Attacks on connectivism

What is it about connectivism that stirs up such strong emotion?

In my experience it has now been strongly attacked in public at least twice – the first during CCK08 by Catherine Fitzpatrick – who voiced her objections in no uncertain terms and more recently by Marielle Lange in Wikipedia. Perhaps the interesting thing about both these instances is that they end up as personal attacks on Stephen Downes and George Siemens. Why?

The objections revolve around the claim that connectivism is a new learning theory.

Marielle Lange levels these criticisms at this claim:

  • Connectivism is a hoax
  • There is nothing new in connectivism
  • The claims have never been published by a refereed journal
  • The claims are unwarranted and unsupported by evidence
  • The claims amount to intellectual dishonesty
  • They don’t make any new or original contribution to learning
  • They don’t make any new or original contribution to pedagogy

And then for some reason that I don’t understand she seems to take real exception to the fact that Stephen Downes does not have a PhD, that much of his and George Siemens’ work is published in blogs and that the article – Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age – has been published in a not-for-profit journal.

In a recent Elluminate session, Stephen Downes discussed the status of connectivism as a theory –

For him connectivism is an empirical theory intended to describe how learning occurs. It is based on observations and evidence from a variety of related empirical theories. Four theories which he claims support connectivism are connectionism, in computer science, associationism in philosophy and psychology, graph theory in mathematics and social network theory. Connectivism is a theory about pedagogy to describe how we can apply what we know about how networks learn to learning. Connectivism doesn’t have a message; it is not a belief or a political movement. Connectivism doesn’t argue; it describes – describes the world as we see it and explains why we are developing e-learning as a distributed and networked process.

Lange and Fitzpatrick are not alone in criticising Downes’ and Siemens’ claims for connectivism. I don’t even think they are alone in descending into personal attacks, although I don’t think these help their cause, because they get carried away and then lose their credibility, e.g. Lange writes:

The acclaim they receive typically comes from classroom teachers who are unfamiliar with the pre-existing theories. Unfamiliar with the vast amount of literature on the web covering the same issues a lot more ably. Let’s face it. The “theory of Connectivism” was published as a blog post! It was later published by Educause, a non profit organisation. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Connectivism)

It is fairly easy to demolish this paragraph. First, teachers, in order to be teachers, are trained, and that training involves a study of learning theories, although they might not be familiar with the vast amount of literature on the web – but that does not make them incapable of critically evaluating new ideas. Second, the fact that the ‘theory of connectivism was published as a blog post’ is part of the whole point about it all. Downes and Siemens are trying to establish a new way of thinking about education and research, which questions and destabilises traditional ways of working. Posting to blogs, and the belief in peer review (as happens in Wikipedia) is a deliberate and conscious strategy. How better to test out their ideas? Publishing in Educause was also part of this strategy.

Of course a claim for a new learning theory will have to be critically analysed, tested and discussed – I doubt anyone disputes that and some articles are beginning to come through which do just this.

Bell, F. (2010) Network theories for technology-enabled learning and social change: Connectivism and Actor Network theory – http://www.lancs.ac.uk/fss/organisations/netlc/past/nlc2010/abstracts/PDFs/Bell.pdf

Kop, R. & Hill, A. (2008) Connectivism: Learning theory of the future or vestige of the past? http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/523/1103

Verhagen, P. (2006) Connectivism: A new learning theory? http://elearning.surf.nl/e-learning/english/3793

And there will be more – it is early days as far as connectivism is concerned. It is also possible – if following Downes’ and Siemens’ work to see their ideas and explanations developing as time progresses. Surely establishing a learning theory is a long-term and dynamic process, but the starting point is to make the claim. If it is ultimately thrown over – let’s hope it is on the basis of evidence rather than personal attacks.

Finally the focus on whether connectivism is a theory or not detracts from what for me are the more important questions raised by Downes and Siemens and these are:

  • How is technology changing the way we think and learn?
  • How is technology changing the way we teach?
  • Do we need to challenge traditional ways of working in education?

