Thursday, October 27, 2011

Eternal Life Through Technology?

This article by CBC's Colleen Ross has prompted me to write about something that's been on my mind for a while. It all started when my dear friend suddenly died three years ago, shattering my world and taking a piece of my heart with her. I didn't know what to do with my grief, so I started frequenting her Facebook page, where posts from people I knew about and didn't know about started appearing, along with pictures of her interactions with those people. People shared their hearts with her and told her how much they were grieving, speaking directly to her about the things they were missing. It made her seem alive! I cried as I read what people wrote directly to her and I did the same. We all wished her happy birthday, Merry Christmas, and visited her page on the anniversary of her death. Very therapeutic (and a little creepy), right?

Essentially, I was becoming part of her world in a way I hadn't until her death. Her friends and I started to bond and comfort each other by visiting and re-visiting her FB page and sending each other messages. "Oh, YOU'RE the friend who was with her on that big adventure in Costa Rica?"

I have since learned that Facebook will memorialize the profile of your loved one if you fill out a form, and this means the account is locked to prevent future log-ins and hacking but people who were their friends can continue to post on their wall. As Max Kelly explains, Facebook is trying to reflect reality by acknowledging that "when someone leaves us, they don't leave our memories or our social network". Ok, that's maybe true, but why are people talking to the dead for all to see?

I think being online gives us the courage to connect and write our heart-felt sentiments. We say things we might not say in the physical presence of others. It's a modern-day tombstone, really, but much more convenient. How many people do you see talking to tombstones these days? Imagine how this same brand of courage could play out in our learning while we're alive! We should be courageous online by making connections, posting comments, asking questions, and showing our passion.

I subscribe to a weekly newsletter which is emailed from someone in my profession. One day, I received the announcement that after a long struggle (who knew?), she had finally succumbed to illness and had passed away. But, the good news was that her husband would keep her weekly emails going. I continue to receive emails written by her before she died, which appear to be sent by her. Nothing has changed: her tone, her picture and her name remain as if nothing has changed. The testimonials speak directly to her "I always learn something new from your E-newsletters". Yes, her husband is able to feel she lives on by sending these on her behalf, as if they are directly from her.

Is technology, then, making us live forever? Do we ever die?

Of course we die, but long afterward, the public will have access to pieces of us.

Each time I receive my weekly newsletter or find comfort in the the Facebook "pokes" my girlfriend sent while she was alive, I somehow feel these individuals are still around. Intellectually, I know they are not but I do know that they are still making a difference in my little world. It shows that our digital footprint matters and is here to stay.  Be deliberate about's your legacy, after all.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Thoughts on Connectivism

To wrap up the CCK11 course, I created a short video with my thoughts on 21st century education and connectivism. I used Eric Whitacre's virtual choir in my video (along with its music) because to me it is the ultimate metaphor (and reality) of what can happen in the today's networked world. The idea of people from all over the world collaborating with their voices to make stunning music really hits it on the head. And, to take it a step further, I found out about Eric Whitacre’s choir from my own network: someone from CCK11 responded to one of my blog posts with a link to this as a way to expand on my flash mob illustration in a more virtual way (see previous post).

The music of the virtual choir seemed the perfect way to celebrate my new connections and present the knowledge I’ve gained over the past 12 weeks.

Thoughts on Connectivism from Debbie Kroeker on Vimeo.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Never Stop Dancing

The other day, George Siemens mentioned Terry Anderson's dance metaphor as it relates to learning and pedagogy so I tracked down Anderson's paper on the subject and enjoyed every minute of it with today's morning coffee. It's a must-read for those looking for practical ways to incorporate Siemens' principles of connectivism into the design of modern, networked distance education programs.

Anderson's dance metaphor suggests that technology "sets the beat and timing...and pedagogy defines the moves" (p.1). As changes and advancements occur in both the theories and the technology - in other words, if the dance is thrown off - both technology and pedagogy can adjust to create a flow and rhythm again. He talks about the creative and unique moves the learner throws in to enhance the dance further.

I like this dance metaphor in relation to connectivism - the idea that you never need to stand on the sidelines or dance alone in the dark (oh! doesn't everybody do that?). Rather, you can "dance with anyone, anywhere, anytime coupled with the vast sound tracks and light shows (open education resources) accessible on the Net, (and) demand that learning be an experience of connecting and applying resources, rather than memorizing particular tunes or steps. The art of improvisation, of learning to dance, becomes the life learning skill - accumulating static data or memorizing scripts becomes obsolete." (p4).

