CCK08 Conceptual and Social layer

The most intriguing question of this course was the relationship of the social/ external and the conceptual level of connectivism. It was not separately addressed but on several occasions I could enhance my understanding about it. And since for me, the conceptual level is the most important one while the social/ external level was more intensively discussed due to the relevance of the internet (and the neural level being tackled already by connectionism), the progress with this relationship is a very satisfying result.

However, it is still a very tough topic and I cannot sufficiently express all my guesswork. This revolves around four major clusters:

1. Fuzzy categories. Much of our cognitive interests cannot be organized by explicit verbal classifications because the connections between the various topics that fascinate us are still too weak and vague. We seem to have no clearly defined list of topics that we like to read or blog about. However, the scope of interest revealed by like-minded persons, often serves as a good guess of whether it will be relevant for us or not, although this may be a seemingly chaotic collection of non-consistent matters.

This is an important effect of many Web2.0 features, such as book recommendations, blog filter mechanisms by citation/ commenting, and social bookmarking. Similarly, when trying to retrieve a given blogpost, the blogger’s name or location is often a more useful cue to the content than sopisticated indexwords (at least if one’s cognitive style embraces browsing not much less than searching). A certain “sense of place” is gradually growing with respect to indivudual blogs or similar sources. Navigating these sources and their joining connections, is so closely associated with the subsequent knowledge improvement that some say the knowledge itself lies in navigating the pipes (see also below).

As soon as one has realized how often such an indirect effect leads to better success in learning than direct, goal-directed attempts to control the outcome via explicitely codified terms, it is no longer a surprise that learning, more generally, is not easy to control by direct means such as sophisticated curriculums, but rather, via indirect effects that have their continuity since the “historical university”.

2. Structural preferences. The extent to which someone dislikes centralized discussion venues or distributed exchanges, is IMO often correlated with other preferences, both social and conceptual ones. This became apparent in the debate over forums vs. blogs discussions.

I have the impression that while the distributed blogs need a centripetal power towards the common discussion topic, there is a centrifugal tendency on forums, to meander farther away from the subject, perhaps in order to profile oneself among the crowds on the central stage, or simply because that is one’s style to deal with concepts. Some just prefer hierarchical tree-like structures (which are excessively and IMO dauntingly predominant in Moodle’s nested view of the monster threads of 150+ posts) while others prefer a web and put up with the different access procedures and the orientation challenges.

Similarly, there were differences visible that relate to power structure, and to personality styles of coping with this. Different perceptions of what is an “ad hominem” attack as opposed to “ad rem” illustrate how people’s and matters’ connections are related.

A distributed approach with respect to people and their writings, does not necessarily forbid a centralized approach for reading: There is the strong notion of RSS being consumed as a large unified “river”, a centrally hosted aggregator such as Google or Bloglines reader (which would not work for me). So does that boil down again to the preference of focus or of wider contexts? Probably there is a wide spectrum at work, ranging from topical preferences on the conceptual end, to personality styles at the social end, with cognitive styles (or learning styles?) in between.

(Perhaps one can also identify the similar underlying patterns on social and conceptual with some common “form” or “idea” in a philosophical sense and conclude that the mechanisms are not only similar but the same (sameness rather than similarity?) or that the neural pattern is not only a metaphor for (i. e., like) social and conceptual patterns but it is this pattern, but I am not philosophically trained to judge how such considerations might even relate to the universalia dispute or the religious question of whether the bread signifies or is the Body.)

3. Echo and resonating. The most powerful but hardest to descibe mechanism is what happens when an idea or some microcontent strikes a chord or resonates with someone else, and when that other person’s reaction, in turn, influences the first person’s conceptual network.

The parts of a text that do resonate with someone else are a very significant selection of the entire text because this selection does not necessarily indicate just some validity measure, but a conceptual connection within someone else’s cognitive network. And the text may resonate with multiple people, in different areas within their conceptual networks. These reactions can be more valuable than the text itself, since they manifest multidimensional, web-like connections while the text itself is just a linear, funneled surrogate of the author’s multidimensional concept network.

The unique, personal view of others about a work does not only exert its effect via comments and citations on the author’s own learning. It also serves as redundancy for thirds: Sometimes when a reader had first neglected a certain important aspect, others will probably notice this aspect and cite, comment, or otherwise highlight it. This redundancy mechanism is a pleasant relief from the urge of quickly deciding whether to read a text or skip it. In fact, without this effect the scanning and skimmimg of the information overload would not be possible.

All these effects of multiple minds on a conceptual problem are a great affordance of connectivist patterns. And while constructivism focusses on the effects on a single, shared learning experience, these effects of connections allow for multiple simultaneous knowledge enhancements.

4. Knowledge residing externally. Partly similar like the social connections, the purely external connections involving devices share so much commonalities and relationships with the conceptual connections that it may seem obvious to identify the two layers, and to speak of external knowledge. Earlier I mentioned the “outboard brain”, or a “sense of place” or “navigating” of sources, similar to the above navigating among people. However, emphasizing the connections that are “pipes” to resources or people, is IMO still rather distracting from the more fruitful connectivist considerations. Also the idea of “knowledge stored by networks” is something that I cannot (yet?) follow.

However, if external devices are seen as auxiliary extensions of the human mind rather than as location of knowledge, then there is a large array of plausible examples where conceptual connections can be facilitated by IT tools, the most prominent of them being the mapping tools that provide an extension to the visuo-spatial sketchpad of the human short-term memory.

Sorry that much of this is still too vague. A drastically reduced version, however visually enhanced, will become my “final presentation” describing “how this course course influenced my view of the process of learning”, because this relationship between conceptual and social/ external connections has really influenced me.

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2 Responses to CCK08 Conceptual and Social layer

  1. Jenny Mackness says:

    This is a wonderful post – as is your flash presentation. TherYou have given us such a lot in here to think about that I will need to come back and read your post again, but I can strongly relate to ‘fuzzy’ categories and what you have written emphasises the ‘messiness’ of learning.

    I can also relate to your section on echo and resonating. It reminds me of Etienne Wenger’s work on identity in which he says that a person’s identity both shapes and is shaped by interactions and communication within the community.

    Thanks Matthias for such a thought provoking post.



  2. x28 says:

    Thanks Jenny (and Valerie) for the patience of engaging with my unfinished thoughts.


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