#cck11 Exploring the Validity of Connectionism: IRRODL’s Special Issue on Connectivism Part 2

This post completes my look at the Connectivism Special Issue of IRRODL e-Journal (International Review of Research on Open and Distance Learning)  Connectivism: Design and Delivery of Social Networked Learning (Vol 12 (3)).  The first half of this 2 part review is here.

Three Generations of Distance Education Pedagogy by Terry Anderson and Jon Dron

Interconnecting Networks of Practice for Professional Learning by Terry Evans & Julie Mackey

I see these 2 articles as related.  First, Terry A. & Jon have a great insight, that the design of distance education has been driven by technological development, but I don’t think they takes it far enough.  There is substantial infrastructure and 19th Century technology dedicated to higher education, but the technological infrastructure of distance education has pretty much been just bolted on to that traditional infrastructure.  The changing needs of learning cannot be met with the infrastructure of the past.  Many of the limitations of connectivism that Terry A & Jon presents are rooted in the fact that connectivist networks are not yet well developed.  Many of the participants in those courses do not interact outside of the course, making it necessary to re-create an interactive network for each implimentation.  Imagine if the entire university infrastructure had to be re-created for each course.

Terry E & Julie discuss a similar problem in the way that Higher education is organized by pointing out the philosophical contradiction between social cultural / situated learning beliefs.

A problem with institutional perspectives of socially constructed learning is that the zone of interaction is usually confined to the online course community.  . . . This insular view of community, bounded by course curriculum and timelines, is problematic for professional learning and highlights a tension between the underlying philosophical stance and the pedagogies adopted by universities. A central tenet of sociocultural epistemologies is that learning is vitally situated within the context of its development and that “understanding and experience are in constant interaction” (Lave & Wenger, 1991, p. 51). As Lave and Wenger (1991) describe in their theory of social practice, there is a “relational interdependency of agent and world, activity, meaning, cognition, learning, and knowing” (p. 1).

The biggest challenge in redefine the integration of working and learning is to change the traditionally idea that learning and working are separate activities.  Learning happens in the university and is separated from work activities.  That is no longer the case today.  Another problem is the growing gap between the knowledge services higher education offers and the knowledge needs of professional practices.  Hagle, Brown & Davison (The Power of Pull) state that the pace of change is outpacing our knowledge infrastructure.  Their advocacy of pull learning models could be implemented by professional communities supported by higher education and online services in a connectionist pedagogy, but traditional practices in higher education seem hard to break.  All of these issues can be related to the 19th Century infrastructure of the university as compared to today’s changing learning needs.

So what would make more sense.  The basic technology and web infrastructure are already available and waiting to be appropriated by professional dialogic communities of practice and inquiry.  The infrastructure we lack is the organization of professional communities that would be a natural home for professional learning.  I do believe that this also entails dovetailing the organization of universities and professional organizations with new digital infrastructure.  The university could act as a gateway to and an enabler of this community, but currently higher education remains separated from professional practice.  Students could be ligament peripheral participants in this community.  Knowledge development could be accelerated through cooperative interaction that is supported by advanced communication and mash-up applications.  One technological need is advanced filtering tools that will coordinate network activity and keep everyone in the flow of knowledge at their chosen and appropriate level.  Long-standing core participant will act as peer reviewers and validators of activity, except they will act in a dialogic fashion rather than current monologic practices.

Of course, this is all sometime in the future.  Here’s a great article about self-reinforcing powers in business management and there are just as a many barriers in higher education.  So, until that day finally dawns  –  May you live long and prosper!

The Challenges to Connectivist Learning on Open Online Networks: Learning Experiences during a Massive Open Online Course by Rita Kop

Referencing Sfard (1998) (I favorite article of mine), Rita points out that Connectivism is inline with the theories that expect learning to accrue through participation.  She points to the PLENK course (Personal Learning Environments and Network Knowledge) and to the struggle that some learners have with developing the participation skills to support their PLE.  Inline with the participatory idea, enabling Legitimate Peripheral Participation could solve these problems, but first we need to strengthen ongoing online learning communities.

I find it interesting that the largest block of leaders were 55 years of age and older.  Learning goals may have a significant impact on participation and it may be interesting to investigate individual participation goals further.

EduCamp Colombia: Social Networked Learning for Teacher Training by Diego Ernesto Leal Fonseca

Diego presents a case study that describes a successful workshop whose implementation was modeled after the concepts of a Personal Learning Environment, the Unconference, over the shoulder learning in software.  These are 3 concepts that I hope to study in more detail.  The article mentioned many practical aspects of organizing an event

The EduCamps have served as a testing ground for the exploration of ideas concerning the design of learning environments. The results suggest the experience has an important impact on the perception of attendees about technology and its possibilities as a learning tool, but there are questions that remain open.  . . . It is clear that the workshops have the potential to be a trigger for the development of a community of practice around the social software platforms explored, which helps participants to sustain and enhance the connections they create during the workshop. However, this potential currently remains unrealized.

