A young woman is sitting on her living room couch one evening. The room is dark except for the glow from her cellphone. All seems calm and relaxing. In reality, the young woman is following a trail of searches. What started out as the google search for the best cheesecake recipe has turned into a search about the chemicals that are put into the food we consume. It’s now 11:30 p.m. and she still needs to find the perfect cheesecake recipe.
Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/andrewrennie/5305466633
Does this sound familiar? What starts out as a basic question can become an inquiry project in a matter of seconds. Inquiry isn’t just for scientists and it isn’t just a process. Inquiry is a dynamic process of being open to wonder and puzzlement and coming to know and understand the world. This possibility is not only enhanced by the information available to us, but more importantly the people that we can be connected to.
In the last few weeks I have spent significantly more time on social media than I normally would as it is a requirement for the class that I’m taking this semester, EC&I 831. I have also made more connections with strangers than ever before. Don’t tell my mom. In my first Twitter chat ever, #FGChat hosted by Fresh Grade, I heard ideas from many educators that I would not have connected with otherwise. I also had a helpful guitar teacher post a comment to a YouTube video of myself learning guitar. How cool, kind and generous! This kind of learning is rooted in connectivism.
In his article, George Siemens discusses connectivism as a theory of learning that is especially relevant to educators when we consider the potential that social media and open education can have on our lives and our students’ lives. Siemens identifies the following principles of connectivism:
- Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.
- Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources.
- Learning may reside in non-human appliances.
- Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known
- Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.
- Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill.
- Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.
- Decision-making is itself a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due to alterations in the information climate affecting the decision.
With theories of connectivism in mind, teachers are responsible for giving students opportunities, skills and literacies to learn from and participate fully in a digital age, in which knowing something is not as important as knowing how to find, synthesize and analyze that information.
Howard Rheingold identifies one of those literacies as attention. He says, “Online, you have to decide which people you are going to allow into your attention sphere. Who is going to take up your mind, your space? Is the person trustworthy? Entertaining? Useful? An expert? Answering these questions leads to the final literacy: critical consumption.” As we and our students engage in learning from others, we have to be critical of the information we find and open to many ways of understanding the world.
Pay attention to who is in your world, because the connections you make will shape you.