Whilst there have been published research papers which address these questions most are published in closed journals. The work that Downes and Siemens do differs in its openness; this means that they are more subject to criticism and attack, but also that their work is more accessible to a wider audience – and there is evidence that the audience is wide.

62 thoughts on “Attacks on connectivism

  1. Carmen Tschofen February 25, 2011 / 4:19 pm

    Hi Jenny,

    Thanks for this articulate statement. Here’s where I admit that I breezed over these “attacks on connectivism” with perhaps less seriousness and more eye rolling than they warrant(ed). But an argument that invalidates work on connective theory because the holder does not have a degree or is not using a specific forum is like refereeing soccer using the rules of baseball—and it’s not only invalid due to its ad hominum nature but also because it falls under a number of other logical fallacies (which, ironically or providentially, Stephen Downes has laid out so nicely: http://onegoodmove.org/fallacy/toc.htm). Other critiques, like the discussion around ANT, are interesting and serious and bring out things to keep thinking about, but I see no essential invalidation of connectivism in these angles, only further complexification:-).

    While I agree that connectivism as a theory or concept or idea is essentially and accurately descriptive, the rub seems to come in my recurring observations that without articulating the conditions under which connective learning occurs — which could be interpreted as prescriptive– there are many, many ways in which networked learning processes can be intentionally or unintentionally stymied by traditional systems and processes.

    I’d add one more article to your list of serious contemplations about networked learning, if not connectivism specifically: Bouchard, Paul (2011).
    Network Promises and Their Implications
    http://rusc.uoc.edu/ojs/index.php/rusc/article/view/v8n1-bouchard/v8n1-bouchard-eng.

  2. Geoff Cain February 25, 2011 / 5:42 pm

    Hey welcome to the cutting edge! As Einstein said “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” I think the fact that connectivism is gaining traction in the very medium in analyzes and the established authorities have yet to put their imprimatur on it is a says more than anything else about its status as a theory.

    What has me excited about this since CCK08 is figuring out what kinds of research and experiments will test this theory.

    You want people to argue, wrestle, dispute, and write about this theory and let the Phds catch up later. There will be a TED talk by a Phd five years from now who will “discover” it. Hopefully it will be someone we know 🙂

  3. Lisa M Lane February 25, 2011 / 6:10 pm

    The venue that Lange is criticizing as being inappropriate for presenting the connectivist idea is the same one that gave her a voice through Wikipedia.

  4. Heli Nurmi February 27, 2011 / 8:30 am

    Fine that you gathered these links in one post so they can be found later,

    My main question, at this moment, is how to continue in Wikipedia? Who has the power to say how connectivism- pages should be changed or not. The critic is needed and there should be a place to discussion. If it is not allowed in CCk courses it must find other environments. So what happens next in Wikipedia? All people in the world cannot write same page.

    My attitude to CCK developmental work is positive: it is not a bad interest to try to build up a theory of learning. I am happy that somebody tries. If the critic handles with GS and SD personalities – it cannot be avoided if they seem to be the only ones who know connectivism. They behave like traditional teachers. If they were open in their courses, we could see more developers and discussion inside their courses. They do not teach as they preach, always.

    Very interesting to see and participate in these discussions. Normal university way would be different but sometimes I miss it because some rough mistakes could be avoided through critical deep judgment…

  5. Ken Anderson February 27, 2011 / 11:17 pm

    @Heli

    I sense also an aspect of not practicing what is preached. And agree that a critical discussion is not only desired, but necessary.

    @Jenny

    I wonder about the dichotomy between open/closed. Closed means a fee is involved to read articles, is that it? I wonder if the articles in the ‘closed’ system are of good value too? Possibly someday people will not be willing to pay the closed fees any longer, if more articles move to an open format, but open or closed, there still should be debate, criticism, attack, IMHO. Why stifle debate?

    >What is it about connectivism that stirs up such strong emotion?

