Connectivism & Unlearning

Via @mscofino, who is leading one of the distant Coetail cohorts (of which I am a part in Zurich), here are some thoughts synthesized by Alex Guenther, perhaps another Coetrail participant in Japan, from a George Siemens piece on Connectivism. I must say that I take issue with the third point, that rules of communication are unimportant in a connected world; I’d argue they are more important. When more words are being used, some bounds have to exist for shared understanding and for personal efficacy. But, of course, rules change. For my student who included three emoticons in a narrative essay, I say use descriptive and figurative language instead. Then, when you have mastered language-craft, use emoticons and everyone will think you’ve invented a new form, that your abstraction is transgressive, exciting, and creative. Of course, in order to unlearn, one must have learned first. In fact, that’s a perfect model for mastery – learn and then unlearn. Mastery!

And for any teachers on the fence about blogging, here’s why I do it and why you should, too! That’s another via @mscofino. The PLN delivers.

2 thoughts on “Connectivism & Unlearning”

  1. I agree with what you’re saying about mastering old forms in order to forge new ones – heck, it’s been my only (half-hearted) defense of Picasso’s hideous paintings for years:

    (“but…”, I’ll say, “…if you look at his early work, he really knew how to draw, he just chose to forget it all and only paint things in a comically clumsy way. Because of… er, modernity!”)

    And, to be a bit more serious, this concept of apprenticeship followed by iconoclasm would be a cornerstone of my admiration for innovative pillars of artistry like Joyce, Yeats, Eliot, etc.

    But is the success of these geniuses reason enough to say that students in 2011 should still be forced to immerse themselves in the trade secrets of the previous generation, for no better reason than to add to their triumph as they cast them aside?

    Isn’t that a bit like saying the first 6 months of a car driver’s training course should be lessons in riding a horse?


    1. Whoa: Picasso needs a defense? Oh, man. I’m just sayin’, here, the man had serious game. But, okay, not to go off the rails…

      I don’t see that basics of effective communication in English involve “the trade secrets of the previous generation,” and I also don’t think that nailing down essential techniques of English grammar, sentence construction, rhetorically effective organization, and so on is teaching students to be Yeats. It’s certainly not teaching students to be Joyce! Have you seen Finnegan’s Wake? It’s incomprehensible! While I may some day prove to be on the wrong side of linguistic history with this statement, within the context of a human life span and a single language, common rules or norms of communication matter. It’s not that these norms don’t shift, and that text message norms may not slowly get absorbed into the mainstream beyond the context of text messaging, but until then, the most effective communicators will successfully apply norms of communication in and across a variety of contexts. This is how we make it easy for others to understand us.

      So, is teaching these norms forced immersion in the foibles of the past or exploration of the dynamics of today? I welcome the discussion and practiced application of transgressive grammar, syntax, and organization, because that’s what Shakespeare did (and apparently, it makes us smarter even today). But, it’s also possible that >8-0 is less effective than “the times have been,/ That, when the brains were out, the man would die,/ And there an end, but now they rise again,/ With twenty mortal murders on their crowns,/ And push us from our stools.” We may try to forge a new path and fail. We may succeed. Shakespeare succeeded. Either way, I fully believe that it makes sense for students to have a full complement of linguistic skills in case they try and fall short, so to redouble their efforts and succeed, eventually, in their efforts at communication. At the very least, I hope they can compose an email that doesn’t demand re-reading, wading through, parsing, and the summoning of dark spirits via Ouija boards to understand.

      Have we put the horse (riding lessons) in front of the car(t)?. Rather, some rules of the road, a feel for left, right, forward, and back, become learned, engrained, and habitual. Then, we toss them the keys and a helmet and say “Let’s see what you’ve got!” We provide feedback. They try again. If tomorrow, flying saucers are all the rage and the Twitterati jump up and down about them, we add up and down to the existing complement of skills and let them try again. Maybe I learn that hyperspace was a direction I hadn’t considered before. I revise the approach, add another skill, and try again. That’s a tortured metaphor, but that’s language for you. Elastic, and it doesn’t scream unless we make it scream. So, learn, then forget, but don’t unlearn the good stuff! I hope that progress is the accretion of good ideas and the dropping away of the superfluous or harmful. Fair point?

      Thanks for your comment and I look forward to following your blog in the future! Please stop back and comment any time.


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