Thu 10 May 2012
One thing that I find discomforting about connectivism and communities of practice is the apparent avoidance of controversy. They are all about positive connections, at least this is most emphasised, although I believe that the proponents do consider the fact that opposite knowledge values exist and conflict with each other.
An example for this is Stephen Downes’ earlier intro of connectivism on Free Learning and Control Learning. There, he talks of positive neuron stimuli that enable neural network creation. He also talks about the teacher’s role to model and demonstrate. But this is the ancient Socratean principle where a set of disciples follow the wise man’s thought patterns – leading to a school of thought – which isn’t in fact what Stephen is trying to argue in the article, and it’s counter-intuitive in the context of connectivism. He also mentions that we are involved in communities of practice with shared ways of doing things and a shared understanding. But this may only be that way, because we (humans) tend to settle with the like-minded. So, here again, controversy is conveniently avoided. From a collective knowledge perspective, we cannot see it like that.
Let’s face it, knowledge is never harmonious. Where there is a thesis, there is at least one anti-thesis! Where there is a rule, there’s an exception! It is this controversy and confrontation that actually challenges and thus drives the creation and adoption of knowledge. Where there is no apparent controversy, I see knowledge as being stagnant.
We are faced with a choice: Either define such a thing like knowledge and anti-knowledge propagated by different carriers or networks, e.g. schools of thoughts. Even within one and the same carrier, hence leading to internal conflicts, which in turn may lead to evaluation through confrontation – or to confusion. The other choice, which I favour is to see knowledge as an independent cloud, that encompasses all controversial views and evaluations from different participants. In the latter view, the individual’s existence is secondary to the existence of knowledge per se, the role of the individual is solely to contribute to the collective cloud body of knowledge. This theory is similar to gene theories that see the gene pool as independent of the individuals carrying them. As such, a human learner is a host for knowledge components and connections.
Perhaps it is time to rethink knowledge networks and communities of practice. Not only in the congregations of like-minded agreers or followers, but as a heterogenous mass that is in constant conflict with itself, where fractions form and dissolve again. And while a mainstream may exist, perhaps enforced by powerful entities or other mechanisms, subversive forms of knowledge co-exist. This picture compares to e.g. the community of music lovers which creates and adopts different tunes and beats all based on the same frequencies and notes.
Connectivism in this is linking to a cloud, being part of that cloud and participating in that cloud through the connections you form with other hosts. The role of pedagogy and the teacher I see as a guide through the cloud, not so much by modeling or demonstrating, but by pointing at controversies (including different interpretations or even mis-information) and guiding the evaluation process, plausibility and reality checks, and weighting preferences.