How do you make sense of a distance course, a MOOC, that is based on problem based learning (PBL), that is framed by social medias like Google+, blogs and Twitter, virtual lectures and suggested readings and watchings? For me it made sense to apply a connectivist approach to it all.
In ONL162 I am the proud co-facilitator for the PBL group number 4, along with Ali Engelbrecht. In a fluid environment where no one knows each other and almost all platforms are new to the participants, Ali made it seem easy. Second time the group met, all eight participants were present and took part in the virtual discussions. Ali stayed in touch before the meeting through Google Hangout and e-mail. During the video conference she encouraged everyone to say something about themselves and about the first topic of the course. She shared the material so everyone knew what was being discussed. The participants were eager to get started and their interest carried the whole group onwards. Slowly the Google+ group is becoming more of a means of communication for the group and not only transmitting information from the ONL162 team.
Connectivism states that learning takes place in the networks of people connecting with each other. George Siemens (2005) writes in the above linked article that the
ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill.
This is evident in the ONL courses. The software makes sharing of blogs and tweets possible, but it is the participants interests that decide what kind of networking that takes place, what questions are important to ask and answer for an online teacher. In a lecture hall with 100 people you most likely would not talk to all of them, nor know what they work with or what they research. In social medias it is actually possible to get to know other participants, and connect in areas you might not have anticipated. Following each other’s blogs and Twitter accounts is one way to stay in touch. Synchronous meetings such as the one described above are important for the networking to begin. When that first connection is made the rest comes easy, or at least easier.
Networking is not an easy concept which Siemens points out. According to Ewan McIntosh good networking means identifying appropriate tools and relevant questions that can improve your teaching, instead of working with whatever software or method you have been used to. In ONL162 I hope all participants will learn more about at least a couple of new tools and principles for learning in a virtual environment.
One pedagogical question for connectivism is how people can solve important problems in society together, not merely memorize old information that is deemed important to know. Despite all this most of us are still waiting for someone to tell us what to do and how to solve the problem, not realising that all of us are needed to answer to question. The future is unknown, therefore the answer is unknown. Through a range of networks we might be able to make the necessary connections to know how to solve future problems.