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Connectivism and Connected Knowledge

January 29, 2006



Connectivism and Connected Knowledge - Transcript


**This is a transcript of the original discussion held at edtecktalk. Some discrepancies have been noted . Please review the original audio discussion for clarity.*

 

Jeff Lebow: Welcome to Ed Tech Talk number 44, being webcast live on January 29th 2006. For those who tune in regularly, you know that we have different kinds of shows, some are talking about recent news and resources, some talk about practical applications of educational technology, and some focus more on philosophical and theoretical aspects of educational technology. This will be one of the latter. We are delighted to have two of the great thinkers in modern educational technology with us, to discuss some pretty heavy issues, and fortunately I'm joined by my co-host Dave, who is a mental giant in the field as well, to help keep control and sort out things. So hey Dave, welcome!
Dave Cormier: Hey, thanks Jeff! And that is the kindest intro that you've ever given me and therefore the least true.
Jeff Lebow: [laughter]
Dave Cormier: Why, I do appreciate the sentiment. I think. I'm really excited of this conversation today, I think that this issue that we're talking about today, is at the root, or should be at the root of a lot of the design for educational technology that's out there today, and I think it's an issue that a lot of people tend to look at and "Pashah!", as they think that somehow we should be dealing in practical issues and this kind of... called heavy debate I suppose, is not necessary, but I think that dealing in questions of subjectivity and objectivity, dealing the new kinds of knowledge that Steven was addressing in his article, and the new ways of learning that George is talking about, finding a way to bring those together, and find the, not a grand unified theory, but at least a working theory that we can go forward with, is absolutely essential. So I'm really looking forward to talk today.
Jeff Lebow: all right, and shall we go ahead and introduce our mental giants? We're delighted to be joined by George Siemens and Stephen Downes today. Gentlemen, welcome.
George Siemens: Thank you.
Stephen Downes: Thanks.
Jeff Lebow: Shortly, before the new year, Stephen posted in his very well read downes.ca site a post about connected knowledge, to which George responded "hey, very interesting post, I agree with a lot of it and disagree with some of it. Sounds like could be an interesting talk for Ed Tech Talk". So George, why don't we start with you. What made you think that that post was interesting, and what do you agree with and what don't you agree with?
George Siemens: I think overall, when Stephen put the article together, and I mentioned this in my post as well, that it was a little unfortunate that he released it just before the holiday season, because it's a very important article in my perspective, in terms of what is says about how we define knowledge and learning. Now, he obviously goes into a lot of detail and it's an article that I think a person could read and reread several times and still not completely get their head wrapped around what this says about how we design and how we structure our learning. He takes the very ... let Stephen talk more directly to what he does with it, but he takes sort of the broad viewpoint of what we've all heard about, the sort of the defining elements of our knowledge and our theories in our area today. You've got qualitative knowledge, or qualitative learning, or qualitative research and then you have that side which fits more in to the quantitative domain. And then we split into separate camps, and you have social sciences that say "hey wait a second, qualitative is the way you go" and we have the physical sciences which often say "no no, quantitative is the way to go".


So Stephen just takes a very, I think a really nice approach that moves through the notion, first describing what it means to interpret and what it means to understand something. And he's looking largely cognitively, and I think Stephen's background as a philosopher comes through, as I made some notices reading through it, at one point he says "well we do not know through our senses and our cognition, that play an important part in obtaining knowledge, but it's the interpretation of those sensations that we receive". And so he goes on to say "this isn't true only for connective knowledge, but also for all three types of knowledge which he's added that connective knowledge is the third element".


So I just made a note to myself, "Ok, I agree, but what about in a spiritual domain, or in a spiritual aspect". As I was going through it, there's this sense that he's really on to something important. I would like to ferret those little nuances that I don't think have been quite attended to. And maybe it's just because, as he put into his introduction, that it was intended to be an overview, wasn't intended to be sort of the article on the subject. But from there, once he's looked at interpretation, he moves into emergence and spends a lot of time looking at the way our perception is, sort of how we create and we begin to link a lot of these various elements, we're interpreting our connections so to speak, and that begins to create sort of an emergent property for us.


And I guess I don't need to go to the whole article in its entire detail, at this point at least, but those were all elements that I very much agreed with, and you know as you've progressed forward in terms of how we infer something and how we isolate, sort of the salient features of a network or a concept. I was strongly in agreement with the things he was saying, there is well and then ultimately he moves into associationism and a term what I've come to call connectivism, and I think that's where we are most in agreement. One of the points in particular is the fact that, an illustration that I've often stolen from Stephen, which is that we end up creating our knowledge based in a distributed model, like someone... the illustration he uses, is someone flying an airplane, and it's a lot of people who've played a part in this entire structure, so the knowledge itself, and this is my own notion, but knowledge doesn't reside only in the head of a person, only in the mind of a person. Knowledge can reside in a network perspective inside a person's brain, but I also believe that knowledge and learning can reside in terms of a larger network structure, society as a whole.


So, without going into a whole lot of detail beyond that, because it's a very rich article like I said that there is a lot more there that I've really skimmed over. One of the big things from my own perspective was, as I was going through it, that yes, there is a lot of subjectivity in this type of a thing. When I first tried throwing in the idea of connectivism, one of the things that I tried to do with it, was to sort of tackle the issue of constructivism as a learning theory that says "whatever", you know, "whatever you do is fine", you know, "whatever you build in your own head is ok", there is no metric for evaluating the effectiveness of it or the accuracy of it, according to some external metric. Stephen may not feel that's necessary, but I.. when I was looking at it in my own case, I was thinking, a networked approach to learning creates a level of objectivity that we can agree on to a degree. So the whole nuances of objectivity leads to subjectivity leads to objectivity as sort of, that continuum is where I think Stephen and I may have slightly different perspectives. But without dominating the conversation, I will throw it back out.
Jeff Lebow: Stephen!
Stephen Downes: Yo.
Jeff Lebow: Since you're the one who really started this ball rolling, what had inspired you to post this original post, any comments about what George just said?
Stephen Downes: Oh no, there was something that inspired me, that's right, yeah. I had read one of the interminable discussions on the blogosphere about knowledge and how a blogosphere creates knowledge, and all of that, and I ran into an article by... well, in a blog called The Long Tail, I'm just trying to see who it's by, but I can't tell just off the top of my head, someone... oh, Chris Anderson, that's it. And basically describing collective knowledge if you will, the knowledge created by the wisdom of crowds etc, in probabilistic terms. That is to say that we can get at the knowledge of the wisdom, the knowledge of the group, the knowledge of a crowd, by going out and counting what people believe. And if you look at James Surowiecki, you see a sense of that as well, and so I thought about that and my first reaction was, well no, because if we just count heads, we're going to get some good stuff, we're going to get some really really bad stuff. And I say that, we've just gone through an election, I use that as example -- no I'm kidding. Nonetheless, you can't just go out and count heads, but then okay, well if you're not just counting heads, well what's going on?


