Sunday, January 30, 2011

"The golden rule of networks is: Location, location, location".

So says Valdis Krebs in his introduction to Social Network Analysis. SNA is "the mapping and measuring of relationships and flows between people, groups, organizations, computers, URLs, and other connected information/knowledge entities" and is a concept we are contemplating as part of our journey through the fairy-floss haze of connectivism. Krebs gives a very clean description of the elements of a network that warrant analysis - namely the centrality measures of Degree Centrality, Betweenness Centrality, and Closeness Centrality - although as yet I am uninformed as to why they warrant analysis. Further reading in cck11 required...

Wikipedia tells us:
"Network analysis, and its close cousin traffic analysis, has significant use in intelligence. By monitoring the communication patterns between the network nodes, its structure can be established. This can be used for uncovering insurgent networks of both hierarchical and leaderless nature."

Intelligence? As in international espionage? Would I know a hierarchical insurgent network if I tripped over it? I am not sure why we need to know about network analysis in relation to connectivism... yet.


Ok, now I have listened to Stephen Downes' presentation on Learning Networks and as I listened to him talk about his first design principle of a network - Decentralize - the centrality measures of SNA popped into my head and I understood the importance of knowing the strength of a network, and how easily it can, or cannot, be broken. Stephen defined eight of these design principles: Decentralize, Distribute, Disintermediate, Disaggregate, Dis-integrate, Democratize, Dynamize (sic), and Desegregate. As I listened (and learned), I felt suddenly that the value of a learning network, in my profession in general, but also in my own learning journey, was remarkably clear. The big leap for me now is to see and accept that connectivism as a learning theory, and learning networks as a learning framework, are the way to go in terms of teaching and learning in higher education. I can't quite let go of my belief that I need clear organisation and structure to learn most efficiently, and that higher ed students generally need (or at least want) it too.In addition to our teaching institutions, do we have to convince the students that this is a better way to learn?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Understanding connectivism: some first thoughts

If I think about one of the driving factors behind my enrollment in the CCK11 mooc, which is the desire (and the professional expectation) to keep abreast of lines of thought and development in my field, I am making the obvious connection (no pun intended) that this is exactly what lies behind this theory of learning.To quote from George Siemens paper Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age: "Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities." Actually I feel quite oppressed by the pressure to keep up, and yet also compelled to do so by my own desire for intellectual stimulation. Why doesn't the latter cancel out the former? Mental laziness perhaps, but part of it is that I really don't know how people can do it! Not literally how, but motivationally how, I suppose. One conclusion I have come to is that I haven't developed the ability, and so another of George's points resonated with me: "Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill." And as an extension of that, in my mind, so too is the seeking out of those connections. Hopefully, as the theory suggests, connectivism will allow me to remain current in my field. :)

I have to say I am struggling with the idea that learning may reside in non-human appliances, or that it exists outside of the person. I can't quite grasp that a mental process could exist if the mind is removed from the equation. To me it seems only information resides in the non-human appliances. Although I suppose I can form a concept of a learning organism that exists out there in the ether, consisting of the information stored on devices, the physical network that connects the devices, the ideas, thoughts, opinions, explorations and observations pertinent to that information that are added to the devices and network, (and the connections that form between the human originators of those ideas, thoughts, etc), and the processes of change and movement that occur within these structures, and finally the impact they have on society and culture, ALL constituting an unnameable learning beast which we can commune with (and influence) on a personal level. Yes, clumsy, but I need to make sense of it.

After reading Stephen Downes' blog post "What connectivism is", I have found I experience a brain freeze when I try to start comprehending the arguments of those digging deep down into the language we use to describe learning or meaning-making . I understand the arguments, and the literal meaning of their words of course, but getting my mind around the concept of learning, creating understanding or meaning-making as a physical process, trying to conceptualise it in my own mind – stumps me. Even in my attempts to write this and choose words to describe the “act” of learning I fear I am tripping myself up by using all the wrong words. It is unnerving, but challenging, therefore to be trying to learn in an atmosphere of trepidation. Learning is a mystery I struggle to make a mental model of. (!!)

A first foray into a MOOC

Instead of standing on the sidelines and watching, or attempting to absorb things vicariously, I've plunged in and registered for George Siemens' and Stephen Downes' MOOC, Connectivism and Connective Knowledge 2011.
Perhaps it is an insecurity in me, but I often view academic discussions in my own field with a sense of awe, as if it is on a higher plane than the one I inhabit, but then surprise myself, when drawn into discussions with colleagues, with just how much I know and can contribute to the collective knowledge. Hence the decision to register for CCK11 and put my knowledge to the test AND learn more, more and more! This blog is going to chart my learning journey over the next 12 weeks, and hopefully become a repository for (regular) musings on learning technologies in higher ed.