    Maybe you are right. Maybe the openness of the debate allows for the emotions to run freer. Maybe the claims of connectivism resonate poorly with some. Maybe the ideology is irksome. Maybe cooler heads are required, on both sides of the debate, and a better investigation into the claims and their warrants is beneficial. A Toulminian approach, perhaps:
    1. What is the claim in connectivism
    2. What is the evidence (data) to support the claim
    3. What warrants are used to move from data to claim
    etc.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Toulmin

    So, can anyone answer question #1 for me?

  6. Frances Bell February 28, 2011 / 4:58 am

    I found it very regrettable that Lange and Fitzpatrick made their comments so personal, as they both had some very interesting things to say. It is sometimes necessary to distinguish between what Downes and Siemens write, eg on Networks and Groups where their views are different, but this doesn’t need to be personal attacks. Indeed I find the concept of an attack on Connectivism to be problematic: if it is a theory it can be subject to better or worse critiques. Also in this thread on CCK11 http://cck11.mooc.ca/cgi-bin/page.cgi?post=54793 Downes clarified his view of a personal attack as “It’s an easy call. Look at the subject of the sentence. In the sentence above, the subject is ‘the owners of the theory’. If the subject is a person involved in the debate, then the sentence is discussing the person, and not the issue in question. Such sentences should be avoided.” This would make my previous sentence a personal attack, and also makes it very difficult to explore the issue of groups and networks within the theory of connectivism.
    In a paper soon to be published in IRRODL, I claim that connectivism is a phenomenon rather than a theory.

  7. Stephen Downes February 28, 2011 / 11:28 am

    @ Heli…

    > The critic is needed and there should be a place to discussion. If it is not allowed in CCk courses it must find other environments.

    Excuse me, what? Since when have we prohibited criticism in the courses? Neither George nor I has ever banned criticism of connectivism in the courses.

  8. Stephen Downes February 28, 2011 / 11:41 am

    More @ Heli

    >They behave like traditional teachers. If they were open in their courses, we could see more developers and discussion inside their courses. They do not teach as they preach, always.

    Again – the course does not take place only inside the gRSShopper environment, but takes place across a large number of sites, including this blog. This post here is a part of the course.

    It’s hard to understand how one could be more open than that. Anybody in the world can take part, may use any space they want, may post absolutely anything they want in their own space, and receive significant distribution via OPML, RSS and the newsletter to other participants. What part of the course is not open? I really want to know.

    As for behaving like traditional teachers – connectivism isn’t constructivism. We’re not going to run students through a series of scaffolded activities where they (putatively) ‘construct’ their own knowledge. We have created an environment. There is no ‘correct’ way for ‘teachers’ to behave in that environment. If this were a physics course, you would have to accuse us of ‘behaving like traditional physicists’. Because that’s how it works.

    In any case, my activities as a ‘traditional’ teacher int he course have included:
    – writing software to demonstrate the principle
    – aggregating and distributing content via OPML and RSS
    – creating a Daily newsletter
    – reading and commenting on blogs, both externally and also within the gRSShopper environment
    – taking part in 24 online seminars with a variety of guest speakers
    – setting up a live audio feed and archives of these sessions

    Somehow this is traditional? Because maybe one part of what I did – the two-part talk last week, maybe – was traditional?

    If you reduce my activity of ‘teaching’ to one small activity, and then say that I do not ‘teach as I preach’, then find, I’m guilty. But I would say it is far more important to look at the totality of my *activities*, and not just what I *say*, in order to understand how I ‘teach’.

  9. daja57 February 28, 2011 / 1:59 pm

    >>How is technology changing the way we think and learn?

    Surely we should ask “Is technology changing the way we think and learn?” first of all? Otherwise we might be in danger of pre supposing something that might not be true.

    >>How is technology changing the way we teach?

    Surely we should ask “Should technology change the way we teach and learn?”

    PS: I am happy that connectivism is one way of modelling the learning process. Where I get twitchy is that sometimes it seems to be marketed as a panacea.

