Saturday, September 27, 2008

CCK08: Chaos is good!

We have an advert for a hardware store in New Zealand headed up by Levi Vaoga, who has won a number of strong man competitions. His catch phrase is "big is good!". And I've been thinking that the catch phrase for connectivism could be "chaos is good!".

Element of connectivism
Chaos appears to be inevitable in courses where a connectivist approach is taken to learning. You only have to look at the 'Connectivism and Connective Knowledge' online course that is currently running, and to a lessor degree 'Facilitating Online Communities'. Both courses use an open learning environment, have networking as a main tenet and encourage the use of a number of online communication technologies. According to Stephen Downes, connective knowledge develops when learners engage in diverse environments, diverse discussions and with diverse information; and are in charge of their own learning environments and learning. But this lack of structure and control and resulting chaos can be very threatening and painful for both students and teachers.
Chaos and the student
The connectivist approach to learning can be very difficult for students who is used to being organized by their teachers and having their knowledge delivered to them. I am sure that Allison Miller is not alone when she says she has met many learners who do not know what questions to ask, are unable to filter information or construct new knowledge, have no idea how to use networks to build or share knowledge. Yet these skills are key for students to be able to make sense of connective knowledge.

Navigating chaos
For a number of students (and teachers) learning is about achieving a mark or grade. Mike Bogle writes in one of his blog posts about connectivism "Connectivism and childhood learning":

Worse still is the notion of learning being scripted, and the motivation to learn arising from the external in the form of lesson plans with a grade or mark associated with them. In those conditions, learning becomes something to get through in order to get back to real life, and the focus of the experience directed towards the achievement of a mark rather than the curiosity and fulfillment of the process.

What some learners fail to see is the value in the processing or navigating of the chaos, and this can be a huge stumbling block to their learning. This was very evident in the 'Facilitating Online Communities' course that I took last year. And I have struggled with this personally in the 'Connectivism' course I am currently involved with - it has taken me at least three weeks to sort myself out and make sense of what is going on. And I consider myself to be fairly expert at using networked learning principles and online communication tools. If I have felt anxiety about dealing with these complex issues, how much more will students who are completely unfamiliar with autonomous learning? Nevertheless, George Siemens believes self-organization in the face of chaos and making connections between sources of information is vital in today's climate of rapid information development and change.

Image: let's get on with the day woodleywonderworks

Chaos and the teacher
The students aren't the only ones threatened by chaos. Teachers can also feel vulnerable in the face of this chaos - they lose 'control', which in itself may reflect on them and their 'teaching' ability depending on the view of the person reviewing the teacher's performance. Courses can be difficult to 'manage' if the teacher is trying to constrain learners to prescribed curriculum and learning outcomes. They themselves can find it difficult to react and adapt to the changing needs of the learner. Nevertheless, as Bogle says: tying learning interests back to real life examples and applications - and importantly letting the learner dictate the flow of the experience - with all the tangents that may entail - you reinforce the idea that learning is something to be explored, discovered and enjoyed, rather than endured.

Why is chaos good?
Chaos means there is movement - there is action - the learners are doing something. Rather than trying to restrain or structure that movement and activity, it is my role to support students so they can make sense of what is going on and find their own connections and networks.

Image: 'gemini's' Puja


Sue Waters said...

Well I don't believe it has to be chaos. You can still use open learning but put systems in place so it doesn't overwhelm the participants. KISS principle.

Sarah Stewart said...

What's the KISS principle, Sue?

Actually, since writing this post, Sue, I have just come across another comment by Siemens that slightly contradicts what he says about chaos: he recommends that you are careful about tools & don't overwhelm students with too many. This comment interested me because I have to wonder how people in the connectivism course are doing who have limited technological ability & knowledge. I wonder if things are too chaotic for them.

But, having said all that, I use the word 'chaos' loosely and admit I know nothing about chaos theory so I am hoping I am not using the term inappropriately.

Sue Waters said...

KISS means Keep It Simple Stupid :) . But it often is chaos if you don't build in mechanism to ensure it isn't.

Start by thinking about what you are trying to achieve and the technology skills of your participants. With our current challenge we are working with young students. What we are trying to do includes inspire them, improve their blogging and reflective writing skills, move them towards self learning, collaborating with each other globally.

