Saturday, October 20, 2012

Connectivism: My Learning Connections

Dorothea's Mind Map

How has your network changed the way you learn?
My learning has magnified.  Whereas in my previous learning experiences information was located in a library or bookstore and bound between the pages of a book, I now access a wide array of knowledge through the World Wide Web.  I locate information and the opinions of others as far away as the Middle East, Asia, and Australia.  No longer bound by time and space, my class can be anywhere, at any time.  My peers and instructors spread across the globe.  Even though we have not physically met, I sense their presence and interest through our communications and various interactions.  I no longer hold a pen and pencil; rather, all my assignments and most of my course readings are done through my laptop.  In fact my laptop is the interface between me and the world. 

Which digital tools best facilitate learning for you?
Heading my list would be Google search engine.  It keeps me in touch with the university, my instructors and peers, and the resources offered by Walden.  Most of my research is done using Google as well.  To avoid long delays in the receipt of textbooks, e-books are a viable option, so, second on my list of priorities are e-readers, especially Foxit Reader.  Most of the papers are Pdf files and Foxit Reader facilitates my “reading a book” sensibilities.  To assist my memory, I take notes, highlight, underline, and italicize and so on just as I would a book.  I also use Kindle, Adobe Digital Editions, and Vital Source Bookshelf .  The online dictionaries are indispensable.  As I read, the meanings of unfamiliar words are checked and noted in the e-reader for clarification and future reference.  The Internet is critical to my studies.  Whenever I need clarification of a concept I seek simplification using general searches on the web.    These digital tools are definitely part of my entire learning process.

How do you learn new knowledge when you have questions?
My general approach is to find out as much as I can about the topic before attempting to answer any question.  Siemens (2006) suggests several pre-learning activities that include exploration, inquiry, decision making, selecting, and deselecting.  Learning occurs when the individual actively acquires the knowledge that is needed to complete tasks or to solve a problem.  My exploration begins with the digital tools at my disposal.  Of course information found in Walden’s library and online is exhaustive, so I refine the searches to more accurately represent what is required.  Even though some of the information received might be repetitive that helps me to remember.  It is impossible for any student to remember everything so I store material for future use in Google docs, on flash drives on my laptop and external hard drives.  Strong and Hutchins (2009) note that given the speed of change in information and the enormous volume of information available no one person can know all there is to know about any particular subject, so we tap into information stored not only in our minds but also in the minds of others; as we learn from our own experience and that of others (p. 59).  This gives credence to Siemens’ proposition in "Connectivism: Learning and Knowledge Today” where he posits that learning is the process of creating networks both internally in our minds and externally, linking nodes which may be people, organizations, libraries, web sites, books, journals, databases, or any other source of information.  

Siemens, G.  (2006).  Connectivism: Learning and Knowledge Today.  Paper delivered at the Global Summit 2006: Technology Connected Futures.  Retrieved from
Kay Strong and Holly Hutchins.  (2009).  Connectivism: a theory for learning in a world of growing complexity.  Impact: Journal of Applied Research in Workplace E-Learning.  1(1), 53-67. doi: 10.5043/impact.18

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Collaboration, Technology, and Constructivist Learning

Do humans innately work as a group?
Humans have derived from their experience the understanding that if they collaborate they would accomplish more than they would alone.  If there is an innate drive to “interact and work as a group” there is also the counterbalancing drive to survive.  And many decisions are made based on this will to survive.  As Rheingold points out in his examples of various businesses that have achieved success through collaboration, their desire to collaborate was not altruistic, but they learned that there is more to gain from working together than from going it alone.
Technology, collaboration and constructivist principles
Constructivists believe that learners construct knowledge, reflect on content, and share their knowledge with others (Solvie & Klock, 2007, p.8 ) as they actively learn through experience and interact with their environment.  Teachers become facilitators and coaches as students engage with the teacher, the task and other students.  Students become more independent as they are allowed to collaborate and explore in a context in which they are given the power over their own learning.  Technology provides the supportive media rich environment in which this type of learning can take place.  Driscoll (2005) points to the value of hypermedia through its support of graphics, text, audio, video and hyperlinks that encourages exploration and opens the door to a wide array of information that learners use to broaden discussions.  Other media include discussion boards, wikis, and mobile technologies such as cellular phones and ipads.  These allow students to continue the conversation beyond the classroom since they support access at anytime from anywhere.
What the research says
Solvie and Klock (2007) investigated the value of technology in supporting constructivists' theories of how individuals learn.  They used technology during class to communicate, provide information for students, scaffold, and clarify.  Outside of class, learners used technology to further collaborate with each other and with their teacher.  The researchers observed that if technology tools are chosen to match students learning needs and learning styles they have the ability to facilitate learners’ need to work individually and in groups to construct knowledge.  They also found that technology encouraged individuals to explore other learning styles (p. 23).  Qureshi and Stormyhr (2012) developed a model for collaborative learning and team work.  They suggested that collaborative/team work was especially suited to the diverse higher education community (p. 119)

Driscoll, M. P. (2005). Psychology of learning for instruction (3rd ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education.

