Saturday, January 10, 2009

“Our mind is a network…an ecology. It adapts to the environment.” -Siemens

I want to be called a 21st Century connector rather than a teacher—teacher implies transmission in my mind—connector implies fostering acquisition and emergence for a learner.

What does that mean? After reading Will Richardson’s article “World Without Walls: Learning Well with Others” and George Siemens’ Knowing Knowledge “An Exploration of Theoretical Views of Knowing and Learning,” I am beginning to see the view of knowledge acquisition in a new way—Siemens’ theory of connectivism.

Frankly, I haven’t been actively thinking about how knowledge is structured and gathered. After eleven years of teaching, sometimes you just do what you know is best to improve the skills of your students. When you think about education today, so much is based upon standardized tests and content knowledge and skills. We have overlooked the whole experience of gaining knowledge. Much of the time we are forced to look at the end product—the proof of learning. The process of gathering and finding and validating and judging and changing obtained knowledge through connecting with new knowledge has not been a priority in state and national assessments; yet, it is vital for fostering the development of the lifelong learner. I know New Hampshire, the nation for that matter, is venturing into a digital portfolio approach to assessment and learning, but I have yet to see it be addressed in most schools—as many of us don’t have a platform to work with.

Siemens reminds us that “it’s the pipe that matters not only the content.” He continues with “‘Know(ing) where’ and ‘know(ing) who’ are more important today than knowing what and how. An information rich world requires the ability to first determine what is important, and then how to stay connected and informed as information changes.”

As I continue to explore my RSS reader, I am finding several educators that are reminding themselves and, in essence, their readers to continually evaluate and question the knowledge, the networks, and the tools that we use. They remind us to approach this web 2.0 learning environment with the notion that things are always changing. What works one day may not be the tool we need for the next day.

I have added Tech Thoughts by Jen to my reader (as someone I was following had been following her); and besides the teaching ideas she expresses, she (as have several other bloggers) reflects upon the challenges of keeping current and knowing what connections to make that are most worth while. Even with the blogs we have added for this class, I am finding that some of them are not meeting my needs and could probably be removed; however, I’ll give it more time before I dismiss them.

I have included the diagram below from Siemens’ Knowing Knowledge as a reminder of how he frames the process of connectivism.

I think about where I fit into this diagram, and then I remember the notion of being co creators. “The learner is the teacher is the learner;” Siemens’ complex webbing of knowledge is mystifying yet right at our fingertips. Now, to grasp it with our minds is the challenge, especially as we attempt less traditional approaches with our students. It certainly brings differentiation to an obtainable level.
In the whole of this Connectivist approach to connecting with knowledge, we cannot overlook the personal connections as well. As teachers we are not only concerned about the concepts and the conduit of knowledge for our students, we are still helping our students develop filters (values, beliefs, perspective). Our role is very complicated to begin with, but as we transform our role into that of a connector, we need to be aware of our students’ limitations and susceptibility to being mislead and/or misunderstood.

Memorable passages from the reading of Siemens’ Knowing Knowledge “An Exploration of Theoretical Views of Knowing and Learning” (24-48):

  • Seed, Select, and Amplify. Test many diverse options, and reinforce the winners. Experiment, don’t plan. Chris Meyer and Stan Davis36
  • Connectivism is the integration of principles explored by chaos37, network, complexity38, and self-organization39 theories.
  • Not all learning (or cognitive activity) is logical.
  • Additionally, it is important to acknowledge that learning is much more than exposure to content. Social, community, and collaborative approaches to learning are important.
  • To be adaptive is to be perpetually current.

I must admit that it is not often that you are able to take a college course that actually practices what it preaches. In PSU’s graduate course Teaching and Learning in the Networked Classroom taught by Jeff Utecht and Kim Tufts (TA), I have seen a total embrace of Siemens’ “Connectivism [as being] driven by the understanding that decisions are based on rapidly altering foundations.” Though the general overview with a syllabus has been presented to course participants, it has been made quite clear that the weekly readings and blog prompts and other activities may be changed with the influx of ever developing information and knowledge. “In today’s world, knowledge life is short; it survives only a short period of time before it is outdated”-Siemens.

With the help of my PLNs and my desire to achieve, I will become a connector in this interdependent ecosystem.


  1. I try to embrace connectivism on a daily basis. I have found that it has totally changed my daily routine.

    If you are finding feeds in your RSS reader that are not relevant to you...remove them. I have a one week rule. If you don't post something relevant/stimulating to me in a weeks worth of posts (about 10) then you are removed. There are way to many good blogs out there (like Jen's) that will speak to you. Don't hang on to dead wood, we do that to much in education.

    Connectivism is about letting go, about being flexible, and excited in that flexibility.

    As for this class, the stuff I just finished reading this weekend has influenced me so much that it has completely changed a forth coming weeks complete approach and message. Trust me this course is as much for me as it is for you. ;)

  2. I too evaluate my teaching. I need feedback on my blog "Babies in School." The more comments I have the more I can support my case, even if it is a no-brainer.

  3. Connector versus teacher.......I like that. I get frustrated that there is so much focus on the administrative end of things at schools; meeting deadlines for standardized testing; following along in big fat notebooks for grade level content and skills; and on and on. There seems to be so much pressure on teachers to do everything else but foster a connected environment. I realize there needs to be accountability in order that students get the best possible education, so where is the part on the standardized test/s that demonstrates web 2.0 skills, or any computer skills at all? I'm new at all this, but as far as I know that section is missing. Interesting.

  4. Web 2.0 skills are definitely missing on these tests. How pathetic! Some standardized tests still test dictionary skills. Yet, when was the last time you used a hard copy dictionary (or phone book for that matter)?
    Jen, you make a great point regarding the fluidity of this course. I can see the importance of changing with the times. Certainly this is a propos for technology. What's new today is old tomorrow.