Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Eating the CCK11 MOOC

My current MOOC, CCK11, is reminding me again why I have been so attracted to Connectivism — not because it is a fine theory of learning and knowledge, but because it is a fine conversation.

I have read some educationists who argue that Connectivism is not a new theory or not even a theory at all, and I am not informed enough about the various educational theories to weigh in on the debate, but what I can say with great authority is that Connectivism has provided me with a wonderfully rich and ample conversational space. I think I value conversation over theory anyway. Conversations tend to be more open systems; whereas, theories are too often closed systems. Of course, conversations with fundamentalists tend to be closed and some theories are quite open to complexity and chaos, but in my way of thinking, conversations are more open than theories.

I teach writing, and I write. Connectivism has created a conversation that has allowed me to explore with some very interesting people how writing to learn engages me with my world. Connectivism has set a fine table with lots of dishes, and I intend to feed here for as long as the feast lasts, or until I am satiated.

The feast metaphor suggests to me that learning in the Connectivist sense is much like eating. Learning is ingestion. Let's see where this goes.

If Paul Davies (The Cosmic Blueprint, 2004) and Edgar Morin (On Complexity, 2008) are correct, then the emergence and maintenance of life depends on the exchange of energy between an open, physical entity and its ecosystem. As Morin says, this exchange involves "not only energy and matter, but also organizational and informational resources" (10). A consequence of this notion of an open system is "that the intelligibility of the system has to be found, not only in the system itself, but also in its relationship with the environment, and that this relationship is not a simple dependence: it is constitutive of the system. Reality is therefore as much in the connection (relationship) as in the distinction between the open system and its environment. This connection is absolutely crucial epistemologically, methodologically, theoretically, and empirically" (11).

This connection between the open system (I, for instance, am an open system) and the environment is not a pipe, though that could be a useful metaphor. Rather, the connection is an engagement and an exchange. The connection is me eating my world and, in turn, being eaten by my world. My world and I exchange energy, matter, organizational patterns, and information. When that exchange stops, when I become a closed system, I die. For me to live means in a myriad of physical and mental ways for me to continuously eat at the table of life. When I quit eating, I die.

If either I or my Universe become closed systems, we both die. Fortunately, the Universe is an open system continuously engaging and exchanging energy, matter, pattern, and information among its various parts. Some physicists even postulate that this Universe may be exchanging energy, matter, pattern, and information with other Universes, perhaps through black holes, but that takes me far from any kind of expertise that I may have. I'm better to stick with the MOOC.

What makes this Connectivism MOOC such a rich conversational space is that it is still an open system. Its theory, if it has one, has not closed in on itself, petrified, and become pathological. Perhaps this is because it is still relatively new. Perhaps it is the nature of the theory itself. Whatever the cause, I find that my exchange with Connectivism gives me intellectual life.

Rather, it gives me the potential for life. It gives me an ecosystem that can sustain life, that can sustain an intellectual conversation, that open exchange of energy and information. To thrive in this space, I must myself remain an open system within an open ecosystem. If either I or Connectivism ever find the Truth, the Absolute Right Answer — thus becoming a closed, complete, static system with no possibility for more or new energy or information — then I die, or Connectivism dies, or we both do.

I have great faith that God has so ordered the Universe that the Absolute Right Answer does not exist, except in the most mundane and boring of spaces, those closed systems where the light is harsh, the conversation has died, and there's no more food. Thus far, the Universe has afforded me easy exit from such spaces. Connectivism has been one of those exits. Hallelujah.
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