I've talked about emergence quite a bit, there's been a lot of pretty so-so stuff out there on emergence, there's this Stephen Jonasson book for example, I remember about a year and a half to two years ago, I really attached a blogger for basically presenting the Stephen Jonasson view of emergence, which I thought was naive and which is not really very nice, but nonetheless how that was my perception of it. And so it became clear to me that okay, I've got to sit down and explain this, because when I talk about this stuff, I need something different, than what a lot of these popularizers are talking about. I need to draw that and explain it.


George commented on the timing, here's how this works
Stephen Downes: my work gets produced on my vacations, because I try to do my work when I'm at work, but I can't do my work when I'm at work, so the only time I really get to write anything of significance is when I'm on a break, and I was on a break, so I had like two full days to write this, and that's in fact what I did, started the first day, just started writing, stopped actually, slept a little bit, would've preferred not to but I did, and then just finished the second day writing it. That's why you see so many typos in that, because I'm just writing. And I can't do that at work. And that once I write something, I release it, because once I've written something, I really hate sitting on it. So that's the timing, and I guess my thinking is that if it's worthwhile, doesn't matter when I release it, if it's not worthwhile, doesn't matter when I release it. So that's my thinking.


I didn't go into this, in intent of taking this subjective stance, but it so happens that subjectivism is one of the implications. For me subjectivism has always been one of the implications. That's why I talk about evidence from the senses and knowledge of qualities and things like that. You think about... it's not that there are many points of view about what color a brick is, or how loud a sound is, it's that there is simply no fact of the matter to get a hold of, and even if there was, we couldn't get a hold of it. More to the point, what we think of as the quality of an object, or for that matter even the quantity of objects, it's really important from my perspective to understand, we made this up, arbitrarily, I mean not with no purpose or intent. So it's not like, "we were just going around, oh I think this will be read". It's just, this is a function of how our brains work, how our minds work, that we need to be able to understand the world in some way, and the world out there, wherever it may be, is really really complicated, incredibly complicated, it's so complicated that it's ridiculous. I mean, I'm looking outside my front window now, and I know that I'm seeing like the billions, quadrillions, pentazillions of quarks and electrons or protons and all of that, and there's these things zipping all over the place, I got light rays beaming in, there's another like quadrillion, billion ...
Jeff Lebow: Wow wow wow, Stephen, Stephen!
Stephen Downes: ... and I need to organize that. What? Am I going on, too much?
Jeff Lebow: Hold on just a second.
Stephen Downes: What, you don't like... all right, go ahead.
Jeff Lebow: I do, there's a lovely image, it was a lovely image, the quarks, the protons, and I agree with you, and the truth is that I really love this article, but I want to bring us down and get some basic definitions going before we end up... because I would really like to get onto this subjective-objective difference, and I'm not sure that what you said as what subjective is Stephen, is the same as what George described subjective is.
Stephen Downes: That may be.
Jeff Lebow: There's a difference between subjective and relative, which I think is also an important separation to make. So, just to be clear, and maybe I'll turn this over George, what is the difference, in your comment on Stephen's article you said that there is a subjective, I don't think, I don't know if you used the word truth or not, but in your mind, what is the difference between the subjective, and what do you mean by that, and the objective, and also again, what do you mean by that word.
George Siemens: Okay, well, I guess, in a sense the two are of the opposite sides of the same coin. I think that when I think of something as being objective, I refer to something as it has an element of independence to it, that a group of us together could say "yes, it is that thing". So it's an entity that is independent of my thoughts, independent of Stephen's thoughts. So it's something that... Stephen used an example of an apple in his... when he did his connective writing, connective knowledge piece, and he says that this apple is red, and that's one element, one attribute, one characteristic of an apple. Now, when I put the apple in a dark room, the apple still stays red. The anatomy is objective, independent of my thoughts, independent of Stephen's thoughts, an entity is and an entity exists. Subjectivity is the flip side of that, which says that my thoughts actually make that object, or actually make or influence the quality or the attributes of the characteristics of that particular element.
Jeff Lebow: Okay.
Stephen Downes: Well I think we're talking about the same thing then. I'm saying it's all made up, and George is saying that there is something definitely out there that it is.
George Siemens: I'll let you take the conversation first Jeff. I just wanted to get back to Stephen's quarks. Not quirks, not quirks!
Jeff Lebow: Not quirks. Ok well keep the quirks out of the conversation...
George Siemens: Too late!
Jeff Lebow: So, just to... I don't want to actually get into the commentary of this, because I'm tempted to wade in on this myself, but not in my position. So Stephen, in your article, you're writing about the apple is red, and the room, and the classic example. Can you explain how this ties into the educational conversation that we're having, and what you see as difference between the objectiveness, objective point of view as it affects the educational conversation?
Stephen Downes: Well, there is going to be a wide variety of ways that impacts the educational conversation. Pick one off the top of my head, learning object metadata, and the objective out there in the world has been come to come up with learning object metadata, and the results that we've seen so far and all the efforts that we've seen so far, are directed toward there being some sort of standard that will apply to everyone. But in fact, when we're talking about the description of learning resources, the description of a learning resource is going to vary from person to person, context to context, and therefore in our understanding of how we should be describing a learning resource in metadata, we need to take this into account. As for the original purpose of RDF, that learning object metadata just can't be toasted, RDF to start with is just one with pure unadulterated XML, all there is know RDF project for learning object metadata. And I tried to describe in another paper called "Resource Profiles" how matter data would work for learning objects where you have multiple points of view of the same object. That's one example and we can proceed in this way across the board, we can talk about this in terms of evaluation, in terms of learning content, in terms of pedagogy, I wrote ages ago, like back before the turn of the century, about the desire that seems to be expressed by so many theorists and learning to come up with that one universal theory of learning, you do such and such and it'll always work. And that's the standard model we see, how we see Johnson's problem based learning for example. So all learning problems could be solved for all, all pedagogic could be addressed by problem solving, or people who advocate games and learning, and they say everything should be a game. And I look at that, so how can that be? Given that the whole enterprise varies from person to person, how could there be a universal theory of learning? And it strikes me that, well, probably not, it's not going to work that way.
George Siemens: Now I just want to... can I just jump in here on that Stephen?
