Monday, February 5, 2007

Connectivism conference

The connectivism online conference is underway. I just ended a conversation with 180+ people and still can't let go and participate in the discussion. If you don't know what connectiviism is, Stephen Downes described it as follows on one of the discussion forums:

'At its heart, connectivism is the thesis that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks.

It 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.

This implies a pedagogy that (a) seeks to describe 'successful' networks (as identified by their properties, which I have characterized as diversity, autonomy, openness, and connectivity) and (b) seeks to describe the practices that lead to such networks, both in the individual and in society (which I have characterized as modeling and demonstration (on the part of a teacher) and practice and reflection (on the part of a learner))'.

As you can imagine quite some discussion is taking place as the concept of connectivism is controversial in itself. I am not convinced that we can leave behind concepts such as 'information' and 'knowledge' as we have known them for centuries.

There are networks out there producing mis-information and half-truths. People will always look for likeminded people, diregarding critical examination of the network's ideas. How would this work in an educational sense? What would the role of the tutor be? Refuting mis-information, or being the expert and providing content?

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