Saturday, 27 February 2010

My thoughts (changing)?

What has struck me as most interesting among the various readings we've encountered has been the theory of 'connectivism.' (I know if a red line appears under a word in a spell check where the word IS spelled correctly, that we've now added a new word to the language. We'll see if it's here to stay...) In, 'A Learning Theory for the Digital Age,' December 12, 2004, by George Siemens, preceding the argument that the new theory (and paradigm?) of connectivism, were the learning theories put forth by behaviorists, cognitivists and construtionists. A convincing set of explanations (including chaos theory and even the butterfly effect) and examples then followed that support why we as educators need to now ensure that our students (and ourselves as well) are exposed to situations whereby we can recognize the patterns that exist 'out there'—that knowledge does not reside solely in that internal realm as believed by constructivists and that we need to rely on others' knowledge as well as knowledge that resides in organizations and non-human entities. (But what of 'belief' being a necessary part of knowledge?) I'm willing to go with this for the sake of being open-minded, but given that my job is to teach students to be 'healthy skeptics,' I need to practice what I preach. Yes, it makes sense to recognize patterns to develop understanding (but as I read this, understanding is not as necessary as the gathering of knowledge from as many places as possible.) But let's acknowledge at this point that we do not have machines that have awareness and can believe, at least not yet as we know, and that given we're not machines, if we talk of 'knowledge' many would argue that knowledge does require an ability to believe as part of its core definition. 'Can a Machine Know?' by ISB alumnus, Paul Heath, has more to say on this.

So, yes, working with Web 2.0 technologies as evidenced in the examples from 'hanging out' to 'messing around' does support learning via connectivism. What bothers me is that we're led to believe that we have finally arrived at the 'truth' behind learning. Here's an underlying assumption stated in the article: "Realizing that complete knowledge cannot exist in the mind of one person requires a different approach to creating an overview of the situation." But have we come to 'realize' this? Have we arrived at understanding the human potential to be able to make this bold claim and then act on it? Is it possible that since young people are so caught up with messing around and to some who transcend and find their careers via messing around that we're convinced that this is it? That we've finally arrived at how knowledge is attained by humans? I'd say we need to temper our passions a bit and realize that we're dealing with human science studies and that generalizations made from these are highly tentative at best. Perhaps we are on the verge of a new learning paradigm. Perhaps we are finally able to step outside our existing learning paradigms and gain perspective and understanding about learning, especially given our new understandings in the realm of quantum mechanics and neuroscience, but as with all such paradigm shifts, we have to realize that it's not a matter of abandoning existing theories, it's a matter of transcending and including learning theories. Let's not throw the baby out with the bath water. Let's acknowledge that the hallmark of science is that nothing is 'proven' and that current understandings only lead to newer understandings. There are still some valid approaches to learning that have proven themselves worthy. (And the 'celebration' of 2nd-hand knowledge—knowledge by authority) has been around since Plato!) Not everyone will move from messing around to geeking out. And, we do have to consider that there's still a majority of underprivileged young people who do not have access to the luxuries required to even 'hang out.'

On a less philosophical note, I always liked Bloom's Taxonomy in the past and the new version with the tech skills assigned is especially interesting. (Although I wonder why 'synthesis' has been 'synthesized'/ eliminated!) ('Bloom's Taxonomy Blooms Digitally') I have my students blogging right now about their recent exposure to new concepts we've been discussing in class, and I admit that they're both evaluating & creating as they go along (and synthesizing). I'd like to think that the time they spend blogging encompasses the higher order thinking skills we're after. (It feels that way as I write this blog as well!) So I'm glad to see 'Tech & Learning' values the new taxonomy and validates the hours we spend setting up and writing these as worthwhile thinking (and learning). So, yes I am acknowledging that learning is taking place via a form of 'connectivism'—after all I did say I was open-minded. And, I've always been one to look for something new to bring to learning.

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