What does this mean for our learners? Students should be encouraged to learn together "while retaining individual control over their time, space, presence, activity, identity" (p.5). Making use of networked social technology tools in the context of self-paced programs is key to achieving this, including tools which allow learners to declare their presence, communicate, collaborate, and reflect.

A couple weeks ago, I was thinking about flash mobs and what a great metaphor they are for connectivism. Watch the flash mob below and as you do, think about this metaphor. Notice how it starts: a few people start things off and more and more join. You can come as you are. You can stand there and smile or bop your head (lurk?), or you can jump right in and get fully involved, while letting your own creativity shine in your moves. Your individual creativity is brought to the network of dancers who then disperse back into the crowd and make new or revive old connections. In other words, when the music stops, the people don't stop moving. They just keep going about their business, interacting and forming new connections wherever they go. The network never ends. Although flash mobs are becoming more predictable in their frequency of occurrence these days, they are still unpredictable in that you never know when or where they will occur. This reminds me a lot of the unpredictability found in the chaos of connectivism.

And now I present to you: connectivism at its finest:

And similarly, as the music of this course ends, the network will never stop dancing. Nor will the light shows. In the 21st century, you really have no option but to become a dancer.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Power Shift

Maybe yesterday's post was a mistake: Snap's "I've Got the Power" has been running through my head for a full 24 hours now (yes, I am certain the song entered my dreams) since my post on power yesterday. It's all fine and well for me to smugly proclaim I've got power over my learning, as I go through my days with hot showers, a job, and a couple computers in my heated house. This morning, I woke up thinking about those who are powerless. Power is unevenly distributed in our world. Freire once said:

I didn't understand anything because of my hunger. I wasn't dumb. It wasn't lack of interest. My social condition didn't allow me to have an education. Experience showed me once again the relationship between social class and knowledge (Freire).

I once heard Sugata Mitra speak at a conference I was attending. As an education scientist, he wanted to see if those lacking in traditional schooling could learn through computer-assisted self-organization so he started his Hole in the Wall experiment. He planted a computer with high-speed internet in the middle of a slum in New Delhi and left the village children to navigate their own learning. These children had almost no command of English, and it was their first time seeing a computer. However, when he returned just a few months later, he was amazed by all they had learned. By handing over the power by offering the equipment and then letting them work unsupervised, he learned that groups of children will learn if simply given the opportunity; that is, by having the tools and open, free access to information.

This is in contrast to what critics are saying; that is, that skills such as critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving cannot be learned without first having a knowledge base. They state that "cognitive science teaches us that skills and knowledge are interdependent and that possessing a base of knowledge is necessary to the acquisition not only of more knowledge, but also of skills. Skills can neither be taught nor applied effectively without prior knowledge of a wide array of subjects." Hmm.

Does anyone want to chip in and buy them a flight to India's slums to see for themselves what skills can be learned without a prior base of knowledge? By trying, failing, choosing, collaborating, and controlling their own learning, India's poorest of the poor, given the right tools, gained not only knowledge but also the empowerment to say what Stuart Smalley has known all along:

"How we think about ourselves is as much a matter of learning as anything else." (Downes)


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I've Got the Power

In this interview with Gary Olson, Paulo Freire describes how the authority and "arrogance" of the teacher interferred in his learning by causing inhibition. Similarly, I can recall not grasping concepts in school because I didn't have the courage to put up my hand and ask, perhaps because I was insecure or perhaps because it would insult them by showing they hadn't explained it well enough. After all, the silence of the other students made it seem that they had all understood.

Freire drives home the point that the teacher must be mindful of the student's context (ie, subjectivity) and must take every opportunity to encourage curiosity. In so doing, he states that the teacher's duty to teach and have authority must remain but without "such power that it crushes freedom". 

At the risk of sounding like 'Daddy's little girl", I must admit that my dad did this better than the teachers in class who intimidated me; turns out, he was (is) a great educator. Conversations every night at the dinner table would inevitably lead to questions which my dad would answer with "look it up". After much protesting, and his unwavering insistence that someone run for the dictionary or encyclopedia to find the answer, one of my siblings or I would read up about the topic or find the definition of the word. The continued discussion and trial-and-error use of this information within the safety of our home/family led to knowledge that could then be applied to our outside lives. How empowering is that? He taught us to take control of our learning and use it within our family network before taking it out into the world. I am sure that his example has also played a big part in my curiosity about things and in my desire to be a lifelong learner.

