I have been participating in this on-line conference for the last few days (or rather nights!) This is the introduction to the conference that convinced me to participate:

“The evolution of teaching and learning is accelerated with technology. After several decades of duplicating classroom functionality with technology, new opportunities now exist to alter the spaces and structures of knowledge to align with both needs of learners today, and affordances of new tools and processes.

Yet our understanding of the impact on teaching and learning trails behind rapidly forming trends. What are critical trends? How does technology influence learning? Is learning fundamentally different today than when most prominent views of learning were first formulated (under the broad umbrellas of cognitivism, behaviourism, and constructivism)? Have the last 15 years of web, technology, and social trends altered the act of learning? How is knowledge itself, in a digital era, related to learning?”

The gem of the ‘Learning Conversations’, that have happened so far, has been a discussion thread started by presenter Bill Kerr tittled, “a challenge to connectivism”. A considerable amount of the discussion is theoretical and I will admit that some of it is ‘over my head’ in that I have a lack of background knowledge to fully appreciate all that is being said. What I have enjoyed in this discussion is the healthy discord that has occurred. Stephen Downes, web guru and another presenter at the conference, posted in this discussion thread, ‘What Connectivism Is‘. This spurred discourse after Tony Forster said in a post reply to Stephen, “I am disturbed by your statement…”

Arguments Yard, Whitby by David Hastings (dr1066)

Two things have made this enjoyable:

1. The fact that at a Connectivism conference the very definition of the topic is open for debate by the presenters. This speaks volumes to the unchartedness/ the newness of this way of connecting to one another, and it embodies the idea that knowledge is both fluid and reconstructed/remixed in this new connected world. We are continually Synthesizing and Adding New Meaning as we connect in new ways.

2. This discourse is something that I have seldom seen in the world of educational blogs. There seems to be an unspoken etiquette about being non-confrontational when discussing ideas on other’s blogs. Essentially teachers don’t criticize others’ opinions. Even when there is disagreement it is often polite, reserved and… well, annoying. On the other hand, there seems to be thoughtful discord and discourse happening in the Connectivism conference forums.
Discourse - Definition
I think that our concern that discourse and discord are forms of argument sometimes prevents us from having meaningful, healthy discourse. In their book Metaphors We Live By, Lakeoff & Johnson consider the metaphor ‘ARGUMENT is WAR’. This is the metaphor that often prevents us from having meaningful discourse.

“Arguments and war are different kinds of things-verbal discourse and armed conflict-and the actions performed are different kinds of actions. But ARGUMENT is partially structured, understood, performed, and talked about in terms of WAR.”*
Your claims are indefensible.
He attacked every weak point in my argument.
His criticisms were right on target…”**

Formal debates also fit neatly into this metaphor: point-counterpoint/attack-defend.
As a society, we aren’t going to change this embedded metaphor any time soon, but we can separate argument from discourse. Discourse, discord and disagreement need not be argumentative.

It is fascinating to me that in the blogosphere there is a noticeable shortage in meaningful discourse. Teachers encourage critical thinking, challenge students to consider alternative views and encourage meaningful discourse in the classroom… and then walk on proverbial egg shells when commenting on blogs.

Now, I am sure that there are some wonderful counter-examples to my point, (and I encourage anyone reading this to send me links:-). But I do wonder if it is just me- and the circles I hyper-surf around in- or do others notice this subdued politeness that hinders meaningful discourse?

I am encouraged by the healthy discourse and discord that I see happening at the Connectivism conference; I think a lot of new, innovative and creative ideas/concepts/theories can and will be born out of it!