  10. Rose March 1, 2011 / 1:34 pm

    Great contribution to the debate Jenny and good to have all these links and comments in one place. Personal jibes are misplaced and as Frances says above weaken potentially valid arguments. Whatever theory or ‘phenomenon’ eventually emerges, the important thing is not to try and pin it down or dismiss it at such an early stage. Let’s keep talking in as open and honest a way as possible.

  11. Neville Barnard March 2, 2011 / 5:34 am

    One of the tactics in debating when confronted with an argument that is proving difficult to refute is to attack the speaker’s credentials. It is usually a sign that the attacker can’t effectively counter the substance of the argument. Switch on an evening news or political broadcast and you will soon see examples. Is this another demonstration of this?
    Connectivism is only challenging as a learning theory. At the much less grandiose level of a simple “mind set” it has much to offer educators and students. It may or not eventually gain mainstream acceptance as a valid learning theory – but to some extent this is merely an issue of nomenclature. As a concept to explore and guide educators it is hard to argue against.

  12. Ken Anderson March 2, 2011 / 1:32 pm

    @Neville

    Well said. As a mind-set (or paradigm) connectivism can help guide pedagogy. I’m guessing that connectivism then can be thought of as the mind-set of embracing technology in learning, embracing technologies’ various affordances of distributed contribution spaces and co-creation spaces, including blogs, wikis, LMS’s and the like. Connectivism might then be thought of as a word used to describe an educational turn towards embracing web 2.0 tools.

  13. Lisa M Lane March 2, 2011 / 3:33 pm

    @Ken, I see the tools as secondary to the idea of the learning taking place within the connections among students through the topic. That’s still a mind-set; I just tend to consider the techniques as the result of that mind-set rather than its cause.

  14. Scott Johnson March 3, 2011 / 6:16 am

    This is a great post, and discussion. There seems to be some confusion as to what constitutes a critical comment on connectivism from a personal attack on the theory’s creators. I would propose that in the future, some other way to be found to distance the discussion besides telling tuition paying students they are welcome to choose to leave.

    On the subject of theories in general it’s my understanding that they function not as idle musings but as real propositions on how the world works. Part of a theory’s claim to attention is the willingness of its originators to risk reputation and a certain amount of peace on the theory’s propositions. This serious wager on an idea can be costly to careers and wearing on the proponents. Standing for an idea and being willing to endure sometimes rough handling of a closely held belief deserves our respect and a willingness on our part to go beyond off-handed remarks.

    This is a class on a theory. The reviewers here are not necessarily “qualified” beyond an interest as students to know more about the theory. The process of discovery might at times seem impolite (on both “sides”) or undirected. And awkward. But as an experiment in open debate it seems to be working: people are trying to understand without adversarial intent or recourse to devaluing the idea base from which connectivism arises.

    On the theme of this being a class rather than a boxing match I’d like to try inserting connectivism into an example of the way I gather information. A test of use might clear some of the distancing that studying a subject seems to place between the student and the object under investigation.

    Scott

  15. Ken Anderson March 3, 2011 / 4:05 pm

    Hi Lisa, thanks a good way of looking at it. I think you are saying that the desire to connect has resulted in tools that help facilitate those connections.

    I still tend to think of Connectivism (the theory) as a form of behaviourism (operant conditioning) for the digital connective era. Connectivism values the mesh network over all others. This valuation resulted in the move in CCK11 from the provision of a central gathering space (Moodle) to a watered-down version (Grasshopper) wherein a classroom-control technique like Scott suggests drives people to meet in other spaces. Connectivism tries to assert that it describes a natural distributed learning but in effect it provokes this distribution by limiting central gathering; it therefore creates its own phenomenon for description, but the phenomenon is fleeting.

    Once out of the classroom control, people still seem to gather for a time in cental places like this one, or the FB group etc. Like operant conditioning, Connectivism (as a praxis of its mesh-valuing theory) has a limited effect over time.

