Getting started with connectivism/networked learning…

During the discussion on ITForum on my paper – Learning and Knowing in Networks: Changing roles for Educators and Designers
(.pdf) – we had a brief discussion on some practical ways to implement connectivism in classroom environments. Here are a few suggestions I threw out (it is a list intended for educators who are just beginning to explore networked technologies, so advanced bloggers/wiki’ers/twitterers will find it to be somewhat basic). Would love to hear how others are using networks to improve quality of learning experiences.
1. Create a class blog…have students blog. Compile their work in an aggregator – such as PageFlakes – that will provide learners with a single page to refer to in order to get an overview of what other learners are blogging about. From my experience, many learners find it stressful simply blogging and are somewhat lost in a highly distributed environment. To build their comfort in these spaces, the use of a central starting spot can be valuable.
2. Use collaborative learning activities – have learners contribute to wikipedia or conduct group work in their own wiki. Better yet, find a colleague at a different university (or school) who is teaching a similar course and create cross-institution collaboration projects.
3. Open your own resources to collaboration and sharing. Start a “english wiki” or “physics wiki” or “psychology 101 wiki” and network with colleagues at other institutions or other countries in developing the resource and keeping it current.
4. To be networked, resources and conversations need a degree of openness. This is one of the drawbacks of an LMS. Learners need to develop comfort with transparency and see the impact. In a recent course on digital literacies, Peter Tittenberger and I found learners can be uncomfortable with posting thoughts in an open public forum. There is something personal (vulnerable?) about learning that certain individuals prefer to keep “secure”. To balance openness and privacy, tools exist, such as ELGG, that allow educators to create mini-networks with greater privacy than the open web.
5. Use existing open education resources in planning and delivering course materials. Focus on using a variety of media – games, videos, podcasts, interviews. Many resources already exist for this type of content…and the list grows daily.
6. Direct students to conference proceedings, recordings, and keynote presentations from recent conferences within the field. Many conferences now record keynote presentations. If the class is focused on a particular theorist or scientist, instead of talking about him/her, direct learners to the source – a recorded keynote or interview.
7. Contribute to the resource pool. When attending conferences, conduct podcast interviews with speakers…or grab a FlipVideo and record the interview…highlight a few key theorists and conduct and email interview and post it on your blog for future class references.
8. Experiment with different tools and instructional approaches. Build a “let’s play” component into your course. Spend a class in Second Life. Create podcasts. Involve learners – have them brainstorm learning activities.
9. Provide learners with resources that will continue to feed their learning after the course is complete. Direct them to blogs, listservs, ning networks, or other communities and networks. The content of a discipline will change. When learners are “plugged in” to a network, they have the opportunity to stay current.
10. Develop learner’s skills in participating in and contributing to networks. Detail meta-skills such as evaluating authenticity of information…encourage them to develop conceptual skills – such as accepting ambiguity and functioning in uncertain environments. Learning projects that focus on building specific cognitive skills can also be wrapped with meta and conceptual skill development components.
11. Combine worlds – involve 4th year (or graduate) students in interacting with 1st year students (in blogs or wikis, for example). Or, as one faculty member has done at U of Manitoba, have 3rd year students write the text book for first year students (http://webmail.cs.umanitoba.ca/mediawiki/index.php/Main_Page)
12. Bring in virtual guest speakers through elluminate, skype, or ustream. Reduce the centrality of one educator and shift the role of teaching to a network of external experts and other learners (graduate level, other institutions).
While this is simply a starter list, the key concepts I’m hoping to communicate is the ability to offload content creation, learner interaction, teaching, and skill develop to a network that exists beyond classroom walls. As learners develop their own personal learning networks, they will find tasks such as filtering information abundance, developing meta-skills, staying current, making sense of complex subjects, etc. can be handled through networks. In fact, those tasks can be better handled by networks than they can be with our existing model.
My assertion is that our world is presenting greater complexity to learners than experienced by previous generations. To meet this challenge requires a systemic shift from hierarchies, as evidenced in classroom only models, to networks that take advantage of participatory sense making and emergent curriculum. The educator continues to play a vital role in the process…but her/his role becomes one of assisting learners in creating networks that will enable the development of needed skills and will model the attitudes and skills needed to effectively participate in information abundant environments.

2 Responses to “Getting started with connectivism/networked learning…”

  1. Thomas Pleil says:

    Thank you for these great suggestions. I’ve been playing with several similar ideas in my courses at university and they worked very well.
    Three further suggestions:
    * Open presentations: the students theirselves choose the topic of their presentation. There are three conditions: No presentation longer than five minutes (a kind of long elevator pitch), the students have to prove why the chosen topic is relevant for the course; every student has to publish an article on a blog or wiki about his/her topic. For the organization of the presentations (date and topic) a wiki or a group calendar is useful.
    * Social Bookmarking is great to contribute to the resource pool (suggestion 7 in your post). Building up a group archive (e.g. within http://www.mister-wong.de/) allows every member of a learning group to contribute, too.
    * One day workshops may supplement weekly courses very well: A first one may be held to introduce the way of learning and the tools and a second workshop at the end of the term may pick up topics we’ve been talking about during term and deepen knowledge (about half a day) and it picks up topics the students have been suggesting (collected in a wiki during term).

  2. I’d add another important one – encourage the use of Creative Commons licenses… both in terms of content and resources that are utilised and content and resources that are created by teacher and students.