Qureshi, M. A. and Stormyhr, E.  (2012).  Group dynamics and peer-tutoring a pedagogical tool for learning in higher education.  International Education Studies.  5(2) 118-124.  doi:10.5539/ies.v5n2pll8

Rheingold, H. (2008).  Howard Rheingold on collaboration [video file].  Retrieved from

Solvie, P., and Kloek, M.  (2007).  Using technology tools to engage students with multiple learning styles in a constructivist learning environment.  Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 7(2), 7-27.  Retrieved from

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

10 Reasons Why Our Students Fail

An opinion paper
The nation is distressed about the results of the CXC exams.  We are especially appalled about the percentage who failed in mathematics and English Language.  We need to take a good look at the sciences and foreign languages.  Where exactly are we heading?  How are we preparing our children for life in the 21st century and beyond?  Why exactly do our children fail?  I could go online and research reasons for failure and find many, but I want to make my response local.  Sometimes self-assessment is critical if an individual or institution is to improve.  So let us examine ourselves.  The process has to begin somewhere.  This is my attempt.

1. Lack of clear policies from the ministry of education   
    There is a lack of clear plans emanating from the Ministry of Education to assist teachers to maintain skills in a changing environment.  Research in education is an ongoing process.  It is useless then to train teachers, return them to the classroom and have no clear policy to ensure that teachers keep abreast of what is happening in the learning community that can impact their classroom.  Workshop attendance is insufficient.  The Ministry of Education should have clear policies regarding the renewal of teacher certification at specific intervals through participation in specific education courses.  Policies are needed to respond to questions such as: What is expected of teachers? What is expected of students? What is expected of parents? How does each stakeholder in education deal with grievances? Not only should these questions be answered, but the answer should be made public on the ministry’s website and through white papers and brochures.  Antigua is the only place I know where you are given a job and not advised about your rights and responsibilities.

 2. Poor environment
     Time has moved on, but we have not changed with the times.  As a result we find ourselves left further and further behind.  We open new schools repeating the same old problems.  There is not one government school in Antigua that has been designed with the comfort of teachers and pupils in mind.  If I am incorrect and comfort was the original intent, then we have strayed from that intent.  All are utilitarian.  So we herd our children into overcrowded classrooms where there is barely room for the teacher to stand in front of the class and expect them to perform.  Are we crazy or what?  This is especially true in our secondary schools.  We send a steady stream of teachers to the Teacher Training College where they learn about the various theorists and new methodologies.  Then they return to the same old congestion and feel impotent to try anything new.  What have we given the schools to support these new methodologies?  The schools lack equipment and material to teach the subject in new and meaningful ways.

 3. Improper Use of Technology
     For years each secondary school has had a computer lab.  To what end?  The labs are only used to teach information technology.  Technology has neither been integrated into the curriculum nor into actual classroom practice.  Now we have given each teacher a laptop and plan to give fourth and fifth formers ipads.  Can all teachers use the laptops efficiently and effectively?  Do all teachers know how to use technology to facilitate student learning?  If not, what use will be made of the laptops and iPads?  Decisions about education are too serious and have too lasting an effect for them to be made in a frivolous off-hand manner.  Where's the research into teachers' and pupils' technological skills before making the decision to introduce these modalities?  Don't get me wrong.  I am a firm believer in the use of modern technologies in the teaching learning process, but have preparations been made to ensure their effective use? 

 4. Waning interest
     There is declining participation in subject areas such as foreign languages and the sciences.  I have only one question to ask.  Why is it that all children study at least one foreign language and the science subjects in secondary school, yet when they get to fourth and fifth form only a few opt to write these subjects and many fail?  This area requires thoughtful examination into content, methodologies, and student and teacher approaches and attitudes to the subject.

  5. Lack of parental support
     What exactly is the role of the parent in this equation?  Many parents are not there for their children.  Many do not ensure that they are properly fed, that they are appropriately attired for school, that they have the necessary material as requested by teachers to facilitate participatory learning activities, that they do their homework and allocate study time.  You might ask, what does being correctly dressed have to do with failure?  Some schools (and rightly so) have a dress code and will send children home for incorrect uniform.  That means the loss of valuable contact time.  Some parents just do not care.  If the Ministry of Education had strict well known policies concerning these matters some of these issues would not be encountered.  

 6. Culture
     We are a nation at risk for our children are ill-prepared to meet future challenges.  We have nurtured a culture where for the most part little value is placed on education.  Sure, we are happy as a nation where we see our children succeed, but what are we doing to ensure success for all?  Indifference has set in.  Many children go to school for lack of anything else to do.  The intent is not to learn.  Efforts should be made to get us back to the place where we value and nurture education.

 7. Lack of motivation
     Students need to be motivated to learn.  They have to desire to succeed and to overcome in spite of all the negatives.  A program should be started in every school where individuals in society who are successful, mentor students.  It takes a village.

 8. Peer Relationships
     Children should choose friends carefully since that can have a positive or negative impact on their lives.  Time should be devoted to new first formers to attempt to break the cycle.

9. Failure to Communicate
     Students who fail sometimes do so because they do not reach out to others.  Sometimes, they do not understand a crucial concept and they do not ask.  Maybe they are embarrassed and do not want their peers to know for fear they will be ridiculed.  Students need to be encouraged to voice their opinions and seek help when needed.

10.  Failure to Plan 
     Students will not succeed unless they plan to succeed and teachers are a part of this process.  As teachers plan their work this should be shared with students.  They should know what will be covered each term.  The Ministry of Education should make all syllabi available online and have hard copies for purchase.  This will facilitate student planning ahead.  They will be able to start to research topics teachers plan to cover and also to have an input into their own learning.