(This post is about the Massively Multiuser Online Course called Connectivism and Connective Knowledge being taught by George Siemens and Stephen Downes from September to December 2008. Over 1900 participants have signed up, and I am facilitating the Second Life cohort for the course. Over the following months, I will be posting about the experience, home work assignments, and other materials related to our activities.)
Because I was so busy with SLEDcc 2008 and SLCC 2008, I have already gotten behind in the Connectivism course! I’m trying to play catch up now, and so far I’ve done some Connecting but not much Learning.
1. The Second Life Cohort of the Connectivism course held their first meeting yesterday, where I discovered I’m not the only one who is feeling behind and a bit overwhelmed and confused. Transcript here.
2. I added myself to the Googlemap for the course.. wow, people from all over the world! Sadly absent is much participation in Africa, I find that depressing.
4. I registered and added my profile to the CCK08 Moodle site, and scanned some of the introductory posts. I don’t feel like adding to the din in there though, I think I’ll just stick to my blog for now unless there’s a compelling reason or requirement to participate in the Moodle? (I’ve become anti-course-management-system these days.)
Pre-Week 1 Homework: Introduction
I’m currently located in Cincinnati, Ohio, where I work at the University of Cincinnati in the UCit Instructional & Research Computing department, focusing on teaching and learning about emerging technologies, social networks, and virtual worlds (particularly Second Life). I’m interested in the Connectivism course for several reasons – I want to see a MMOC in action, learn where a mass participation learning experience works and where it fails, and because I am intrigued by the concept of knowledge existing in external networks. I don’t feel I have a very good grounding in many of the other learning theories that came before, and I don’t know where the boundaries of Connectivism exist, but I want to know more.
The course will be a success for me if I a) connect on a deeper level with the members of the Second Life cohort of the course, b) gain a better understanding of the connectivist theory of learning and understand clearly how it is different than behavioralist/constructivist theories, and c) learn to navigate the complex network of websites, blogs, discussions, videos, and other web and virtual world artifacts I see forming in this course without feeling lost or overwhelmed. I hope by the end that I adjust without feeling left behind.
Random information about me: I logged onto my first online social network in 1994 fresh out of high school, and though I quickly moved from ISCABBS to many different BBS systems, I’ve been participating in and moderating online communities for all of my adult life. I believe the online communities, forums, and social networks I have participated in has made up the bulk of my “real” education – my university experience, even in the best of classes, simply doesn’t compare with all of the learning, sharing, and knowledge acquisition that happened for me on the net. It has been a transformative experience, one I want to share and extend to others.
In other words, I’m curious to see if I may be part of the first generation who could be learning in a connectivist way. It certainly seems – at first blush – to resonate with my experience more than other learning theories have. I guess we’ll see!
Left, right, center, confused, mainstream media, international – one of the wonderful things about Twitter is that you get a truly bizarre cross-section commentary from anyone with a Twitter account.
I’ve been addicted to watching the scroll this morning, in fact I haven’t done much else. I haven’t turned on the TV even once, I haven’t yet read a newspaper, I haven’t gotten information from anywhere about Palin but from Twitter. And the emerging picture is.. fascinating.
Shock & Awe(ful)
Predictably, McCain supporters are jazzed and crowing about her rock-solid Christian, pro-life, gun-totin, positions, while Obama supporters are laughing at what appears to be a completely ridiculous choice. Non-political junkies appear to be confused since they’ve never heard of her till yesterday (or this morning), international commentary seems decidedly anti-Palin, and above all, everyone is shocked and a bit confused by the choice and drowing in “Little Known Fact” jokes, a take off the “Chuck Norris” internet meme. If you don’t know what that’s about, google it. Here’s a sampling from the last 10 seconds:
psicocaccola: La Stampa abbocca alla copertina finta di Vogue sulla Palin: storia e pdf solo per oggi http://www.typepad.com/t/trackback/1133195/32917548
less than 10 seconds ago Â· Reply Â· View Tweet
bluenc: BlueNC | Sarah Palin’s Screen Test With Ted Stevens: John McCain knew he had to put Sarah Palin on.. http://tinyurl.com/6f934p (expand)
1 minute ago Â· Reply Â· View Tweet
radiogretchen: Really bummed not to have Tim Russert interview Sarah Palin tomorrow morning.
