Education, Technology

The Digital Realm: From Stable to Chaos

On Monday, I had the pleasure to attend a lecture on connected learning and the power of social networks by Professor George Siemens (@gsiemens), one of the founders of the idea of connectivism. George is a professor at the Athabasca University in Canada, a member of the Technology Enhanced Knowledge Research Institute (TEKRI) and the author of Knowing Knowledge.

George is ultimately another activist out there who actually understands the power of connectedness and how to harness the power and potential of digital information. Those who’ve been to my workshop and talk would have heard me say over and over again, that we’re at a Connected Age where we are more connected than we have ever been. With our combined intelligent, creativity and innovative minds and ideas, we should have addressed a huge proportion of social problems, but that’s far from truth mainly because many people who are stuck with the traditional way of seeing digital information still fails to recognise and most of all, harness this amazing power of connectedness. The challenge is not so much just recognising and understanding it, but it needs us to change the way we do things and most significantly, the way we think. It’s the latter that is the biggest challenge for many people.

George founded the theory of connectivism, and according Wikipedia:

“Connectivism, “a learning theory for the digital age,” has been developed by George Siemens and Stephen Downes based on their analysis of the limitations of behaviourism, cognitivism and constructivism to explain the effect technology has had on how we live, how we communicate, and how we learn. Donald G. Perrin, Executive Editor of the International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning says the theory “combines relevant elements of many learning theories, social structures, and technology to create a powerful theoretical construct for learning in the digital age.”

I highly recommend reading the Wiki article if you have the time and/or work in the ICT field.

Education is relatively a new field to me, even though I am currently working in it! However, the digital world isn’t so I am only picking one slide from the entire presentation (found here) to comment on, since its the only one that has gotten quite a discussion during the lecture.

The slide show showed this quote:

“What we have here is a transition from a stable, settled world of knowledge produced by authority/authors, to a world of instability, flux, of knowledge produced by the individual … ” – Institute of Education, London, 2007.

So, that quote got quite a few discussions going and I didn’t get the time to budge in so here is my 2 cents worth.

The Way, The Truth & The Light
OK, well, I didn’t mean to be controversial with the subheading but historically, the church had the monopoly over the truth. However, things changed after the Englightenment because pretty much, everything was up for grabs! The truth slowly disperse to people in the society, and over the past centuries, the politicians, scientists and teachers control the truth. Even when the internet started booming, the truth was still very much centred and controlled. I remember when I was an undergraduate students, referencing websites was a huge no-no, unless in very very unique circumstances, you can reference huge, well-recognised organisations such as the World Health Organisation or governmental websites.

Social Media Shifted The Equilibrium
In the last few years, the explosion of social media has not only called for micro-information, but we also see a shift in the controller and communicator of the truth. Social media shifted the power to people, to everyone and encouraged conversations. This is an important point, because websites used to be static and information-relaying, but social media pushed for conversations and interactions. Increasingly, the perception of truth and information started coming in from all kinds of sources – friends, friends of friends and even people you don’t really know! (Twitter is a great example – how many people you don’t know do you follow and how many tweets from people you don’t know you have RT’ed)

It was also during this time that the smart people start to see a revolution – we’re moving into a Connected Age where we’re all becoming hyperconnected and this can be a great thing because like I mentioned before, with our powers combined (pun intended) we can seriously become Captain Planet! Those who recognise this started innovative and revolutionary ideas such as Wikipedia and Creative Commons. These ideas call for conversations, scrutiny but most importantly, credible, reliable and quality information and/or product! Everyone is an expert and everyone has a piece of truth. In the case of creative commons, someone can produce a revolutionary theory today, publish the book under creative commons and allow anyone and everyone who thinks that they have a piece of mind to add to that to tear the theory apart and add their own parts to it.

Things are continuously being challenged and at a rate that is more rapid than before. This is the perfect time for social innovation to prosper and if anything, time for us to actually believe that the answer to many social problems is potentially very near.

Back to the quote
At the lecture, the idea that we’re at “a transition from a stable, settled world of knowledge produced by authority/authors, to a world of instability, flux, of knowledge produced by the individual” was challenged and my point of view is that many traditional thinker of the digital world still does not recognise or see this information shift pushed by the digital realm. They are not backward thinkers, if anything, these are the people that will help improve the theory, idea and how we convey this very new way of thinking to them.

Some might misunderstood the use of “instability” in the sentence, but its important for us to remember that this instability is not necessarily a bad thing, in fact, more often than not, it is a good thing. This instability is the conversation that I am talking about.

And a great example of that is this post. Back in those days, what was presented in a lecture either stay in our mind or gets regurgitated into our assignments and exams, but in the Connected Age, the lecture might have ended but the conversations continue happening on Twitter, on Elluminate Live where it was streamed LIVE and on this blog. And everyone, every conversation adds at least a tiny piece of truth to the lecture.

What does this mean in Education?
Like I mentioned before, I am no expert in this area but I feel like I should add some opinions to this. I have been really frustrated with some universities approach to teaching, especially the attitude of the lecturers. I came from a work background where youth participation is taken very seriously. We work in an organisation that targets young people, but we not only provide service for the young people, but we work with the young people as well. By participation, we are not talking about providing feedbacks but giving the influence to change things. It is recognising that everyone can be an expert and inviting people that you “work” with to be co-creators with you. However, in traditional education, the teacher and lecturer remains the disseminator of the truth and information presented in lectures and assessments are based on pre-existing information, without much creative input from the students.

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I am incredibly excited by the work George is doing, because that is one of the challenge I think tertiary science education in Australia is facing. I am really looking forward to next year to jump on board with Dr Mia O’Brien (@Mia_OBrien) to look at setting up Teachers Without Borders and some other projects.

Other works of George Siemens:
- Connectivism: Networked and Social Learning
- everything elearning
- his very interesting blog

Last week’s Twitter #4change Chat was around Education, in particular the role of social media in Education, so if you’re interested George’s blog has more interesting read.