CCK11: Concept map

Welcome to my Concept Map, assignment #3 for our Connectivism and Connected Learning course. It’s hard to read this small, but I kinda like the over / view. Can you see it?

I tried to make sense of the unique parts of connectivism as a theory of learning in the digital age. I also deliberately tried to keep it extremely simple and clear with few nodes and identified connections.

To create this, I tried a new software, VUE from Tufts University. Although this is a quite basic diagram, VUE seems to have more powerful elements within it. I always like to try new software, and sometimes I get in the try-and-discard mode, running to collect and know about all the latest shiny toys. (Funny, though—I never really did that with toys.)

I believe if you click the image, the large version will come up in your browser. I don’t know whether any of the embedded notes or links will work in this saved version.

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CCK11: Network thinking

Sparky says, Throw this stick I've brought you!

An article that will be appearing in Organization Science sometime this year discusses some aspects of network-based inquiry that might be interesting to folks in CCK2011 (note: although it’s not up yet, the DOI will be 10.1287/orsc.1110.0643). The experiment may not be directly related to our course, but I think some of its implications may be worth pondering.

In the paper I’m editing, the authors set up two experiments to discover how people activate their social networks in the face of the threat of job loss and whether that activation is related to their social status. Aside from the conclusions of the experiments, what’s interesting to me on the level of theory  is that they suggest that cognitively activating these netowrks is a precondition to mobilizing them. They suggest that given a certain kind of threat/opportunity, a person can invest in activating certain network segments in response that she may not have activated given another kind of threat/opportunity.

This suggests, then, that the social network also resides as a perceptual network.  And it can help explain why people vary their network-based responses in different situations. The researchers postulate that this may account for varying study results in research on social networks. It explains why the construction of a certain kind of study can “prime” study subjects’ conception of their networks that cause variations in response.

So do networks also live in my head? If so, how can I possibly conceptualize something so vast as, say, the internet? And here is where connectivism could help; the idea that “know where” is the key to knowledge, not “know what,” in a digital age. I can’t possibly “know” what’s in the internet, the thingness of every node—but I certainly have the sense that everything is within reach with potentiality. I like this aspect of connectivism because it honors the connections as knowledge. So what lives in my mind as “the internet” is not a static network but something more akin to a sense of the firings between network nodes.

The authors of the study I’m editing only account for human-based social networks, but I think the insights can be called upon here to talk about something that’s been bothering me about connectivism as a theory: agency. The contention that we do not create connections (and therefore knowledge) isn’t a premise, I guess, that I’m willing to accept. What I’m gradually concluding is that I am at least partly a constructivist; those theoretical insights generally give me what I’m looking for, which is a way to account for human agency, desire for change, thirst for knowledge, whatever you want to call it. What I’d like to do is take the best of both theoretical worlds: nonstatic, nonlocated knowledge coupled with intentional agency.

P.S. To posit agency doesn’t mean that it always works. For instance, Sparky incessantly brings me a stick (or a basketball, a Kong®, a squirrel corpse, a Frisbee®, and so on) and tries to create a series of events whereby he gets to chase the toy because I’ve thrown it. Sometimes, his agency has the expected result; sometimes, it doesn’t. Does he ever give up? No, because there’s a greater chance of getting the outcome he wants by taking action versus taking no action. And why my husband and I have been chanting outside of the Ohio Statehouse this week.

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?

CCK11: Network Anonymity

I’m familiar with network analysis, especially in social sciences research, so most of the concepts from Week 2 of CCK2011 made sense. Different words (nodes versus vertices) are used in different fields to describe the same basic ideas, and once I got a handle on that I was fine with the readings and discussion. In some contexts, though, I’ve noticed that writers tend to discuss networks as if they are static, whereas I see them as incredibly dynamic and constantly mutating. The challenge is to work this into your analytic tools, so that the diagram of your network changes as the network fluctuates and re-forms. (Something akin to Hans Rosling’s reworked bubble charts, that show change over time [obviously he’s not talking about networks; I’m just interested in the illustration of time in a chart].)

Research companies I write and edit for have discovered important insights by using network analysis (e.g., how health knowledge can purposefully filter through a particular community). Where real people in physical proximity are concerned, I get it.

Where machines and online personas are concerned, however, I am somewhat unsure.

Here’s one example: we don’t let my preteen stepdaughter “friend” anyone on Facebook that she doesn’t know in “real life.” Still, I get a little cranky when she announces to her 122 “friends” that we’re going out of town for the weekend and that we bought a new flat screen television. Who else are her friends are connected to that I don’t know? How many other people use the same physical computer as her friend? There are nodes in this network of which I am completely unaware (though clearly I “sense” their presence).

How to account for those anonymous nodes and their influence on the network and the other nodes within it? I’ll put aside for the moment the question of Those Nodes That Mean Me Deliberate Harm—that’s sort of an extreme example. If knowledge is connections, then it seems that a catalyst of learning (as vjansen describes in a course discussion thread) could be the activation of an anonymous node (you could take this to the Rupert Sheldrake level, too, or talk about the family constellations work of Bert Hellinger). For instance, my husband is an eighth-grade science teacher, and his stories about his students viscerally tamp down my enthusiasm for the Amazing, Uplifting, Astounding Potential of Technology in Education a bit because of the pressing issues he deals with on a regular basis that interfere with students’ learning (say, unplanned pregnancies at age 13).

Another example might be the anonymous machine nodes that collect personal information in order to sell me products I might be interested in based on my past purchases (“you might also like…”). They’re mostly hidden to me but certainly their influence is there: on Amazon, I see one book and not a different one in this section, and I might read it and then recommend it to a friend or colleague in my network. That hidden (even to me) node affects my colleague directly and potentially her colleagues.

George Siemens writes 

In a networked world, the very manner of information that we acquire is worth exploring. The need to evaluate the worthiness of learning something is a meta-skill that is applied before learning itself begins. …  The ability to synthesize and recognize connections and patterns is a valuable skill. (Siemens 2005)

What does connectivism do with these anonymous network nodes? Does evaluating something’s “worthiness” rest on the premise that all of our connections are known to us and the network?  Couple this with the idea that those networks are in constant flux, and analyzing how learning happens gets even trickier.

CCK11: Networking

To my deep embarrassment and chagrin, I do not have enough connections for LinkedIn to create a cool network diagram for me (see http://teachinginhighered.com/visualize-your-network-connections-cck11-0), so I cannot provide an InMap to talk about. I have 37 connections on LinkedIn, and apparently I need 50 to create the diagram. This is sort of alarming to me, to ponder both my limited human connections as well as the seemingly high minimal number that LinkedIn thinks is normal. Is it typical to link to everyone or to be choosy?

Because I do freelance writing and editing for a variety of research organizations, I’m familiar with the kinds of projects that they might take on in order to discover, say, how health care information can be distributed in a defined community. Aside from that, I just tried Gephi, open source graphing software that seems that it would create very helpful network diagrams if only I knew more about how to create the underlying data (see some network diagrams here http://gephi.org/screenshots/). As it was, I used the dataset included, which tracked and weighted the coappearances of Les Miserables characters, to play around with the software.

 

This is sort of cool, and I wonder if someone more adept could use Gephi and, say, the Google Ngrams viewer (http://ngrams.googlelabs.com/) for interesting analyses of literature like this one.

As I was earning my PhD many years ago, I planned out a series of research projects to keep me busy and get me tenure; one of those was to provide a detailed discovery of the women in early punk rock (both in the US and UK). A network analysis would be ideal; I tried to start this on Gephi but I wound up with an initial start of 7 names in a big circle. Clearly I would need some basic tutorial in data management for a network analysis.