Stephen Downes: Yea.
George Siemens: I want to... because I think we're talking about two slightly different things, we're talking about from a different angle, and there's some questions that have just come up in the text chat that I want to address in the second as well. But I think first of all it's important to note that complexity does not equate with subjectivity. Simply because an entity is complex and an entity possesses many characteristics, numerous attributes, it can be perceived from many different angles. That in itself does not create subjectivity.
Stephen Downes: What about the dispute that... well keep going.
George Siemens: Okay. So, in essence, you can have subjectivity and complex elements or complex networks or complex systems, but the simplicity of a process, by the same account, doesn't equate with objectivity. Just because a concept is simple doesn't mean that it's either objective or subjective, there are two separate entities there. But I just want to get back into a question that was thrown out here and where someone in this space said, "well, how do we call something red"? I used the illustration of a red apple. An apple is red in a dark room. Now, you would say, "no, it's not, actually", based on the discussion that you put in your article on perception and the role of perception, that an apple actually in a dark room is probably blackish or grayish or whatever it is. And in my case I would look at that and say, well, a similar argument could be said that if you put an apple in a dark room and it becomes dark, if that's an element of subjectivity, then I would say, okay, then technically gravity by that line of reasoning is subjective as well, because an airplane doesn't crash when it's in the air, it's defined in the laws of gravity. The point of it is that the apple changes color in a room because you've adjusted the elements around it, you've influenced the perception, you haven't influenced the object. An airplane in the sky, flying, hasn't altered the laws of gravity, you've influenced the object, where the elements impact the object, so gravity is still gravity. Now, getting back to this conversation of color then, there is a lot of complex situations behind the scenes that we would need to attend to before we can start to say "yeah, this apple is red". And maybe color, because it's such a language based issue, and there's so much work with Wittgenstein and others like that that we could look at. But perhaps we should then instead at the elements of an apple, whether I eat an apple in a dark room or outside in the light, it's still going to taste sweet to me, even if I have a disagreement on what the color red is, and even if I'm colorblind. But if I was to take that same apple, take three bites out of it, three in a dark room, three bites out in a bright room, and then put it under a microscope and get it chemically analyzed, the apple would have the same characteristics, regardless of where and what and how I ate that apple. Simply because a person is colorblind and can't recognize the color red, doesn't mean that red ceases to have meaning to those people who aren't colorblind and to those people who do have a common conceptual understanding of colors. So, I'll throw that out as a response.
Stephen Downes: Sure. And that's fair enough. And I understand what you're saying, you're saying that the conditions have influenced the perception, and haven't influenced the object itself. I will point out that apples do taste.. the same apple will taste different in different circumstances. Eat a lemon first, the apple will taste one way, don't eat a lemon, the apple will taste a different way.
George Siemens: Does that influence the characteristics of the apple itself?
Stephen Downes: Well, let me get at this slightly differently.
George Siemens: Okay.
Stephen Downes: The color of an apple, the taste of an apple, are not characteristics of the apple. My position is, these do not exist except in so far as we have a perception of this apple. And what the redness is, is how we interpret our sensations of this apple. But it's not a property of the apple. And even if you look at the apple under a scanning electron microscope, and you look at apple cells and little tiny apple bacteria or whatever, these nonetheless are interpretations that we place on the phenomenon, they're not the phenomenon itself, and in fact, we can't get at the underlined phenomenon.
George Siemens: Stephen, does this sound, I just sort of had the assumption that a table exist only because we perceive it exists, and if we all leave, how do we know a table still exists.
Stephen Downes: Yeah, that'd be Berkeley.
George Siemens: Okay. So, that's sort of what it seems that you're saying, even though you're not saying that the apple ceases to exist, but you're saying that the apple in itself has no meaning outside of our perception of the apple. Am I making that...?
Stephen Downes: Yeah.. I'm pretty indifferent as to independent existence of the apple. Maybe there is some independent existence of an apple, maybe there isn't, I mean, look at it this way, and let me put this question to you, okay. Spinoza said, that there is an underlying essence that encompasses all things, a spirit if you will, right. And a rock is part of this spirit, and a tree is part of this spirit, and so on. Now, if there's an underlying essence of an apple that we can get at, should be able to tell whether the apple is part of the table that's underneath it, or not part of the table that's underneath it. Can you make this determination? How? How could you?
George Siemens: Well, so you're saying, is the apple different from the table?
Stephen Downes: Is it intrinsically and essentially a different thing, as opposed to simply ways that we as humans categorize tables and apples?
George Siemens: Yeah. Well on a very simple level, and I still think, and I'm going to use a term here that's going to get me into trouble, I still think that common sense plays a role in reasoning. Now, common sense admittedly can be quite uncommon. So, if I look at that apple, and if I look at that table, I would have to say two things. The simple answer is, take a bite of the table, there's a different element, then you'll say okay that's great, but now you've just used your perception and your... you have assigned your perceptive qualities to the apple and that's why you did it, so in essence I would be supporting your notion, because it's my perception to determine the value of the apple. So on the one hand I'll say, okay, take a bite of the table and you've made part of the progress by at least defining attributes to the table and to the apple. The second thing I would look at though is, what then explains, I have rarely looked at the legs of a table and had an urge to eat. So how then do we say, my cravings, I see an apple, I might salivate, I might just have images of make... I might have the notion or the desire to whip out some dishes and throw together some ingredients and bake an apple pie and throw a scoop of ice cream on it. The entity itself, we separate our perception of an entity, the entity doesn't change but the use of the entity changes, when we eliminate our perceptions from the situation. But still, taking an apple, I mean an apple is an apple and other than in a philosophical sense, few people would debate that an apple and a table are separate. Philosophically, and to bring it down into an educational perspective, I would be curious to see what value you think assigning different attributes or assigning different entities to the different elements provides for us educationally.
Stephen Downes: Well, okay, you say few people would debate that an apple is separate from a table, although there was a time in society when this was an open living question.
George Siemens: Okay, thank goodness we're past that.
