Daily Archives: June 29, 2013

Ivory Towers of Learning

We’ve been discussing personal learning networks, and it seems like this week’s readings take a look at the more theoretical processes behind the practical surface of networked learning.  Dede and Siemens discuss how learning theories interact and impact learning by relating some basic differences between them.  Siemens puts more emphasis on the evolution of connectivism in learning, listing ways that thinking about learning has become both more expansive and more specific at the same time, which I think is a valuable idea.  We now encourage our learners not just to learn content but also to think critically about their learning process itself.  “Know-how and know-what is being supplemented with know-where (the understanding of where to find knowledge needed)” (Siemens, 2004).  Recognizing that connectivist learning is more than just interacting with content (even digital content), its success actually hinges on learners being able to justify their processes for finding and using certain sources whether the source is an expert in the field or an unknown blogger.  That justification is a big step, and networked sources being accepted as a valid resource is still experiencing some growing pains.

Dede contrasts “Classical knowledge” and “Web 2.0 knowledge”, but I’m not so sure that the distinctions between the two are really all that distinct.  He uses Encyclopedia Britannica as his example of the monolithic, traditional, top-down knowledge source that must always been taken as gospel and cannot be disputed.  The assumption is that learners assume that it is correct because it has been published.  There is some truth to that thought, but that is where critical thinking about content and not just sources comes into play.  “In contrast to articles in the Encyclopedia Britannica, Wikipedia articles are either undisputed (tacitly considered accurate) or disputed (still resolving through collective argumentation), and Wikipedia articles cover topics that are not central to academic disciplines or to a wide audience (e.g., the cartoon dog Scooby-Doo)” (Dede, 2008).

The first of the two statements of that compound sentence, that Wikipedia articles are accurate or in the process of being accurate and that the process of collective argumentation is preferable, ignores the fact that there is actually a process for challenging content of large-scale traditional print encyclopedias.  It is also reasonable to point out that encyclopedias are not written by one sainted scholar high in an ivory tower.  The articles are written by hundreds of people and must pass through the evaluations of dozens of editors.  What is different about EB and Wikipedia is the amount of time the challenge process takes.  New editions of print encyclopedia sets are published about once a decade (if they are even published anymore), but Wikipedia content updates almost constantly and practically instantly.  The fact that anyone can post and edit is usually touted as the main reason Wikipedia is so amazing and innovative, but that is not even close to the best reason.  Why wait ten years for updated accurate information?  Update it yourself and be crowned Wikipedia royalty.

The second statement, that Wikipedia is superior for generating articles outside the academic disciplines and that appeal to limited, specific audiences, is pretty easy to counter, too.  Scooby Doo? Really?  How is one of the most globally popular cartoon characters not relevant to a wide audience?  There are plenty of ways that information on even just that one cartoon could be relevant and possibly even central to academic disciplines (i.e. criminology, anthropology, psychology, art, etc,).  I can’t say whether or not EB has anything to say about our old pal Scoob, but I do know that there are such things as subject-specific encyclopedias that are generally more favored these days over the large print sets anyway because they take up less space, are less expensive, and are easier to upgrade to new editions.  Take The Encyclopedia of Animated Cartoons, for example.

I know I went off on a bit of tangent there, but it seemed to me that Dede’s statement was full of easily countered fallacies.  It is certainly interesting that Wikipedia has embraced an innovative author and editor structure, and I’m not saying its a horrible thing or anything remotely like that.  I’m just saying that the fact that it is free and is constantly updated are the real reasons why people use it.  If we ignore that practical fact, then we are the sages in the ivory tower.

Week 8 Learning Formal and Informal

How do experts/expertise look like in the Web 2.0 definition of “knowledge as collective agreement about a description that may combine facts with other dimensions of human experience, such as opinions, values, and spiritual beliefs”?

