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 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.
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?