We need to keep it simple since they are young and most have just started out. Key to me should be simple instructions on what's involved and provide systems to make it really easy to connect. So all tasks are coming from Miss Wyatt's blog, we have a participants page on her blog broken into categories based on their location and we are trying to encourage them to connect with other students. We will continue to build activities that encourages this connection. Both Sue and I've spent a lot of time this week visiting student blogging and writing comments; so that we are modeling the process.

I've just set up an aquaculture blog for my remote students. Skills levels are different again; so in this case I'm encouraging them to subscribe by Feedburner email; click email me when they post comments and respond to their learnings in the comment area.

There sheer number of people doing the connectivism course means it wouldn't be easy to aid with these connections.

Sarah Stewart said...

And there I was thinking you were talking about an old 80s rock band, Sue!

A great motto for me Sue, because I must admit I do get carried away some times and forget that a lot of people do not have the same computer skills as I do. I should have KISS tattooed somewhere prominent :)

Maru said...

Hi Sara and Sue!
I loved your KISS description, I like it, good idea :-)

Thanks Sara for introducing me to the Facilitating Online Communities course, pity that it has gone too far for me to catch up; besides, two courses like CCK08may be too much to handle, I need to have more experience with online tools, I will be looking out for the next one.

Your phrase "sort myself out" describes very accuratelly the process I went through during the first weeks of the course. I had taken online courses before but as the subject was more tangible the confussion was less.

See you around. Love: Maru

Arielion said...

Hello Sarah

I really enjoyed your post. I would suggest, though that what is thought of as "chaos" really isn't at all; that there is "method in the (apparent) madness that we just don't see yet but which, as George Siemans says, we will ("happily") deal with later. Humanity always seeks connection, logic and clarity. When faced with a sky full of apparently random stars we string them together in the Cosmos and give them names like "Big Dipper" or "Orion", or are even "cheeky" enough to "sell" them on Ebay to someone else to name. :). It's only later, when we have "connected the dots" in our heads with more information. processed into more knowledge, that we can see the design that was there, the science, chemical, etc. bonds and processes that wren'tchaoyicat all once we see the "big picture."dt

arielion said...

...errr that last line of my previous post should be "weren't chaotic at all." :)

And while I'm here again I may as well mention that Iwould disagree that the learner "constructs" his own knowledge (if that is meant as intentional construction). Or even that it's the teacher who provides the real life examples beyond simple analogy. I think the point of Connectivism is like static electricity. Learning takes place when a connection results in new information "clinging" to the learner to be processed into knowledge but as "ah ha" moments and unintentional many times. The teacher's job is to make his info more attractive.

Sarah Stewart said...

Thanks for your comments, Arielon, which got me thinking. I'm not a theorist, as I have already said, so am soaking up all this new knowledge & having lots of 'aha' moments along the way.

I've sorted out the 'chaos' so I can now see order for myself, so I would agree about 'method in madness'. But what about the people who never get to that point? What if the 'chaos' impedes their learning?

As for internal construction of knowledge, I am not sure if I agree but at this minute, I can't articulate a credible response - will have to get back to you on that. I am just thinking about what I am learning about reflection and wondering how that relates to connectivism.

David McQuillan said...

Thanks for your descriptions of Connectivism. I've been wondering what it's all about, and you've given me a nice intro. I feel that I've got some kind of handle on it now.

Re: the chaos vs. structure debate
I agree with the concerns you have Sarah about overwhelming learners. We've both done enough online courses to recognise that this frequently seems to occur. I think that any online course really needs some technical help/scaffolding/support associated with it to help users gain familiarity with the technical skills required to navigate through the online environment. I also think that more structured learning is required at lower levels of study. A level 4 course needs quite a bit of structure to the learning, whereas a level 7+ course could probably be a good fit with what you're describing here. Horses for courses as always.
(btw. Thanks Sue for your perspective on this)

Sarah Stewart said...

I have been thinking about this, David, in relation to my undergrad midwifery students. There is so much information that would be 'given' to students. I think it is the processing, integration and application that would happen in a connectivist way.