I think the collective brains in Web 2.0 knowledge definition are people with some knowledge or special skill in a particular field, but who may not have yet achieved a certain rank or authority in that topic. The expertise is developed through peer-review of the published content. I agree with Dede that the validation of expertise may draw on the “education, experience, rhetorical fluency, reputation, or perceived spiritual authority in articulating beliefs, values, and precepts” of the contributors. Additionally, the accuracy of the collective voice would be validated by references to prior or existing research.

Dede rightly suggest that “the contrasts between Classical knowledge and Web 2.0 knowledge are continua rather than dichotomies”  because I think that ongoing research usually serves to ratify past research and are conducted by groups of people who collectively negotiate knowledge base on research findings.

Formal education with better assessment methods, I believe will continue to serve its purpose in preparing people for the workforce, until there is an acceptable way to assess/confirm knowledge gained  through informal education. There are different types and levels of work that education prepares people for. In manpower planning for a (small) country, there has to be a projection of needs, e.g. number of engineers and engineering technicians, doctors and nurses, etc. National curriculum is planned to support that manpower planning. Within K-12 levels, students are streamed according to their aptitude and academic capability. This does not mean that a student who is directed to a vocational curriculum at grade 10 cannot continue learning to post-graduate level. It is possible and it has happened, depending on the motivation of the learner. Conversely, it is possible that some academically strong students may be incompetent in real work situation. Would curriculum redesign help rectify the shortfall? Example, incorporate more problem based learning projects and making it part of the summative assessment?

The connectivist approach to learning is interesting, a good one for self directed learners and those seeking that learning path. With regards to the MOOC phenomenon, we should know that there are two types: xMOOC and cMOOC. In Coursera, Pedagogy, And The Two Faces Of MOOCs, the blogger shows how the Coursera pedagogy for xMOOC is still an instructivist approach, i.e. a classic “sage on the stage” approach but which is one-to-very-many. According to the author,  cMOOC is based on the connectivism-inspired approach, and focus on knowledge creation and generation whereas xMOOCs focus on knowledge duplication.

It is difficult to imagine what education and assessment will look like in the next 10-20 years but we can be sure that key assessment groups (e.g. Cambridge) are looking at how people are learning with Web 2.0 and mobile technologies.

Week 8: Learning Networks II

What is your perspective on the notion of a ‘fluid’ epistemology as proposed by Dede–that is, that knowledge is collectively negotiated and ratified as opposed to being ‘given’?

In some way, all knowledge is “given” (teachers, friends, siblings, parents, community members, the government, etc) and it is up to us to negotiate how we interpret its meaning and integrate it into our thought processes and actions.  Often as a child, I was given information only to question it in some other manner.  For example, once in 4th grade, my teacher stated that heat makes germs grow.  As I was assisting my mother in the kitchen, I discussed this with her since we were cooking and using heat.  Confused by the teacher’s earlier statement, I connected it to the task at hand in order to connect to my question, “will dinner make us sick because all of the germs were growing in the heat?”  My mother assisted me with understanding what the teacher was discussing past her statement.  But that happens all around us throughout our lives.  The connectivist theory is not a new action but a title given to an old action that is based in human nature.  Today, we continue to do this with a wider audience, at faster speeds, and with greater amounts of both valid and invalid information currently available. Just as the student who taught himself how to create a video from social networking, it is the social part that has not changed but rather the mode and media that we use to construct knowledge.

How does connectivism relate to the epistemological shift described by Dede?

After reading the comments below Dede’s article, A Seismic Shift Epistemology, one statement really stood out to me, “The claim of the article is not that adults trained in classical knowledge view knowledge differently when they interact with sites like wikipedia, but instead that kids raised in a Web 2.0 culture view knowledge differently.”  When viewed in this light, I think having to turn the topic of connectivism on its head and understand how students are collaboratively driven from an early age to determine the validity of a topic instead of relying on the “sage on the stage” to determine it for them (that was/is prevelant in classically derived knowledge) is a huge shift in epistemology.  We as educators are attempting to use old “methods” with new technology to investigate what is a legitimate belief from opinion.  As I read this statement by Dede, it is not the end result we are attempting to renew or revise for we want to arrive at at legitimate belief, but it is how that investigation is conducted that is the shift.  Maybe what this shift affords us is the space to challenge what may have always been challenged (even if it was just in casual conversation) before but lack the forum/platform to do so.

