Do you understand what connectivism is? Sometimes I think I do. I read Stephen’s blog post for example, and it seems to make sense. But then someone raises a question like what is the difference between constructivism and connectivism – as John Mak did and even being familiar with George’s diagram - I begin to question my understanding all over again and doubt it.
For me understanding usually only comes with application to practice. So I feel OK with constructivism and social constructivism. I used to be a science teacher and always believed that my approach to teaching was one which recognised social constructivism, because I focussed on challenging students misconceptions through modelling, demonstration and discussion. I believed that my students came to my sessions with their ideas pretty firmly fixed based on their prior life and learning experience. For example, most students believe that if a heavy object is dropped at the same time from the same height as a light object, then the heavy object will reach the ground first. This is a very common misconception. A constructivist approach involved challenging this deeply set misconception through physically demonstrating that heavy objects do not reach the ground before light objects. I believed that the physical demonstration had the effect of deconstructing the student’s existing thinking and reconstructing it or replacing it with the correct thinking. The student had an ‘Ah-Ha’ moment which was individual to the student whether or not the student discussed it with others (social constructivism). I have seen this happen many times, for many different misconceptions.
So if I took a connectivist approach how would I understand what was happening – what might I do differently or how might I think differently? This is where I have surprised myself in finding Matthias’ diagram/map so helpful (I usually cannot relate to these types of diagrams – Matthias knows this so I am not insulting him).
This diagram (and discussions I have had with Matthias about this) shows me that thinking about this in connectivism terms is not about changing what I do or how I teach, but changing what I believe is happening and how it is happening. So if I embrace Matthias’ diagram in relation to challenging students’ physics connections, I need to recognise that what is happening to the student is a culmination of all their connections, both prior and existing, however weak or strong those connections might be. As a tutor I am unlikely to know what all those connections are; all I can do is see the outcomes in the students’ understanding and behaviour – but a belief in a connectivist approach means that I cannot see myself as responsible for their understandings – this lies within the network and their connections. My role is to recognise this and contribute to the network connections.
So this has implications for the ‘Ah-Ha’ moment in learning, which I know Jeffery Keefer has blogged about in the past. ( I can’t find the exact post – but here is a related one – http://silenceandvoice.com/2010/05/04/the-web-of-identity/ ) Can they happen? Yes they can – as can breaking down students’ misconception, but Ah-Ha moments are not a ‘bolt from the blue’. They are influenced by a myriad of past and present connections.
I’m wondering if, first, have I finally understood this? and second – if I have – then why has it taken me so long? And I am still uncertain as to how connectivism offers anything new/different in relation to networked learning.