How My Thoughts are Changing 1: Connectivism & Information Literacy

My reading as part of the ZIS Coetail cohort has me thinking a great deal about what we should be doing in schools to facilitate learning and information literacy with today’s technological tools. I’m going to explore this in two parts. First, I’m interested in information flows and school policies. George Siemens points out in his “Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age” that

Learning, as a self-organizing process requires that the system (personal or organizational learning systems) “be informationally open, that is, for it to be able to classify its own interaction with an environment, it must be able to change its structure…” (p.4). Wiley and Edwards acknowledge the importance of self-organization as a learning process: “Jacobs argues that communities self-organize is a manner similar to social insects: instead of thousands of ants crossing each other’s pheromone trails and changing their behavior accordingly, thousands of humans pass each other on the sidewalk and change their behavior accordingly.” (¶15)

Immediately I wonder: can China learn? The authoritarian impulse to ban or control information is outmoded in governance and in education. At The European Laptop Institute at The Hague last fall,  numerous sessions revolved around the blocking of social media in general and Facebook in particular, often referring to this as the teaching of digital citizenship! Clearly, in systems with tight information control, students as a community are going to self-organize in ways that ultimately defeat and undermine the system that controls information, ants burrowing under the wall to borrow the earlier metaphor. This happens in places like China in really interesting ways (that link is eye opening!), and more famously in all of the countries of the Arab Spring. Why wouldn’t it happen in schools? Besides, it misses the point entirely. Autocratic moves try to impose order on chaos, but as Siemens points out, “Chaos, as a science, recognizes the connection of everything to everything.” (¶14) Rather than waste time and resources on controlling information, schools would be well served to transfer ownership of information to the community and work to add structure to channels or prioritize channels of connectivity. Additionally, schools should teach information literacy (digital and analog), because

When knowledge, however, is needed, but not known, the ability to plug into sources to meet the requirements becomes a vital skill. As knowledge continues to grow and evolve, access to what is needed is more important than what the learner currently possesses. (Siemens ¶31)

Firewalls and draconian policies transfer responsibility for navigating digital realms to the institution and away from students as users. We should seek to cultivate students as connoisseurs of information and as captains of their information channels. If we are “offloading” information into our computers and networks, then students have to have retrieval skills and higher order thinking abilities like analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Schools should not seek to control information and should make kids information literate and not fall for the myth of the digital native, which I’ll look at in a subsequent post.

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