Activity 19 – Connectivism? Check!

In this activity you will be devising a course that takes a strong connectivism approach, based on some key principles devised by Siemens.

Take the description of the short course on digital skills that you developed in Week 2 and recast it, so that it adopts a highly connectivist approach. Or, if you prefer, you could take this ‘Open education’ open course as an example and recast it in a more connectivist model, or another course you have familiarity with. You should take each of the principles set out above and state how they are realised in your course, either as a general principle or by giving an example activity.

I was quite excited about attempting this activity because I am basing it on an OER/online course that some of us MOOCers created ourselves! So not only can I base my answers on the course but also on the process of creating the course.

Looking back at the initial “course” I designed in week 2 I realised that I had chosen a similar subject, social media/digital skills for teachers, so it was obviously meant to be!

In some respects I found connectivism complicated. Reading about it that is. I read Siemens Connectivism, a learning theory for the digital age. and Downes, What Connectivism is and I struggled through it. It was only when I got to the end that I realised I was already doing it. What I found difficult was the theory and the way it was presented, in parts, in the above articles. I then looked back over comments on my blog, discussions in the G+ community and Tweets and remembered how simple it was. I am doing it all the time!

According to Downes connectivism is;

the thesis that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks.

Basically it’s all about the connections and how you manage them. Something which I experience and value everyday. In addition to using Twitter, Facebook, G+, I have started a G+ community for one of my other MOOCs and recently moderated a Twitterchat for another MOOC I am doing. So I am constantly “connecting the nodes and information sources” Siemens refers to. Whilst blogging for this MOOC I started talking to students doing the full version of Open Learning and via some misinterpretation on my behalf we ended up creating the OER named My Social Network Toolkit.

To be able to base an activity on a nearly real life course is obviously too good an opportunity to miss. Thank you to John Baglow and Sukaina Walji for letting me use parts of their work in my blog.

Course outline
My Social Network Toolkit: Course Outline

1. Introduction
The course starts with an introduction and then looks at some of the most popular social media tools that are used in education. John Baglow coined the term “DIY (Do it Yourself) toolkit.” when talking about the resource we created. “We will suggest a basic set of tools and you will then be encouraged to explore their potential. When you use each tool we want you to use it to connect with other people also working on the Toolkit”. We suggest and actively encourage students will learn

How will all of this happen? Students are encouraged to connect and let others know how they got on with a specific tool they have tried.

The course also includes a section on Cybersafety and Online Etiquette, an outline of how the tools can be used in the classroom and further reading.

That was a short outline of the OER we are in the process of creating and hope to post soon. I will now look at the key principals of connectivism and how they are realised in our OER.

Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.
Learning is no longer about sitting in a class, listening and learning parrot fashion. Students are encouraged to be more proactive and the Internet is perfect for this. Visit any social network community and watch how a simple post can cause a debate. Our course is not advocating that specific social media is used, or even that it is used at all. We are just suggesting that people take a look and give it a go. Everyone has their preferred platform and that is the beauty of social media; the choice is ours.
Learning is a process of connecting specialised nodes or information sources.
The three of us “meeting” and starting a project was definitely a process of connecting the nodes and information sources. John introduced me to Etherpad as a method of collaborating and brainstorming our initial ideas. We then moved to Google Drive and Prezi which we shared so we could all work on them. John set up the G+ community which we used to hold initial discussions and will eventually be the platform for our OER.

As you can see from the outline of our course

“We will suggest a basic set of tools and you will then be encouraged to explore their potential. When you use each tool we want you to use it to connect with other people also working on the Toolkit”

we are actively encouraging people to go down the connectivism route. This is the best way to learn and something I have found in my MOOC experience. Someone sets you on the road with an idea or lecture and you go off and explore, making connections along the way. These will inevitably lead to more connections and so the process continues.

Learning may reside in non-human appliances.
In this case it applies to the devices we used to create this OER and those that learners will use to access it. Laptops, PCs, smart phones and tablets. This appliances allow us the freedom to learn.

Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known.
Our learning no longer stops when formal education ends. We can continue to connect and learn for as long as we like. The whole point of our OER is to start people on their way. We don’t claim to be an authority and emphasise the need for further reading and readers to make connections. By connecting with like minded people (discussing, arguing, collaborating etc) we make the things we learn more relevant to us.

Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.
The connections we gain are our PLN (Personal Learning Networks) and help us to continue learning. In our Toolkit we encourage students to make connections by following Twitterchats, comment on blogs and joining the G+ community. We recognise this as one of the most important factors to learning something new: Being able to connect and collaborate with our peers.

Ability to see connections between fields, ideas and concepts is a core skill.
Because the emphasis is on making your own connections and self learning, managing the connections is a key skill. It is easy to be overwhelmed, unmotivated and become bogged down in irrelevant information. Being able to see and use the connections is a key skill which does come with experience and as confidence is gained.

Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities. The point of encouraging students to make connections is so that they are able to access up to date information. By accessing learning via communities and individuals you are learning from the people who are directly involved in the areas you are interested in. If you continue to follow sources in this way you get updates as they do and your learning becomes dynamic.

Decision making is itself a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due to alterations in the information climate affecting the decision. Our toolkit places choice and responsibility in the hands of the resource user. Throughout we encourage them to investigate and experiment but the final decision as to what they take up and how far they take it is up to them.

I couldn’t do what I do without connectivism. I have done MOOCs where I haven’t made the connections and although I completed the course it lacked the energy of courses where connections were made. I did what I had to to pass and nothing more. Which is fine if that’s all you want to do but to me it seems a waste of an opportunity. The connections I have made on previous courses are still with me and continue to help me learn. As Siemens said “The pipe is more important than then content within the pipe

Connectivism compliments the traditional concept of education. I think anyone involved in networks (blogs, Facebook, Twitter etc) is already educating others based around connectivism. The course we created is just a more concentrated version of what people do every day.