The connections of Downes’ explanation of connectivism “are not (for example) conceptual connections in a concept map.” This is a pity because otherwise the theory would be much easier to understand. But sadly, I have to agree.
Whose fault is it? It’s not the concepts’ fault, it’s the Cmap’s fault.
I have learned that in English, the term “concept” can mean many different things, including a lot of misleading baggage. But a graphical application, such as a mindmap or a topic map, would not normally prohibit me from drawing and connecting any terms, and visualising some vague relationships between them (as I often did on this blog).
The concept map tool by cmap.ihmc.us, however, insists that I use concepts only within propositions and that these are, as a rule, sloping downwards.
OK, such a narrow view cannot explain connectivism. But I can’t help thinking that conceptual connections should have some role in connectivism. And I still want to reconcile my understanding of Downes’ version with the version of Siemens, whose emphasis on making coherence fits nicely with the idea that connections have long been underrated in favor of nodes and items (such as Cmap’s concepts).
When I try to understand what “recognition” means, what makes “recognizing” different from just seeing the single parts, I cannot visualize this at the neural level of, say, a gigantic pattern of connected neurons. Seeing the single parts would also involve gigantic patterns of neurons (maybe multiple patterns that are slightly less gigantic, but still unimaginable). Rather, I need some imagination from an accessible level — from the conceptual level.
Yes, this will be misleading if I choose concepts that are neatly defined and trivially connected through hierarchical connections, such as animal, cat, dog, spaniel — such arborescent tree connections just help overrating the nodes. By contrast, a mixture of thick and thin, close and distant connections among well-defined and ambiguous terms, does help me to imagine how the parts of the picture are not merely composed or summed up, but recognized as a whole — because the connections are more important than the single parts, and the parts are not separately understandable without the connections.
I acknowledge that this contrivance is dangerously close to terribly wrong constructions. The idea to be recognized is not constructed from building blocks that consist of universal magic black boxes. Rather, some smaller patterns might get merged into diverse subset combinations, and before recognition can occur, we probably need having been immersed into the experience of many of these subsets of smaller patterns. Each smaller pattern can be misinterpreted as a building block, as long as the emphasis is on the hierarchical part-hole relationship, i.e. on the items, instead of the connections between the smaller patterns. But since connectivism has overcome this overrating of nodes over edges, we should dare to look at the concept level.
Update 2014-04-24: Don’t miss the related discussion on David Wiley’s blog.