Stephen Downes: Within living memory people would say, few people would debate that god created the universe, and therefore that ought to be a part of our educational system. Not so long ago, happily, before the days that I was born, it would have been said that it's common sense, and few people who would debate, that there is a natural order of the races, that the white people are at the top, the black people are at the bottom. And the point that I'm getting at here is that there exists these multiple perspectives, and even more significant, these multiple perspectives, are to a significant degree, equally based on our observations and perceptions. As Chomsky would say, our observations under-determine our conclusions. Now what's significant in my perception, and the reason I put it in this paper, is when we analyze knowledge, both individual knowledge and social knowledge, from a connective point of view, we can map out how it is exactly that this building up of what we call knowledge, from this perceptual base happens. And, you've seen this stuff, the little mind test that you sometimes see on the internet, they show you the outside corners of a triangle, and you look at it, oh yeah that's a triangle, even though most of the triangle is missing. Or they show you little bits of numbers and you're able to infer the whole number, right. And what's happening there is you're being given partial information, and you're inferring to the whole thing. What I'm saying is, the whole thing that you infer to, is a function of your pre-existing structure, and not something that is inherently there.
George Siemens: Okay, and I would then say that if you're looking for something at the pre-existing structure, you're starting to move in my eyes at least, in an objective line of reasoning, because you're assigning attributes that are there outside of your perception, if it's pre-existing to a degree. If we look at a triangle...
Stephen Downes: If you're going to require that I talk in with non existing things, the entire time we're going to talk about things where I'm wrong and that's not a basis.
George Siemens: No but that's...
Stephen Downes: To use your term, the knowledge and concepts that make this make sense.
George Siemens: Sure, and by the same account, I need to similarly be able to say, okay, how is it that you're perceiving the situation, how is it that you're aligning a sense of logic or perspective to the debate as well. You made the point earlier, I'm just looking here quickly, where was it, it came out of your paper, I think you were talking about... okay I don't have it here, hand to you right now, hopefully I'll get back to it. But the attributes that we're talking about within an element... by the way this is George speaking, someone asked that we announce our names as we go, periodically.
Stephen Downes: People don't recognize my voice?
George Siemens: Maybe they haven't listened to you enough, they need to get some of your podcasts off your site. But by the same account, if we're going to talk about things, be it, we look at an angle of a triangle, and if we can then deduce, and if we can use our reasoning and our logic to extend that, there is a Latin semantic analysis, is a paper I quoted in, when I did the original connectivism article, and one of the things the author there stated is, we can look at one element or one attribute, and that element then shed entire new level of light, it's almost like a door has been opened, the door is a... and suddenly we gain, we walk into this new corridor, because it was almost a missing link, I'll use the term node, but it was a node that suddenly allowed connections to an existing body of knowledge that strongly linked or connected to knowledge that we ourselves already possessed. So, in this sense - and this is what you're talking about, I'm assuming, with the triangle example - that if an element of the triangle is missing, if you're saying it's only perception that determines if this triangle exists and to what degree this triangle exists, then how could we by looking at one end of a triangle extend? Because we have to rely on existing assumption of what a triangle is. And I can't - my triangle has to have three sides on it, typically speaking. And if yours has four sides, then we're going to have an incredibly difficult time dialoging. So we do assign foundational aspects - we say a triangle must have this many sides in order for us to even begin talking about the potential of taking a two-sided element and then extending it to be a triangle. So we are drawing on some kind of objective perception, even if we do apply our subjective characteristics to that triangle. Is that fair to say?
Stephen Downes: No. [laughing]
George Siemens: Very good then.
Stephen Downes: Because, this is an argument about the variations of its philosophy. I call it the "Something from nothing" argument. And your argument is that essentially, you can't get something from nothing. You can't come up with a concept of triangles unless there are really are triangles. And push that a wee bit, and it begins to fracture. Like unicorns - I draw you have a unicorn, you can draw the other half, but it doesn't follow that there are unicorns that you were drawing from.
George Siemens: But is it fair to say that both you and I have an objective perception of what a unicorn is before we can even decide on a unicorn?
Stephen Downes: What could that be?
George Siemens: Well, does your unicorn have a horn?
Stephen Downes: Of course it does.
George Siemens: And how many legs?
Stephen Downes: Probably four, unless it's injured.
George Siemens: OK. So your unicorn is aligning with my unicorn although they don't exist in a physical sense. At least I don't think they exist physically. Do we have an objective agreement on what a unicorn is?
Dave Cormier: I think that is a subjective agreement on what a unicorn is.
Stephen Downes: I was going to say - how would you define...
Dave Cormier: I would like to go back to this just one more time to make sure I'm not getting confused. When you say objective, do you mean that it must be true? Or do you mean that we agree that it's true? Because to me, it sounds like you're saying "We agree that it's true". To me that doesn't necessarily make it objective.
George Siemens: Well I would clarify that and say that there are numerous theories of something is true. I mean, if you're looking at it from a correspondence theory perspective, then we would say it's true only if it corresponds to reality - the way things are. If we're looking at it from a semantic theory of truth, then we're looking at it from - and I think this is Stephen that quoted Tarski in his essay as well - that it's true, if those claims actually hold true in a physical reality. If you look at the coherence theory, it's true only if it agrees with other propositions, with other notations, with other conceptions that we already hold. So certainly there are various theories that we can use to apply or to evaluate something to be true. And if something is true, I imagine we can then say it has objective characteristics. If Stephen and I both agree that a unicorn has a horn and four legs unless it's injured, is that not an objective entity? Because we have, in this case, depending on what theory of truth we've decided to align to it. Let's say we look at this as being a coherence theory of truth where we both come to similar conclusions, are we dealing with an objective element at that stage or not?
Stephen Downes: OK, this is why I took the turn that I did in my paper, and this is one of the things that is a bit unique about this paper, where I talk about both personal knowledge and public knowledge. Now George, I know that you agree with me that the structure of public knowledge (this is the structure of knowledge that exists out there in society) is very similar to the structure of knowledge that exists in the brain, and specifically that it is distributed, that it's composed of connections or interactions between individual entities, and that network. In the public those individual entities are you, me, Fred, Tom, whoever, and in the brain those individual entities are our neurons. If that is the case, then the same mechanism can, and I would argue IS, operating on a public level, operates on an individual level. In other words, when I show you a part of a triangle, you infer to the whole triangle, right? Publicly, if we have parts of the information in a society, then the society thought of as a whole, through the exact same processes, will infer to the rest.


