Saturday, November 21, 2015

Connectivism, Connections to Growth Mindset and a Few Additional Musings...

This is just a quick post on my reactions to the readings for the question, 
"What is the role of sociality and participatoryculture in our understanding of literacy?"

George Siemens' article, Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age  reinforces the opportunities afforded with Social Media and learning online. This theory is about the changing nature of information and how knowledge is shared in our world. Connectivism resonates with me because of the importance placed on the learner making meaning through connections they make with other learners, as well as the whole idea of students forming their own personal learning communities. Connectivism is not just about making connections with people, but also the importance of making connections with concepts. Illich’s writing on “Deschooling Society” also reinforces these ideas with his focus on technology supporting learning webs and his early vision of student personal learning networks.

Illich and Siemens' work helped to further solidify my own understanding of what it means to connect. If one looks at the 7C’s in our major project, you can see that we have included “Connecting”. After these readings, I felt a sense of affirmation that it good for us to include yet one more “C”. After some exploration of the work of Michael Fullen and the ISTE Standards, Genna and I both felt that there was a piece missing, and that Connecting is worthy of being considered an essential skill for learning today.  

When explaining how connecting is different than communicating or collaborating to other teachers, I had initially thought that connecting was more about the learner exploring their own understanding of ideas. This means making connections between subject areas, previous understanding with current information, connections between other texts and world or self. Siemens' also looks at this notion when he states that connecting is the “capacity to form connections between sources of information, and thereby create useful information patterns, is required to learn in our knowledge economy.” Being able to find patterns in information, and being able to draw a deeper meaning is also an essential aspect of being able to make connections. This exploration of how connecting can actually improve learning, makes me think of John Hattie’s research (Sorry to diverge, but I’m connecting!). Much of  Hattie’s work on visible learning is also grounded in connectivism, as many of the top influencers on student achievement relate to this concept. Hattie found that teacher-student relationships, feedback loops, metacognition strategies and concept-mapping were some of the top indicators of achievement. These influencers would be well grounded in connectivism.

Source: Jackie Gerstein, User Generated Education, 2014
Although, many may question as to why we need another learning theory, connectivism definitely has a place in teaching and learning. What I really appreciated about the article (and this theory) was how Siemens' states that “the ability to see connections is need to facilitate continual learning”, or that making “connections between disparate ideas and fields can create new innovations”. What I really love about his principles of connectivism is the focus on growth mindset, evident in “Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known”. This is the core of what it means to be a learner. It’s not about what you know, but your drive to learn more or the drive to do more with your brain. Siemen’s theory on Connectivism also emphasis the importance of “Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning”.

I’ve included a video on Growth Mindset, to explore more about this concept. 

When I first started exploring the benefits of inquiry based projects such as Genius Hour and Makerspace, I initially thought it to be driven by Constructivist Pedagogy. Now it is apparent that these inquiry based projects can be more, much more. Constructivism is about individuals forming personal understanding or knowledge due to the interaction between experience and background understanding. Inquiry-based projects need to go beyond the individual in this learning experience - as there is a vital role of others in this learning process. In order to generate further meaning in passion-based projects, such as Genius Hour, there must be that connection with a learning community.

Last year, when working with teachers we explored the need for students to blog and reflect on their learning connecting with the teacher. However, I started to see blogging as taking on another important role, which was providing a space for students to do more than report progress. Instead, it was about connecting and collaborating with other students and experts in the learning journey. After reading books from Genius Hour gurus like Don Wettrick, author of Pure Genius and Paul Solarz, author of Learn Like a Pirate, that I saw the importance of connecting students. 

Over the course of the past couple weeks, I have been thinking about how teachers and students engaged in Genius Hour can connect further. How can these opportunities be leveraged? Right now, most classrooms are just connecting within classroom walls or within schools. What if there could be a “hub” like an Office365 Group or a wikispace where teachers could connect students of similar projects or themes together – even if it was just within a school division or the province? Would connecting kids of like minds potentially create spaces where learning is amplified as students bounce ideas off each other? Teachers could be the mediators in helping students learn how to develop their own Personal Learning Network. In doing this, one could hope that in time, more teachers would be comfortable with extending that circle of learning to other experts joining Professional Learning Communities. It sounds great, but part of me can’t help but think of student online safety and managing these connections. However if one proceeds with measured and planned steps - it is doable. 

Source: Government of Canada Indigenous and Northern Affairs
There are other examples that without the power afforded in connecting minds and perspectives, great projects wound not happen. Danielle Maley’s major project, in bringing the Stories of the Treaties to life, would not be the same without connecting. If you have not read about her project, she will be integrating technology into Treaty 4 history, as well as connecting with other colleagues and students at a high school level to research Treaty 4. This is Connectivism at its finest - connecting ideas, colleagues, students - then extending the circle to experts with elders. While there are many learners from Danielle to the students to all engaged in the journey, Danielle demonstrates that it's not the technology, but the personal stories that will drive the project. 

In using technology to leverage skills such as connecting, we are doing more than just consuming technology. Ashley questions in her blog the importance of going beyond just using devices and the importance of having a purpose. When teachers look at reasons for integrating technology for transferable skills we will take students further in learning, going beyond the consumption and drill and into developing those transferable skills needed for life. 

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