1 minute ago Â· Reply Â· View Tweet
shawnr: Palin was born in Sandpoint, ID. Strategy: McCain locks up the Idaho-Alaska vote, securing much of the Total Nutjob wing of the GOP.
2 minutes ago Â· Reply Â· View Tweet
Shripriya: OMG -Palin is sitting on a huge bear http://snurl.com/3lb9b (expand) McCain seriously thinks women will just see the choromosomes and vote? Insulting
2 minutes ago Â· Reply Â· View Tweet
huffpost: is still trying to find the Sarah Palin hook that makes her a good choice for Miss Dairy Festival, let alone VP of the USA -JackiSchechner
2 minutes ago Â· Reply Â· View Tweet
aefoley: Little Known Fact: Chuck Norris’s Second Life character is Sarah Palin.
2 minutes ago Â· Reply Â· View Tweet
amandaelend: Palin is still nursing her 5-month old son with Down Syndrome
2 minutes ago Â· Reply Â· View Tweet
squeezyb: @bill_beal butting in-Tina Fey, who looks like Sarah Palin, plays Liz Lemon on 30 Rock. Kenneth is the NBC page on the show. Who is Cleo?
2 minutes ago Â· Reply Â· View Tweet
jbum: Little Known Fact: Sarah Palin and Tina Fey have never been seen in the same location: http://tinyurl.com/6jzaav (expand)
2 minutes ago Â· Reply Â· View Tweet
RedheadWriting: I’m a Conservative and I’m OK – http://tinyurl.com/6mdu5z (expand) More thoughts on Sarah Palin, John McCain and props to @myklroventine!
In all of this link surfing and rant reading, I’ve been specifically looking for reactions from younger people. I personally think this election may see the largest youth voter turn-out of any election in American history. Whether left or right, younger voters seem highly engaged this time around, and the availability of information, news, discussion forums, and videos on the internet is transforming and informing a new generation of voters. Increasingly, I am seeing more political commentary from young bloggers, tweeters, and party activists.
and from @lindsaypw (college student): Palin, shes anti-choice, homophobic, elitist, inexperienced, likes guns, hates wildlife, has her own scandal, and won a beauty contest.
and from @Bags1: Anyone else confused about Palin?
Anyone else have good examples of young bloggers/tweeters responding to the Palin pick?
Identity Politics & Misogyny
Which leads me to my next thought, that this has truly been and still is the most interesting election of my lifetime, particularly in terms of identity politics. The right has long accused the left of being nothing more than a coalition of various identity groups banded together with no coherent, cohesive theme. This criticism rang true in the 80s and 90s, but seems less so over time – and makes McCain’s pick of Sarah Palin even more surprising to me, as it seems to be a move to energize the various identity groups on the RIGHT: women, evangelicals, pro-life, 2nd amendment supporters. Has the Republican Party fallen to scrambling for identity coalitions now that the Democratic Party has emerged with a strong policy theme grounded not on identity politics but by political ideals? Very interesting.
The cynic in me says that while racism and misogyny still run strong in this country, misogyny continues to be the stronger of the two. If I think back to the small town where I grew up, where prejudice and “traditional” values still hold sway, I imagine that the vast majority don’t vote at all, those who do wouldn’t vote for a “damned librul” if their life depended upon it, and whatever tiny, miniscule fraction that might have been on the fence certainly can’t and won’t vote for a woman, even if she’s a “babe”, as Rush Limbaugh described her.