Technology gives us the tools to sit around the table (so-to-speak) with a network of others and gives a whole new and larger meaning of the words "look it up". Curiosity doesn't actually kill the cat; rather, in a connectivist networked setting, it can create in even the most anti-social of cats, a sense of conviviality that would make Ivan Illich proud.

And now, be inspired (as you likely were on a dancefloor in the early 90s) to know that you really do have the power.


Monday, March 14, 2011

Changing Roles of Educators (for CCK11)

As an EAL educator to internationally-educated nurses who are scattered throughout rural Manitoba, I have been given no choice but to embrace technology as a way to reach them. If my dream could come true, education would be as networked as a Filipino BBQ.

But, first, how has the role of the educator changed?
Traditionally, educators stood at the front of the classroom and told students exactly what they needed to learn and dictated how they would learn it. Teachers were the experts on the material they were told to teach.

Today, technology has had the impact of changing how we interact with each other. It allows us to be in contact 24/7, all over the world. We use it to find people and information and it affects our every day lives. With desks and paper on their way out and the possibility of e-portfolios taking a back seat to entrance exams (Barseghian, 2001), there is simply no choice for educators to fight this. To the chagrin of critics such as Mark Bauerlein who believes today’s youth need more “adult pressure” and “suspended social lives”, school-home boundaries are becoming a distant memory (Bauerlein, 2011). Educators need to embrace – in fact, take full advantage of - the technology of a connected world, take a back seat to the learners and stop trying to control their learning outcome (Jenkins, 1999).

What are the appropriate responses?
Ideally, when teaching and designing courses, an educator should remember the following:
  • networks are more effective than groups. Downes differentiates networks from groups by using a “salad bowl” (network) metaphor where each entity is distinct and individuals are encouraged in their uniqueness (Downes, 2007). As an educator, the goal should not be to create like-minded groups of learners but rather open, diverse, networked learners.
  • what we know today is not as important as our ability to stay current” (Siemens, 2007). Information is not something to pass along to others to acquire because it will be obsolete as quickly as we give it. We must equip students for lifelong learning by teaching them how to find information and promote learning as a continuous process.
  • student control and freedom is integral to 21st century life-long education and learning” (Anderson, 2011). We need to be learner-centered, allowing learners to take the reins through active engagement with others.
  • diversity should be celebrated. If “learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions” (Siemens, 2004), we need to discourage the “sameness” that has traditionally been the goal of educators (taking on our teacher’s viewpoint is how we passed our tests in school and kept the peace in Sunday school). We will learn from the diversity we all bring to the network.
  • all learning has an emotional base” (Plato). Downes discusses the concept of “being yourself” (Downes, 2008). You cannot underestimate the value of warmth on the other side of the computer. Educators need to show their personality and their humanity; empathy goes a long way in creating connections and personal connections bring people back.
What are the impediments to change?
Resistance to change is inevitable. “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” and the “old dogs” are still running the institutions. But there is also resistance among learners whose computer skills are limited, and when the technology is a means to learning (not the goal) this poses a problem in terms of time and resources needed to satisfy the learning curve. Teachers may also cling to their desire for authority and see technology as “a threat to their professional expertise” (Jenkins, p.4).

It is these resistant educators who cling to beliefs that multitasking “muddles the mind” (Holden, 2009), and that young people can’t cope in face-to-face social settings as a result of social networking (Bauerlein, 2009).

And the Filipino BBQ?
My organization recently hosted a BBQ at a local park in celebration of our learners’ achievements. Our predominantly Filipino group (network?) of 40 nurses turned into a multi-age crowd of over 125 people. To our surprise, our learners had brought children, cousins, grandparents, uncles and friends. Former students showed up. If I had taken a course and was being recognized for that, I would show up solo, thinking (in my Western way) “I accomplished this”. What I saw with our learners was the idea of “we did this; let’s tell the whole network and celebrate this”. And, just as we were beginning to panic about not having enough food for the group, everyone in the network started pulling food out and placing it onto the picnic table beside what we now saw as our meager contribution. The variety made us salivate and created in us a desire to try a bit of everything. We engaged with each other, asking about the process used to make each dish and sampled them all. Our “meager contribution” was explained, explored, and consumed and we saw that it was good too. There was enough food for all because, you see, this network didn’t show up empty-handed; they came with rich abundance and with a spirit of sharing. We all left, a bit surprised by what had just happened, bellies now full, new connections made and new recipes to try at home. To me, the switch from the you-will-come-to-my-BBQ-and-eat-what-I-tell-you of traditional education needs to become the oh-wow-all-your-contributions-were-such-a-pleasant-surprise-and-look-how-we-enjoyed-sharing-them-and-learning-from-each-other of connectivism.