    However, as noted here, attempts are still made in the new gathering places to exercise Connectivist influence (see the comments):

    http://helistudies.edublogs.org/2011/02/27/understanding-networking/

  16. ailsa March 8, 2011 / 1:16 pm

    @Ken and @Lisa ; being such a devotee of ANT I cant accept the tools as just tools argument. They have an effect, they are not neutral, they create particular possibilities more and less.

    but I’ll blog about it at my home site, amusingspace.blogspot.com
    🙂

  17. Lisa M Lane March 8, 2011 / 4:20 pm

    @Ken I don’t know whether I’d put the desire to connect as the guiding force (that can lead to other things too), but I do see connectivism as a learning theory in the same sense as instructivism or constructivism, rather than as a set of tools. Certainly the use of tools, the choice of tools, can limit what I guess can be called the “connectivist effect”. A central control, a “course”, does prevent the naturalness of a community forming. The argument could be made, of course, that even having a guiding topic would do that too, regardless of tools. If people come together in a specific location for an anti-war protest, for example, it would be pretty strange for someone to get up on the stage and start arguing for doctor-assisted suicide.

    @ailsa I wasn’t arguing that the tools are just tools (although I don’t believe they have will or intent, a discussion for another time). Rather I was saying that connectivism itself seems to be more of a method than a set of tools.

  18. Ken Anderson March 8, 2011 / 9:40 pm

    @Lisa You raise an interesting point. It seems that Connectivism might be characterized as a specific type of pedagogy then? A method through which to address a topic?

  19. Lisa M Lane March 8, 2011 / 9:57 pm

    @Ken Well, obviously there are people who think of it as an educational theory, which is fine and it is if you’re convinced by the arguments, but yes, I do tend to see it as a method. Whichever tools are used, it seems to be, among other things, a method for dealing with quantities of information through connections (or nodes) and learning through (or within) those connections. I’m afraid I have always thought those nodes are people or the works of people, not non-human mechanisms or the tools themselves or even the connections, which may be what leans me toward connectivism as a pedagogical method.

  20. Heli Nurmi March 12, 2011 / 11:45 am

    To everyone here

    I noticed that people are still linking here and reading this thread, so I feel that I must explain what I meant.

    I am not CKK11 participant, I have got enough and told in my blog earlier that I continue in my own networks.
    I was still interested so much that I listened to 16.2.+18.2. Downes 1+2 Elluminate sessions, and I wrote my comment after that experience. Those sessions helped me to understand (or interpret, as u like) that SD is working on a huge theory (or whatever, as u like) and he is going to do it alone. My comment described that participants were not co-builders in ..ism “theory”. SD lectured and showed his PowerPoint slides.

    I know how the course works, I need no teaching to it. I told that I appreciate openness (recordings, materials etc)

    I should have explained better, but this comments-world is quick and short and I could not guess what war will arise.

    Sorry, Jenny, you are friendly and I suppose you don’t want to become famous in a context like this. Neither do I. I am not anybody’s enemy.

    Just reading Nicholas Carr The Shallows and open my eyes to see the negative influences of living only via web…

  21. Scott Johnson March 12, 2011 / 3:48 pm

    I wonder if a theory becomes valid when people finally realize there isn’t any point in discussing it any more?

  22. Frances Bell March 12, 2011 / 4:02 pm

    @Heli I cannot imagine who would find you to be an enemy. I think you have made a real contribution, and as I have already said I find the juxtaposition of ‘attack’ and ‘connectivism’ to be problematic. Connectivism is a new ‘theory’ and needs to be knocked about, questioned, argued and explored. Dough that is not kneaded or knocked back will not rise to be lovely airy bread but rather flat tough and inedible. Your point about participants is so salient – they are what can help connectivism to rise – else it will fall;)

  23. ailsa March 12, 2011 / 11:02 pm

    @ Scott, i think you might have something there, acceptance evidenced by what Latour would call blackboxing.

  24. deadvocate March 13, 2011 / 3:03 pm

    I think it is probably very important to define what validity might mean. And I wonder if the debate on a theory ever really ends, if it did, would that foreclose the possibility of new theories to explain? The blackbox of the human mind seems to be the kind of thing that Connectivism wants to uncover.

