Stephen Downes has a paper titled “Learning Networks and Connective Knowledge” that is currently being discussed on the ITForum. He blogs about the paper and includes links to ITForum and the paper.
I’m currently about 7 pages into the paper. The paper aims to provide the background to Stephen’s thinking about eLearning 2.0 which in turn is based on connectivism and the characteristics of the next-gen students. The paper has a very strong theoretical base and has required me to exercise a bit more brain power than I have recently. The following is an attempt to reflect on those first 7 pages, but also to connect it to a recent experience.
What I’ve read so far is essentially trying to establish the foundations of connectivism and demonstrate its advantages/differences over the more widely held cognitivist theories.
Part of Stephen’s description of cognitivism based approaches is
The argument, in a nutshell, is that the claims of folk psychology are
literally true, that there is, for example, an entity in the mind corresponding to the belief
that ‘Paris is the capital of France’, and that this belief is, in fact, what might loosely be
called ‘brain writing’ – or, more precisely, there is a one-to-one correspondence between
a person’s brain states and the sentence itself.
So, in a cognitivist based approach learning/teaching (I’m limiting myself to learning within higher education, which is my context) involves the attempt to find the correct “brain state” required by the course and the ability to demonstrate that it has been discovered.
Stephen explains how connectivism views this entirely different. That there is no single brain state, that this is an incorrect characterisation of how it all works, on a number of levels.
The local connection
Yesterday I was involved in a de-brief session for some focus groups/interviews that were done with Sydney CQU students around the first use of the BAM (Blog Aggregation Management) system in COIS20025
In this course students use their own blog to maintain a reflective journal in which they respond to some set questions that are due at set times during the term.
During the focus group students commented on how they wouldn’t post their responses early because of the fear that other students would be searching the web looking for answers to copy.
The Sydney students are primarily from non-english speaking backgrounds, primarly Asia and currently mostly India. The perspective of the staff interviewed were that these students are culturally or because of previous school experience firmly believe that there is one correct answer, one brain state, and that their whole focus is on getting the right answer.
This characterisation is also used to explain why the students in the focus group, apparently amongst the best students, found the questions that required more reflective/personal responses difficult. They wanted to know, what is the correct answer for this question?
The poorer students, generally those with weaker english language skills, find this even harder because their language ability makes it difficult for them to understand/internalise the “one correct brain state” and then provide it back on queue when required to do so for assessment. Hence, their increasing reliance on what we deem to be plagiarism.
It appears that these students, unknowingly, have a strong cognitivist stance – at least that’s my interpretation. There is one correct answer. My goal is to get that correct answer.
Could we help address this drive for the “one correct brain state” and consequently the issue of plagiarism, if we made them more aware of alternate views of knowledge like connectivism?
If so, how would we do this. I’m finding Stephen’s paper a difficult read, our NESB students would find it impossible.
What are the teaching/learning strategies to help change this view?
Stephen’s paper includes a large collection of references to papers arguing against various aspects of cognitivism. One is “Patterns of Discovery” by Hanson which is said to argue that causal explanations are context-sensitive, e.g.
‘What was the cause of the accident?’ It
depends on who you ask – the police officer will point to the speed, the urban planner will
point to the road design, the driver will point to the visibility.
An activity based around something like this might have some potential. It could also be used to demonstrate some very important aspects of developing information systems in organisations.