Anderson, Terry. (2011). Technological Challenges and Opportunities of Three Generations of Distance Education Pedagogies. Retrieved from

Barseghian, Tina (2011). 21 Things That Will Be Obsolete By 2020. Mind/Shift at

Bauerlein, Mark (2009). Why Gen-Y Johnny Can’t Read Non-Verbal Cues. Via the Wall Street Journal at

Bauerlein, Mark. (2011). The Adolescent Instinct and ‘The Dumbest Generation’. Via Inside Academia on YouTube:

Downes, Stephen (2007). The Class Struggle Continues via

Downes, Stephen. (2008). Seven Habits of Highly Connected People via

Holden, Constance. (2009). Multitasking Muddles the Mind. Via ScienceNOW at

Jenkins, Janet. (1999). Teaching for Tomorrow: The Changing Role of Teachers in the Classroom. Retrieved from

Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. Retrieved from

Siemens, G. (2007). The Network is the Learning, Retrieved from YouTube:

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Networks are More Effective than Groups

Groups and Networks
Photo by Stephen Downes

We are all aware of groups. They require unity, possibly through a vision statement or common goal. They are coordinated and often closed, sometimes requiring membership or cut-off points based on numbers. Think of sports teams, church groups, AA, Weight Watchers, or even your book club. Knowledge is distributed; it comes from a leader - a chairperson or a coordinator.

Networks are a kind of group, but they are distinct in that they are defined by diversity. They are not coordinated as much as they are open and created by a set of connections between different entities.

The common metaphor used by our CCK11 facilitators to describe networks has been the mosaic. As Downes differentiates networks from groups, Canada becomes a “salad bowl” (network) where each entity is distinct and individuals are encouraged in their uniqueness (Downes, 2007). Similarly, Siemens describes connectives as the Canadian mosaic which doesn’t blend and conform and collectives as the American melting pot where individuality disappears as contributions to the whole are made.

This morning, as I read about the fundraising efforts of a Winnipeg-based Anglican church and the local Muslim community, I couldn’t help but think about connectivism. The diverse association of a local Anglican church, a community of Muslims, and fundraiser attendees was created by a set of connections to a need in Africa. Essentially, the need for a medical clinic in Uganda became the conduit along which the signal could run and, unified but different, the distinction between three groups dissolved in keeping with Downes’ assertion that “networks offer the ‘middle way’ between groups and the individual” (Downes, 2007). In other words, they lost the boundaries that originally separated them into the Anglican group, the Muslim group and the paying group and became a network of entities where their different religious backgrounds (which had originally separated them) had little bearing on the outcome. By getting out of their groups and creating a bridge to each other, they were able to have a conversation and connect about something of mutual value despite their diversity.

As educators, the goal should not be to create like-minded groups of learners but rather open, diverse, networked learners.

Downes, Stephen (2007). The Class Struggle Continues via

Friday, February 25, 2011

Connectivism is Making Us Smarter

Today, I stumbled up a a study called Your Brain on Google where the brain activity in two groups were studied in an MRI while performing a traditional text reading task and then an internet search task. The "net naive" group (those who were relatively new to internet searches) and the "net savvy" group (those with more extensive experience with internet searches) performed at the same level in the traditional reading task; however, in the internet search task, the net savvy group showed more than twice as much brain activity during their Google search. In addition to the activation of brain centres that control language, reading, memory and vision, their neurons were firing with much greater intensity in regions where we make decisions and reason in complex ways.

So, essentially, technology is rewiring our brains, as George Siemens stated as a learning trend back in 2004 in Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. In our attempt to replace what he calls the "know-how and know-what", we are learning the "know-where", and it is in this search to find knowledge that our cognitive functions are being impacted (ie, as Small's study suggests, there is an impact on our physical brains in terms of decision-making and complex reasoning).