And you think how could that be? Well think of urban legends. Urban legends are a classic example of this. There's a little bit of a story that's out there, but then collectively we all infer the whole thing. Then it turns out it may be true, may not be true, whatever. Other people would argue that (I'll be among them) that religion is one of these things, where collectively the evidence under-determines of faith in God, but a society can come to some sort of belief that God exists. It can become a part of public knowledge. So the fact that you and I and other people agree that a unicorn has four legs - it is equally possible that this is an instance of this inferred-sort of knowledge, that collectively, if we think of society as a unit we made this part up. The discussion in the chat room, or there could be black unicorns, or blue unicorns. We sort of don't think there could be, but there is a social sense as to what kind of unicorns there could be. And you ask people - "No. There are no blue unicorns". But how could society as a whole come to this conclusion? We made it up.
George Siemens: This is where we start to get to the point that I made earlier, that is that objective leads to subjective, that leads to objective. There is some sort of inter-mingling of it. And if one of our approaches theory - I mean it sounds relatively absurd to say that a unicorn is objective because we agree to it. Because let's face it. A unicorn doesn't exist, as far as I know, as a physical entity. But, by the same account, we can take pieces or aspects of our existing knowledge structure, such as colors, and we can apply them to an entity. Isn't that the whole point of creation, in terms of when we build a house or when somebody invents something new? We're taking different pieces that exist and combining them most often in novel, new and interesting ways. So if that is some sort of an innate function that we have as human beings (going to the Chomsky line of life here). If that's an innate element that we have as human beings, how is it that -- and I would look at it as being a characteristic that most people posses, unless they have some kind of disability. But the ability to create, like when I put my kid up at the back yard, and he's ten years old now, and when he was younger, he had these little John Deere Tractors, and all kinds of corporate-branded toys, and he would spend hours out there building and creating and doing things. But he was constructing, and partly representing what exists in his head. Partly having representations enter his mind. So it wasn't just a one-way process of him doing something, it was a feedback as he interacted with his existing environment. So what is it that says, if that we can say we have this innate potential to create and to take colors, if we know colors exist and we know an entity exists, we can color entities differently. So, is it not, in your case or in my case, an objective notion, that if the notion of the unicorn can exist, and if in a sense we agree to it, almost a correspondence theory of truth - but if we agree to it -- I shouldn't say correspondence. It would be more of a notion --
Stephen Downes: Coherence theory of truth. Davidson, I think.
George Siemens: OK, so if we're coming from a coherence theory of truth, then isn't that at least on that one element true? Yes, the color of the unicorn is subjective, the whole entity of the unicorn itself is subjective, but the only way we could create that as a subjective entity is by applying subjective elements to it - like colors, like legs, like a horn. So in this case, you and I, together, through subjective means, have created an objective notion that we can at least dialogue about within the constructs of our existing language.
Stephen Downes: If we just took bits of perception and put them together, and that's how we form concepts, then sure. But that's not how it works. And it doesn't work that way because we have concepts that cannot be composed of the bits of any other concept. For example: We have (something we talk about all the time) the concept of infinity. We do, we talk about this. We have no problem talking about this. But if I put it to you - what perceptions, what previous concepts did we put together to get infinity, now you're scratching your head. The thing is, we go beyond what is presented to us. And a big part of what I am arguing in my paper is to describe the mechanisms that specify exactly how we do go beyond.
George Siemens: And you're looking at going beyond. What are the elements that you use. Do you use interpretation?
Stephen Downes: Interpretation is -- no, I wouldn't say that exactly. The mechanisms, the specific mechanisms that we use are associationism and filtering. We're selective in our perception, and we associate between these perceptions. And indeed, it's the selection of filtering that allows us to go beyond what our perceptions are actually telling us.
George Siemens: So if I read you correctly, then you're saying that the subjectivity occurs at the point of selecting our perception.
Stephen Downes: Right. Part of it. The other part is ... Because the selection itself, the filtering mechanism itself, is based on the mental constructs that we had prior to the existence of the perceptions, and those mental constructs are based on association of contiguous perceptions we've had in the past. It's a messy process when I try to describe it like this, but the mechanisms are all very simple. Two eye-cells are fired, for whatever reason. We think one of them is significant, and one of them isn't. Which one? Well the one that we think is significant is the one that has in the past fired, and we have memory of it, so when it fires again, that is significant. But that's a very rough and ready sort of thing. But the thing is, when we do this, when we filter these perceptions, we filter them, as I say, according to our prior perceptions, but then we say that the objects, that are the results of these filterings, are actual real things. But they're not. They're abstractions that we've created as a process of filtering our perceptions.
George Siemens: By the same account, though, doesn't there, at some point, need to be some agreement for us to make even that perception? I agree - when you said which eye-cell is more important, or as you mention, as you do in your paper, that the whole notion of associationism -- there are elements where the degree to which something is physically or like-mindedness in connection that influences the capacity of a connection or an association to occur, between the two entities. So you can't have -- for example my whole history, let's say hypothetically, has been in the field of English work. Suddenly if I'm exposed to a physics text - I'm going to have an awful hard time making connections because of the dissimilarity between the fields. And so, I understand that the notion or the concept that you're making at that point, but at some level, for you and I to even be able to dialogue, even if we don't agree why we dialogue, don't we at least have to have an objective conception of something? And I want to move this from -- we've been very theoretical, and I really think you and I could talk at each other for probably three hours, and probably neither of us will have a significant change in perspective. So I would like to move to why is this debate important within an educational context. Because of... sorry?
Dave Cormier: At that point, I completely agree and I have a question for each of you to focus on this, trying to bring us back to education. I've been waiting for the moment to jump in. As you said, this could've gone a long, long time. It's been very, very fascinating to me, because I love this conversation.
Stephen Downes: I'm not the one who picked the topic!
Dave Cormier: No, seriously, I do enjoy this topic, but I'm going to ask you each a question that has to do with what I think, and certainly what other people think are the repercussions of each of your positions. I'll spell them out for each of you, and I'll allow which ever one of you wants to jump in first and answer: In the objective position, George, twice you said somebody is able to get truth or knowledge unless they have a disability. I think that one of the difficulties with taking the objective position is that you end up creating a binary, where there is a right answer and a wrong answer, and you end up mainstreaming truth, in such a way that it ends up creating various political difficulties inside of a classroom, from the teacher's perspective. If there is only one answer and there is an objective that generally we're moving towards in the classroom, then we're automatically creating those people who can access truth, and those people who cannot access truth. And that's a concern I have. In terms of you Stephen, I think that George's question is exactly correct. While you've been calling it subjective, and while I would personally would agree with you, at some point we have to decide what we're going to agree on in order to be able to teach it in the classroom. While we're not going to debate over numbers, and I would never debate numbers again on this show (for those who were here for the numbers debate a few weeks ago) - but how do we then, if we assume a subjective position there, how do we then actually go to the classroom and decide what it is we're going to teach?
Stephen Downes: All right. Do you want to go first, George, or shall I?
George Siemens: Flip a coin. Doesn't matter to me.
Stephen Downes: Call it.
George Siemens: I don't have a coin though.
Stephen Downes: I'll just flip and you call it.
George Siemens: Tails.
Stephen Downes: You got it.
George Siemens: That's great. I'm glad you used an objective test to move towards who goes first. That's great. Anyway, you raise a good question on this because: First of all, when it comes to the objective/subjective debate, I would like to note that Stephen and I, I believe, generally agree on many more things than we disagree. I've been reading his work for years, and I know I've been on his radar for years as well, so it's worth noting that it is out of, I think, a passion and an interest for education as a whole that we're even having this debate. One of the real things, educationally, is we've - and this is the model that we allergically react to, which is if knowledge is external, and if it is novel, and I'm not saying all knowledge is, I'm saying there certainly are elements that aren't. But if something is novel and external, then education becomes getting the learner aligned with what's novel and external.



