Today we look at the path to arrive at where connectivism theory is at today. Before going further, I want to take full responsibility for any inaccuracy, omissions, or errors in the notes that follow. They represent my own imperfect attempts at following the conversation today, and should not be attributed to either George Siemens or Stephen Downes.
Again, my point of reference, and main interest, is what I can take away from CCK11 which will be beneficial in my students ability to learn English as a Foreign Language. Thus, I am oriented to the practical, the eclectic, in my interactions with the material, and can live with any perceived or actual contradiction or ambiguity, as long as I am able to answer the question, Why? If I can account for my practice, with a solid answer, grounded in supporting evidence of which I am aware of, then, in that case, I must admit to being more than content with my efforts. (End of Preamble) ***
With George Siemens and Stephen Downes being influenced by differnt schools of thought, this has informed the development of connectivism theory by making it richer, and complementary, although contradictions are not excluded. George is more traditional educational psychology oriented, and Stephen is more philosophically informed in their respective approaches to connectivism.
George Siemens: How did we get to where we are in the development of connectivism? George has tracked its development through a psychology of learning approach. According to George, Thorndike advocated for connectionism initialy. From there he moves to the big thinkers in behaviourism, for example Pavlov and Skinner. From there he traces through to cognitivism, then constructivism, to social cognitive constructivism in its various iterations related to its theories of communities and situated cognition. He briefly touches on Activity Theory, considering Vygotsky a staple in any program. He detours through work on distributed cognition, moving from there to connectivism.
“Straightforward”, I think to myself. “A summary lasting 2 minutes.”
Next up, Stephen Downes. Stephen asks: What is knowledge? He answers from a broadly empiricist perspective, saying, “Knowledge is obtained from experience”, a position which he firmly maintains. A school of thought holds that the capacity for language is innate. He resonates more with people like Paul Churchland, Patricia Smith Churchland, who argue that knowledge is made up of neural states.
“Coming to know” is a shaping of the human brain, by chipping away at the things that are not knowledge, and what remains is knowledge.
He asks, “What makes a bunch of neural states knowledge? Answer: How they are connected.” This leads him to Rommelhart and McClellan, who describe a theory called “Connectionism”, with a seminal, two-volume work, Parallel Distributed Processing (PDP), describing how connectionist computer systems can be used to do things like pattern recognition.
He mentions Marvin Minsky’s work, “The Society of Mind”, where he describes mental processes as though they were the interactions of independent agents. Each agent has an individual task that collectively form an intelligence (the result is greater than the sum of its individual parts).
Over the last 10 – 15 years people like Duncan Watts, Alfred Laslo, Barabasi and others have drawn out the idea of social networks and social networking theory in general. They have combined that with the connectionist approach to form a theory of knowledge.
Dear reader and friend, that was 11 minutes of Radio DS106. you can imagine what the other 50 minutes were like. Thanks to my own stated self-interest, namely, what can i take away from the theory of connectivism to inform my practice as a Teacher, I am able to draw one solid conclusion. Connectivism works.
Explaining how it works, why it works, when it doesn’t work, in a way that will be acceptable to the scientific community, is another matter, an entirely different matter.
I know that Connectivism, for example, works for me personally. I am a member of several networks which follow a rich practice of Aggregate-Remix-Repurpose-Feed It Forward.
Many of my colleagues are also successfully engaged in the practice of connectivism with their colleagues and students, in various settings. Yet, I have not come across any serious scholarly research that is being done. No one, to my knowledge, has answered the question: Why does this work? How does it work? What are the principles, the fundamental aspects of what you are doing?
Noone has those kinds of answers. My colleagues are too busy, engaged in putting something to work, which they know work.
In an evolutionary sense, did the first man, blessed with fire, question that it was hot, question that it gave him light and warmth in the cold, dark night, and could be used to keep wild animals away from his cave, and to cook the meat of the animals that he managed to kill, to improve the quality of his food?
I would like to speculate that he concerned himself with finding as many practical uses for the fire as possible. It was only much later, when his basic needs for survival were met, that a man would sit down and think about the question of: What makes a fire a fire?
You see, that is where we are at. We find ourselves asking the question of, “What makes connectivism the powerful “learning theory” that it is. And how do I provide the evidence that the rigorous, empirical model of science demands, if this theory is to take its place in the Pantheon of Theories, alongside the great theories of Mankind, which is where connectivism rightfully belongs.
For a teacher of English as a Foreign Language, I think I did OK with 11 minutes of Radio DS106. (pats myself on the back) :-)
See you next week my friends,
Your friend in Chile,