Connectivism Thoughts

This blog post is written in response to looking at George Siemen’s article “Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age”

So to put it in context here are some quotes that I’m considering in particular:

“The pipe is more important than the content within the pipe. Our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today.”

“As knowledge continues to grow and evolve, access to what is needed is more important than what the learner currently possesses.”

In addition to these two quotes, I was reflecting on a post from Maggie Hos-McGrane’s blog Tech Transformations, where she reflected on how she was once surprised to see people struggle finding the answer to something she thought was obvious. On her commenting, her brother replied, “The answer’s always easy when you know it.”

Currently in my classroom we are studying biodiversity, which is a rather vocabulary intensive unit: Mammals, reptiles, crustaceans, arachnids, organisms, arthropods, invertebrates and much much more. Often as a teacher, working on vocabulary can seem a rather uninspired task, when I’d much rather be conducting rich discussions into the interplay of species and the delicate web they weave with us and the planet. Memorizing the features of a crustacean versus an arachnid seems a bit less inspiring by comparison, and perhaps even unnecessary in today’s internet age. Still, I wanted students to get a basic understanding of how scientists classify species, and how they start with big differences (plant or animal) and move towards smaller ones (live birth or laying eggs).

What I noticed when giving a quiz about how they were remembering it was that their ability to learn about these different classes of species, and the relationships between the classification categories, was more limited than I’d expected. In particular, tying the different vocabulary into a single web of how they relate to each other was hard for many of them. They would understand that mammals and reptiles were similar, but decide that they were all invertebrates, or put conifers in the same category.

My point here is that if the pipeline is more important than the pipe, then it is how they approach learning new information, and the skills and strategies that they develop for doing so, which is the key here. Yet they need content (the oil in the pipe) to practice learning with. I am by no means attached to the idea that the definition of a crustacean is of immense importance in the learning world, yet I do believe that if a student does need to know about it, that they can put the information they learn about it into a proper schema of how it relates to other concepts. If they never practice working with the oil in the pipe, then how would we expect them to know what to do with it in the future when it may be “really” essential.

In addition, learning these words means learning words that are a part of our shared  vocabulary, which adults would all be expected to basically be familiar with. Is knowing the meaning of the word amphibian irrelevant, when it can be looked up on the internet? Yet who would want to be totally dependent on technology for their knowledge? Personally I prefer to keep some of my understanding in my head, and not waiting for me in some machine. Makes life a bit easier, and more interesting. And would looking up the definition give the deeper understanding of where the word comes from, why we use it for classification, and all else that comes with the subject? If the ability to see connections between fields, ideas and concepts is a core skill, then how will they learn it, without learning it with some knowledge along the way?

Anyway, just some thoughts, do with them what you will!

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7 Responses to Connectivism Thoughts

  1. Avatar of Jeff Utecht Jeff Utecht says:

    We love the oil don’t we? The oil is the product we want, but it can’t get from point A to point B without the pipe, the pathways to get there.

    I have no problem with the oil as long as the pipe is in place, doesn’t leak and we can all agree we know how to use the pipe. Otherwise we might be trying to push sand down the pipe rather than oil.

    In other words I believe the skill of building a pipe, knowing how a pipe works, is more important than the content we teach.

    Great questions around two of my own favorite quotes for connectivism.

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  6. Keith Hamon says:

    George made a useful analogy with the pipe quote, but like all analogies it eventually breaks down. It seems to suggest that the pipes (channels for learning) are different from the oil (knowledge), but I don’t think George means that. Rather, the network of connections (the pipes) is itself the knowledge created. Another way of saying this is that knowledge is what emerges (not delivered or transferred like oil) as we forge connections. Knowledge is not some barrel of oil that we teachers can ship to our students through the pipes of lecture, demonstration, and discussion, but knowledge is a network of connections that students must build for themselves.

    For instance, the meaning of the word amphibian may begin for a student with her connection to another group of words in the form of a definition, but that connection will likely remain weak and eventually fade if not reinforced by repetitions and other connections. The more connections the student makes from the word amphibian to other words and concepts and images and emotions, then the more knowledge emerges for the student and the more persistent and salient that knowledge is to her. So connections (pipes) are more important than content (what’s in the pipes) because the connections are the content. At least, I think that’s what George means.

    • Avatar of Meghan Meghan says:

      Now that is a visual that I like, imagining the creation of links of knowledge that all connect together to deepen the student’s understanding. Yet I don’t know if that is what was meant with the analogy. It seems to me that the pipe is meant to represent the skills for learning whatever is needed, and the knowledge is separate. Perhaps to combine the two concepts is to consider that the pipe is not a single straight line of skills, but a branching network of skills that can link all the oil flowing through it to everything else, which creates a richer oil? Or shall we throw away the pipe analogy, and build an electrical circuit instead (most definitely parallel of course) that sends electrical knowledge on multiple paths..

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