In just one day of reaction, Palin’s choice has caused the internet to erupt in oversexualized references to her appearance, questions about her returning to work 3 days after giving birth to a baby with special needs, and her opposition to abortion even in the case of rape. McCain’s choice has thrown the doors wide open on some of the most contentious gender issues of our time, just when the furor over Hillary was about to die down following the Democratic National Convention. Political commentator QueenofSpain thanks McCain on her blog, saying:
Although maybe once the evangelicals catch wind of her balancing work and family, and people become outraged that she is a woman running for officeâ€¦maybe then we can have a real discussion in her partyâ€™s base about those â€œfamily valuesâ€ they like to push. Maybe then it will be â€œokâ€ since she isnâ€™t a baby-killing lesbian hippie.
So thanks John McCain, thanks for picking a woman as your running mate so America can (once again) have these discussions.
I’m not so sure I’m thankful. I’m afraid that images like the one from Valleywag will simply yank us back three decades in the debate about women in positions of power, where sex overshadows qualifications, and cynical jokes elicit laughter that underscores the most hateful and subversive kinds of misogyny.
[/caption] Photoshopped image of Sarah Palin posted on internet-gossip site Valleywag, ironically submitted by a woman.
If McCain had chosen a well-qualified woman, a substantial leader with proven experience, who had already been vetted, who had already faced the kinds of tawdry and misogynist undercurrents in American political culture, like Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Olympia Snow, Elizabeth Dole, or Christie Todd-Whitman, then perhaps it might have re-opened a good conversation about women in high office. Instead, I think I agree with Newsweek that Palin has been set up for failure – and as much as she represents all women, she sets us all up for failure, too.
I no more want to see Palin become a target of hateful, misogynist mockery than I did Hillary (though I was not a Hillary supporter), even if I vociferously disagree with her politics.
No, I think this was an ill-fated choice that ultimately backfires on many levels – but especially for women.
Virtual World News alerted me to Gartner’s latest “Emerging Technology” Hype Cycle analysis, and I was a bit surprised to see where they placed public virtual worlds, particularly in relation to Web 2.0 and wikis.
Gartner shows wikis far out in front of Web 2.0 generally and Web 2.0 and public virtual worlds neck and neck. I don’t think I agree with that analysis if applied to an educational context. Based on my experience in the field, I’d have put Web 2.0 and wikis much closer together and before the peak of Inflated Expectations, and put virtual worlds even further behind. I’ve added some other educational technology markers for comparison (again, this is based on my own “anecdata”).
Where would you put these markers based on your experience?
RezEd Interview with James Paul Gee
If you’re involved in education and virtual worlds and haven’t yet joined RezEd, take a minute to do so now. They’re creating not only a really terrific community, but also a very rich repository of resources, information, interviews, and best practices. SLEDcc has a group that you can join, but I’ve been very impressed with the quality of their podcasts and best practices guides.
James Paul Gee - image courtesy http://rezed.org
This week they interviewed James Paul Gee, author of the seminal book What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy (a must read). In the interview, he discusses how video games and virtual worlds can be used to help address some of the major deficiencies in modern educational systems – letting learners produce the lesson content instead of just “taking it in” and how virtual worlds help kids develop complex literacies through experiential and situated learning. Good stuff!
In about a month, the Connectivism & Connective Knowledge Course will begin. From the course wiki:
Connectivism and Connective Knowledge is a twelve week course that will explore the concepts of connectivism and connective knowledge and explore their application as a framework for theories of teaching and learning. It will outline a connectivist understanding of educational systems of the future. George Siemens and Stephen Downes â€“ the two leading figures on connectivism and connective knowledge – will co-facilitate this innovative and timely course. The course will run from September 7, 2008 to November 29, 2008 and will be fully delivered online.
I don’t know why, but I’m really excited about this. If you have any interest at all in the future of education, and how the internet and open courseware and social media is changing what education might potentially be (higher education in particular?), I’d invite you to sign up. It’s free, it’s completely up to you how much or how little you participate or connect, and I have a feeling that this will generate some really interesting conversations.
I don’t have formal training in learning theory, I’ve only taken a few grad level courses, and I’m a bit worried that it will be over my head, but I’m hopeful that there will be room in the course for people like me who have a sincere interest but haven’t yet gone through the grad school process or haven’t taken formal classes in some of the background concepts that will be used.