So what is Connectivism?
George Siemens, conference organizer, says in his Connectivism Blog,”Connectivism is a learning theory for the digital age… For me – call it whatever you want – connectivism, social constructivism, navigationism (pick your own)…learning today must be seen as social, knowledge distributed across a network, capacity enhanced by enlarging the network, learning/knowledge as multi-faceted and complex, incorporating technology, etc. I’m generally not in a mood to argue against other learning theories (though, at times, it’s required simply to achieve a frame of reference). I’m much more interested in arguing for effective learning representative of what learners require in order to stay current today. Evangelizing connectivism is a secondary concern as compared with discussing effective, relevant, “sustainable” learning.”
In another post, he adds this interesting point about connecting in new ways, “Dialogue does not need to be direct in order to be effective. Dialogue of greatest value is what I call parallel, or dialogue of awareness. At this level, the comments and views of others are within our cognitive network (i.e. we know they exist) and their influence weighs in our reasoning and thought formation.”

In my small contribution to the discussion thread I say,
“My limited experience in blogging suggests to me that it is the cross-disciplinary meandering and hyper-linking that brings us deeper levels of understanding, as well as peripherally participating with a mentor or expert. In fact, I think innovation and meaningful learning/synthesis of ideas comes from the fringes… connectivism isn’t about the theory- the great body of knowledge to be shared, it is about the ability for any Joe (or Joan) Schmo to meaningfully add to the learning conversation. (As I hope this Schmo has Smile)”
[Note: This has actually been adapted from my original post. Another contributor disagreed with a specific point I made- and I agreed with him! Originally I said ‘as opposed to’ instead of ‘as well as’ (italicized above)]

Please feel free to disagree!

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Reference: G. Lakoff & M. Johnson (1980), Metaphors We Live By. The University of Chicago Press.(Paperback edition, 1981, *pg. 5, **pg. 4)

Image Credits:

“Arguments Yard, Whitby” by David Hastings (Flickr username: dr1066)

“Definition of Discourse”: Mac PowerBook Dictionary Version 1.0.1(1.0.1) Copyright © 2005 Apple Computer, Inc.

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Excerpt from My Feedback/Reflection post on the Connectivism Conference, (Feb. 10th, 2007).

About me:
Well I still have to look at/listen to the Stephen Downes presentation before I would feel comfortable saying that I have come close to concluding with the conference. As I say in [this] blog post, I have found both the discourse and even discord refreshing. I think best when I am surrounded by people who challenge what I say and what I think. At more than one point I felt misunderstood and had to clarify myself… but I believe that ‘the meaning of your communication is the response that you get’ and so I take full responsibility for my lack of communication. In an effort to clarify my words, I do the same with my thoughts… isn’t that what being a life-long learner is all about? This conference has provided a considerable amount of fodder for me to chew on for a while. I have had many opportunities to synthesize and add meaning to ideas both new and old alike. I have also found many new friends!approve

Thank you all for contributing to my learning!

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Originally posted: February 9th, 2007

Reflection upon re-reading and re-posting:

Recently I’ve noticed a number of heated discussions going back-and-forth in edublog comments. These have been confrontational and somewhat negative in nature. The exchanges seem far more like mud-slinging than they do discourse… criticism rather than being critical. So the politeness is gone but the ‘argument is war’ metaphor still persists. Stephen Downes is one of the few people I’ve ‘met’ online who engages in true discourse. He takes a stance on challenging topics and engages in thoughtful dialogue.

One of the interesting things that I have noticed about my blog is that I seldom inspire a flood of comments. I have had a few posts that have been linked to (and del.icio.us-ed) by many others, while gathering just a single comment or two. Oddly enough, I’m ‘ok’ with this in that the more I write, the more I realize that I am doing this for me more than others… case-in-point, it is taking me hours, over days and days, to re-populate my blog this way… reflecting along the way, yet I’m still doing it- for me! So why do I bring it up? Well, I hope that I am adding to the conversation, that I am adding value, and I look at my low comment response as a piece of feedback that may suggest that I could be doing more.

On the other hand, I follow many others, I track who has linked to me and I comment on other blogs myself… so perhaps the ‘dialogue of awareness’ that George Siemens mentions is how I add value to the conversation. Through blogging, Twitter and other online tools, I have had so many others influence my thinking, and challenge my beliefs about education, learning and the use of technology. The richness of that ‘conversation’ cannot be measured by comment counting.

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