that is familiar to “on the ground” practitioners, facilitators, teachers, or whatever one may wish to call them. (One exception, perhaps, is Wendy Drexler’s The Networked Student, which offers a contained classroom orientation to connectivism.)

The following rudimentary table makes a run at the language barrier. While there’s going to be some disagreement on how inquiry and connective learning are depicted, it seems to me that the table does reveal just how far connectivism moves the cheese for those working with or toward inquiry. Connectivist thinking, to a greater degree than even “progressive” inquiry approaches, shakes up some deeply entrenched assumptions about education, knowledge, learning, and teaching.

The table is admittedly a stream-of-consciousness mash-up of both theoretical understandings and a sense of how these theories play out on the ground, which is where things get pretty messy and lines get pretty blurry in a hurry. (When working with the infinite variables of learning, purism seems self-defeating…)  A table like this is also only a snapshot in time, as the concepts under consideration are clearly moving targets. (Example: the inclusion of the terms communities and construction/bricolage on the connectivist side of things. These are more a reflection of trends I’m seeing in conversations than any formally definitive element. And trying to use the term “knowledge” correctly?  Yipes.)

Even with these disclaimers, I suspect that the table can also serve as four-way cannon fodder, as both proponents and opponents of both theories will have some objections kind thoughts about how I have chosen to articulate these theories. But still, it seems like an item worth “throwing out there” for further consideration.

Italicized words and concepts are recognized as potentially contentious. Other words and concepts are also undoubtedly contentious, but a fully italicized table seems like overkill.

Inquiry learning Connective learning
Understanding big ideas Understanding fragmented ideas
Depth of understanding Depth/diversity of connections
Question, investigate Converse, immerse, connect
Collaboration (team with shared goals) Cooperation (individuals with aligned interests)
Teacher as facilitator Learner and network as facilitators
Guide on the side/meddler in the middle Modeling, demonstration
Anticipated processes, goals Emergent processes, goals
Understanding, reflection Increasing/improving connections, construction/bricolage
Interdisciplinary Transdisciplinary
Focus on developing “whole” learner (values orientation, socialization) Come as you are/ “knowing to be”
Active/continuous participation Option of legitimate peripheral participation
The practice of experts Distributed expertise, state of expertness
Learner-focused Learner as node, hub, link
Authenticity: Actual and simulated/designed Space: “Real” and “virtual”
Groups and communities Networks, communities
Use of resources beyond classroom Classroom/coursework as one potential resource
Assessment by more knowledgeable other Ongoing assessment through network interaction (via self and others)
Consciously uses “technology” “Technology” is assumed/invisible/ubiquitous
Exploration, discovery, experience “Foraging,” way-finding, pattern recognition, surfing, sensing, experiencing
Encourages relevance, motivation Requires relevance, motivation
Resulting knowledge is new to learner Resulting knowledge is new to all (to network)
Considers content (existing knowledge) in addition to process New knowing emerges from process of network activity
Learning results in knowledge Learning results in/is “being”

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In which I might be onto something, and in which I make an initial stab at trying to pin it down.

I’ve been journeying rather far from home for quite some time to explore a strange but compelling land where “learning” and “technology” and “education” and “change”… and people… seem to converge.

I travel with biases. We all view the world through personally honed lenses, ground through psychological inclinations, experiences, academic training, etc.

And so I find I’ve begun to frame/articulate what I (think I) have been seeing in those travelled lands as something familiar, something with similarities to the land in which I generally reside as an observer and participant of culture.

"Carved by the hired hand on the farm."

Folklorist Henry Glassie writes about art and culture:

“We have drowned ourselves so thoroughly in our own tradition that we casually mistake its intricate artifice for natural process.”

I suggest that this applies to learning as well. And when stripped or relieved of all the imposed mechanics and quantifying measurements and manufacturing goals of “modern” education, the iterative processes and communicative acts and products of learning are, in essence, forms of creative expression.*  **

To justify this explanation, I am tempted to take a pretty big detour—one that explains the territory of folklore (from whence, in part, I come)  to the legions who are baffled by the very idea… but that’s what links are for, aren’t they?

So, moving on…

One form of creative expression familiar to most people, and perhaps therefore easy to understand, is the creation of objects—of craft. I use this word a bit hesitantly, but trust it will serve simply as a relevant and “graspable” example of creative expression and not bring forth too many biases. (Paula Owen notes: “The ambiguity of the word ‘craft’ is troublesome because for the majority of people it connotes hobby-level kitsch, which nullifies significant achievements and ideas. It is [also] troublesome because many young artists have grown up in a world of cultural fusion and no longer find the classification relevant.”)