Which unfortunately creates those negative images of container-filling that we've had of learning. You sit in my classroom long enough, you hear me talk long enough, you go out, you do what I just told you to do, and now, alas, you have learned. And my whole point with this, with connectivism as well is that that's a model that sucks. It sucks in our era simply because the content that we're putting into the learner is changing far to rapidly for it to be of sustained value to the learner in the long term. Now, you bring in another point, about the pedagogy of the oppressed - was, I think, the comment that was brought in here, with mainstreaming truth and providing "can" and "cannot" access to the points of truth. Those I think are not - they are elements of how we implement education. I don't think that they are necessary elements of whether education or learning is objective or subjective, and which elements are. For example: I'm very willing to say, that when I watch the evening news, if Steve and I were to sit and watch Canada - US play hockey - well that's probably not a good one, I think we both root for the same side.


Let's say we watch Belarus and some other country that we don't have much interest in play hockey. We would have totally different views of who's playing well and who - you know, someone said that Gretzky was the greatest player of all time, or is it Lemieux? Is it Jordan or is it Kobe Bryant? These are subjective debates. Does Kobe have two arms and two legs - that's a pretty objective entity in my eyes. So in an educational sense, we're dealing with political issues when we begin to determine how education is fulfilled. Whether people are restricted from access to education? That's not a function of whether it's right or wrong. That's a function of how we're implementing it.


When we teach someone how to fly an airplane, it's not a "do whatever you want" thing. When we use Wiki, and Stephen made it in another forum that he and I are participating in in Learning 2.0 conference of some sort, and he made a statement that I haven't replied to yet, that Wikipedia is not a dictionary that you read, or an encyclopedia that you read. It's an encyclopedia that you write. And so, in an educational sense, that is valid in many, many cases. The co-creation of content is valid, especially in things that are more an element of the subjective nature.


However, I can't go out tomorrow and say: "Know what, I'm going to buy me a 747 (assuming I have those type of funds) - I'm going to start learning how to fly this, but I don't want to go to 40,000 feet, and I don't want to report to any kind of air traffic control, because it's the Man out there, and I don't want to participate in..." - I can't do that! I have to function under the guidelines that create a reasonable society.


