CCK11: Room for benign mentors in connectivism?

I listend to a National Public Radio last week in which authors of a new book, Academically Adrift, report that “many [college] students are only minimally improving their skills in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing during their journeys through higher education.” (listen here http://www.npr.org/2011/02/09/133310978/in-college-a-lack-of-rigor-leaves-students-adrift)

The Granny Cloud

I downloaded the Kindle version and have started reading the book, but already it has made me think again about the role of teachers—and to think about teachers in the context of  the theory of connectivism.

One thing I know is that the best teachers (from kindergarten to graduate school) challenged me. They knew I could do better and they didn’t settle for less than my best try. Sometimes I failed them and myself. As I got older, though, I loved the professors who I knew were smarter than I was, who blew me away with their ability to see and to communicate what they saw (practically all of the Comparative Literature, Women’s Studies, and English professors at Washington University, for instance).

The other thing I know is that Sugata Mitra found greater gains when he asked for volunteer “grandmothers” to bolster students’ independent learning. These folks were not subject matter experts but rather emphathetic, enthusiastic “grannies” whose job it was to say/type encouragement to their learners—things such as “Wow, I couldn’t have found all that” and “I’m so proud of you.” Self-organized groups of young children actually requested these grannies to read them fairy stories over Skype, and the idea grew from there. It has involved to include non-grandmotherly types as well (see here).

The thing is, I know I never liked autocratic, my-way-or-the-highway kinds of teachers. But I’m also struggling with the extreme hands-off stance of the CCK2011 facilitators. It worries me a bit that at the end of the week I will submit my thoughts on connectivism and be evaluated (I am taking this for credit). I have no idea what that might entail because I have had no communication from the facilitators. I have not gotten a comment or reply to a blog post yet. And it makes me a little grumpy, frankly.

It also gives me an opportunity to wonder about myself (thank you, Buddha). What is this desire to get some acknowledgment from the “authorities”? Why do I need any feedback? What kind of feedback am I really looking for? Are “grades” the only thing that make sense to me? And then I wonder about the theory: Does connectivism mean teachers have no responsibility? No ongoing helpful role? Does connectivism make lazy teachers? Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

I don’t think I want a traditional setting where my ideas are judged and found lacking, especially when the discourse is sometimes so insular that I can’t penetrate it (like offhand references to names of people that stand in for the whole of a complicated theoretical school; now I’m remembering what was tiresome about academia). But at the same time, I would really enjoy a granny. A benign mentor who says, “Hey, that’s a cool thing; thanks for sharing.” Someone who even just reads some remark I made and says, “I’m glad you made it.”

Maybe instead of one Professor I get 800+ potential grannies in my CCK2011 loose network. Maybe instead of wondering what I can do to meet my needs, I should try to be a granny to everyone else. What can I do for you?

5 thoughts on “CCK11: Room for benign mentors in connectivism?

  1. Jaap says:

    Being a grandfather I can help you. I, just like all other humans I know, do grow on attention. So comment and blog and publish and read and listen. Connecting to somebody and being responsible are related. Becoming grumpy is good, it gives energy. I will not judge your ideas unless you ask for judgement or unless you touch an important item (important to me).

    Your grandma idea is good, it makes me think of ethics in connectivism, a somewhat hidden subject in this course. In the course the student is responsible for his learning, and that is very good. But My opinion is that members, connections, do have some responsibility also.

  2. scottx5 says:

    Great post!

    We have an abundance of humans on this planet yet can’t wait to complete the latest “application” to replace some of them. Colleges and universities are failing because we just don’t value education or the human experience unless it can be turned to producing a dollar.

    I read an opinion last night that commercialization of education and the collapse of social infrastructure should be considered abuse of the next generation. Looked at that way, our current state of “progress” pretty much sucks.

    Alternately, we aren’t helpless as in these resources:
    A Rule Set for the Future http://www.mitpressjournals.org/toc/dmal/-/4
    Ron Eglash Culturally Situated Design Tools: Ethnocomputing from Field Site to Classroom: http://csdt.rpi.edu/teaching/papers/aa.2006.108.2.pdf

    Some of this reading is a bit heavy but it does seem hopeful.

  3. […] mathematician or economist or physicist.)  Similarly, the role of the “granny clouds” (prior post)  in children’s ability to traverse networks (learn) seems to me unquantifiable but […]

  4. […] From a welcoming acceptance of learners’ experiments (like Sugata Mitra’s “granny cloud,” to an exploratory question at the right moment, to staying one step ahead of the chaos, […]

  5. […] way, Stephen and George could swoop in periodically and give us all a cheer. I’ve written about granny clouds before, and Stephen and George could visit our blogs as benign mentors just to say “Hi. I stopped by […]

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