Nonetheless, for the sake of example: in creating—crafting—a quilt, or a chair, or a “found object” sculpture, the creator employs a wide variety of decision-making process, all of which vary in emphasis and importance due to the complexities of the interrelationships between the choices.

  • A craftsperson has choices of materials, of tools, of subject matter.
  • A craftsperson makes choices about how much to adhere to a tradition, and how much to vary or innovate within and beyond it.
  • A craftsperson works with varying sources of information and inspiration, in different contexts of time and space, with differing demands and responses from one or more audiences.

This sounds to me much like the options available to learners today, for those who choose to choose.

Along the same lines, E.M. Fleming suggests that material culture (i.e. artifacts, such as craft objects) can be analyzed through developing understandings of an object’s:

  • history
  • material
  • construction
  • design
  • and function.

At the parade. Redwood Falls, Minnesota.

I would suggest that in working to understand others’ learning and resulting communicative products (especially as they develop outside formal educational boundaries), these are equally useful lenses.

A further thought is that by understanding how creative expression such as craft functions, we can also understand the potential of, as well as current resistance to, viewing learning as a creative process. For example:

  • Craft as a process of creative expression creates its own emergent structures of authority or non-authority; learning can be formal, informal, non-formal…. (Perhaps so subtle as to be “invisible.”) Mentorship, apprenticeship, being “raised in the tradition,” formal instruction—all are viable processes. Choices regarding this are frequently the province of the creator.
  • Creative expression is an emergent, “design as you go” process (one of bricolage, as Graham Atwell has pointed out in his explorations of personal learning); one which is multi-directional. Henry Glassie writes: “The process is a common one, known to every cook and carpenter. It is a matter of reorganizing materials. As more and more that matters is pulled into the process…it gathers more into itself and so gains the strength to reach out more broadly…” This pulling and reaching supports both tradition and innovation.
  • Craft expressions are best understood as processes and products of the interplay among the intent (motives and motivation) of the creator, her community, and other context, rather than as “masterpieces” of an individual artist/genius working in splendid isolation.

Among the difficulties:

  • The idealized perfection of uniformity promoted by mass production. (Interestingly, the Arts and Crafts Movement of the early 20th century was in many ways anti-factory-production, but its adherents were not necessarily anti-technology, nor were they opposed to efficiency in production.)
  • A cultural bias devoted to promoting the supposed moral superiority of “high art” and assumptions (indoctrination?) of an “educated elite” about the presumed, innate, and absolute “quality” of such art over craft.
  • Tacit and explicit lack of respect for cultures and communities which bring craft expressions into being; whether cause or effect, craft is associated with populations which have been marginalized, particularly based on gender and race. These populations and their creative expressions have been called “naive” and even “unschooled.”
  • A cultural view that suggests domains reflecting Cartesian worldviews– math and science, for example– are more valuable (economically, politically…) and worthy of transmission than domains of craft/creative expression. (I do not claim that math or science is purely Cartesian nor that these pursuits are not creative. Nor do I mean that learning within these realms cannot result from learning as a result of the same choices of creative process noted above—only that this is currently not/rarely the case.)

Presently I’m feeling a bit like a hunter who has stalked prey across unfamiliar stretches of savannah, wrestled it to the ground in a bruising but respectful battle, and is now dragging the bounty back to the comforting campfires of home, a dietary enrichment for the tribe…

Or, potentially a little less bloody in extended metaphor, here’s where I seem to be travelling now: through a messy roundabout of learning, education, technology and the enticing potential of “hand-crafted learning.”

* Please, please, please do not read this as “students should do a project/learn some stuff and write a song about it.”

** This observation is distilled from a multi-page rambling I’ve been stuck on for a couple of months, one which inspired me to post an equally distilled summary comment recently on Dave Cormier’s blog discussing factory education– an important “getting over the hump” step to this post, for the record of those who are tracking connective processes 🙂

Works consulted:

M. Anna and Owen, Paula. Objects and Meaning. New Perspectives on Art and Craft. Scarecrow Press (October 2005).

Glassie, Henry. The Spirit of Folk Art. Harry N. Abrams (February 1, 1995).

