Sunday, September 28, 2008

Learning Networks: Theory into Practice

For readers of this blog who are not in the Connectivism class, I highly recommend this short but brilliant presentation. I listened to the audio and followed along with his slides.

I was going to wait until I had finished more of the readings before I wrote about this but I am pretty excited about this presentation and need to write about this and get some things out of my notes and into my network. Stephen Downes presented on Learning Networks: Theory and Practiceon March 8, 2005 to the International Conference on Methods and Technologies for Learning, in Palermo, Italy. Maybe I am so excited by this because it is more about practice than it is theory. This is a clear explication of how Connectivism works. There are still seeds of Constructivism in this presentation. In the beginning, he talks about how Connectivism gives people the "capacities" and allows them to create their own learning which is one of the central tenets of Constructivism. But Downes emphasis is on how technology shifts the view of learning from a controlled and managed deliverable to people creating their own learning. Learning is not something you get from the library "and put in people's heads." He says that "Learning is a conversation." And this has been missing from the discussions of Connectivism in the first couple weeks of our class, the social dimension of Connectivism. According to this presentation, meaning is not inherent in the signal - it must be "received and interpreted" by an entity. (This is why I think knowledge is more than a network.) From this perspective, there is a small but significant overlap in the Venn diagram between these learning theories. His description of a network is useful. It actually shows that some entity has to be in there somewhere for learning to occur.

Okay, here is the really useful part, this is brilliant - his Network Design Principles. As a teacher and instructional designer, I am always looking at the why behind how something works. If something works, we want to be able to reproduce it or to facilitate the conditions that allow learning to happen in that particular way for others. At Tacoma Community College, we are in the middle of teaching what we boldly call a "Connectivist class." Downes eight principles will allow us to build a Connectivist rubric that we will be able to apply to our assignments and materials just as we would apply a rubric that measures interactivity in our course development process in the eLearning Department. His principles are:

  1. Decentralize
  2. Distribute
  3. Disintermediation
  4. Disaggregating
  5. Dis-integrating
  6. Democratize
  7. Dynamize
  8. Desegregate

One of my goals for this class will be to take this list and put it into some kind of rubric that will allow us to ask of each assignment "to what degree does this assignment allow us to implement X principle?" I think I may rework some of the language: what is the positive action behind "disaggregating"?

His talk ends with the observation that there is no one person that knows how to build an aircraft - that it is a network of people with diverse skills that are all working within a network that creates the aircraft. This is one of my problems about traditional English classes (I also teach English): what are we teaching the students when we look at the ten page paper as an end to itself? What context do this papers exist in? I have never been asked in my entire working life to write a ten page paper. I have been asked to contribute to the learning of a group and that has sometimes involved writing but there was some connection to the collective intelligence of others.

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