Connectivism and ‘Ah-Ha’ moments

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.

47 thoughts on “Connectivism and ‘Ah-Ha’ moments

  1. Jeffrey Keefer November 7, 2011 / 11:30 am

    @Jenny-
    Interesting way of thinking about this, and two thoughts:
    1. Firstly, I am studying the liminal space that often precedes these aha moments as my doctoral thesis research http://silenceandvoice.com/doctoral-thesis/ (and this is a thread through much of my work).
    2. Let me also answer your question with another question. Why did you assume that, even working from a constructivist or social constructivist or social constructionist perspective, you saw yourself “as responsible for their understandings”? It seems that only critical theory with its focus on a goal of equalizing power relationships may be the only paradigm that may have a claim in this area, especially as different people bring different experiences with them from the past (something you noted)?
    Jeffrey

  2. plerudulier November 7, 2011 / 7:12 pm

    And now, thanks to you, working as a connector, having deconstructed then constructed back, I believe i too have understood the difference between the two terms ^_^.
    Pascal

  3. jennymackness November 7, 2011 / 8:44 pm

    Hi Jeffrey

    Yes – I remembered what your PhD dissertation was about but couldn’t find the link – so thanks for posting it.

    I’m not sure that I’ve fully understood your second point. I did think twice before writing – but a belief in a connectivist approach means that I cannot see myself as responsible for their understandings.

    I should explain that I don’t think this equates to controlling what students learn. I have never thought I could do that – but I do think that teachers/facilitators/ convenors (whatever you like to call them) have responsibilities.

    When I was teaching science I thought that one of those responsibilities was to plan activities that would challenge students’ misconceptions in such a way that they would individually and personally recognise their misconception. I did not think I could control their thinking or even know exactly what it was. I could only intepret it from the evidence of their behaviour and work (talking, writing etc.) and on the basis of my own experience of many years of teaching.

    I think that if I was still teaching science now, I would still feel responsible for ensuring that the activities we engaged in would have the potential to challenge students’ misconceptions, but I would no longer believe that the ‘Ah Ha’ moment was so significant. I would see it as part of all the connections that influence the student’s understanding – and what is more, I wouldn’t think I could possibly know or understand what they are.

    Does that make sense or help to answer your question?

    Jenny

  4. jennymackness November 7, 2011 / 8:53 pm

    Hi Pascal – thanks for your comment. I also think that, thanks to Matthias’ diagram and the discussions I have had with him, I have been through a process of deconstruction and reconstruction, but I recognise that this has not been an instantaneous process but a culmination of the influence of all my connections probably over many years. I also don’t think my current understanding is fixed. I do think ‘unlearning’ can be necessary for some contexts and situations and I haven’t yet worked out how ‘unlearning’ relates to connectivism. So I’m still thinking 🙂

    Thanks for your visit.

    Jenny

  5. Jeffrey Keefer November 8, 2011 / 12:44 am

    @Jenny-
    Yes, and will return to my transcription as soon as I finish replying to comments (regarding my doctoral thesis; thank you!!).
    For my second point, what I mean is that we are never responsible for other people’s understandings (unless we are in a cult, which for the sake of this post I will assume we are not!). We can show and give example and push boundaries and meet various needs, but our learners (or one another) could never know things in exactly the same way we do; we cannot be responsible for ever controlling the thinking or meaning making in others, regardless of the teaching or learning frame we use.
    Jeffrey

  6. jennymackness November 8, 2011 / 7:47 am

    @Jeffrey – but would you deny that teachers have responsibilities?

  7. Jeffrey Keefer November 9, 2011 / 12:21 pm

    @Jenny-
    Ahh, clarifying exactly what teachers are responsible for–now that is the million dollar (or pound) question. I suppose it depends on the context (student age, content area, and expected approach due to the organizational structures). Not sure how much more than that we can really universalize . . .
    Jeffrey

  8. Keith Hamon November 12, 2011 / 2:40 pm

    Jenny, I love this post. I think you capture some of the essence of connectivism (and, I will add, the rhizome) when you write that thinking about learning 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. … 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.

    You’ve put your finger on the pulse of Connectivism: each of us is a nexus of myriad connections, and we bring all those connections to each class lesson. No teacher can be aware of and manage all those connections; rather, they can only be sensitive to those connections and work with them as they emerge in the classroom. This, of course, means becoming student-centered, which is a teaching technique not exclusive to Connectivism, but don’t you think that Connectivism provides us with a new way of understanding why student-centered teaching makes better sense? It does for me, and it’s why I have been so enthusiastic about the conversation surrounding Connectivism.

    Thanks again.

  9. jennymackness November 13, 2011 / 6:29 pm

    Keith – thank you. This particular ‘Ah Ha’ moment of mine has required some ‘unlearning’ – actually quite bit of ‘unlearning’. I think I have always thought myself to be ‘student-centred’ – but it’s how you intrepret this that’s important.

    I listened to Dave Cormier’s discussion with Jeff Lebow – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=psLE4VfHfyE&mid=5274 – today and the discussion towards the end which was joined by John Mak – about facts and truth – brought home even more strongly that even believing myself to be ‘student-centred’ may not be true or a fact.

    So 40 years ago (yes I have been teaching that long!) I thought of student-centred in one way – 20 years ago in another, 10 years ago in another and today in yet another. And of course, the way in which I think of it will differ from each and every one of my colleagues.