Schlereth, Thomas. Material Culture Studies in America. American Association for State & Local History (June 1982).

Toelken, Barre. The Dynamics of Folklore. Utah State University Press (May 1, 1996).

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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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In which I have been told several times in the past few days to “step away from the computer, and no one gets hurt…”

Yoohoo! Step away from the computer!

Yoohoo! Step away from the computer!

What with the last days of the formal Connectivism and Connective Knowledge (CCK08) course activity falling on a long U.S. holiday weekend, I’m feeling rather scattered and pulled among local and distant networks and groups, and suspect I am not doing any of them complete justice. And unlike many courses, CCK08 is concluding, based on my level of participation, with many loose ends, rather than with any culminating event or sense of closure. This, however, makes sense given the emergent nature of connectivism and connectivist discussions.

Among the things I would not want to leave undone is offering a sincere “thank you” to George Siemens and Stephen Downes for imagining and instigating this course. I hope you guys (that’s a formal collective honorific in Minnesotian) also had fun somewhere between all the challenges, as I did. I rather suspect this was a historic event, and it was a privilege to be part of it.

Thanks, too, to fellow participants in the CCK08 journey. I’ve greatly appreciated the new sights, sounds and thoughtful voices of this online adventure.

I have reached this juncture with at least two important “take-aways.”

The first is my perception of the level of patience and courage it takes to watch the (pick your adjective) masses give a carefully considered and perhaps personally significant (no matter what the previous level of sharing and collaboration) concept a good airing… or trampling, as the case may be. Yes, using the theory to explore the theory leads to its improvement, but it still seems to me that this would require some deep breathing. Don’t mean to presume, mind you. Maybe it’s all in a connectivist day’s work… but it still made an impression.

Secondly, the other educational modeling and content offered in the course has had immediate and ongoing implications on a local level not necessarily visible to the online CCK08 community. Social network analysis met user experience strategies in a casual conversation. Authority and validity became a highly relevant dinner table topic for younger learners. Some interactions cooled as implications and personal interpretations of connective knowledge became more specific; other connections were forged. And both leading up to and throughout this course, there has been the delicate dance of facilitating and advocating personal and local learning with a growing understanding of connectivism and related concepts, while trying respectfully to avoid (at least occasionally) the toes of those with different understandings and responsibilities.

Some of the loose ends relate to reflections on my own learning. There are parts of the theoretical basis for connectivism that I have not yet fully grasped. Additionally, concerns I raised in an early post about connectivist learning, technology access, inclusion and some forms of cultural knowledge remain. At the same time, I understand why these might be viewed as issues of oranges and apples, in that connectivist theory was never intended to address some of these things.

Some things are simply beyond connectivist theory.

Some things are simply beyond connectivist theory.

I do now understand why technology is not necessarily viewed as a linchpin of connectivist theory. Connective learning done well means the technology is essentially invisible, much like good physical and mental health and personal safety invisibly support learning. But my concern remains that, for those who don’t have these things, they become major stumbling blocks. I might summarize my altered perception as: For those who enjoy physical access to technology, and who have or can develop the skills of utilizing communicative technology, technology is a virtually transparent enabler of connective knowledge. But for those who don’t or can’t, technology –or its absence —  ironically becomes highly significant. That said, future developments may ameliorate and change the fundamental conditions in which such disparities are found.

Some things are not reductively sleek.

Like connectivism, the complex essence of a Thanksgiving weekend Fishhouse Parade is irreducible.

I would also note that my learning altered my earlier perception that connectivism is “reductively sleek.” I now understand the practice of connectivism as an irreducibly complex process. I would also note that connectivism doesn’t have to be perfect, or perfectly understood, in order to foster significant ecologies for learning and growth around these concepts. However, I continue to wonder if the degree to which connectivism is emphasized or promoted or desired as a social process (in spite of the recognition of less-explored conceptual and neural facets and the concept of networked autonomy) may make it less intuitive or supportive for some learners.

Certainly, my interest in education and connectivist ideas has not waned during the past weeks, but I would admit to suffering from a bit of mental fatigue on these fronts. Thus, other loose ends include the many posts by fellow participants that deserve comment, and George Siemens’ recent questions about the growth of online learning and what new learning might look like. These are things I’d like to think more about… but maybe not this week.

Thanks to all who have contributed to CCK08’s unique learning environment. It’s been an extraordinary opportunity, and I hope it will be the first of many such learning models.

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