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?