Week 8 post – A shift in thinking

  •  What is your perspective on the notion of a ‘fluid’ epistemology as proposed by Dede–that is, that knowledge is collectively negotiated and ratified as opposed to being ‘given’?

Dede starts his article by describing the differences between what our information searches look like now as opposed to what they looked like before the web existed. In some ways, I agree that the initial search is much faster when using Web 2.0 tools, but overall the search for information very much models old school methods. In order to verify truths, one must do some digging, to seek out “an expert” on the subject. And isn’t that what we’ve done all along? Its not always easy to recognize hearsay especially if the person relaying it sounds knowledgeable, but what I think this new movement has done for us is to open us up to questioning that hearsay.

When we exclusively employed the “classical method”, we took the information at face value and didn’t argue with its validity. What we’ve seen is that with all of the inaccuracies and biases in traditional texts, to some degree we’ve bought into the hearsay. The more opportunity we have to challenge traditional thought and teaching the more we may actually do it.

  • How does connectivism relate to the epistemological shift described by Dede?

Dede states that knowledge is collectively negotiated and ratified as opposed to being ‘given’ and this directly corresponds to Landauer and Dumais’ idea that connecting our own “small worlds of knowledge” are apparent in the exponential impact provided to our personal learning. When we collectively negotiate knowledge, the information we contribute contains our own perspectives and additional detail.

Siemens states that “connectivism presents a model of learning that acknowledges the tectonic shifts in society where learning is no longer an internal, individualistic activity. How people work and function is altered when new tools are utilized. The field of education has been slow to recognize both the impact of new learning tools and the environmental changes in what it means to learn. Connectivism provides insight into learning skills and tasks needed for learners to flourish in a digital era.”

“Standing on the shoulders of giants” (Bernard of Chartres)

What is my perspective on the notion of a ‘fluid’ epistemology as proposed by Dede – that is, that knowledge is collectively negotiated and ratified as opposed to being ‘given’?

We stand on the shoulders of giants. We learn the facts from others’ verified work, explore beyond them, and then enter the next evolution of knowledge that is discussed and certified collaboratively. Dede possibly describes the same sequence when he writes about the combination of facts with particularly human notions of “opinions, values, and spiritual beliefs” (A Seismic Shift in Epistemology). Facts are already established entities of knowledge, and then we configure them into our realm of knowing, our daily lives and experiences.

Take the following as an example.

In the real world, the likes of Fibonnacci, Newton, or any other prominent mathematician or scientist make significant discoveries. Part of their intellectual endeavors include the crafting and sharing of their ideas through letters, journals, and speeches. Or, in our day in age, the Internet plays a larger role in the creation of knowledge, as seen in the connected student video. Before reaching the point of broadcasting a finished product, many would often collaborate to advance the work or have it verified by peers. Knowledge is collectively negotiated and ratified. Work at the novice, student level is different in the scope of significant breakthroughs. The process of learning may not need, however, to be any different. Practice like you play, right? To prepare students to contribute to their world, they need to engage in these types of intellectual, relational structures. There is a place for didactic instruction, but it neither needs to consume the whole educational experience nor take up more of the curriculum than necessary.

How does connectivism relate to the epistemological shift described by Dede?

Germane to connectivism is context. Social and cultural influences are the greatest factors leading to learning. What connectivism is not is the learning of knowledge outside the realm of personal relevance. Dede describes an epistemological shift in knowledge construction due to Web 2.0 tools. He posits that “the Web 2.0 definition of ‘knowledge’ is collective agreement about a description that may combine facts with other dimensions of human experience, such as opinions, values, and spiritual beliefs” (A Seismic Shift in Epistemology). The relationship between connectivism and what Dede describes in his article is the social impact on knowledge construction. Interaction among interested parties creates and confirms collective truth.

