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!