In the meantime, technology is also allowing us a break from having to store knowledge because it is now being stored in the network. At least this is what I am learning in CCK11 so far.

The neural circuits in our brain strengthen through repeated tasks. They weaken when they aren't used, much like our muscles when we stop our workout routine. The parallel I can draw to connectivism is this: just as our neural circuits strengthen with use (ie, searching for knowledge), so our knowledge strengthens as we develop more and more connections, and of course prune those that aren't being put to use.

So, in summary, technology is impacting our brains. For those engaged in connectivist activities, our search for information (as we develop our understanding of where to find what we need) seems to be causing our neurons to fire more than others as we make decisions about what is helpful to us and what is not. On the other hand, our neurons are firing less in areas of information retrieval since technology is taking over that job - a job that was formerly a cognitive function. I am seeing a bit of give and take on the part of the brain and the technology we embrace connectivism.

You too?

If the mere act of searching on the internet means my brain's neural circuits trigger it to make better decisions and reason in complex ways, bring it on! Why aren't we able to sell this to traditional educational institutions?

Well, off I go....but not to read a book. No, I will very wisely be spending my time in a serious brain workout. Google - here I come!

Check out this article for more on the impact of technology on our brains and the springboard for many of the thoughts I've recorded here, and view Small's explanation of his study below.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Concise Thoughts on Connectivism

We were asked to submit a short paper as our first assignment whereby we state our position on connectivism as a theory (or not) and discuss its strengths and weaknesses. The following is what I submitted after reworking it multiple times in order to stay within the 750-word limit. I found it a good exercise in being concise without losing the essence; it reminded me of my initial challenge in using Twitter. Anyway, here it goes:

Connectivism is well on its way to becoming its own theory. The concept of learning via networks and through participation have been around for a long time, but with the emergence and evolution of technology, there has been a shift from the traditional methods of creating networks of learning from face-to-face gatherings to one that allows us to share knowledge with each other in abundance, and in more complex ways (Siemens, 2008). In other words, we have been in need of a theory that speaks to the environment we live in today, where “student control and freedom is integral to 21st century life-long education and learning” (Anderson, 2011).

Connectivism has been building over time and its foundation lies in several generations of learning theories. There has been a shift from focus on the individual’s more passive and directed learning behaviourism/cognitivism), to a focus on groups where new knowledge builds on previous experience (constructivism) (Anderson, 2011). However, since we can’t personally experience everything, we look to other people – our networks – as our source of knowledge (Stephenson). Piaget’s explanation that we develop mental maps (schemas) of the world which evolve, expand and get more complex over time, and the view that information cannot be handed to us but instead must be constructed (Clark) are the constructivist contributions to connectivism, which tie into this idea of externalizing our knowledge to make sense of it (Siemens, 2008). Essentially, in connectivism, the connection of our information sources as new nodes (people, data bases, resources) are added to the network where we can process them in a real-life, authentic context which is not always the case when learning in groups (Anderson, 2011). Instead, in connectivism, “what we know today is not as important as our ability to continue to stay current“(Siemens, 2007).

A learning theory should explain and predict, advance a discipline, and prepare for our future needs (Siemens, 2004). If this is accurate, then connectivism must be a theory: it provides an explanation for how learning occurs in the network (as opposed to just in individuals), it is relevant in today’s world of rapid information change, and it is helping professionals process the education of tomorrow.

Weaknesses and Strengths
These are the weaknesses I see in the characteristics of connectivism:

• the self-directed aspect can result in isolation, confusion, and frustration for those who aren’t so inclined (ie, what about those who are not self-starters? Are they left behind?)

• the challenge of applying of the self-organization and chaos concept within institutions where there are requirements and obligations

On the other hand, I see many strengths in the characteristics of connectivism:

• everything (the network and the knowledge) is at our fingertips; access with no borders

• individual needs are met because you can take what you want and reject the rest

• informal learning can take place through communities of practice (Siemens, 2004)

• exchange (externalizing) with others gives shape to what we know

• experience of learning takes place in the formation of networks and these connections create meaning

• allows for diversity of people and opinions; celebrates it

• technology takes over the information storage (know-where)

• removes the hierarchy from learning (teachers being learners and learners being teachers)

How Connectivisim Resonates with my Learning Experiences
“We have knowledge…only as we actively participate in its construction” (Elmore).

Connectivism resonates with my learning experience in that I Iearn by listening, processing and bouncing my ideas off others. When I make connections, I am able to create meaning for myself, and I see this occurring in this course.

