Resurrecting “Disconnectivism”

18 11 2009

Aside from exploring the “content” of the CCK09 course (including content generated by the instructors and by the “student” community) related to the theory and pedagogy/androgogy of connectivism, the aspect of the experience that I have enjoyed most is seeing how participants are mixing and matching various online tools to create mashed up learning environments uniquely suited to their learning preferences, professional roles, lifestyles, aesthetic sensibilities, and technological comfort levels.  I have certainly appropriated bits and pieces of what I have seen into my own strategies for gathering and filtering pieces of the distributed conversation and archiving and organizing the key ideas, pithy quotes, and big questions I want to be able to recall and reuse in the future.  I know I have become a better online, semi-independent learner as a result.  Not only do I know more “stuff” than I did at the beginning of the course, I feel smarter because I’ve improved the part of my brain that is outside of my skull.

Unfortunately, this experience has also dramatically increased my sense of frustration with the dominant view of technology in K-12 education in Ohio (my state.)

Earlier today, I read Antonio Fini’s paper summarizing responses to a survey he conducted with 2008 CCK MOOC participants, which, in part, explores the online tools used by CCK08 participants and their perceptions of the value of those tools in the learning process.  While virtually all of the survey participants reported using the “official” tools of the course (Moodle, the Daily e-mail newsletter, and Elluminate) to some degree, almost all participants also reported using at least one (and usually several) tools that were not required to access the content specified on the syllabus or follow the instructors.  These tools included social networking sites like Ning, LinkedIn, and Facebook, blogging tools like WordPress, virtual environments like Second Life, and Twitter for “backchannel” communications, brief comments, and resource sharing.  Additionally, content aggregation tools (e.g. PageFlakes and RSS) and social bookmarking and link sharing tools like Twine and Diigo were key elements for several participants.

What frustrates me going back and forth between my CCK09 experience and my “day job” in public schools is being made acutely aware every day of the power of social learning technologies in the course and then going back into systems where most of these technologies are not merely “unfamiliar” to learners, but preemptively blocked or banned, and actively demonized, by educators, many with (ironic?) titles like “Instructional Technology Supervisor.”

For example:

  • I recently participated in a conference on STEM education — held at a technology education center — where virtually every social networking site, social bookmarking tool, video portal, and even Google Sites were blocked.
  • In 2007, the state’s largest professional association for teachers issued guidance to members advising them not to join or cancel their accounts with Facebook and MySpace.  Many districts also ban or discourage educators communicating with students via cell phone, text message or Twitter.
  • The state school boards association advises against using social networking sites for K-12 educational purposes while simultaneously posting links on the front page of the organization’s website directing visitors to follow it on Twitter or become a fan on its Facebook page.  (As of today, the association has only four fans — possibly because most of their would-be audience either can’t access Facebook or is afraid to make their presence on the social network known to school officials.)  I attended their state conference recently where the keynote speaker, a purported expert on creativity, spent a good part of his presentation comparing the growth of social networks and mobile computing via cell phone and iPod to the growth of the Borg from Star Trek, destroying relationships, subjugating people to machines, and crushing the individualism of poor ignorant students too naive to comprehend the dark powers of the network.
  • Poorly informed fear-mongering in local media produces knee-jerk reactions of many K-12 educators only compounds the problem.  Lauren Angelone nicely catalogs the lopsided “discourse” in the non-debate over school policies and reactions to technology in this blog post and highlights the growing chasm between views of technology between K-12 and higher education with examples from her e-mail inbox.

A term that emerged briefly in CCK08 (and which I stumbled across in some curious Googling) which I think fits my day job universe much of the time is “disconnectivism.”  I’m going to repurpose the word, though, to describe the opposing force to Downes’ and Siemens’ thinking to help bring (sarcastic) clarity to the debate.

To compare and contrast:

  • Where connectivism proposes that learning occurs through interaction, disconnectivism holds that learning occurs in isolation (and MUST be assessed this way.)
  • Where connectivism suggests “freedom” involves being able to construct and choose your own community, disconnectivism argues that that freedom is actually a threat to community (which must be defined by place and demographics.)
  • Where connectivism sees a student’s  ability to create and customize networked learning environments to connect with external sources of information, expertise, and mentorship as an expression of individualism and indicator of learner self-efficacy, disconnectivism sees these personal learning environments as debilitating for students (as they should learn “on their own” and do “for themselves”) and, sometimes, as an affront to the profession of teaching.  Where connectivism proposes that knowledge largely lies in network connections, disconnectivism is skeptical, asserting that while some knowledge may exist “out there,” so too does grave danger which must be avoided (kind of like starving to avoid the potential risk of choking inherent in eating food.)

Unfortunately, right now, it looks like the disconnectivists are winning the K-12 debate.  However, there’s still hope for a come-from-behind shift.  After all, connectivists can use tools to organize themselves that the disconnectivists are afraid to touch.  Connectivists can collaborate 24/7.  Connectivists can get smarter faster.

However, to succeed, K-12 connectivists need more support from their allies in higher education and industry — and not just in the form of research and theory development, but in the form of policy advocacy and engagement with popular media to balance the technological horror stories that dominate thinking today with news of success and promising possibilities that go largely uncovered in mass media (which remains the primary source of information and consensus opinion for people not yet participating in social media.)

Advertisements