CCK11 help!: Procrastination and frustration

I’ve started my paper, due Friday, for the CCK2011 course three times since last week. Each time I approach the assignment from a new direction, and each time I’m not satisfied with the direction I’m headed.

The first start

My bias: The value of a new learning theory should be that it helps us understand why people do or do not learn in order that we might set up skillful ways to foster learning.

My husband teaches eighth grade science at a school to which other schools send students who have been identified as problematic. There are no tracked courses, so all students end up in the same science class no matter what their abilities. For some, like a violent schizophrenic, the theory of “least restrictive environment” means that teachers are trained to call 911 immediately if the child announces that Mr. Frowny “doesn’t like that.” For others, like one of few students actually going to college, the theory of equal access to public education means that she is completely ignored by most school officials because she does not draw their attention.

Can the theory of connectivism unite the range of learners in my husband’s school?

I got stuck because I started thinking about the laws regulating public education, reminding me that these children have no choice in the matter of whether they attend eighth grade science class. They are required to attend, they are tested on the fruits of their attendance, and my husband and his colleages are evaluated on how well the children do. What is a network that is so enforced? It certainly doesn’t meeting the standard of network success: diversity (yes), autonomy (no), openness (no), and connectivity (no). So public education as it’s practiced now is not a good test of a theory of learning.

The second (incomplete) start

Okay, so then I started with the basics in Stephen’s and George’s writing about connectivism and tried to follow the guidelines of the assignment, which is to give my “position” on connectivism (and I started a more academic tome):

The thesis of connectivism is that “knowledge is distributed across a network of connections and . . . learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks” (Downes, 2007). Knowledge is not a “thing” to be handed over, duplicated, or acquired; rather, knowledge is “literally the set of connections formed by actions and experience” (Downes, 2007; emphasis in original). George Siemens emphasizes in one article the principle of self-organization: “The capacity to form connections between sources of information, and thereby create useful information patterns, is required to learn in our knowledge economy” (Siemens, 2005). Central to this theory is the primacy of the network and the individual’s ability to evaluate

Many aspects of connectivism make sense to me, as both a learner and a teacher:

  • The emphasis on “know-where” rather than “know-how” (Siemens, 2005)
  • The notion that the new technological tools are reshaping our thinking

The social (including machines) and distributed nature of this theory support the world I see around me, in which technology connects people in sometime surprising ways and has sometimes wild results—we clearly see results from the use of social media tools in Egypt. Where I pause is when I encounter statements in connectivists writings such as “[i]n connectivism, a phrase like ‘constructing meaning’ makes no sense” (Downes, 2007).

The third start

In my third attempt, I started to generate some ideas around the concept of “Teachers model and demonstrate; students practice and reflect.”

Was Socrates a Connectivist?
 Entering college, I managed to talk my way into an upper-level Comparative Literature course called Lyric Poetry: From Sappho to Baudelaire. On the first day of class, in a room with a dozen or so students, all older than I, in walked a skinny old man wearing cutoffs and a tank top, smoking a Gauloise, and carrying a stack of leather-bound books. “Welcome to Lyric Poetry,” he announced as he placed the stack on the table beside him. “I hate this big room, so we’ll get another. Now, what is lyric poetry?” He pointed to a woman in front of me. “Oh, and I’m Doctor Matheson. Now, let’s go around and tell me what you think lyric poetry is.”
 
I was eighteen years old, trained in Indiana inner-city public schools. You answer a question only after the teacher has told you the answer. Here this guy was, asking me to provide an answer to a question that he hadn’t lectured about yet! He hadn’t taught me anything! But I knew it must be a trap; I had seen the Paper Chase on television, and I knew his next step would be to tell us all how wrong we were. I was petrified as each of the students gave their voice, and then it was my turn. “They are songs,” I offered at practically a whisper.
 
“Thank you,” he said when everyone finished. “We’ll be investigating what the poems say about what they are, too.” For the rest of the semester, he parsed out everything you could do with poetry, from historical to textual, to reproduction, to simple adoration. He spoke about a dozen languages and showed us what you could do with translations. He asked us a lot about what we found interesting, and he was always pleased at what we found even as he encouraged us through his questioning to engage with ever-increasing rigor. His delight at our forging new connections was palpable. He was in every way the model I chose for an engaged, lively, welcoming teacher/learner. (And I followed him through every class he taught, if it was taught in English, for all four years.)

 

I am alternating between a more heavily academic writing tone and substance and a more personal, reflective one. Given the nature of the course, the latter option seems more intuitive and appealing. However, the suggestion of using APA format to cite sources is in direct contradiction to that kind of approach. These three starts also strike me as being really uncreative and dull.

Help?

Maybe my fourth start should be Why would a connectivist assign such a paper? Isn’t my blog and my comments on others’ “proof” enough that I am engaged with the material of the course and am taking away what I need from it?