If we can work it out, the Chilbo community will host and I’ll help facilitate a Second Life cohort of the course for synchronous weekly meetings. This will probably be limited to 50 participants or so, but if you’re really interested, let me know.
In the last year, I’ve had my first “real” papers published. I’ve been surprised at the long lead times, and the even longer review processes, and even looonger publishing dates before these things see the light of day. In a time when I can publish the same material myself with the click of a button, and get nearly instant feedback from colleagues, and when technology, techniques, and tools seem to be changing so rapidly that what was news a year or two ago seems woefully out of date already, the publishing process seems.. convoluted and a little bit absurd.
I understand, of course, the importance of peer review, and the need for data to be verified, experiments repeated, and findings confirmed or rejected. I understand the long standing traditions behind academic publishing, and agree that there is a real need for quality control and qualified, expert evaluation of information. But is this really the best we can do in the digital age? I don’t think so.
I just read a paper today that talks about this, and I think it raises some interesting points.
They identify 3 fallacies and 3 principles that should be applied to modern peer review, and from the article, I think this is really key:
..simply placing something on the internet is not the same as “publishing” it. [..] A key insight that governs all of these principles is that quality is not an intrinsic component of the content of a work but rather a feature of how that work is valuable to a specific community of users: its context of use.
This reminds me of Henry Jenkins’ talk from ELI earlier this year, What Wikipedia Can Teach Us About the New Media Literacies (it’s a good talk, worth watching the video archive). A given wikipedia article may NOT be high enough quality to serve as a reference for a chemist, but 9 times out of 10, it IS high enough quality to give basic information for the rest of us non-chemists. And it can serve as a useful tool for teaching students about how “knowledge” is created, disputed, transformed, and disseminated. Context matters.
And of course, when we talk about new digital media, we haven’t even gotten into how to do peer review of, say, learning objects in 3D worlds like Second Life. We’ve taken a stab at creating some criteria for the Second Life Education Community Conference 2008, but it’s a first iteration of something that I hope to see become much more refined, and evaluating the content without knowing the context makes the job that much more difficult.
This is a topic I’m just starting to explore, so if anyone has pointers or resources, I’d love to hear them.
If you haven’t been around Second Life for long, it can feel like a lonely place, but getting to know some of Second Life’s citizens through their blogs can be a good way to get a broader sense of all of the interesting and terrific things happening in the virtual world.
So when a friend asked me to recommend my Top 5 Second Life Blog choices, I was stumped – I read so many, how to choose! But I can say, the following five blogs are some of my favorite “thinkers” in Second Life. I don’t always agree with their analysis, but they consistently make me re-evaluate what a virtual world or community is, can be, ought to be, or ought NOT to be. They make me think.
In thinking about that post and the responses I received, I started to think about what exactly “informal learning” with social media looks like for me, and Igori’s comment led me to break down my personal social media use into the various toolsets I’m using. Each communication tool seems to represent a different kind of “head space” to me. In reality, I’m using many many software platforms, widgets, and technologies, but I think it can be broken down into a few broad categories.
Gmail is my nerve center. All the sensors, accounts, message boards, subscriptions, notices – all of my “stuff” out there on the internet alerts me when certain events take place that I may need to pay attention to, and if someone out on the net needs to reach me, that’s the surest way to get my attention. My family and closest friends are on my google contact list, where we IM each other, and Twitter is embedded in the window too. I glance at this screen probably hundreds or thousands of times a day. It is where I broadly monitor my whole network.
Twitter is a portal to shout outs, brief chats, announcements, news blurbs, and a finger on the pulse of my little corner of the internet. It’s my bustling town. I don’t know everyone personally anymore, it grew too big for that, but I know lots of folks, and I’m reassured to look out the window and see everyone out and about and doing things. If I feel like having a quick chat, asking a question, saying hi, whatever, Twitter is there. It tells me the world keeps on keepin on, and if anything urgent comes up, I’m sure they’ll let me know.