  25. gbl55 March 29, 2011 / 9:57 pm

    Thanks for your comment Jenny which I’ve only now chanced upon! It’s difficult to keep track of new comments popping up on so many blogs!

    Gordon Lockhart

  26. VanessaVaile May 7, 2012 / 8:10 pm

    How can anyone not feel compelled to comment? I do but want to re-read post and discussion, follow links, digest and ponder. Instinctively, I want to come down for connectivating (whether tool, strategy, theory or other) as long as no wants to make it a state religion or apply to all teaching/ learning situations.

    And the discussion, with links, reactions, comments on comments, the act of disagreeing and defending, etc, that makes connections too, does it not?

  27. jennymackness May 12, 2012 / 5:23 pm

    Hi Vanessa – thanks for your comment. This discussion was over a year ago – but yes – the questions are still being discussed.

    I agree with you that I don’t think an evangelical approach is going to be very helpful – but Stephen Downes, George Siemens and Dave Cormier can’t help but be pleased at how Moocs have taken off, depsite all these attacks. Of course some of the current Moocs (the Stanford type) seem to be a bit of a far cry from their original intentions – but at least its all, in one form or another, challenging some traditional ways of thinking – which I think is very healthy, even if not much changes.

    I also agree that ‘the act of disagreeing and defending’ makes connections – or should – although Wolfgang Greller’s post – http://www.greller.eu/wordpress/?p=2823 about avoidance of controversy in online networks suggests that not many are prepared to disagree.

    Interesting times!

    Jenny

  28. Ken Anderson May 16, 2012 / 3:37 pm

    I tend to disagree with some of the above comments. (lol)

    For example, is there a difference between the connections formed by agreeing, and those formed by disagreeing? Is the word *connection* overused in this context? Would the word *dialogue* be more helpful?

    What is *connection*? How is it being used in this discussion? Is it a substitute term for *social intercourse*, or does it have some other connotation, perhaps as used in network theory, to illustrate a form of dependency?

  29. jennymackness May 16, 2012 / 6:25 pm

    Hi Ken – you tend to disagree …. what a surprise 😉

    Thinking off the top of my head here – and a bit in haste 🙂 – I think it’s not so much that there is a difference between the connections formed by agreeing or disagree, but that there is a difference in what might be learned if people avoid the disagreeing connections.

    Disagreeing is (in my view) much more difficult online than it is f2f, because you just don’t know how your comment is going to be interpreted. I was very interested in Wolfgang Greller’s post, because I think ‘group think’ is so easy to get into in online environments.

    I’ll have to think a bit more about your ‘What is a connection?’ question.

    Great questions! Thanks 🙂

  30. Ken Anderson May 16, 2012 / 8:50 pm

    Thanks Jenny. Yes, maybe something is lost in dismissing too easily the dissenting opinions/disagreeable connections (DCs). Occasionally I’ve wondered if some have been too hasty to apply the perjorative name *troll* to a DC when maybe it really doesn’t apply. This latter action brings to mind the adage that ‘the best defense is a good offence’. On the other hand, perhaps there are certain conventions of online discussion that demand a level of politeness, similar to the ones in (some) f2f social discourse.

  31. lisahistory May 16, 2012 / 11:13 pm

    Perhaps it is more about engagement – the more agreeable the engagement, the more likely people are to continue. Some people find it agreeable to disagree with each other, and they will stay engaged. Much troll activity causes immediate, impulsive engagement, then disgust, then disengagement. The “connection” is thus avoided.

  32. jennymackness May 17, 2012 / 7:42 am

    That makes perfect sense to me Lisa, which is interesting because it brings an ‘affective’ slant to connections? i.e. its how we feel about them as to whether we keep the connections. But it still doesn’t get over the fact that there might be too much ‘group think’ in open online environments. I think it is possible to disagree, but you have to be ‘accepted’ as a trusted person in the netework/community first and thank can take quite a while to establish.

