Sunday, 25 November 2012

Constructionism with a Connectivist twist

Today I re-read the Reader (p8-16) on Social Constructionism and Connectivism, along with several other articles related to the topics. I thought I'd take a look at both concepts in this blog...but then I changed my mind! Here's why:

In his article called Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age (2004), George Siemens writes "Decision-making is itself a learning process" (para.23) and that "Many of the processes previously handled by learning theories...can now be off-loaded to , or supported by, technology." (para.3) The idea being that the connectivist model includes the learners ability to decipher what is relevant to learning, and to use the internet as storage for information that doesn't need to be retained in the learners' brain, except for the knowledge of where to access it.

With this in mind I have decided not to regurgitate the information that I have been digesting today in the form of a blogged explanation of concepts, when this information is readily available by clicking on links that I can embed or by using the reading list at the end of this blog. Instead I can use critical reflection on these theories, attempt to place them within the context of my professional practice and contemplate their value. By doing this I hope that I might better engage anyone reading this blog and encourage discussion or debate on the subject.
In my reading, so far, most of it has been accessed on-line, in the form of articles by other professionals, or via blogs related to the topics of Social Constructionism and Connectivism. In using the internet in this way I have realised that there is a whole other side to the Web that I have only just begun to discover. As Siemens says, "Know-how and know what is being supplemented with know-where (the understanding of where to find knowledge needed)." (2004)
In accessing links, embedded within blogs or articles, and using sites such as, for example, Google books, Google scholar, or Summon, I have been able to discover article after article that have expounded on the theories touched on in the course readers, which have, in turn, lead me to link to, or search for, other articles or books. This new skill has opened up so much more potential learning for me, not only in this module or on this course, but for the rest of my life.
In my professional practice it has made think about the fact that I don't always need to be the one to provide all the answers to my students, whether by retaining that knowledge internally or by being able to access it and then transfer it to my students. Instead, I just need to be able to provide them with directions for how and where to look...
Something that has been troubling me over the last few years of teaching is the increasing difficulty more and more students seem to have with retaining the settings of syllabus work. I have had several thoughts as to why this might be the case:
  • increasing demands on their time
  • the opportunity to do more - learn instruments, take classes in various disciplines, homework, extra tuition for school subjects - means less time spent on any one thing
  • not having to remember things by repetition, for example, times tables or poems
  • lack of concentration and focus due to constant stimulus of information technology, for example, texting, instant messaging, game-playing.
  • lack of parental guidance to support practice
  • a lack of balance in my classes between skill-development and setting-reinforcement 
As you can see, some of these thoughts seem pretty out-there!
However, in reading the brilliant article by John Seely Brown (2002), I have realised that my thoughts are not so outlandish, even if my reasoning was way off base.
Brown talks about the "short attention spans of today's kids" (para.13) being similar to "that of top managers, who operate in a world of fast context-switching." (para.13) So, far from being unable to concentrate, as I might have put it, perhaps the key question I should be trying to answer is, how do I approach dance instruction with the needs of the modern student in mind? A huge leap forward in thinking from my own point of view but not an easy problem that I'll be able to figure out on my own. Hang on! I don't have to! If I know where to look, how to engage, how to sort the relevant from the irrelevant, and who to ask for ideas and support then I might achieve a "cross-pollination of ideas" (para.49) that gets me closer to an answer.
Earlier today I posted a link to a blog by Benedict Dellot - Web 2.0 and the rise of the partisan, which I found raised some interesting points about the less positive side of networking. I feel that this point doesn't just apply to the engagement of others via the internet but has resonance in all forms of networking. The part of the article that has stuck with me is where Dellot talks about another professional's theory:
According to the ‘networked individualism’ theory of Canadian sociologist Barry Wellman, a new social phenomenon has emerged whereby people increasingly seek out communities that can affirm their chosen identities, rather than allow their native communities to naturally mould their identity. No doubt the internet and Web 2.0 tools are playing a central role in driving this further forward (2012, para.6)
This connected in my mind with another article I had recently read, by Karen Stephenson. In it she suggests that networks are "exclusionary groupings, based on like seeking like, and mask a fundamental fear of differences."
The main question that both these articles raise for me is, if I am drawn to create networks that contain people with similar views to mine how can I be sure that I am not just perpetuating my ignorance or deluding myself that my thinking is correct just because a lot of the people who surround me agree with me? This question makes me picture, for example, the king who is surrounded by people too frightened to disagree for fear that they will lose their life; or the big boss of the company whose "yes men" only say what he wants to hear.
Is there a way to ensure that I don't unknowingly stray onto this path? Is being open to reflection and other points of view, the ability to be discerning and make decisions on the relevance of information, and having the capacity to know more than I currently know (Siemens, 2004) the way to avoid being "seduced by the Dark Side?" (Star Wars, 1977)
My last section for this blog has to do with the meaning placed on what is said both from the point of view of the speaker and the listener. In her blog on Social Constructionism, Clare Orlandi wrote about how it is her job, as a teacher,
to help my students to find meaning in what they are doing. I can tell them this is a demi plie (and demonstrate), but in order for them to fully understand, I must explain that a demi plie is a bend of the knees in first position, etc etc.. Once I have given them this help, they can process this and find meaning in the move for themselves in order to perform it the way it has been constructed previously by many people before them. (2012, para.4)
This really got me thinking about and forming connections between other things I had read or experienced:
  1. the suggestion in the Reader that "through social interaction human's 'construct' meanings of the world" (p8)
  2. the section from Michael Crotty's book (2005) where he talks about constructivism as "the view that all contingent upon human practices" (p42) and,
  3. the task which Adesola started the second Campus session with (see my blog on the campus session)
By connecting all this information I can see two main points emerging:
  • In my role as learner I will adapt and construct meaning in direct correlation with both my past and present experiences and the normative views of the society/ network (both in the narrow and wider senses) I reside in. I will formulate views that are of my own making (Reader p8) and construct truths that are neither entirely objective nor totally subjective (Reader p9). I will make my own decisions about the value of the information, networks, and experiences I have.
  • In my role as "dance teacher" I will introduce students to new meanings, concepts and networks that they will then engage with, in their role as learner, in entirely individual ways. I need to understand exactly how to communicate this meaning or concept, how to connect, it in my students' minds, to the correct object or aspect of the world, and to accept that the value and meaning that my students places on it will differ from my own.
An example from my past has jumped into my mind as I've been writing so, in the spirit of sharing, relevance, connections, and everything else I've discovered along the way, I'll share this last thing!
Up until I was 18 years of age I had never been on a plane. My family spent holiday time in the UK and in all my young life neither of my parents ever took a trip anywhere by plane. At the end of my GCSE's a close friend's parents invited me to join them all on a family holiday to the Algarve. I was adamant that I didn't want to go and, when pushed to explain why, blurted out almost hysterically "because I don't want to die in a plane crash!"
Now, the reason I mention this is that, having never been on a plane, how had I developed a fear of flying? Or rather, how had I come to construct a meaning that aeroplane = death? I'd never known anyone that had been killed in a plane crash, wasn't aware of any big news stories involving accidents in the air, and I hadn't come from a society where air travel was a source of mystery and intrepidation.
It was only two years later when another friend suggested a short trip to Europe that I unravelled the mystery. Speaking to my mum about wanting to go on the trip but being frightened she told me that I shouldn't go, and then it all came out about her absolute fear of flying, which, coupled with her claustrophobia, was the reason for not going abroad as a family. Over the years, and in such a way that I didn't realise it, my mother had passed her constructed view of flying on to me!  
In case you're wondering, it took me a little while and a lot of support, from a wonderful friend, but I got on a plane. And do you know what...I love it! And I don't mean that I quite like it or will do it to get from A-to-B, but really LOVE IT! So I'll end with a quote from George Siemens that seems to sum up my story very nicely,
...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 the alterations in the information climate affecting the decision (Siemens, 2004)

