Connectivism and the importance of context – an example

I have just read a post by George Siemens where he answers the question:  “What is the unique idea in Connectivism?”

My article is related to my participation in my University of Manitoba studies of Instructional Design.

One aspect that George has highlighted in response to the question is the following:

4. Context. While other theories pay partial attention to context, connectivism recognizes the fluid nature of knowledge and connections based on context. As such, it becomes increasingly vital that we focus not on pre-made or pre-defined knowledge, but on our interactions with each other, and the context in which those interactions arise. The context brings as much to a space of knowledge connection/exchange as do the parties involved in the exchange.

This point, along with the others highlighted in the article swished around in my mind, and got the usual nod of “okay I suppose this makes sense”.  However for me, I prefer to deal in the concrete, rather than the abstract.  Examples, examples, examples!!  I find philosophical writing very difficult to digest.

Interestingly, I believe an example that may support George’s point was provided in one of the comments at the conclusion of the article, and a rather unexpected one at that. Of course, I could have misinterpreted the meaning of this point, and so my example may not be appropriate.  Please correct me if I have the wrong end of the stick. :)

The comment that I am referring to is the one posted by Catherine Fitzpatrick, where she doesn’t mince words in her assessment of George’s writing:

One exercise I will assign to you for your homework in this course, which will make up 10 percent of your grade average, is to take an essay like this and stop using references to other writers, waving icons and badgets around.
The average intelligent college-educated reading person such as myself can be expected to know who Spencer, Dewey, and Piaget are, and what they represent, although they may want to peak back at Wikipedia. But many of the others are insider’s baseball and obscure and dense.
A sentence like this: “Social learning theory. Here we can draw from Bandura’s emphasis on self-efficacy, Bruner, Vygotsky, and others” — is completely opaque, show-offy, and therefore stupid. It conveys nothing. Unless we are one of the 6-7 really nerdy obsessives working with you in your institute on these ideas, or in some other e-learning collective that things these folks are the cat’s miaow, we won’t understand the references. Sure, we can, like good little Googlers, go read this: http://www.des.emory.edu/mfp/BanEncy.html But what do YOU Mean to say about it? You might wish to spell out, rather than cryptically reference, what is is YOU mean to say about this concept.
Thus, a paragraph like no. 5, “Concept of Mind,” could easily add 3-4 sentences and tease out what is important about “Weicks’ papers on heedful interrelating.” Showy cataloguing of other sources that resonate with your own thinking don’t make for an interesting paper. Spelling them out coherently would.
Re: “the fluid nature of knowledge”. When are you content to let a text *stay put* and become immutable, and be held on deposit for accessing throughout the ages?

When I first read this post (and after I stopped grinning from it’s indignant tone), it started to resonate with me (sorry George :) ).  However, the following statement by Catherine made clear to me what is going on:  “It conveys nothing. Unless we are one of the 6-7 really nerdy obsessives working with you in your institute on these ideas, or in some other e-learning collective that things these folks are the cat’s miaow, we won’t understand the references.”  I can only speculate that the “show-offy” references described by Catherine have been examined in greater detail within the course context in which the post was written, and are therefore more meaningful to the students in the course, than the greater world audience.  Herein lies the example of how I see context being just as critical to the knowledge exchange as the participants themselves.

I am reminded of a discussion I had around the idea of targeted audiences for blogging.  Perhaps getting off track with the intent of this post, but aside reading if anyone is interested. ;)

So, now I’ll ask a question.  Have I understood the intent of George’s point around context as it pertains to connectivism?  I’d like to hear people’s thoughts.  If I have missed the point, does someone have an example to illustrate it?

Damien Clark.

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7 Responses to “Connectivism and the importance of context – an example”

  1. Plain_Gillian Says:

    Hi Damien,
    I like your use of an actual post in the blog article to illustrate context.
    Here is an example I have of context and I am not sure it is appropriate as I am still making sense of all this too :)
    I subscribe to a number of different types of blogs and sometimes I get the same piece of information from more than one type of blog source. Just yesterday I received a link to an article about a couple in Texas finding a Jesus shaped cheeto. Once from a food blog and once from a skeptic blog. If my context was just the food blog I might just look at it as an interesting piece of food, but if my context was with the skeptic blog I would look at it as an example of pareidolia. So if I had the context of the food blog I might continue to research other weird looking food but with the skeptic context I might research or discuss pareidolia.
    Does this sound right? That context influences our learning journey and the connections we make?

  2. damoclarky Says:

    Hi Gillian,

    Thanks for responding to my article. :)

    What you have expressed sounds right on the money to me. It is an excellent example – much better than the one I presented.

    Perhaps I need more diversity in my blogroll. :)

  3. Rachel Teesdale-Smith Says:

    Hi Damo

    Your post has made me question about what really is unique in connectivism. Point by point on George’s article:
    1. Didn’t other people make new connections in learning prior to 2009? What about Einstein, da Vinci and others? it would have been very interesting to review the way that those thinkers used their networks for surely they had them in some form.
    2. Is connectivism a universal idea in a post-modern world? “that the same structure of learning that creates neural connections can be found in how we link ideas and in how we connect to people and information sources. One scepter to rule them all.” It is true that there is the promise of more context to come in the course but I still think it is a big call without more evidence in the post itself.
    3. I think this is where the model holds great promise with the ‘prominence of tools’ and connections to identity, thought and knowledge.
    4. Context has been discussed before in constructivism for example. Where connectivism has something to offer is its emphasis on the importance of context and where that can take students and teachers.
    5. I think humans have always engaged in sense-making, understanding, coherance and meaning. Isn’t that what being human is about ? There may be a need to be more discriminating about information but I am yet to be convinced that connectivism is necessarily the only way to navigate through the context of change and chaos that George is describing. If connectivism is to work, people need to listen to each other. I am not sure that this happens anymore often in the blogosphere than the real world. People may think they are responding to a post when they are actually finding a way to broadcast their own ideas. One of the things that is the hardest I find is to understand and comment on a post in a way that indicates you have really thought about it. (and perhaps this is the case here :-) sorry, Damo). I have to laugh at myself but it makes the point, I guess.

  4. Plain_Gillian Says:

    I am a blog-o-holic which is good in this case but very distracting in real life! :)

  5. [...] and other learning theories A friend and colleague is engaged in some thinking about connectivism and its relationship with other learning theories. Thinking that is informed, sparked and perhaps somewhat unanswered by a post from George [...]

  6. [...] a previous post I made public one of my half-baked ideas about connectivism. This was sparked by a similar public considerations by a [...]

  7. [...] occur outside of people – crazy abstract thinkers.  In fact, it then reminded me of a similar challenge with George’s work that I have posted about [...]

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