Theory of Connectivism: The Nature VS Nurture Debate #CCK11 #ELTchat

Power of Connectivism (Credit: God)

Quotes from Stephen Downes that I agree with, fully:

“…a great deal of connectivism falls into the ‘nurture’ or ‘experience’ camp. That is to say, connectivism suggests that we start with a generally unshaped network of connections, and experience shapes that network.”

“The basic learning mechanisms – the formation of or breaking of connections – are innate.”

“we ‘grow’ new knowledge” rather than ‘construct’ new knowledge.”

“the actual growing is up to the garden itself.” (End of quotes)

OK, if this makes sense to me, if I agree with this, as a Teacher of English as a Foreign Language in Chile, what are the implications for my practice? Can the theory inform the practice?

For me, the answer has to be “Yes”. That’s why I’m even here, investing my time and energy in CCK11. Although I recognize connectivism as the best explanation of how I go about doing my personal Continuous Professional Development, whether or not it could be of any use to my students is unknown to me.

Is there something special about me? All my life, I have been able to teach myself things, being both student and teacher simultaneously. I mean, whenever I buy something new: a camera, a TV, a computer, a microwave oven, a cell phone, etc., guess what I do?

You guessed it, I read the directions. Always. I know that I am capable of teaching myself, through the pictures, words, diagrams and visual representations that I am provided. I am patient, I know I’m going to “get it”, regardless of how poorly the directions may have been prepared.

Howard Gardner would say I have a high degree of linguistic intelligence. I’m simply playing to my strength. Which brings me back to my students. Is connectivism playing to their “strength”? And here I acknowledge that the wrong question has been asked.

You see, it’s not about the “strength” or talent of the individual student at all. It’s about the ability of connectivism to do, repeatedly, one of two things. The best case scenario is that there exists one individual within the network of connections who knows all aspects of the missing knowledge that is being sought. Wonderful when this happens.

Yet more often than not I would think, most problems of any complexity will require bringing together a large number of people. Each of these people will have not only, a-piece-of-the-puzzle, but also the willingness to cooperate, collaborate, communicate, interact, and share their knowledge skills, and abilities. Further, in a rapid, open, free, disinterested way. The thought is, “A member of my network needs something that I know or can do: in that case, my help you can have, now, immediately.”

“Can I give some real world examples?”, you ask.

Let me give you two:

1. Fly 200 people on a Boeing 747 from Santiago, Chile to Miami, Florida. You’ve got a pilot and a plane. What other talent, skills, abilities, knowledge, and people – in addition to the pilot – must all contribute to the successful completion of this task? One thing is sure: You won’t find the pilot trying to do it alone, nor will you hear the pilot saying something like: “There is strong empirical evidence that pilots are the most important element in getting a 747 from Santiago to Miami.” Remove any one piece from the mix, and the outcome of the mission is in doubt – serious – life-threatening doubt.

“OK”, you say. “That was too easy. Give me another example that isn’t already systematic, methodical, planned. Give me chaos.”

“Here’s chaos”, I say to you, dear reader and friend.

Imagine you just went to your job as an electrician in a Chilean mine. The mine collapses, literally. You are now one of 33 miners trapped miles below the Earth. God himself sends a messenger to you, his son, and gives you one phone call. Who are you going to call?

I don’t know about you, but I would call Sebastian Piñera, President of Chile. What would I say to him? Something like this:

Thomas: “Hello Sebastian. I’m calling because I’m in your network. We’re connected because I live in Chile. I teach English here, and I got this part-time gig working electricity in a mine. Well, the mine collapsed, but “Somos bien in el Refugio. Los 33”. (Sebastian is getting this phone call in his dream – God is kinda tricky)

I continue: “I’m kinda tight with God, he’s a good friend of mine. He gave me this one phone call to you. I know it seems like a dream to you Sebastian, but that’s God’s way of testing our network. I get to tell you that we are alive. If I can get you to believe that, then you won’t stop looking for us, even if it takes 17 days before you know, before you contact us, just don’t stop looking for us! OK? Oh, here’s the hard thing about all this Sebastian. The technology, know-how, equipment you need to bring together is scattered all around the world. To save all 33 of us, you have to use your network. If you don’t do this successfully, bring all the knowledge, technology and machines to this mine, well, in that case we 33 will perish, we will die, and no one will even know our names.

Voice of God: “Time’s up Thomas.”
(you hear a sound “click”, and the line goes dead – connection to Sebastian’s dream is gone)

(Sebastian wakes up – reaches for the phone)

Sebastian: “I need to speak to my network…


Prologue: The entire world watched in amazement, happiness, and joy as one by one, all 33 miners are brought to the surface in the “Fenix” capsule. It was like seeing a man being reborn, life itself grabbed from the gates of Hell, and returned to the beauty of God’s world.

In my mind, life and death hanging in the balance, no better case, no greater case for connectivism can be made than the one I just finished making.

Enjoy the video. It brought tears to my eyes, then, and now, today, watching it again. Connectivism will do that to you, it’s so beautiful it will make you cry tears of joy…

Best regards,

About profesorbaker

Thomas Baker is the Past-President of TESOL Chile (2010-2011). He enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics. The source and inspiration for his writing comes from his family.
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