Saturday, October 20, 2012

Why Connectivism?

I've not blogged in over a month, and I have a serious case of disconnection. I'm irritable about it. Really. I'm not so pleasant just now, and I think a large part of it has to do with my loss of connection with my writing, my thoughts, my conversation. Of course, I have good reasons for being disconnected—mostly demands from other connections: family, vacation, a personal blog, work, an election, and more—but those reasons do not ameliorate the dissatisfaction. The only solution is to reconnect. Perhaps a better way to say it is: it's time for me to refire a dormant neuron.

And it occurs to me how differently I think about things now and how I owe much of that difference to this conversation about connectivism.This has been a most important conversation for me, and I'm uncomfortable when I don't exercise it regularly. So what is it that makes connectivism important? If I had to chose one word for you, then I would say networks, networks in both their formal sense as mathematical, scientific structures and their informal sense as rhizomatic, literary structures. I admire and respect the first way to think about networks, but I love the second. The first is a revered teacher, the second a passionate lover. Both aspects of networks have reshaped my thinking about most everything in life, but especially the way I view education and rhetoric. Networking is an archetypal meme that radically changes the way I see my world. For me, this has been big stuff.

I've been reminded from several sources just this past week about the revolution that is occurring all around us as the networking meme (virus might be a better term) spreads. The webzine Edge had a great conversation with Albert-lázló Barabási about thinking in network terms. Barabási notes first that "we always lived in a connected world, except we were not so much aware of it." We became aware of networks as technologies gave us a way of better viewing them. This is the same as our using telescopes to learn that the Earth is but a speck of dust on the outer edge of the Milky Way galaxy. We had always been a speck of dust on a speck of dust, but the telescope helped us to see that. Similarly, we have always been nodes in physical, chemical, biological, social, spiritual, intellectual, rhetorical networks, but it took computers and computer networks for us to appreciate that fact and to address it. Now, as Barabási notes, "We never perceived connectedness as being quantifiable, as being something that we can describe, that we can measure, that we have ways of quantifying the process. That has changed drastically in the last decade, at many, many different levels." New technology has given us the ability to approach rationally a phenomenon that has always been here and sensed on some (usually spiritual or artistic) level, but not quite graspable outside of poetry and prophecy. At last, science has the tools to systematically deal with networking, and it's going to change everything.

The network meme is in the DNA of connectivism. As far as I know, connectivism is the most coherent  and vibrant attempt in educational theory to deal with education as a network structure, and for me, that is connectivism's greatest value. Just as many scholars are doing in physics, chemistry, biology, sociology, mathematics, and other disciplines, connectivism places networking at the core of its methodology and thinking. Networking guides its practice and preaching. Connectivism has converted me, and like the Apostle Paul, I hope to take this new thinking to my home town: Rhetoric. I believe that networking will revolutionize rhetoric and writing instruction.

I'd better start writing. Wow. I do feel better. I hope you do, too.
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