It has been very intriguing reflecting on the ideas of networks and connectivism as they relate to the future of education. Michael Wesch introduced the idea that teachers should not be complicit in the continuation of traditional ideas of learning and knowing. This really resonates with me due to the fact that we have seen in recent years the growing networks that envelope the connected world. I believe it’s true that teachers must train students to be ‘knowledge-able’ as Wesch puts it. This is true for several reasons. Firstly, students need to understand the ways in which connections to people and knowledge can be used to enhance their learning. Teachers too are just beginning to harness the power of connected learning strategies to allow students greater access to knowledge. Secondly, students must be taught how to manage these connections in order to decipher the necessary knowledge. It is becoming more and more difficult to agree upon a set of tenets that all students should ‘know’ because we have little to no idea what the world will look like 15 years from now, let alone what sorts of jobs our students may end up in. As Wesch rightly points out, the world is changing and the way we think about knowledge and learning will have to change with it. As Sir Ken Robinson points out in the video below, teachers will need to prepare students for the economies of the 21st century.
Clearly, schools and educational systems must define what should be taught in order for students to succeed in the 21st century. Enter George Siemens and his notion of connectivism. This theory explores the idea that learning is not an individual activity and that knowledge flows between individuals through networks to organizations and back again. In this way, the learning and knowledge transfer is allowed to grow exponentially as it flows through networks and organizations. Knowledge therefore, is no longer a static individualistic pursuit but a changing flowing reality that is attainable through connections. The field of education needs to begin preparing students for the use of connectivity and networks to become stewards of knowledge.
Howard Rheingold builds on this theory by providing a scaffold of skills that students of the 21st century will need to cultivate in order to succeed in this connected web of networks. His five media litteracies are stated as:
- Network awareness
- Critical consumption
Rheingold explains his thoughts on digital litteracy in the following video.
Through the development of these 5 digital skills, students will be able to access and build networks of information and learning that go far beyond the 4 walls of a classroom. Learning to properly focus attention on what is essential, learning to take part in networks and collaborating in knowledge formation and transfer, becoming aware of how and why we access networks and becoming a critical digital citizenship will all be a vital part of educating the youth of tomorrow. However, it remains crucial that the tools themselves do not become the focus of developments in educational technology. As Seimens points out in his most recent blog post, we must be cognizant of the extent to which and the reasons behind technology use in the classroom. These 5 guiding questions are key steps in planning for technology implementation in the classroom.
- Does the technology foster creativity and personal expression?
- Does the technology develop the learner and contribute to her formation as a person?
- Is the technology fun and engaging?
- Does the technology have the human teacher and/or peer learners at the centre?
- Does the technology consider the whole learner?
George Seimens, Elearnspace.org, Sept 2015.
As I thought about these theories, I began to reflect on my own students and the ways we have been learning over the past year. Although we use many collaborative strategies, twitter and Project Based Learning, our networks are fairly small and the students’ learning does not often take place in networks outside of our school or, at the best of times, our city. I believe that a balanced approach is necessary to ensure that students are best prepared for the world in front of them. I believe there will always be sets of crucial knowledge that must simply be accepted and proliferated so as to allow the safeguarding of cultural identity and language for example. However, I do see the merit in the use of networks and connectivism to allow meaningful learning to take place through collaboration instead of rote memorization. As I’ve mentioned previously, connectivity in my classroom is difficult at times due to access issues at our school. Students have limited resources and technology so gaining access to networks for learning and contributing to knowledge formation is a crucial step toward collaborative learning. This is a goal that I would like to set for our classroom. The possibilities are quite literally endless and many of the digital network and collaboration skills can easily be taught without the use of technology. By preparing students for a world of networks and collaboration, we are preparing students for a successful future.