Teaching Connectivism

Will Richardson's latest post about the changing nature of the teaching profession got me thinking about Connectivism. Will writes:

The Web and these technologies have transformed the way I learn, provided me with many teachers who push my thinking, given me the potential to direct my own education as it is. Why don't more educators make it a part of their own practice? [...] What we need to be is connectors who can teach our kids how to connect to information and to sources, how to use that information effectively, and how to manage and build upon the learning that comes with it. That's a much different role than "science teacher" or "math teacher." Now I'm not saying that subject matter expertise is irrelevant and that there aren't core concepts that discipline specific teachers shouldn't teach. But they should be taught it a much wider context, not in the fishbowl this is our traditional classroom.

There's no question that Will is right. We need to be "connectors," as he puts it, because if we fail in this task, our students will be overwhelmed by chaos. They won't know how to look for patterns and connections in that chaos. If we teach our students to function effectively within communities of practice, if we teach them how to look for patterns and make connections then they will begin to see the surrounding chaos as a teaching organism. They will see in it a living entity. They will begin to understand the principles of Connectivism.

In his essay on Connectivism, George Siemens says that "learning is a process of connecting" and that the ability to perceive and nurture connections between ideas and concepts is a crucial skill. And yet, as Will rightly points out, this is not something that the world of education has embraced.

I don't think that anytime in the near future I will be able to say that I teach Connectivism, but I know that I have made some progress. My personal knowledge is really a network of correspondences and connections. I learn by interacting with a huge network of individuals and learning objects (some are available online, some offline). I read and comment on a variety of what George Siemens calls "nodes"or "information sources." The inspiration for this entry, for example, came from a node I can refer to as "weblogg-ed.com." I am now connecting this node to my own thoughts and experiences. So, I began interacting with a network when I opened up my Bloglines account, found a node of particular interest, and am now building a connection. Learning is no longer an internal, solitary activity happening inside an individual learner - it is also a process of creating knowledge. This connection would not exist without the nodes created by Will Richardson and George Siemens. It would not exist without a personal network of nodes that I created with my Bloglines subscriptions. It cannot exist unless it is reified in this very entry where it becomes another node in an ever-growing network. My learning is therefore dependent on my ability to perceive some sort of connection or pattern in the available chaos. "The value of 'pattern recognition,'" to quote George Siemens again, "and connecting our own 'small worlds of knowledge' are apparent in the exponential impact provided to our personal learning."

How does all this affect my teaching methodology? My classroom has transformed itself from a place where knowledge was pre-packaged for students to a place where they are now given a responsibility of creating it, where they have to participate in existing networks (class blogosphere, for example), nurture their own (Furl or del.icio.us accounts, blogs), and look for connections. Their participation leads them to formulate their thoughts and ideas, to find connections between their own views and the nodes they find around them. Once a connection is made in the form of a blog entry for example, the students have created their own knowledge - they've made a contribution to their own understanding and the network itself. Once they start building, they become engaged and empowered; they understand the value of community (or a network) and their own place and role in it.

It is at that point that I become a teacher of Connectivism, engaged in the task of teaching my students to recognize and formulate connections and patterns. I make them aware of the transformative potential of participating in and learning from networks. It is their history or trajectory of participation that becomes the true goal of education.