Connectivism: Questioning the role of the teacher in a connected world

It seems that every week there is a news article debating issues in education from the value of standardized testing amongst scandal, the value of technology on education, how to improve the quality of teaching, and trying to figure out which educational theory works best in an always connected world,   Sir Ken Robinson provides an explanation as to why people are constantly critiquing the education system in his speech Changing Education Paradigms.

Mr. Robinson mentions that the current solutions being offered are not working because the suggestions being put forth to improve education do not fit with the current model that exists in schools.  This week I was introduced to the theory of Connectivism which suggests that learning is a process of connecting nodes or information sources to further one’s understanding, in contrast to the current assembly-line model of education.

In his post Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age, George Siemens introduces us to his ideas on how we can best educate our students in a digital society.  He makes some interesting points in his article and raises some intriguing questions, particularly concerning the limitations of educational theories because they “…are concerned with the process of learning and not the value of what is being taught.”

Connectivism could be explained as a learning theory that encourages students to use their connections to further their learning in a field of study that is interesting to them.  This theory stresses the importance of being able to make connections between bits of information, discerning useful or truthful information, and maintaining connections to ensure further learning and currency of information.  However, I felt uneasy when I got to the conclusion and read his suggestion that “the pipe is more important than the content within the pipe.  Our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today.”

Yes, I agree that being able to learn something is an incredibly valuable skill.  Yes, I act more as a guide with my students, helping them to understand the big idea and allowing them to research their own inquiries. But, do I believe it should be up to each individual to follow only what interests them: hardly.  Reflecting on my own interests as a child, if I had only followed the nodes that allowed me further to develop my knowledge of areas of interest, then I would have wound up learning nothing except how to put on a show, “Who Shot Mr. Burns?,” and perhaps the 100 reasons why cats are better then dogs.

If it were not for my teachers guiding me to learn what they felt was valuable to learn and to understand the bigger picture, I would never have developed an interest in history or religious studies.

I probably will never feel comfortable teaching a course like George Siemens and Stephen Downes did where the only two components were:

  1. enrolled students seeking formal evaluation and recognition
  2. participants engaged for personal learning.

However, after reading the article I am now pondering another question: If technology is to the point where students can access information at any time, then what facts, skills, or “big ideas,” truly need to be taught under the supervision of a teacher?  If the answer nothing, then our profession needs to be reevaluated.  But, if we believe that there are things too valuable to know that leaving it to the chance that students will stumble upon it is not an option, then what are they and what is our position in a world where access to knowledge is as easy as pushing a few buttons? Perhaps the teacher should act as a guide to help students not only see what they want to see but also to guide them to see things that they can’t or don’t want to see but should.

Image Sources, Creative Commons Licensed, Found on Flickr

CMAP of Connectivism v1.0 by  wlonline

Who Shot Mr Burns? shared by Andrew*

Image Source Vladia Vladia

Brendan as Stage Manager by Vladia Vladia

Image Source Graham Lea

Brendan with Mackie by Graham Lea


Filed under Connectivism, Course 1, Responses to Readings

6 responses to “Connectivism: Questioning the role of the teacher in a connected world

  1. I really like the point you’re making here. I’m sure Downes and Siemens would have something to say about “only 2” components of the course, it probably runs deeper than this…I also think what you are saying here could be argued very legitimately and is a limitation of this style of education.

    For me, one of the things that a connectivist approach does is to free up teacher roles to emerge from situation, rather from anything static. Heh, when you’re trying to educate as many people as possible, maybe the situation doesn’t call for things like motivation and individuality.

  2. vahid

    I iagree that we need to seriously re-evalwhat the essential common core needs to be and what we can leave to the personalized learning. one content fits all needs not remain the only Approach to education .

  3. Love this statement:

    Perhaps the teacher should act as a guide to help students not only see what they want to see but also to guide them to see things that they can’t or don’t want to see but should.

    I think that’s exactly what our role could be. And it can totally happen in a connected environment. Maybe as adults we can focus our learning on only what interests us, but the role of schools could be to help students explore and discover ideas that they may not have previously considered. Big themes and concepts that transcend individual classes are what I believe schools need to dedicate their time to – it will continue to get harder and harder to see students as vessels to be filled with content as more and more content becomes available. Thanks for getting me thinking!

  4. There are many good points but the biggest problem for change in the educationa system is the teachers union. If they are not willing to change the status quo,change will never happen

  5. Wow. I really like the point made in this article. It really made me think about what the future holds for teachers and how classrooms of students will be taught in about 20 years. Technology is growing rapidly, but unfortunately educational institutions aren’t keeping up, because of how rapidly it is changing. Books are electronic now and anything that students want to know is readily available, but, yes, guidance (rather than supervision) is very necessary. What is the sense in having all the knowledge in the world and having nothing to do with it? Great read.

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