  33. Ken Anderson May 17, 2012 / 11:19 am

    ah, yes, *affectivism*.

    And I suppose that while some might be disgusted with trolls, some others might be disgusted with sycophantic behaviour. I wonder how much agreement there is on what constitutes a troll? Would a sensitive person be quicker to apply that label to behaviour they don’t like than a more tolerant person?

    Should tolerance be a consideration in online discussions? Is openness inclusive of tolerance? Or is openness a misnomer? Does pre-acceptance as a *trusted person* affect the openness of an online environment?

  34. Lisa M Lane May 17, 2012 / 4:20 pm

    It doesn’t affect the openness of the environment, but it does affect how people feel about participating and whether they want to continue. Each person’s interpretation of “trust” may be different, but that’s an interesting point in that I think most students would have an automatic (possibly sycophantic, but not always) trust in the instructor, making teacher-led conversation easier.

    I have often been annoyed that there is this deeply affective component to participation in, satisfaction with, and completion of classes on the part of students. Independent thinkers (and feelers?) don’t need the touchy-feely I-care-about-your-progress approach, but so many do, and I think more now than even ten years ago.

    And yes, there will always be possibilities for groupthink (an element of superficial thought in general) in an online environment, just as there is in person. Ever been in a meeting of perfectly intelligent individuals who make crappy decisions? 😉

  35. Ken Anderson May 17, 2012 / 5:04 pm

    I think I have to disagree (if that’s ok – lol).

    I think that an open environment encompasses the feelings that people have about participating and continuing etc. For example, if one felt that one must act more toady-like than troll-like in an environment, might that not discourage non-toadies from participation? Would that not mean that the environment is less open to non-toadies? As in less inviting, less welcome, less hospitable?

    >Ever been in a meeting of perfectly intelligent individuals who make crappy decisions?

    No. I don’t get invited to meetings…. :.)

    But seriously, where is the line between groupthink and sycophantism?

    When you talk about *most students* automatically trusting the instructor, what group do you mean? Adult learners? Post-secondary youth? K-12? All of the above? My experience has been different, in that the learners I’ve been mixed in with more recently (in the last few years) have been critical of their instruction.

  36. Scott Johnson May 17, 2012 / 6:44 pm

    Wish there was a working description of what we all mean by the “educational experience” we all seem to share (or have shared) that feeds this debate. I experienced a fairly raw version of authority with many faces–none reflecting my own. Nothing about school was truly about me; nor was I surprised by this, (now or then).

    Trying to think of education as part of our own process of development may be one source of the friction that continues to feed the connectivist conflicts? We are told over and over again how we share some vital point of contact that, this time, instead of sameizing us, individualizes us.

    But what the hell, intended or not, my experience in the various MOOCs has given me the sense of freedom to ask until the answer satisfies and if the new boss is the same as the old boss–well gosh, who would have figured that could happen?

    As for meetings and Mr Troll, bless the person with nothing to offer!

  37. Ken Anderson May 18, 2012 / 12:40 am

    Welcome, non-toady Scott!

    I do wish that I had something to offer, but, alas, my tank is empty. As far as the *educational experience* that feeds my (current) non-authority, I suspect that it is somewhat biased, in that, as I re-read my dusty blog of years gone past, I note that I have favoured the troll, to wit, writing a short tribute to said troll.

    But be that as it may, Jenny’s point is that: “But it still doesn’t get over the fact that there might be too much ‘group think’ in open online environments”. I wonder if she could elaborate on that finding?

    And I wonder if group-think in ooe’s is such a bad thing? Is it desirable to have a place for those who like to group-think/follow the leader?

  38. jennymackness May 18, 2012 / 6:45 pm

    By group think I mean uncritical thinking. I first started to think about this in 2004 when I attended the Networked Learning Conference and heard this paper presented – http://www.networkedlearningconference.org.uk/past/nlc2004/proceedings/individual_papers/mcalister_et_al.htm

    I don’t think group think is necessarily a bad thing so long as the group itself engages in critical thinking and is open to alternative perspectives within the group.

