Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Writing the Rhizome

Okay, for the sake of discussion, let's just accept that my last post is correct and that a network view of knowledge is indeed part of the DNA of connectivism. Let's even assume that this distinguishes connectivism from constructivism, cognitivism, and behaviorism as learning theories. Is this such a big deal?

I think so. Starting with a view that knowledge is a function of complex networks changes how I view everything else, especially everything about my own discipline. Also, starting from this vantage point allows me to connect to and cultivate different streams on energy. I'm fed differently than if I were starting from another point of view about how knowledge is produced and propagated.

My professional gig is writing — I write and I teach others to write. Connectivism, then, encourages me to say that writing is a function of complex networks at any scale I choose to consider it.

This is worth exploring, and for ease, let me start at the scale I'm working on just now. I'm writing a blog post about connectivism to mostly educators — at least the audience I'm aware of is mostly educators, and most of them at the college level. I write to connect to the conversation of those people. This conversation is a network structure facilitated by many other network structures: my own neural network, the Internet, a MOOC, the English language, educational theory, etc. Through writing, I both connect to the conversation (the network), and I exchange value with the other nodes (people and their own texts, mostly) in the network. I am writing, now, to connect to you and to exchange value with you.

Now, compare this view of writing to the traditional view of writing: a solitary student struggling to complete an assignment, writing about a topic that far too often does not interest him and writing to people (the teacher) to whom he does want to connect. The literary version of this image is not much better: a solitary, starving poet in his lonely garret overlooking Paris struggling to capture his vision of Life for an audience that will not find him until decades after his consumptive, wretched death. Neither of these writers connects to an ecosystem that feeds and nourishes them. None of us would want to be one of these poor wretches.

Actually, the student has an ecosystem, but he is punished for connecting to it (no talking in class). Notice that when students find that they can use writing to connect to their ecosystems (their peeps, gangs, and posses), then they will write their tails off. The last estimates I saw said that the world is now generating over 5 billion text messages per day. No other period in history can approach this volume of writing. Are you not amazed that most teenagers today would rather write to their friends than talk to them? That makes no sense from the traditional views of writing. It makes great sense if you think of writing as a function of complex networks in which nodes connect to nodes, exchange energy and value, and all are enriched. (I know that not all connections are enriching, and that way too often, people connect for the purpose of abusing, but even that kind of bullying is more easily understood — and dealt with — from a network perspective that looks at interconnected nodes in a functioning network than from the perspective of the morally deficient individual preying on others.)

Starting with the notion that the production and propagation of knowledge through writing is a function of complex networks allows me to think very differently about how and why people write. That prompts me to change the way I teach writing to others. I'll explore that soon, but likely I have not finished thinking about writing as a function of complex networks. There are other scales to play in this tune.
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