Any help, advice, feedback, or commiseration would be much appreciated. What are you doing for your assignment?

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11 Responses to CCK11 help!: Procrastination and frustration

  1. Lars Was says:

    I don’t have to make an assignment, but maybe you could find some middle ground between the academic and the personal way. Talk about the things Stephen and George formulate, but give examples from your own life/situation. Try to compare it with things like your hobbies, things you experienced in real life.
    I would talk first about what connectivism is, and then how it affects me. What are the benefits, the drawback, the difficulties, etc. This way you combine the academic point of view but integrate it into your own experience.
    It’s just a thought… good luck!

    • leahgrrl says:

      Thanks. I definitely understand what you mean, and I think what’s also confounding me is the notion that I am indeed giving an opinion on a theory…to that theory’s founders. 😉 Yipes.

  2. jaapsoft2 says:

    You want to make an assignment to receive points for your study. That is your first goal.
    Your first attempt leads you in school problems, politics etc.
    The second leads to philosophy, constructivism vs connectivism.
    the third is about teaching.

    a good advice of a famous rhetoric writer is: If you do not know what to write about, than make the subject smaller. Don’t write on connectivism, but on a small and tiny subject in connectivism. May be you should decide to make it still smaller.

    • leahgrrl says:

      That’s great advice, to make the subject smaller. In the Elluminate session yesterday, I got a little more clear about what Stephen and George are trying to do with the theory of connectivism, and I think that will actually help me narrow it down.

      Sometimes, I just need three or four rough starts before I can really take off. Thanks for taking the time to read through my whiny post. 🙂

  3. Leah,

    Take some strength from the fact that you have started! My situation is pretty similar, every idea talks itself into a corner. And then there’s:

    >what’s also confounding me is the notion that I am indeed giving an opinion on a theory…to that theory’s founders.<

    Distanced by theory or not, a personal element resides here. And then there's the fact that no matter how I view it, Connectivism doesn't resolve itself into a concept I can understand.

    Second blockage is I don't want to critique it just for the sake of appearing well considered. I've spent too many years pulling things apart and I'm tired of the attendant habit of dismissal that seems central to the critical approach. Surely there's something to work with while I wait for the big revelation to slam me over the head?

    Guess my approach is to try and describe what I think Connectivism is as your professor encouraged. A useful start anyway.

    Scott

    • leahgrrl says:

      Your point about critiquing for the “sake of appearing well considered” resonated with me. And not only do I no longer have the inclination, I simply don’t have time like I did in graduate school to go back and read all the foundational research used for this new theory in order to pick it apart.

      Yesterday’s Elluminate session helped me for some reason. Stephen’s slides and explanation were more approachable, and for some reason I heard more clearly that the theory of connectivism is about describing how we/Stephen&George think learning is changing. I’m going to write about that today and see where I go.

      Hang in there!

  4. jaapsoft2 says:

    Your question on my http://connectivist.wordpress.com about the possibility of not knowing you know or not knowing that something is trying to influence you is a good question. Do we humans need the other people in the network to signal changes in our own knowledge? Is it possible to receive information and not to be aware of that? It has a theoretical aspect, and ethical questions are involved. I like these questions.

  5. Debbie says:

    Leah – I’m not happy you’re struggling, but I am relieved to know I am not the only one. The suggestion that we use APA to cite sources made me think they’re looking for something very academic in nature, and that made me panic. But, then George made a comment that we wouldn’t be marked on mechanics/grammar….and asked the personal question “Does connnectivism resonate with your learning experiences?” so I am following that lead and taking a more personal, reflective approach. I have also comforted myself by the fact that they are connectivists, which means that whatever connection we make with the information we’ve been receiving through the chaos is our journey and has to be OK. 🙂

    Perhaps George will shed some light on this at our session this evening. If he says it has to have an academic tone, I’ll be pulling an all-nighter!

    Debbie

    • leahgrrl says:

      I hope he can, too, although I don’t want to stay up all night! Have you heard anything more about this evening’s session?

      We’ll make it through, and everything will be fine. 🙂

      Cheers,
      Leah

  6. I am struggling in much the same way and have started and stopped on a number of occasions…partly because I have not yet clearly defined how connectivism resonates with me and partly because I have not felt well enough lately to dive into the task…but that is a different story. Part of me wishes that this question would be asked at or nearer the end of the course. We would have much more reading behind us [both prescribed and from the blogs/comments] and then could more readily situate ourselves with respect to connectivism as a theory.

    Anyway…maybe we are over thinking this.

    Stu

  7. leahgrrl says:

    Oh, I’m definitely prone to overthinking just about everything. 😉 I think I need to consolidate the whirlwind in my mind and, as Nike says, just do it. I’ve got a fourth draft, so we’ll see what happens when I wake up tomorrow: will I like it or trash it?

    L

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