Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Multidimensional connecting

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The idea for this post came to me while reading Randy Bass’s piece “Disrupting Ourselves: the problem of learning in higher education” (which I plan to review critically once I finish it). On p. 24 he refers to how disciplinary courses and the way students take them at university are disconnected. He says explicitly that there is no planning for “connected learning”…

This got me thinking about the multidimensional ways in which we connect, and a discussion about inner and outer or inward and outward (can’t remember which) connections – was it Tellio? Simon? One of those cool dudes,

Anyway it all reminded me of the highly mentally stimulated state I am in when I need to focus on something really important (like when I was doing my PhD) while being unable to stop attending to other really stimulating stuff (like Egypt’s January 25 revolution in 2011) and how this provides fertile ground for incredible integration and connections. I remember even before that, there was a day when I was watching the film about Martin Luther, during the same week I was reading Freire’s Education for Critical Consciousness (which, being my first Freire book, I actually prefer to Pedagogy of the Oppressed)… And i created a “spark” in my mind: oh my God, what Freire is talking about is exactly what is happening in that historical non-fiction movie. When people who had been oppressed start to be liberated, the first thing that ensues is chaos and it can be violent chaos… Of course, this also has happened to an extent in Egypt after 2011. I did not actually intend to make that connection when I first started writing this piece. It just came together, spontaneously, like, right now. I mean, I had made the connection somewhere in my mind, but I was not planning to connect the two right this minute, in this post.

Back to the original purpose of this post – multidimensional connecting.

Lately, when I have used the term “connected learning”, i have been using it to refer to connecting people with each other, but it can also refer to connecting ideas, right? Of course, connecting people can connect ideas, but this can also occur internally, as in the way we (in our individual brains) connect ideas. Neural networks (which I studied in my undergrad, and my undergrad thesis was an evolving artificial neural network, really cool stuff) are complex and at the time I studied them (have not followed up on advances in the literature in the field of medicine, neuroscience or computer science says) incomprehensible.

Yes. You created a neural network, you nurtured it with parameters, you fed it data and you looked at the output and “taught” it to learn the correct answer. The WAY it achieved this was a total blackbox. You did not know about the details of the connections between one neuron or another; you did not know which pathway the data took coming in and going out, and how the network learned. You just focused on designing your inputs, evaluating the outputs, and giving it feedback to improve upon itself.

Now think of how this really mimics what happens in learning in general. When we teach, we don’t really know, not for sure how another person is learning; we only know what we can see in their behavior (i can’t blame the behaviorists for this; if they had a “sensing” vs “intuition” learning style, how can you blame them? – and this connection, btw, comes from a meeting i am about to have with a student who wants to do his thesis on learning styles) – we know what we as teachers have done to nurture the learning environment. What parameters we have put in place and tinkered with to help a students’ learning along. We ask them to reflect explicitly on how they’ve learned, and metacognition is a beautiful thing.

But we don’t really know. We cannot be absolutely certain how the connections are happening when someone learns. Can we?

The point, though, is this. There are different dimensions of connecting and they are all valuable to learning. Connecting with other humans (a 2-way or multi-way thing), with ideas, within our own memories and brains, with external environments and data and feelings. Connecting feelings with thoughts (oh my God have you seen Simon Ensor’s latest post? Reading it made me really emotional – triggered connections about how I talk to my dad although he is no longer alive; it triggered feelings about connecting with old friends online; it triggered my yearning to meet my online friends someday soon, but my happiness in knowing them nevertheless… I am looking at you, Bonnie!).

Y/day I was at a meeting for the #et4online conference steering committee. I don’t wanna reveal too much but there was a part where we were discussing doing something like the TV show “chopped” (connection: cooking, reality show, education conference) then someone said we don’t wanna “grill” people and I wrote, “chopped but not grilled?” (I should think chopping is worse? Funny someone thought the chopped show was about zombies, and that was hilarious). Anyway, that discussion moved towards possibilities of doing supportive peer review a la Hybrid Pedagogy, rather than “chopping” … And this all goes back to how our approach to teaching/education should fit our goals. I was later reading a novel where a character said “sometimes the journey id the destination”. I am sure it has been said more eloquently elsewhere.

Did you notice all those connections? And blogging helps me make them, and capture them, and take them beyond the black box of my own brain. Does it help you?

14 Comments

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