Week 8–Learning Networks II

Together we can achieve so much more. I think that this point is successfully backed by the theories of Dede and others when discussing fluid epistemology. I really liked that it was pointed out how “informal learning is a significant aspect of our learning experiences. Formal education no longer comprises the majority of our learning. Learning now occurs in a variety of ways.” This quote demonstrates that teachers are no longer the forefront knowledge holders that expound the knowledge to their students. Instead, students are growing up and learning in a time when personal connections and self-motivated learning is occurring. There are so many experts in various fields that are willing to share their personal testimonies, information, and experiences with those who are interested in the common area. I believe that building these connections will only help to facilitate a stronger learning passion within our students. Students will have the ability to research and learn about many things instead of just a given topic. It is important that through this process, we teach our students how to find reliable sources of information, how to respectfully question the knowledge that is so freely found on the web, etc.

One thing that was particularly unclear to me at the beginning of this course was the use of an RSS feed. After viewing the video, it is clear that if we are to obtain knowledge in a manner that reflects the building of personal learning networks, we need to have a way to organize and help connect information that is relevant to our learning. The RSS feed tool allows us to mainstream our ideas and finds into one central location that will help us to sort, obtain, and connect various pieces of the web to enhance our knowledge base.

Overall, the theme of today’s learning tends to reside on the power of connections. Teaching our students how to build and maintain these for their learning is essential.


Week 8: Seismic Shift?

When reading the article by Dede, I felt that this idea of a fluid epistemology isn’t necessarily new, but rather how it is done and the scale to which it is done with Web 2.0 tools is.  Perhaps I feel this way due to the excellent education I received as an undergraduate and graduate student at Penn State in the 1990s.  Students in the sciences were trained to collaborate with each other, with faculty across the university, and with faculty elsewhere.  We were also taught to question, experiment, and repeat.  My M.S. thesis (and part of my undergraduate thesis) was based on a question regarding the experimental design of other work done at another university and involved collaboration amongst many faculty, some who were not at Penn State.  We did have email and the internet at this time, and some chat abilities.  I can imagine that knowledge building in a collaborative way as it was done then would be much easier with the tools we currently have.

Even when thinking about this epistemological shift in a historical perspective, if you check the Wikipedia article on Citizen Science (networked science), there have been projects since the early 1900s that utilized many amateur scientists to contribute data to projects like changes in the brightness of stars over time.  Science is not an individual process.  It involves consulting others to design experiments, reading what others have done, and sharing the results of what your group has learned.  Technology has only allowed this to be done faster.  The process of publishing in a referred journal allows others to critique your work before it is shared with the public.  This allows for peer review to be sure that the work hasn’t already been done or that there was not a flaw in the way the work was done.  The results of many experiments allow for changes in what we understand, so that what we teach is always changing as well.  I welcome students to question what we are learning based on other research they have read.  This is a wonderful characteristic of science in that we can’t ever really say that we completely understand something, we need to be open for new research that changes that understanding.

In reviewing the characteristics of connectivism in the George Siemens piece, I again found many of the important points to have been a part of the education I received at Penn State.  I also found many of the characteristics to be important to how I try to teach.  Since the principles of connectivism include learning and knowledge resting in a diversity of opinions and connecting with up-to-date information sources, the epistemological shift described by Dede can be seen to be rooted in this new learning theory of connectivism.

In the Networked Student video, I found the description of a student using these tools as an ideal.  I would love to have students who took the initiative to do as much as the student in the video did!  I loved the part about the tools themselves not being as important as the connections that can be made through the tools.  And I saw an ideal of what a teacher in this new environment can be as a learning architect, organizer, modeler, and encourager for the student and their goals.  I hope to use this model as I continually improve my teaching.