Thoughts on Connectivism
Apr 15, 2011
Commentary by Stephen Downes

"Have you ever thought about how completely irrelevant structured learning is?" This question posed by George Siemens sets off this nice video presentation on connectivism. Debbie Kroeker sets a series of 'lessons learned' against the music of Eric Whitacre's 185-voice Virtual Choir (an experience in itself not to be missed).
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Comments

Re: Thoughts on Connectivism

Hi Stephen,
Thanks for posting this.
I don't disagree with most of the words in Debbie's video, but I struggle a bit with the juxtaposition of a challenge to structure, and the virtual choir example,(brilliantly executed, though it is).

Now, if 185 singers managed it without a conductor, a music score, and Eric's sophisticated combining and post-processing, then it would be an excellent illustration of both connectivism and emergence... But it feels to me like a collection of individual experiences, cleverly bound together by a "tutor" who provided very clear controlling boundary conditions.

I don't know this to be true, but I would imagine that 185 singers in a real choir respond not only to the conductor and the score, but also to each other, micro-adjusting their tone and timing as they hear what's around them.
Eric has made it possible for 185 people around the world to feature in his (beautiful) product, and sound like they're singing together - which is a brilliant achievement.
However, he achieves it through a hub-and-spoke-and-then-broadcast dynamic, rather than the network-based interaction and learning, which for me is closer to the core of connectivism.

Thanks for sharing it - you certainly got me thinking!

PS. I would have posted this directly against Debbie's Vimeo page - but she only allows comments on her Connectivism video from her existing contacts(!). ;O) [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Thoughts on Connectivism

Chris - Thanks for your comments, which got me thinking about how I connected the virtual choir to connectivism in my video. However, after rethinking it, I am sticking to it!

All you have to do is watch Eric Whitacre's description of the process and results to see the point I was trying to make: http://www.ted.com/talks/eric_whitacre_a_virtual_choir_2_000_voices_strong.htm.

Here, he references the Facebook testimonials of those who were involved as singers in the project: sisters who found themselves singing "together" despite their physical distance from each other, and a woman in the Alaskan bush for whom satellite is her connection to the world (and whose husband told her she couldn't sing). Others tell stories of how this connected them and how it resulted in newly formed online friendships that continued after the project ended. Perhaps they are singing duets and forming new choirs now. Whitacre himself talks about the virtual "esprit de corps" and the family-like feeling that resulted from what he calls a "shared vision".

This, to me, is the epitome of connectivism. Your criticism states that the choir seems "like a collection of individual experiences". For me, bringing together a collection of individual experiences is actually what it's all about. It sounds like the individuals in the choir left feeling that they had been part of something greater than themselves by bringing their experience, expertise and talent to a collaborative, global project. They brought what they could to the table (their unique voices) to contribute to the whole (the choir). Sounds a lot like connectivism to me! Sure, they had some guidelines to follow to ensure the quality of such a project but having a common interest and goal doesn't mean connections didn't happen.

By bringing to the network what they could offer as individuals, look at the connections made and the conversations and thoughts they have triggered...and the discussion continues between us now.

You also said "Now, if 185 singers managed it without a conductor, a music score, and Eric's sophisticated combining and post-processing, then it would be an excellent illustration of both connectivism and emergence...". In response, I would like to use my creation of this very video we are discussing as an illustration. In my case, the "conductor" is my instructor(s), "the music score" is the script I created as a way to remix and redistribute what I've been learning in my course and the "combining/processing" is what I had to do to present it in such a way that people would watch it. I did all of these tasks alone at home as a completely individual experience. But, it's about the results: I sent it out to my networks and started getting responses. The conversations and connections I've been making this week are astounding me. I have been asked for permission to have it translated into Spanish. There have been great questions and critiques (such as yours). I am learning from all of it. All of this is connectivism.

And so, I stand by my metaphor of the virtual choir. Despite its conductor, music score and combining/post-processing, I think it is an "excellent illustration of both connectivism and emergence" because those who sang got to connect with each other and do it together. Whether they got to see each other or not, they ended up with an experience in shared humanity, made new connections, and were part of the creation of an artifact that will continue to be explored, discussed, and reworked by others.

Debbie Kroeker
P.S. All comments are welcome on Vimeo. It has always been open to anyone (not just my existing contacts); I'm not sure why you were unable to post anything there as others have. [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Thoughts on Connectivism

HI Steven I was just wondering if you could explain what the learning behind the 2500 online voice choir is?
Is the learning just how to be part of a choir and sing a pice written in an outdated and thoroughly explored style. It seems the methodology of deep learning hasnt been applied in a holistic way - nothing new has been achieved in the process of an online choir. Or is it the development of a network the thing that links totally into connectivism?
Is it a form of connectivist learning to merely replicate what can be done (and has been done many times) in the non digital world. Or is there no connection with the choice of music rather it was just a nice track to put behind.
What is the learning that has happened here?


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Re: Thoughts on Connectivism

Well, first, I agree with Chris that "if 185 singers managed it without a conductor, a music score, and Eric's sophisticated combining and post-processing, then it would be an excellent illustration of both connectivism and emergence..."

So there is very much an element of using the new technology to do an old thing. Though I do think it's interesting that we can do something new with "an outdated and thoroughly explored style." Not that the result is improved or any better. But that wasn't the point; the points was precisely, as you suggest, to replicate.

For me, the choir is an example of distributed representation. The knowledge required to create the sound of the choir is not in one place, but distributed across several hundred places. Yes, there is some coordination or orchestration, and we can leave it as an empirical question for now how much orchestration is required. The main point is that the sound of the choir can be created through the medium of independent events taking place in different locations.

You might thing, "So what?" But when you say the letter "A" out loud, exactly the same thing is happening inside your brain. There is no simple place where the idea, the concept, or the sound "A" are formed. Thousands, millions, of neurons combine to create these. And in society writ large, the same phenomenon happens with regard to social knowledge. The letter "A" as found (say) on the front page of the New York Times is the result of not one, but millions, of voices through history leading up to the particular event.

It takes a lot to wrap one's mind around that concept. The example of the choir is one iteration of the process of understanding. It does not provide the complete picture. But it hints at part of it.

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Re: Thoughts on Connectivism

Thanks Steven.
The theory of connectivism is one that is relatively new to me and as you put it I am trying to "Wrap my mind" around . I like your "iteration" explanation.


cheers
Kynan [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Thoughts on Connectivism

Thanks Steven.
The theory of connectivism is one that is relatively new to me and as you put it I am trying to "Wrap my mind" around . I like your "iteration" explanation.


cheers
Kynan [Comment] [Permalink]



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