(I knew about Tim Russert dying within moments of it being leaked, for example, and shared in a collective moment of shock, grief, sadness, wondering who would take the lead in holding our government accountable on Meet the Press in his absence – we all felt that as soon as we heard, and we experienced the event in a collective way through Twitter. It’s perhaps another post to think about how those collective emotions can be experienced through short, text-only little bleats..)
Blogs are my newspapers, where I get more lengthy, formal information about what’s happening in my world. They also link to the “course materials” for my informal learning. Media of all sorts, videos, films, papers, reports, research – original sources or analyses of them. Some blogs are also discussion boards, I do some amount of peer review and feedback, lengthier Q&A, and if I want, I can email or talk directly to the author to follow up and learn more.
All of this is aggregated in Google Reader, where I manage subscriptions to the blogs and websites I have personally selected to read, as well as the shared posts from my colleagues, who highlight the best of the various blogs and sites that they are reading. It’s pretty efficient, and allows me to see a much broader cross-section of information than I could ever process on my own. I depend on my smartest friends to do some of that pre-processing for me.
Second Life is my office, my laboratory, my work space, my classroom. I try to apply the things I’m learning to this particular medium – what works best for communicating concepts, ideas, facts, information? How do you use a 3D virtual environment to teach, to explain, to inform? How do you build and sustain communities in this place? How effective are my previous attempts? What needs to be improved, changed, or perhaps deleted altogether?
Those are the main tools for my informal learning. On a typical day, at any given time, I have several Firefox windows open (Firefox is my primary Learning Management System), each with 15-20 tabs open representing all the places that I’m working, learning, or reading. One window is reserved for “stuff I want to read and think about later”, all the links from tweets and blogs and friends and emails that seemed interesting or important, and when it grows so big it starts to lag my machine down, I go over and winnow it down, skim through things, close anything that doesn’t seem so interesting after all.
And by the end of the day or the week, sometimes themes have emerged. My brain draws links between all this stuff I’ve seen and read and starts to connect dots between different sources. As I become more aware of the emerging theme, I start to self-select different sources around that theme. Whatever I scan, I’m especially interested in information that fills in gaps in my knowledge about that theme. Sometimes I find myself reading such technically complicated material that I wonder how the hell I got into reading this report that is confusing the heck out of me.
Each foray, I think, stretches my mind a little further. I feel like I am learning in little bits all the time, even while I am working, producing, creating, helping, whatever.
Human Brains & Cloud Computing
Injenuity said months ago that she thinks her technology use is changing the way she thinks, the way her brain is beginning to draw connections between things. I agree, I feel that sense, too. I was reminded of her comment several times as I explored the various sites I kept running into this week about how the brain works, and how the growth of human participation in web services is changing our conception of “the network” online.
One morning, after she was awakened by her bedside alarm, she sat up and, she recalled, â€œthis fluid came down my face, this greenish liquid.â€ She pressed a square of gauze to her head and went to see her doctor again. M. showed the doctor the fluid on the dressing. The doctor looked closely at the wound. She shined a light on it and in M.â€™s eyes. Then she walked out of the room and called an ambulance. Only in the Emergency Department at Massachusetts General Hospital, after the doctors started swarming, and one told her she needed surgery now, did M. learn what had happened. She had scratched through her skull during the nightâ€”and all the way into her brain.
Was this fiction? Could a person really scratch through their skull and into their brain? What on earth would drive someone to do that?
When I finally made time to read the full article, it turned out to not be just about itching, but also about an emerging theory of how the brain receives and associates information from our sensory perceptions, and how that in turn affects our perception of reality.
The account of perception thatâ€™s starting to emerge is what we might call the â€œbrainâ€™s best guessâ€ theory of perception: perception is the brainâ€™s best guess about what is happening in the outside world. The mind integrates scattered, weak, rudimentary signals from a variety of sensory channels, information from past experiences, and hard-wired processes, and produces a sensory experience full of brain-provided color, sound, texture, and meaning. We see a friendly yellow Labrador bounding behind a picket fence not because that is the transmission we receive but because this is the perception our weaver-brain assembles as its best hypothesis of what is out there from the slivers of information we get. Perception is inference.