Once again the question of how you can foster the development of professional ongoing online communities of learning remains an important question.

Frameworks for understanding the nature of interactions, networking, and community in a social networking site for academic practice by Grainne Conole, Rebecca Galley & Juliette Culver

Grainna, Rebecca & Juliette describe the application of a social networking site named Cloudworks.  The site has been used for workshops, courses, as a discussion space, to facilitate reading circles, for open reviews, to aggregate resources, to explore practice design, and to find expert consultations.  They were able to analyze site usage through 4 frameworks: Communities of Inquiry, Communities of Practice, Activity theory and Actor-network Theory.  What I would really like to are case studies where professional oriented learning communities move onto these types of platforms and how to strengthen and develop the potential of these communities through social applications.

#cck11 Exploring the Validity of Connectionism: IRRODL’s Special Issue on Connectivism

THe IRRODL e-Journal (International Review of Research on Open and Distance Learning) has released a Special Issue – Connectivism: Design and Delivery of Social Networked Learning (Vol 12 (3)).  Though cck11 has officially ended, I am looking at these 9 articles as a continuation of my thought on the validity of Connectivism (4 articles are considered in this post, the remaining 5 in a part 2 post.).  These are not meant to be reviews, but rather my impression of  what I consider to be important points raised by my reading of these authors.  I encourage all to follow links to the original.  All articles are worthwhile additions to the connectivism literature.

Emergent Learning and Learning Ecologies in Web 2.0 by Roy Williams, Regina Karousou & Jenny Mackness

Roy et al state that the information age is being overtaken by the interactive age in that simple data transfer is now accompanied by interaction, collaboration and emergent learning.  There are questions that that these changes foreground: what structure and constraints support learning ecologies that can support this type of learning, how is the resulting knowledge validated and can prescriptive and emergent learning co-exist together.    There currently are institutions and frameworks that support web learning ecologies like Open Source and Creative Common Licensing, and cloud-based applications, but more pluralistic learning ecologies are needed.  These questions will continue to be at the forefront of building validity for Connectivist practices.

Connectivism: Its Place in Theory-informed Research and Innovation in Technology-Enabled Learning by Frances Bell

Frances states that Connectivism is not a sufficient stand-alone theory to guide a wide range of technology enabled learning projects, though he does acknowledge that we need new models for learning.  I would agree, but I don’t expect any theory to capture every perspective.  Instead I would look to include the ideas of other theories to expand upon and extend the ideas of Connectivism.  My personal belief is that many academic research projects that look into practices are based on rather narrow (and therefore weak) theoretical structures.  Strong structures are only developed by inter-relating multiple theories that address different levels and understandings of practice.  Many of these articles in this issue do just this type of theoretical development.

Note – Bell contrast blog supported Connectivism with Peer Review supports Actor_Network theory.  While this is basically correct, what it points to is the inadequate and slow moving nature of peer review, which is ill-suited to a fast moving interconnected world.  Peer review is more suited to the interests of the publishing industry and the academic hierarchy than it is in supporting knowledge building in connected world of practice.  Validation of knowledge is important, but new practices are needed beyond traditional peer review and publishing practices.

Proposing an Integrated Research Framework for Connectivism: Utilizing Theoretical Synergies by Bopelo Boitshwarelo

Bopelo moves on to connects other theories in a “functional synergistic relationship” with Connectivism.  Specifically he considers Design-based Research, Activity Theory and Communities of Practice (Situated Cognition).  Not only can these theories extend our understanding in Connectivism, but they also provide methodological examples for how to approach research.  He details a Connectivist informed case study, but I think that this study (based in the WebCT) might not be the best environment for evaluating Connectivism as most implementations of learning management systems are not recognized as the most innovative environments for collaborative web learning.

Dialogue and Connectivism: A New Approach to Understanding and Promoting Dialogue-rich Networked Learning by Andrew Ravenscroft

Andrew claim a social constructivist perspective, although I find his ideas include a broad understanding that includes a deep understanding of social cultural theory (Vygotsky), the dialogue theory (Bakhtin), and knowledge building (Beretier).

So this article argues for greater attention upon, and the pedagogical shaping of , the learning dialogue process within network learning spaces (and) . . .without a reworking of attested dialogue theory into more open and ambient pedagogies we will be less successful in converting mega-social interaction into mega-meaning making and learning.  . . .shouldn’t our endeavors still fully appreciate the role of language and dialogus as our oldest and arguably still most powerful semiotic System.

In my last post I mentioned Zhuge’s active dynamic nature of knowledge flows.  The root of these flows is also meaning-making or sense-making as discussed by theorist like Jerome Brunner.  In a quote of Bakhtin, Andrew points out that meaning, in the final analysis, is not a result of Hegalian logic, but rather comes from the clash of voices in dialogue.  I think this is compatible with Connectivism’s view of learning.