A Response to Connectivism

Quick Question: Why Can’t We Learn From Textbooks?

Zach Weiner, SMBC-Comics

I estimate that 500 students take calculus 1 every semester at the University of Maine. Each of those students pays around $1200 for the four credit class. 500 students x $1200 per student = $600,000 in revenue every semester from students taking calc 1. There are thousands of schools around the United States teaching thousands of different calculus classes. If someone could write a textbook that replaced the teacher, he would be a billionaire in one year.

So why hasn’t it been done?

George Siemens and Connectivism

There are multiple theories of how we learn but George Siemens proposes that people learn by making connections between different schema (Siemens, 2005). People are smart when they have many, strong connections. The following text is a discussion of the theory.

“The test of any theory is the degree to which it solves problems and incongruities within a domain.” –George Siemens

Textbook Dilemma – the explanation is only one part of learning, people also need to connect the information to their existing network in order for it to be accessible. A teacher is needed to facilitate these connections.

Word Problems vs Equations in Math – In my experience, there are many students who can solve equations but not word problems. The trick with word problems is to figure out which equation to use and which variables go where. According to connectivism, students cannot solve a word problem until they make the connection between math and the real world.

There is a psychological phenomenon where people do not see things until they believe it. The best-known example of this is the myth that Native Americans could not see the ships of Christopher Columbus because their brains couldn’t comprehend them. There is no evidence that the effect is so drastic, but there is evidence that this phenomenon happens on a smaller scale. The reasoning is that people can only reason with existing framework; similar to the “selective attention” phenomenon where we see only what we want to see. It seems reasonable that we can’t connect two things if there is no road.

A pedagogical View, Not a Learning Theory

Prof. dr. ir. Pløn W. Verhagen states in his response to connectivism, van Pløn Verhagen, Bijdrage (2006):

“A theory should explain phenomena and those explanations should be verifiable. The information presented here is not sufficiently specific and coherent to allow any comments on that aspect.

…Lacking that, what is left for us to do is ‘unsubstantiated philosophising’, preferably over a glass of wine before dinner. Perhaps someone can come up with a cunning plan; otherwise I think that we should forget about connectivism.”

There is obvious dissent for connectivism which is summarized by Verhagen. Based on my research on google, there have not been many studies on connectivism. The theory cannot be widely accepted until replicable results come in. However, we need to work towards fixing education so hypothesizing and testing is exactly what needs to be done.

Implications

Connectivism is not a solution in itself it is a road sign to where the solutions might lie. Siemens has listed his own implications but I will propose my own.

If we learn by making connections, students should not learn math and science in the same class at the same time. This way they can connect graphs to things such as population growth of their favorite animal, trajectories of projectiles, chemical reaction rates, tectonic plate movement and not just how the equation y=x^2 changes. According to my understanding, having these connections will strengthen a students understanding and ability to use the information.

Forming connections and divergent thinking exercises should be the main focus in classrooms.

The development of false framework should be eliminated from all curriculum because it inhibits the network of correct knowledge. This means that elementary teachers should never tell students that the sun is on fire (as opposed to explaining how it is basic elements undergoing nuclear reactions.) If they can’t explain something, tell them that they do not have the ability to understand yet.

The environments in which students learn should be dynamic (the classroom itself changes and students travel to different locations) so that students can make more connections

Conclusion

I still don’t understand why I spend hundreds of dollars every semester on books and they are all garbage. Connectivism seems to be a good platform to work off of but no theory can ever be truly proven. Evolution seems like a very strong model but we will never be able to say for sure that it is the exact model for species developement. Connectivism attempts to model the way in which we learn. Educators should constantly be looking for ways to improve. If you don’t buy into connectivism then find a different solution that you like and implement it. Just don’t remain static.

References

Siemens, George (2005). Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age

Siemens, George (2005). Connectivism: Learning as Network-Creation.

van Pløn Verhagen, Bijdrage (2006). Connectivism: A New Learning Theory?

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