    Does this answer your question Ken?

  39. scottx5 May 19, 2012 / 3:55 am

    Thanks for the clarification Jenny. Uncritical thinking often expresses itself within a group in the urge to agree over something for social reasons rather than as solidarity or sustainability. “Harmony” valued over discovery of difference between participants might better describe group think. Selection in evolution goes pretty far towards expressing and reinforcing variety while appearing to be same-thinking.

    Thanks for the welcome Ken! People might agree to get closer to something they value. Maybe access to some wisdom they seek requires agreeing to a principal that might otherwise put them off?

    This week’s reading tip: “Causality and Modern Science” Mario Bunge 3rd ed 1979. Change and randomness are necessary to evolution functioning on a stable basis. I would never have thought that without reading Mr B. Do Trolls bungee jump? Argentinian philosophers apparently do.

    Scott

  40. Ken Anderson May 19, 2012 / 1:23 pm

    >Maybe access to some wisdom they seek requires agreeing to a principal that might otherwise put them off?

    Yessss, likely we all compromise ourselves at times for a bigger good….I like how you expressed group think in terms of harmony seeking. I don’t think that (harmonious) consensus has to be the only goal of a group. Agreeing to disagree is a valid outcome. The Supreme Court (Canada) does not always reach a unanimous decision, for example. I think I favour a more laissez-faire approach to group action rather than imposing restrictions like harmony, consensus, critical thinking etc. See what emerges…

    That’s an interesting article Jenny. It seems to promote threaded discussion posts (in its interface called Academic Talk) over simple incoherent Chat as a way to further deep discussion. The article reminded me of the argument in favour of Moodle forums over blog usage in the connectivist courses.

  41. scottx5 May 20, 2012 / 3:29 am

    Hi Ken,
    Agree, “harmony” is the wrong term here and I shouldn’t have used it. As social animals the term potentially reduces all projects to the pursuit of agreement or balance which could be accomplished as well by doing nothing.

    Maybe the fault with group-think is an insistence on balance or things that appear symmetrical flattening everything out?

  42. jennymackness May 20, 2012 / 8:51 am

    Fo me group-think is to be avoided if it means not being sufficiently open to alternative perspectives – such that the learning of the group – or individuals within the groups is constrained or curtailed.

    When I wrote above
    >I don’t think group think is necessarily a bad thing so long as the group itself engages in critical thinking and is open to alternative perspectives within the group.

    it should have said

    I don’t think group WORK is necessarily a bad thing so long as the group itself engages in critical thinking and is open to alternative perspectives within the group.

  43. Ken Anderson May 20, 2012 / 11:47 am

    I’m leaning towards thinking that there are (at least) three outcomes of group WORK:

    1. consensus,
    2. discord,
    3. and maybe something called ‘majority rule’

    Group-think might factor into all three of these outcomes, and I wonder how we define it? Is it the process of allowing someone else’s thoughts to replace one’s own thinking? Is it a lack of *critical thinking* and/or critical discussion? It might be interesting to tease out a definition of the concept of group-think a bit more.

  44. VanessaVaile May 20, 2012 / 4:43 pm

    Why does it have to be all one way or the other – whether always or just intermittently? Can’t it be permeable and shifting? Is this thread really going anywhere or has it turned into one of those interminable meeting situations when everyone is silently praying. “please table this”?

    So table it already, everybody with a dog in the fight can write a post and share the link

  45. Ken Anderson May 20, 2012 / 10:31 pm

    Re: to table or not to table – maybe you are right, and maybe you are wrong. or somewhere in between. Is that what you mean by permeable and shifting?

  46. VanessaVaile May 21, 2012 / 12:05 am

    already tabled, autonomously

  47. Ken Anderson May 21, 2012 / 10:51 pm

    You don’t sound happy, but maybe I am misreading…. Anyway, goodbye and thanks for getting this thread going again

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s