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Friday, February 02, 2007

On being connected: George Siemen's presentation today.



I am so fortunate that today my planning period allowed me to attend George Siemen's Connectivism online conference where 197 people from around the world listened and chatted through George's presentation about his connectivism theories and how they relate to education.

I am one of the context filters for K12 education. I am reflecting on the moodle and on my blog here on the discussions and presentation today. Here are my primary thoughts from my notes on his presentation.

George gave an overview of the connectivist theory. What I got out of the discussion was many other items of discussion:
  • The infrastructure of dreams is growing up around our feet.

    Visionaries have been talking about what can be done and suddenly have woken up and realized it can be done today.

  • The institutional level has not responded to the change in infrastructure.

    George talked about how business has changed (somewhat) but that education has not. I would argue that businesses have a litmus test that directly shows how they are doing -- profit. That one mutually agreed upon litmus test measures effectively the current operations of a business (although as anyone in business knows long term profit can be sacrificed for short term so an overemphasis of current profit can cause long term problems.

    I think that the litmus tests being used in education are making it difficult to change education. Testing is important but it is not all encompassing. Any good thing can be harmful -- even something like water -- too much water can be poison (its called hypoxia)-- too much testing can also be poison. If you listen to the NCLB expert interviewed by John Merrow on his podcast, you'll hear that the research is showing that No Child Left Behind (an act in America to improve education that funds based on school-wide test results) does bring up the lower performing students ( a good thing) but at the expense of the higher performing students (a bad thing) which move down to the mean.

    I am fascinated by the fact that the expected product influences the process that creates the product. Beware wheat you ask for, you might get it!

  • We cannot make ourselves more intelligent (yet) with technology but we can use technology to augment our understanding.

    George used the example of tag clouds as a method that technology does our analysis "grunt work" enabling us to more rapidly assess trends and respond. (Basically the technology has become our secretary or filing cabinet!)

    Many people criticize the use of tag clouds and the fact that they make us err into Group think. I disagree. I believe that the use of tag clouds and other visual graphic organizers such as Newsmap allow us to more quickly analyze trends so that we may then draw conclusions and express our opinions. Researchers can more quickly post primary questions because the anecdotal data is summarized on even a daily basis.

    No, I think the risk in group think is not because of the data that is aggregated for us, it lies in who we aggregate FROM. If we surround ourselves with people too much like ourselves. If we never listen to the people who disagree with us. If we do not read what others say.

    I'll never forget the first week of the WOW2 podcast, I was listening to another group of teachers and their podcast. One person mentioned the Women of Web 2 and how we were starting a show - one of the people on the podcast stated: "There is nothing I can learn from them."

    That kind of thinking is dangerous. Even the "village idiot" is right sometimes and even Einstein was wrong sometimes. We can learn from others even if it is only how they feel because their feelings are valid to them.

    I call this intentional diversification. I intentionally read people out of my field at least twice a week. I have several other folders (a lot from the business world) that I read continually besides my educational peers and mentors. Sometimes I learn things from photography websites. Sometimes I glean something from the news. Sometimes somebody is a real jerk to me about something I said, but I go on a bunny trail that takes me to new knowledge. The world is a stage.

    As a teacher, it is vital for me to impart a willingness to learn from others. The arrogant will be the first to fall in this newly connected society because they are concerned mostly about being self-connected. One must be humble and willing to learn from a person who began blogging last week.

  • My bunny trail - An improved assessment for schools!

    I began thinking about measurement and assessment of schools. What if we began measuring schools like this. Four years after a graduating class graduated from high school, conduct a survey or a series of telephone interviews. Ask them: "Did your high school career prepare you well for college? for life? for the workplace? What are the gaps in high school that you wish had been filled? What can we do to be better? Who are the best teachers?"

    A simple self-assessment by asking the product (enough time after they graduated to be a little more objective) would go a long way to improving the core of what we're doing!

  • Learning Theories

    Many details on learning theories were discussed in the chats. This is an area where I sit back and learn. I've learned that I know just enough to be dangerous. I've also learned that sometimes people get so hung up on debating the beauty of the Mona Lisa that they never look at the painting! Likewise, I am concerned with teaching my students on a daily basis and I know when they learn.

    I did love what George says about his theory of connectivism, "it is a description of what is going on as well as a prescription of what we need to do."

  • "Roads no longer merely lead to places, they are places." John Brickenhoff Jackson (sp?

    I love this -- what a great quotation! We teach students how to drive automobiles. We need driving lessons for making effective connections. Isn't that why kids are connecting with predators instead of their buddies -- faulty connectivity skills?

    I'm really thinking about this driving lesson analogy and its got me pondering!

  • "If a person isn't connected to knowledge is the information really there?

    This was said in the chat room and reminds me of the quote -- "if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear the sound -- is there still sound?"

    Well, of course there is sound and of course knowledge is there even if you don't know it! What was evident to me is this -- connections are the great leveler. George's conference is free -- the people who got into the conference got in because of their connections not because of their budgets.

    I have a very limited budget for conferences and yet I am able to attend and learn from some of the best technology-centric learning theorists in the world. I blogged about it and so many of my readers heard about it. However, the conference is now closed and cannot be enrolled in.

    Disconnected teachers and administrators are harming their students and not being good stewards of the task assigned to them. Period.

    We connect because it is the right thing to do. Because we can learn from anyone!

  • Learning is Messy, the World is Spiky

    Words about learning included messy, chaotic, emergent, and social were used. Learning is messy! George talked about the "mass reconceptualization of learning and education." So, after the industrial revolution -- are we in the information revolution or rather in the connection revolution. I would say the latter.

    Additionally, as I saw people in the chat complaining about lost connections, etc. I have to think about what Julie Lindsey said in our flat classroom judging podcast, "the world isn't flat its really spiky" with some connections here and others not.

    Not everyone has ubiquitous access. Yes, we have a lot of infrastructure, but lack of access can almost be as harmful as a classroom's roof caving in -- both render a classroom somewhat useless in my opinion.
So, needless to say, I learned a lot. I have lot to think on and these are just a few of my thoughts. I hope you'll share yours here and if you're in the conference that you'll use the Moodle.

The question I posted on the Moodle (feel free to answer here as well)

There was a lot of discussion (and frustration) exhibited in the chat of this presentation concerning assessment in an interconnected world.

Whether the theorists agree on connectivism as a theory, as a reality, connectivism exists in that our students will be required to make connections, use their discernment to accept and assimilate knowledge, and work effectively with others. Most agree that writing is a vital element in all subject areas. Is this emerging Information Literacy or we may say -- Connection Literacy an essential element as well?

How must assessment evolve in the classroom? How should the activities in the classroom change? How will teachers change?

Please include real world examples here. I am looking at this entire conference in the specific context of the classroom -- I am a teacher, not a learning theorist. But I am a teacher who has participated in some projects and uses a wiki on a daily basis to allow my students to learn, share, and learn more and I have a better more highly effective classroom.

Anecdotal evidence is welcome here as is research. I know that as we evaluated the flat classroom project, we had a frustration with the traditional assessment rubrics and feel a need to push to a new method of looking at these interconnected projects. You can listen to the judges of this project discuss their frustrations. If you know nothing about this sort of connected project, you may want to listen to this podcast as a starting point.

If you choose to participate here, I believe we will have measurable, usable ideas that will affect my future projects as well as yours.

FYI, I am an advocate of project based learning, genuine assessment, and cooperative learning which I feel go hand in hand with these tools. I have included the winning video from the flat classroom project as a great resource that not only explains what is happening but shows what is happening because two students with 11 hours time difference created it!

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