Chaos takes the predictability out of the learning I remember from formal institutions, thereby bringing forth a key element: motivation. I remember the chemistry teacher being so predictable, I could use my sister’s notes from 2 years before! He had been there for 30 years and taught the same stagnant material over and over again, none of which I retained.

The starting point for connectivism is “me” and my ability to self-organize and make connections. It allows me to own my learning – learning that is constantly evolving, changing, transforming as I continually acquire more of it, and then, in return, give it back to the network.

Some Questions
I have some questions about the practical application of connectivism is as it relates to being an educator.

How do issues of personality factor into connectivism?

What are the roles of the different individuals in a networked learning environment, or is it laissez-faire?

• If there are specific roles, what if one of these roles is missing from the environment?

How does connectivism fit into Robertson’s 3 activity systems (organization, technology, pedagogy) of Activity Theory? (Robertson)

Is there a place for the instructor in connectivism and if so, what is it?

• Is it more of a facilitation role?

• What new skills do instructors need to have to be successful in this environment?

Anderson, Terry. (2011). Technological Challenges and Opportunities of Three Generations of Distance Education Pedagogies. Retrieved from

Clark, D. (1995). Constructivism. Retrieved from

Elmore, R. Education for Judgment: The Artistry of Discussion Leadership, xii. Retrieved from

Robertson, I. Introduction to Activity Theory. Retrieved from YouTube at

Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. Retrieved from

Siemens, G. (2007). The Network is the Learning, Retrieved from YouTube:

Siemens, G. (2008). What is Connectivism? Retrieved from

Stephenson, K. What Knowledge Tears Apart, Networks Make Whole. Retrieved from

Friday, February 11, 2011

It's a Small World, After All

What makes connectivism unique?

I was just at DisneyWorld with my entire family of 19, reliving the last time my parents took us there. I was 8 years old and the only "ride" I wanted to go on was "It's a Small World". So, in my excitement, I dragged my children (and entire family) onto a ride that celebrates diversity and connectedness rather than immediately giving them the solo-rider experience of Space Mountain and other roller coasters.

I didn't want to think about CCK11 while on my trip, but somehow I just couldn't shake the application of connectivism to the "It's a Small World" ride: the idea that our differences are valued but our similarities and interests also bring us together and connect us. On the boat, my parents, siblings, in-laws, children, nieces and nephews had a multigenerational experience of pointing, discussing, listening, reliving our past experiences with this ride, photographing, and even singing. Although we are far from being the Waltons, it was nice. It was natural. We grew and bonded from this interactive experience together. At the same time, we each took away something different from the chaos of this experience.You get the point.

Consider again the lone-ridership in a ride like Space Mountain. There you sit, all alone, having an adrenaline-inducing experience and a big grin on your face, but there is nobody's hand to grab, nobody to giggle or scream with - essentially nobody to share the thrill with. Yes, there are people in front and people behind but essentially, you are doing this ride alone. Sure, I can debrief the experience with people I know afterward but I need to be intentional about describing my experience.

We have learned that connective knowledge is grown, natural, and inherent. And the best part is that, unlike Disneyworld, you don't have to pay a penny for it. It is shared, and the gates are open. This is unique. I am still getting used to the idea that I can rub shoulders on a daily basis with experts in my field by having access to their blogs and papers and by following them on Twitter. While I was at Disneyworld, something magical happened: one of these experts started following ME on Twitter! I can't imagine a reward better than that: the perfect example of what can happen in a connectivism, where everyone in this small world can connect and grow in knowledge.

Unique? I'll say!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Connective Tissue and Information

I came to this week's CCK11 Elluminate session knowing that connective tissue is, simply put, that which holds our body together. I take my connective tissue for granted most days. Don't we all? But, if you think of it, it would be impossible to exist without it since it "supports, anchors, and connects" the different parts of our bodies, while providing flexibility and order. The more we exercise our connective tissue (bones, tendons and ligaments), the stronger it gets.

