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!