When I explore knowledge, when people are taught how to fly an airplane or when they're taught how to do these things, there are clear, specific aspects we laid into an airplane. On the other hand, when we teach people how to organize themselves as a productive, healthy society, how to make personal choices, that's a subjective issue. So I think, the real problem comes in when we take an objective/subjective stance on something that's objective, which I've been doing, and Stephen has been taking a subjective image with what he's presenting, and I've been taking an objective stance on something that is subjective, and he's been taking an subjective stance on something that is objective. That's a part of how I see it. And I think we need to acknowledge the nuances and the dimensions of this. So, these are things that our educational system needs to align the intent with the aspects or the characteristics of a particular form of knowledge. Anyway, I'll leave it there and throw it out.
Dave Cormier: I just want to respond back to it, just for a second. You did say twice in your descriptions, that unless someone was disabled, they would know the truth. That's specifically what I'm referring to is the two times you said that. That is something that can only come from an objective position. I think specifically that's what I'm referring to. If you're saying that red is something that can only be what it is, and it's the absolute factor of the apple, then you're saying that Tom, my friend down the street here who is actually colorblind, will never be a truth-knower in terms of color. Because there is only one way to be truthful, and therefore he is always going to be wrong. And I think that was what I was speaking to. There are other situations in the classroom where that, what you called "the oppressed position" (which is not necessarily how I would put it), where that becomes marginalizing of various groups.
George Siemens: Is it marginalizing? I think - and this is going to sound far harsher than I mean it - deep down inside I think I'm a nice person. If someone who is in a car accident, and is confined to a wheelchair, and they can't run a race. Have I marginalized that person because of that disability? We've setup certain kinds of Olympics, that allow people like that to participate, but they may not be able to participate in the regular Olympics because of their disability. Because someone is colorblind - does that alter the color red for everyone else?
Dave Cormier: Definitely not. But if, to take the example back to the classroom, if you do not allow that student to succeed because they're in a wheelchair, if one of the thing they need to accomplish in the classroom to be correct is to walk around the classroom, then we have created a problem. In terms of the Olympics, I don't think we need to do this across the world, but in the classrooms we have to be aware how we structure truth, because of what that does to each individual that comes into the classroom. So I agree with you in terms of the Olympics, I don't think we should change the rules for that, but in the classroom we should.
George Siemens: OK. Ouch. So you're saying then, if that line of reasoning is that someone who has a physical disability, but they're trying to enter a field that requires them not to have that physical disability, I should still allow them in that classroom, with their disability, even though they will never be a participant in that particular field, because they have a disability. But they should be in the classroom. We're applying two different metrics or two different levels of permissions in society and in the classroom. Is that what you're suggesting?
Dave Cormier: No. I don't think that we should adjust all the planes, for instance, to make sure that people who don't have the dexterity are also able to fly them. In the classroom, when we're talking about assessment, and we're talking about the practical application in the classroom, all I'm saying is the objective position creates a single way of succeeding.
George Siemens: And in certain ways, like flying an airplane, admittedly there are subjective elements even in objectivity, just like there is objectivity in subjectivity. Flying an airplane - there's really one right way to fly it and one wrong way. The wrong way is to crash.
Stephen Downes: Not necessarily. There are kamikaze - you expect them to crash.
George Siemens: OK.
Stephen Downes: I was waiting for that one.
George Siemens: The general notion, though, is that we all agree that an airplane needs to be flown roughly a certain way, and it's a fairly objective process. If someone doesn't have the physical capacity or the mental capacity - we then could say that that is a requirement for succeeding in that field. Are we discriminating against -- for example I'm 5'10, and on a good day I might be 5'11. I used to play basketball. I never got to post. I never played the big man down low. Because - and as much as I rail against it - should my coach then have adjusted his strategy for basketball which is a coaching academic - it was in an environment of high-school - should he have adjusted the way in which he coached to accommodate for my desire to be taller? And I would say no. In a classroom though, we do have an obligation to maintain the inherent dignity - and this I think is very objective - the dignity and the right of every human being to have a sense of respect, to be treated with fairness. It's really abused internationally, even Canada has issues of abuse with it, but that is an absolute that in my eyes has to be there in a classroom. A person who want to sit in a classroom and perform a physical task that they're incapable of performing - I'm sorry, that is the harsh reality of me being 5'10. I'm not going to play a guard or a post position in basketball.
Stephen Downes: All right, I'm going to jump in here. Because I think the two examples you've given allow me to draw out an aspect of what I want to say. Two examples. You've said an airplane must be flown (all things being equal, kamikazes not included) in a certain way, a non-crashing way. If somebody is unable to fly an airplane in that way - well that's just the way it is. Similarly, in basketball you'll never be a... whatever (I hate basketball) because you're not tall. Now, airplanes... Let's take a blind person. A blind person is bad at flying airplanes, right? But! Bats - blind - yet fly. How can this be? Well the reason why it takes a certain set of skills to fly an airplane is that's how we designed airplanes. And if we designed them differently, people with different skills could fly them. Come to basketball. The reason why you're no good in basketball --
George Siemens: That hurts!
Stephen Downes: -- is because they put the stupid nets ten feet in the air. If they designed basketball so that the nets are three feet of the ground, then no problem. The reason why some people are good at the Olympics is not something objective, but because of how we designed the Olympics. You see what I mean? That's the basis and to me it is fundamental that we understand this. The things that we think of as objective. I'm not talking about chairs and tables and things like that but much more fundamental things like values and meaning and so on are things that we've constructed.
George Siemens: Ok, I'm in 100% agreement with you. I think we could design airplanes. And I think I would have been a better basketball player if the hoop was down at three feet. I have no doubt that would have improved my game.
Dave Cormier: Yeah.
George Siemens: I don't know, you'd be surprised. But here is the real question that it would have to come down to this. Is education in a standard sense intended to be transformative of the industry itself or is education intended to bring people so that they can function in that industry. Does that mean that we should be training our pilots to transform the design of airplanes. Should my coach have taught me or coached me as a player for lobbying the NBA to reduce the hoop height seven feet? Is that the function of education or is the function of education to bring me into an existing space so that I am competent within that space. And maybe it's not an and or issue. Maybe it's a both, definitely a both thing. Where is my coach most affective. I would say at high school my coach is effective when he taught me to play on a ten foot hoop. He would have done a --
Stephen Downes: -- hoops in grade school.
George Siemens: Yeah and at that point that worked well because the primers of the game were to create that object. You teach them to play on an eight foot hoop because you know they are going to be playing on a ten foot hoop by the time they get to high school. So you are trying to get to the zone of proximal development. You're trying to move people one stage ahead of where they are. What's the purpose of education? Is it to transform so that we can alter the rules of the game? I would say yes in many instances that it is. But is good education in the confines of today because I am very confident that the NBA isn't dropping their hoop heights anytime soon. And yes that's how the space has been designed. For me to be effective in that space my educator, my coach has to prepare me to compete on a ten foot hoop whether I like it or not. At the same time I can take political activism courses on the side and begin lobbying parliament to reduce hoop sizes. That's a secondary issue. But the function of standard education is not, and this is maybe our problem, is that we have not conceived education to be transformative. We've taught our learners or we make our learners normative. That may be part of the issue.
Stephen Downes: That's kind of interesting. You say that NBA has changed to be considerate of the increasing average height of the players over the years so that now some of the players can just sort of reach up and drop the ball into the hoop. If they had really been doing that, the hoops would be up about twenty feet by now. So they would all have to shoot at it. Well Gorge I think that was a fantastic question and it was great. Sorry for putting you on the hot seat for so long but I think you did a really fantastic job in describing your position. And I would like to turn the hot seat around to the other side of the table if that's at all possible here. First if you would like to address that question that he asked; what is education for, I would be more than happy to hear the answer to that one if you have it. But also I would like to see the table turned and say ok fine, the problem with your subjective position is how do we actually make choices if that's the case.
Stephen Downes: I have them right beside each other in my notes because it's basically the same question. George is asking what's the purpose of education. You're asking at some point we have to decide what to agree on in order to change. all right. In both cases the picture of learning that we got is us doing something to them. If that's the model that we are going to have for education then we are always going to have to decide on something. We'll have lots of big battles about it. Because, of course, we'll never agree on what we should be teaching. It's not going to happen because you're talking about facts of the world. Here's the fact of the world. We don't agree on what there is in the world. If there is any fact there is the fact that we don't agree on what the facts are. It's not simply what the facts are, right. To take it one step further, because we are talking about what to teach kids, we're no where close to agreeing about what's important. You talk about education of the oppressed and all of that. The selection of the material that you choose to teach kids is reflective of how does it go, the cultural and material values you are trying to foist on them. That's the extreme way of stating it but the point is here that the whole assumption that there is some kind of objective thing that we ought to be teaching them is an instance of us doing something to them as an approach to education. Everyone is going to have some candidates for what they think are foundational skills. Pure skills such as creativity, critical thinking, the ability to read etc., is the place to start. But I mean what is it that makes a skill foundational. It's not like a skill comes with a little label attached to it like that I'm foundational. What makes a skill foundational is that you need that skill to do the things that you want to do. But what are those things that you want to do. Is that a part of what we're teaching them. Is part of what we're teaching people that later in their life they should become an airplane pilot or basketball players? Is part of what we're teaching them all of that? That's not so clear to me. The way I view it, and we'll come back to the reasons why this is the case in a bit, the way I view learning is that fundamentally learning needs to be structured according to the needs of the learner. Now, according to what I describe in my paper, the way learners are going to learn is actually fairly straight forward. And in slogan form, practice and reflection. There isn't going to be some kind of magical universal theory shortcut. How do I want to go here. I know what I want to say I just don't know how I want to say it. I have to adjust to how I say it according to where I think the listener is. I could say it in Klingon but that probably wouldn't be helpful.