Thomas Vander Wal used this analogy to kick off his presentation called Information and Its Connective Tissue so it was easy to see where he was headed with it. Vander Wal suggested that the "connective tissue" of the informational variety includes:

  • hyperlinks (direct connection to source of information)
  • systems and software (the structured options available for doing our work - i.e., social software (micro-blogs and blogs), wikis, shared media, social bookmarking as well as personal tools for files (Dropbox, etc))
  • workflow (how we access and organize information - i.e., delicious)
  • metadata (the info we add to files (i.e., tags) and the aggregation of things that are alike)
 In regards to metadata, I learned about folksonomy, which was a new term for me and illustrated by Vander Wal here:

In our session, Vander Wal clarified that the "object" in this diagram refers to the thing that is being tagged.
The "identity" is the person who tagged that object and "metadata" is the tag being used on the object.

So, the beauty of the folksonomy concept is that if I label or tag something a certain way based on the meaning it has for me, and you do the same, we may find that we learn a lot from each other. But, I don't filter, connect and tag things for you. First and foremost, I do it for myself using vocabulary/terms/tags that add meaning based on how I've understood the information so that I can access this all at my leisure, in an organized fashion. But because it is usually stored in a social environment (meaning that it is shared and open to others) we, who think and label similarly, might find each other through what we are mutually tagging as valuable or interesting.

Sound a bit pedestrian? Well it is! After all, folksonomy is a way for the common person to classify things on their own terms...and sometimes this means missing out on great information due to some odd categorization choices, typos, and spelling mistakes. Yes, there's a lot of what Cory Doctorow bitterly describes as megacrap out there! But remember, what really matters in folksonomy (as I understand it), is how I've chosen to tag and store objects for my personal growth so if I want to spell something incorrectly, that's my system and my prerogative.

I read that in our bodies, connective tissue also has the important function of separating different groups of cells, so to take Vander Wal's analogy further: this course is all about making connections as you organize information, but in so doing you sometimes also have to insist on separating things out as you try to make sense of the chaos.

As I move forward in CCK11, I resolve to exercise my connective tissue in an attempt to strengthen it and in so doing, develop my folksonomical side. That can't possibly be a word. Or can it? It might just be the perfect label for all the thoughts currently going on in my head. Tag! You're it, folksonomical!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Chaotic Connectivism: A Confession

During our first live Elluminate session in CCK11 this past week, some program participants referred to the chaos in the course. Numerous people jumped right in on that word and after repeatedly referring to this chaos, I started to feel really badly for our facilitators, George Siemens and Stephen Downes. The participants were being so insulting. Why were they ganging up on them already in Week 1? How terrible as facilitators to find that people are finding the course so chaotic. Tough crowd! I had actually thought it was all quite chaotic too, but I didn't want to make them feel badly so kept my mouth shut.

WELL......, THEN I DID MY READINGS!!! It turns out that chaos is the theme running through all the Week 1 readings. Oops. I read that chaos is the science of all things being connected to each other. I learned that chaos is at the heart of connectivism where ideas and information fluidly abound and where things are unpredicatable....but where meaning also exists. It is our job to make our way through this chaos and find the hidden patterns that exist there.

So, George and Stephen - kudos to you for offering this very chaotic course. I totally get it now (well, not totally).

Mucking Through the MOOC

I spent this week mucking about the MOOC that will be my main event for the next 12 weeks as I participate in the Connectivism and Connective Knowledge course (CCK11) I've registered for through the University of Manitoba . I learned that MOOC stands for "massive open online course" and that besides the 20 or so participants in my for-credit group, the course would be open (and free!) to the rest of the world.

My understanding so far is that by making a course open, students have to evaluate and assess what is relevant or of interest rather than this being dictated by someone at the top. The result should end up being meaningful learning using the material, tools and technology that can best make that happen for the individual. The true test will be if my learning ends up being meaningful. Although, come to think of it, the meaning I take from it will only be a test of MYSELF and how well I engaged with others, with the materials out there, and with my own learning.

In a "scrap the structure" course, I really need to redefine how I organize things. Or is the very point that I don't have to redefine my organization skills but rather organize this exactly the way I want?  If so, then, really, isn't everyone a winner in a MOOC?

The group of for-credit students was feeling overwhelmed this week. Almost immediately, we came together in Google Groups to ensure we had a comfortable place in which to consult with each other, regroup...and breathe. This isn't to say that we wanted to shut out the rest of the participants (and we aren't doing that at all); it's more that we are still comfortable in smaller groupings...a safe, more intimate place to make sure we are on the right track. (It seems funny to talk about the intimacy I feel with a group I just met online last week!). I am excited to start making sense of some of this...

Dave Cormier's video here is helpful in defining what a MOOC is.