Many years ago I used to watch a pretty hopeless TV comedy called 'Citizen Smith' in which in Robert Lindsay played 'Wolfie' Smith, whose catch phrase was 'power to the people'. And I think that should be the catch phrase for connectivism.
Attributes of connectivism
Steven Downes (2008) in his post 'Networks, Power and Ethics' lists autonomy, diversity, openness and connectedness as attributes of a good network. Indeed, to me, connectivism is all about being able to identify one's own learning needs and use one's network to meet those needs. In other words, I am a fully autonomous learner (Michele Martin (2008) Liveblogging Stephen Downes on PLEs at Brandon Hal).
Connectivism and power
So if connectivism is going to work for education, as a teacher I have to forget the traditional teacher position ie "I am the teacher so therefore you must do as I say", and take a collaborative approach to teaching and learning (Grant Casey (2008) Wk 8 Power, Control and Authority.) In a previous post I have talked about my role of steward, curator, guide and so on, and none of these roles take an authoritative stance over students.
Connectivism and curriculum
But does this really work in an educational setting? Can connectivism really balance out power and authority relationships between teachers and students?
Stephen Downes generated considerable discussion in the connectivism course when he subscribed all of us students to the discussion forums in the course Moodle. Very quickly I got sick of all the emails and unsubscribed myself from the forums. I had previously made a conscious decision to follow the course via blogs as opposed to the Moodle forums, so I wasn't pleased that the 'teacher' overrode this choice. But ultimately it didn't matter because I am an informal student in the course and can do whatever I like.
What this exercise did bring home to me was that I do exactly what Stephen did. I 'force' students to take part in forums by making their contributions to be part of the assessments. The rationale is that if I do not do this, then students will not take part in discussions. And if they do not take part in discussions, how will I know that they are learning? And how will I know they are meeting curriculum learning outcomes?
Where to from here?
There are some things I currently have to live with, curriculum and learning outcomes being two of these things. And encouraging student participation is another challenge that I suspect will always be with me, especially in view of the 1% Rule which suggests only 1% of people actually participate with online activities.
I don't think there can ever be an equal power relationship between students and teacher, while teachers have the ability to 'pass' or 'fail' the student. But as Mike Bogle (2008) says in his post Question Authority I can help students to recognise that "the world around them is filled with learning opportunities and networks that need only be seen and embraced" and support them to develop their own networks and personal learning environments. In that way, I will be supporting autonomous learning and encouraging students to take full responsibility for their own learning.
Dedicated to everyone still hanging in with the connectivism course