    The Ah -Ha moment was in part this realisation and for me is I think related to my increasing involvement with connectivism. So I am also enthusiastic about the conversation surrounding connectivism.

  10. Jeffrey Keefer November 14, 2011 / 11:28 am

    @Keith (and @Jenny)
    You raised an issue I have been puzzling on; namely if you as a teacher take this connectivist approach as you outlined here, it seems that this is just one of a myriad of other connections; what particular value is brought here if there is an entire network that contributes to the learner’s thinking? Yes, I know I am pushing this issue a bit, but I wonder if the teacher / tutor / facilitator is just one of many, why change or improve teaching at all, if all these other connections are alive and well helping a (presumably self-directed) learner to learn?
    Jeffrey

  11. Keith Hamon November 14, 2011 / 3:06 pm

    Jeffrey, with some trepidation about highjacking Jenny’s conversation, I’ll make a brief reply to your question.

    I am convinced that teachers are but one connection among the many that students must manage in any given class, and sometimes not the most important. Note that our MOOC teachers—Cormier, Downes, and Siemens—are not in the lesson being held currently here on Jenny’s blog. And though we are all advanced students here, the principle is the same for any class with any participants.

    From a network/rhizome/Connectivist point of view, any participant in a class—teacher, student, visitor, etc—brings value to a class because value-add always generates value-takeaway. Yes, the teacher will likely bring more overall value, and thus should work hard, perhaps harder than anyone, to enhance their value-add, but the entire class becomes a richer ecosystem for all, including the teacher, when everyone contributes value. The serious drawback of traditional education is its outrageously limited source of value: one teacher, one textbook, one lesson plan. This approach squanders the resources of the class as a network/rhizome, and it turns the teacher into a tyrant, even if benign, loving, and well-intentioned, and turns the students into passive receptacles.

    Consider this MOOC we are in, and think how much poorer it would be if only Cormier, Downes, and Siemens could add value to the discussion. Think how much those fellows would miss if we students weren’t encouraged to add our value to the mix.

  12. jennymackness November 14, 2011 / 7:39 pm

    Jeffrey – thanks for raising the question – and Keith – that’s a great response – far more articulate than I could have achieved – so you are very welcome to ‘highjack’ the conversation on my blog – any time 🙂

    The role of the teacher has been something I have thought about a lot in relation to connectivism. Stephen says that teaching is modelling and demonstrating (i.e. it is not imparting information). This makes perfect sense to me. Keith points out that we are all teachers and can all learn from each other. True – but is this limited to adult learning environments. Whilst I can see that one 5 year old can teach another 5 year old, or even an adult, I cannot imagine a class of 5 year olds without a ‘teacher’.

    I am beginning to wander here – but I wouldn’t deny that we can all learn from and teach each other – Erik Duval’s talk today illustrated that very well. But I don’t think teaching as a profession is going to go away – and as a professional – like any other – a teacher has responsibilities. What connectivism does, I think, is to raise questions about what these responsibilities might be.

    Thanks to you both,
    Jenny

  13. Jeffrey Keefer November 15, 2011 / 11:41 am

    @Keith-
    I agree with everything you mentioned, though I do think it valuable to add that this MOOC includes individually-established goals (or not) with participants who are highly self-directed. These are two criteria that would not make much formal education, at least below the doctoral level, very workable. Including freedom to learn and an openness to its happening is valuable, though in practice this can be logistically more challenging than possible in most situations without systems change (unlikely in a period of belt-tightening and increased student / teacher ratios).
    From this frame, an ideal to shoot for, thought certainly not new.
    I wonder where this now leaves us?
    Jeffrey

  14. Jeffrey Keefer November 15, 2011 / 11:43 am

    @Jenny-
    Quite nicely stated as we transition to our new MOOC topic, “But I don’t think teaching as a profession is going to go away – and as a professional – like any other – a teacher has responsibilities. What connectivism does, I think, is to raise questions about what these responsibilities might be.”
    Now that would be a great topic for further MOOC activity (and for a great research stream, perhaps?)!
    Jeffrey

  15. Keith Hamon November 20, 2011 / 1:58 am

    @Jenny- I’m not sure that I agree with you and Jeffrey that self-directed education is primarily for the adult learner. I think that children can do it as well, possibly better than we can. Consider Sugata Mitra’s experiments in India. Let’s see where it goes.

  16. JohnBrian November 24, 2011 / 4:20 pm

    In 1986 I built an ontology that connected cognition/meta-cognition, pre-ah-ha moments-as-states, ah-ha, action, flo and “being-ness.” The work is based original on my studies under Karl H. Pribram and influenced at the time by his collaboration with David Bohm… It is a Self and social systems evolutionary-ontology. You might enjoy a look. I believe I had developed some of the first “characters’ for ah-ha (as well as “AskYouSelf” – for cognition) which I then used in classrooms to observe and enhance children’s ability to recognize the event of personal insight, and then, and more importantly, to recognize the relationship of a certain domain and quality of personal insights as reflective and indicative of their unique gifts and natural dispositions… as a foundation of organic Self. http://letoonz.wordpress.com and http://imonad.wordpress.com and for fun: https://www.facebook.com/?ref=tn_tnmn#!/LeToonz

  17. jennymackness November 25, 2011 / 3:00 pm

    @JohnBrian – many thanks for the links and information which I look forward to exploring further.
    Jenny

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