Brown, J.S., (2002). Gorwing Up Digital: How the Web Changes Work, Education, and the Ways People Learn. United States Distance Learning Association.
Crotty, M., (2005). The foundations of social research: meaning and perspectives in teh research process, London: Sage
Dellot, B., (2012). Web 2.0 and the rise of the partisan.
Durrant, A., (2012). Reader 3 - The Networked Professional. 
Siemens, G., (2004). Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age.
Stephenson, K., (Internal Communication, no.36) What Knowledge Tears Apart, Networks Make Whole. (Accessed 24th November 2012)


  1. Hi Sarah,

    how you getting on with the first module. Your blog seems to be looking healthy!!!

    I had a similar discovery in that Web 2.0 was all going on and I was actively engaging in it, but had no idea i was. This finding really highlights the key role connectivity plays in today's life. This is how we as humans like to communicate now. Embracing it in terms of our practice is key to our networks.


    1. Hi Sarah,

      It looks like you have done some serious investigating! I like the fact you have gone the extra mile and followed what you could call one of your emerging lines of enquiry. Its very easy to follow the module hand book and just do what we have been asked but do we really get the most out of just doing that? Probably not. To enable us to really develop as a professional we need to grab everything thats being thrown at us with both hands and look for more. Which is exactly what you have done!

      I think with regards to your viewpoint on teaching although you say you just need to know how to engage the 'Modern Student' not change how you teach i'm not sure I fully support this. I think in this day and age everything is evolving rapidly and we need to make sure we keep up with the times. In essence learning how to engage the 'Modern student' is effectively changing how you teach. It all goes back to learning from experiences which will enable us to be a better professional and in your case becoming a better teacher!