This seemed like a very interesting thread, one that picked up again later when I saw that the Top 10 TED Talks had been released, including one by
neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor. (If you don’t know about TED Talks, be sure to check them out, they’re some of the best lectures available on the net, if you ask me.) In this talk, Jill describes – from a brain scientist’s perspective – what happened to her as she experienced a stroke and felt various brain functions shutting down one by one – it is absolutely fascinating.
And as I’m thinking about what all this new information about the brain means to ME and how it is applicable to my work, George Siemens sends out his weekly newsletter with a section about “Brain Based Learning”. Hmm, I wonder what that is, I think, and click on to read more. This lead me to a research paper, “The Seductive Allure of Neuroscience Explanations”, which concludes that people are generally much more likely to be satisfied by theoretical explanations that contain neuroscientific verbiage – even if it’s completely irrelevant – than by explanations, even good ones, that don’t contain neuroscientific verbiage; and a short 8-minute video about how often theorists incorrectly apply levels of analysis from neuroscience and cognitive psychology research to individual behavior, and to a child’s mind, and indeed to education as a whole.
By this point, I’m thinking wow, the brain is so complex! I go back to thinking about the “itch” article, and wonder if my evaluation of the “brain’s best guess” theory of perception was tainted by all of the neuroscientific data that was included in the article. I wish I had some experts in a room to discuss all these things I’ve just learned, because I find it interesting, but confusing, and I’m not sure how to apply this new knowledge in my own work, which is about teaching with technology.
Infographic: Christoph Niemann, Flash Design: officevsoffice
I think to myself that this isn’t the first time I’ve read about or considered the connections, similarities, and differences between this “ubiquitous cloud computing” concept and the human brain, but I don’t know if I really understand what is meant by “cloud computing”, so I find this fairly in-depth and technical article about the topic on InfoWeek, called, simply enough, Guide to Cloud Computing. (Warning, it gets pretty geeky in there, but if you want to put some finer edges on your understanding of the concept, it’s a good piece.)
And THIS leads me to think about how I need to improve my machinima skills in Second Life, because I want to try using video has a mechanism to communicate various concepts I’m learning about, and I think I’ll feel more comfortable hiding behind my avatar than talking straight to a camera.
. . .
Why did I take you on this long journey? Is anyone even reading this still? I don’t know, but when we talk about “informal learning” and “social media” and what this means to us as educators, I sometimes don’t even know what these terms actually mean to anyone but myself. I know how I am using these tools, but I don’t know what the “best practices” are per se, nor the most effective ways to teach them to others. I think this little trip through Fleep’s Informal Learning Experience was maybe more for me than for an external reader, but as I think about all these topics I’m digesting, I keep returning to the thought that I want formal education at the university level to look more like THIS kind of learning than what I experienced in my undergrad courses.
With all due apologies for the length of this post, I hope if you’re still with me that you’ve learned something about the human brain, cloud computing, and how the web can facilitate “informal learning” that is very real learning about very real and important things. Look at all the fascinating, rich content that a passing curiosity about my mosquito bites itching led to..
Here are some things that caught my eye today. Hit play on this video while you read the rest of the post, it’s such a sweet video.
Ok, now that we have some music…
Tools & Sites
I just installed a little map widget down in the lower right sidebar that shows a map of visitors. It’s a free download from ClustrMaps.com and tracks by IP address where in the world your readers are. Not sure how often it will update, but so far I’m big in the US and barely heard of in Europe and completely absent everywhere else. 😉 It’s going on data since this morning though, so we’ll see how it goes.
Next up is Freebase. I don’t know what it does yet, but their tagline is, “Freebase is an open, shared database of the world’s knowledge.” Hmmm. Definitely will check it out in a bit.
Last is a site that looks to be about teaching programming concepts to high schoolers, called Greenfoot. I’m already a fan of Alice, but might be of interest to those of you working with high school students.
If you only have time to read one, read the second one, and then Chris’ take on that article in 3rd link. I don’t agree with all of the positions taken, but as I try to imagine what education could be, it’s helpful to read critiques by others.