Sunday, March 18, 2012

Putting the Pieces Together

Picture, for a moment, a 1000 piece puzzle -- outside edges locked in place, some pieces grouped together here and there, with a few pieces scattered throughout. The individual pieces have been flipped face up, resulting in a multitude of colours, but with no clear image formed. The majority of the pieces lie outside the walled boundary, waiting for the chance to be shifted into place, to be linked with another piece, until slowly, a clearer picture will begin to emerge.
This was my experience with ETAD 802 at the University of Saskatchewan in my graduate program. As a result of shifting, of linking, of pieces falling into place, gradually “big ideas” began to emerge; and the picture of education, particularly the role of technology in education, started to become clearer.

Under the guidance of Rick Schwier (author of Connections: Virtual Learning Communities), we explored the basics of how people learn. According to Marcy Driscoll, learning is defined as “persisting change in human performance … as a result of the learner’s experience and interaction in the world” (p. 11) From Piaget’s thoughts that knowledge is constructed, to Skinner’s behaviourist beliefs, to the computer-modelled information processing theory, we spent a great deal of time thinking about how people do indeed learn.
In order to get a better idea of how I personally was making meaning during this course, I tried a little self-experiment. I consciously attempted to “observe” my learning as a way to better understand the processes involved. I tried to take a mental step back and ask questions such as: “What personal experience helped me make that connection?” “How did I learn that particular skill?” It was a multi-layered, reflective approach to thinking about learning, and I became more aware of how my brain was making sense of new material.
 When Rick introduced George Siemens’ ideas about Connectivism, a learning theory that embraces the digital information age, more pieces began to fall into place for me ( Connectivism, as the name suggests, is all about connections, of networks, created both internally and externally.
In English Language Arts, learning to make connections is an important comprehension strategy. Students are encouraged to make connections to print, visual, or oral texts. Connections can take different forms: text-to-self, text-to-text, or text-to-world. 

As a student in 802, I was constantly making such connections: 
      to ideas uncovered in assigned readings,
                      to our weekly online chats during the Kitchen Party,
                                     to personal and professional experiences.
I often found myself thinking, “That reminds me of … .”
Oh, my synapses were firing rapidly!
From my personal “experiment”, I was aware of the tidbits of information that “tweaked” with me, and I was curious to explore how those connective networks were influencing my personal learning. I was equally interested in how my classmates were taking the same learning in different directions as a result of their unique experiences.
The role of social connections, of personal learning networks, also became an area of interest for me during this time.
The Networked Student, a video project that was inspired by Siemens’ and Downes’ theory of Connectivism, offers a summary of the role of social networks in learning.

Throughout the summer, Twitter played a critical role in the development of my social network, expanding my professional connections beyond the virtual walls of the 802 classroom. I regularly took part in educational chats (e.g. #edchat) while sitting on the deck of my farm home, sharing ideas about education and technology with people across the world … 140 characters at a time. I can only marvel at my personal learning through, some might argue, the unlikely medium of social media. Amazing!

 By the completion of 802, the image in my personal “puzzle” was certainly clearer; but it was by no means complete. Happily, this is one puzzle that will never be finished. Although my more formal learning through the U of S graduate program draws to a close, my learning is just beginning.  

For more about learning theories, check out previous posts on this blog. I shared my learning about behaviourism using Blabberize and Voki - web 2.0 tools that inspire creativity!

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