      Sorry for leaving an epic comment! x

    2. Hi Hannah,
      Thanks for your comment. Epic is good! :)

      I will, of course, have to constantly adapt and change the way that I teach or else I'll be producing students with skills or knowledge that have no relevance in today's dance world. I think what I was trying to say was that instead of feeling like I have to provide all the answers I can look outward to networks and technologies and give my students the tools to do the same so that they can actively engage in their learning and find their own unique way.
      Also, I think what I'm trying to work out is how to find the best way to engage my students, by using more up-to-date ways/ thinking, within the framework of the examination syllabi that I teach.
      It'd be great if you could share any more thoughts or ideas

    3. Hi Ahmet,

      I'm having a ball thanks, and wondering why I didn't do this years ago...and why there aren't more hours in the day to get more reading in...and how to fit the wealth of knowledge out there into my small brain...and panicking about not knowing enough, and..., and...!
      But as a seasoned "BAPPer" I imagine that this is something you're familiar with!

      I've been reading your blog and been inspired by your writing - your honesty, the way you deal with moments of confusion, your positivity, and your generosity.
      I'm looking forward to what is to come, I hope you are too :)

  2. Hi Sarah,

    I love that you've shared with us the negative arguments re. web 2.0. It is a point that I hadn't thought of before..we have all been writing about how blogging and sharing on social networking sites can give us a different perspective in order to help us develop, but are we really getting that if we choose to connect with people who obviously have things in common with us?

    I'm intrigued also by what you said about developing as a teacher to suit the "modern student". I half agree with this..we must find ways to connect with our students so that we can relate to them and more importantly they can relate to what we are saying. However, I feel that the "lack of concentration" that seems more and more apparent these days is actually a bad side of web 2.0 and not something I really want to cater to in my classes. I think the internet and technology we have these days is fantastic and can definitely assist learning in an enormous way, but I think sometimes we need to remember the benefits of "old-fashioned" learning also. I think we should learn to focus on a task properly...if we are incapable of focusing on one thing and doing it well, what is the point of trying to do everything at once and not succeeding?

    Just my thoughts! Clare :)

    1. Hi Clare,
      Great thoughts, as always :)

      I can totally see the merits of what you say, and there are a lot of students I teach who can still focus well and come to class having thought about, and improved on, things from the week before. However, there are some who struggle to correct, retain and/ or concentrate too.
      I realise that this has always been the case - children have always been wildly different in their ability to, for example, concentrate - however, I feel I should try to offer as much variety, support and help in the way I teach so that I can try and engage each and every one.
      Is this an idealistic view? Perhaps. But in the same way that it has always been accepted that people learn differently, therefore teachers should reflect this variety in the way they present information, can we also say that, if the modern brain is being rewired (Siemens, 2004), people need different encouragement and opportunity to learn?

      I also agree that, with so much on offer to children in the way of extra-curricular activities, i.e. dance, music lessons, tai-kwondo, horse-riding, etc., by doing too much there is not enough time to do anything well. I remember having to make a choice between dance and music as I couldn't continue to do both well.

      Within your classes, how do you tackle things like lack of concentration? It would be great to hear your tips and tricks :)


    2. Yes very true, if the brain is being rewired, perhaps we should also rewire our way of learning/teaching. Of course this is already being done to a certain extent; in schools much of the learning is now interactive which is progress but as dance teachers we already work in a different way. The children are actively a part of the class already. Dance caters for all learning types, auditory, visual and kinaesthetic. Do you have any ideas as to how we can become more up-to-date? Would technology ever be beneficial in a dance class?

      Aahh..lack of concentration ha..well with my younger children I try to make everything like a game/story, so often they do not even realise they are learning. I try to use as much imagery as possible to keep them focused, creative and their imaginations active.

      I am lucky that my 14-18 year olds are really hard workers anyway. It is the in-between age that I find harder work.

      It is that transition from child to teenager that seems to wipe away any enthusiasm and interest but I am trying my best to keep it alive! I find that if I chat with the students at the beginning and let them get their stories/moans out of their system, they work better throughout the lesson. I have a strict structure to my classes and they know that half way through they get a very short break for water, toilet etc so they know not to even bother asking at other times.

      I try using free music as well even for ballet, it seems to wake them up a bit! Also, I ask them questions throughout the lesson, maybe definitions of terms or ask them to tell me what they are thinking about technically as they dance.. just to check they actually are thinking!

      Finally, sometimes I think we just have to accept that ok, maybe we have to take it easier today, everybody is tired and grumpy and pushing too hard will only be counter-productive.

      I very much doubt I've been any use to you here, you will do all this already I'm sure.. maybe you could help me instead?! ha


  3. I love teaching.Over the years I have noticed a change in my students too. Ive combated this by quite simply 'getting down with the kids!!!!' I use a lot ofmyold teaching methods still but am not scared to say I dont know...lets look... My ipad follows me round and quite often during classes it comes out for a quick search or to. At times i know we have to stick to certain sylabus etc but when thoses boundarys get boring why not break them for a while?? I find the kids then return with much more concerntration and conviction than before :)