George Siemens: Do you mind if I just quickly jump in here, while you're --
Stephen Downes: Giving me something to react to will help me.
George Siemens Ok. I know you have done presentations in the past on being radical and that has sparked a different conversation as well but there are elements of our educational system. We had a brief dialog in a different form about you as an idealist. I just want to throw out the term anarchy for just a second. When we don't have some sense of standards and I don't believe in standardized testing. The word standards has a bad rap.
Stephen Downes: No, I understand what you mean.
George Siemens: So when we have some type of a standard, don't we need that. Don't we someone in an industry, Wikipedia for example which I think is an excellent resource. Don't we need someone somewhere who has some level of authority. And now we are going to go into what does authority mean and I'm going to say simply authority is someone who is well read, well respected within a particular industry, has published and has researched. And writing a coherent theory of truth, is generally understood to be competent in that domain. But what if someone says, ??You know what, I don't think physics works that way. I don't believe in relativity and I don't believe in principals of uncertainty and I just do my own thing??. I teach others to basically think as I think or I just view my perspectives out there. How have we served the learner well in that space? How have I? And you've made a really good point about designing a certain way and that actually impacts people with certain disabilities. So to adjust and to change the airplane is a separate issue from teaching current pilots to fly that airplane. So at some point we have to say at this stage these are sort of the standard conceptions of functioning within this space. You and I would agree that philosophy, the art of logic, has certain points that most people will generally agree on in a philosophical sense.
Stephen Downes: all right.
George Siemens: So at that point, if you are going to teach a student philosophy, you want to teach them critical thinking because that's a part of the domain but you also want to teach them to challenge assumptions and that's all part of it. And creativity and thought. But by the same token, you have standards so when you marked. You said you've taught philosophy nine or ten years in your past. How did you mark a philosophy student as having provided you with a good answer or as being a competent philosopher in thought. What were your metrics? And why didn't they create their own metrics?
Stephen Downes: I'm tempted to say randomly.
Stephen Downes: Some students are calling you back.
George Siemens: Hey, don't say that around here. It's a very touchy subject here on Prince Edward Island.
Stephen Downes: Yeah, I am no doubt aware. Everyone wants standards. Everyone wants standards that reflect their own value system which is why there is such demands of it. I love the way people use relativist arguments and now I will accuse you of this. Relativist arguments and objective perspectives are standard conceptions of functioning in this space. We're all on the Titanic so you have to learn how the Titanic runs and not how to swim. How do I want to put it. The theory that I sketch in my paper is a theory not just of knowledge how to apply more knowledge or how to apply good knowledge. The theory involves various components. I'll be the first to say that it is a theory. It's my best guess. It's kind of how I try to run my own life with indifferent success. It involves things like connections, interactivity, openness, diversity, things like that. The reason why I think that these are the foundations of a knowing person and of a knowing society is because of when I examine how networks of connected neurons are able to reach an equilibrium state. How they are able to reach a state at which they could be interpreted as having knowledge. These are the features that make that possible. Take away diversity and you get uniformity and no possibility for advancement. Take away connectedness and you get nothing. Those are the principals that I come at. Now I look at what is this space that we are trying to teach in. What are the standard conceptions of functioning in this space. What are the limits of the boxes that people are drawing. I look at the educational system as structured where learning is, as I characterized generally, us doing things to other people. My unprejudiced opinion of that approach is that it is dysfunctional and that we are actually teaching people how to shuffle chairs on the deck of the Titanic and that the boat is steaming straight for the iceberg.
George Siemens: Could I just throw in one question? It's funny though because you can find good shuffling chairs even while the ship is sinking.
Dave Cormier: Yeah, but so what.
George Siemens: Well, I agree so what but the point is what if a learner wants to find a job and their reason for employment. You're an idealist and I mean that in a positive way but you're an idealist and you're goal is the betterment of society. Your goal is the betterment of educational structures. You have a very lovely statement on your downes.ca website so you have idealistic notations or dimensions to your thinking. There are a lot of people who enter the school system and they want that job so they can have work so that they can buy the PlayStation for the kids so they can travel during their vacations. If that means they are shuffling the chairs on the deck of the Titanic, then that is where they earn their money and that's what they are going to do for. Not every --
Stephen Downes: You say what if a leaner wants to have a job. What if somebody wants to shuffle chairs on the deck on the Titanic? That's very different from saying you must have a job. You must shuffle the chairs right.
George Siemens: But are we saying that you must have a job. Our society is structured so you need a job in order to live large.
Stephen Downes: That's pretty much saying you must have a job. All of our teaching, or not all, but the bulk of our teaching is how you can get a job. To prepare people for the workforce, right. We never give people that option.
George Siemens: So anyways, Neil Postman wrote about this when he is talking about what is the point of education. We spend time talking about the what or the how of education. This is what you need to learn, this is how you will need to learn. We rarely pull back and ask the why of education. Why do we need to educate people? I think you're answering the why of education or you're trying to answer the why of education. The environment, the context in which you are answering, is a what and how society. Is your voice being heard. There is a lot of understanding, especially in neuro sciences that we don't hear what's out there. We hear what we want to hear. We're attuned to what we already know. We make connections based on existing conceptions that we already have. So an excellent idea may not be connected or associated to use your terms. It may not be associated simply for that reason.
Stephen Downes: Again, we have the person defending objectivity saying we hear what we want to hear. I agree, we do hear what we want to hear. What I'm trying to emphasize is when we hear what we want to hear there is a certain element here which what we're hearing is fictional. It was made up. We talk about the what and the how of learning. The what and the how depends exactly on the why. If we don't look at the why we're going to be trapped in the whats and the hows that preserve for better or for worse the existing structures. And they keep people going back and working at jobs thinking that is what careers are all about. And I think people are worth more than that. Call me an idealist all you want. I think that a person given the chance to determine their own educational future will do a better a job than the future that's directed for them. I think a society consisting of people that are able to choose their own educational futures will be a smarter more advance society than the one we have. That's the basis of my approach.
George Siemens: I just want to jump in here with two things. First of all, when I say that I believe in elements, I'm not saying that 100% of everything in every context is constantly objective. When I say objectivity exists in certain elements, and I really do want to get back to this debate. But that objectivity exists in certain elements. I'm not saying that objectivity exists in all elements. I'm just saying that it exists as an entity and sometimes our education has to align with that. Basically I'm just trying to say that there are domains and, as I stated earlier in the conversation, where subjectivity is very much an entity. Just getting back to what you are talking about here, is how many do you think Stephen fit into that profile? How many people out there want what you are offering them. By that I mean the capacity to have this colossal choice. I look at people around and I don't mean to insult any of the people that I know or people in my family or friends but I can comfortably say that a good majority of them don't want to think at the level and at the depth that you are trying to encourage them to think because, let's face it, it takes a whole bunch of energy. If you have to choose between thinking and watching TV, in our society TV often wins out. So do people want what you are offering them, Stephen.
Dave Cormier: Could I jump in just for a second. Moderate a moment. I just like to hear myself talk every twenty minutes. Like a necessity I have to jump in here and make sure that I make myself heard. I do think that there is a chicken and egg argument in what you're saying George. I think we have a domesticating educational system that makes people that way. That's just my own sort of opinion on the matter. What I do want to say is we have been on for an hour and twenty minutes and we would like to do some wrapping up noises and get you guys to distill your thoughts as much as possible and give us a two or three minute summation of what you have been saying today and how you feel about it. And how, if at all, any of your positions have been affected by this conversation. And then I might want to ask you a couple of questions about the elearning 2.0 summit and how it is that there is a elearning 2.0 summit we are not allowed to listen to. Because I would really love to find out what is going on but I don't know how. Anyway that's another question I'll ask but first can you give two or three minutes. Tell me what you have been saying, wrap it up. Has this conversation affected you at all. George, why don't you go first.
George Siemens: I think I'll start by answering the last question which is, has this conversation helped. I think it certainly helped to the degree the original article that Stephen wrote that we didn't spend enough time on really. How that article helped as well. And when I first posted on it, I said much of it reflects on what I believe in terms of a connectivist sense. Which is that knowledge itself is the process or learning is the process of network formation. Meaning and emergence and shared meaning and all of those things are a function to a large degree of the types of networks that we create and the manner in which we choose elements within our network. So on many levels I'm saying Stephen is right.


On some elements I'm saying too varying degrees because, like I said, the subjectivity notion that Stephen has expressed today, I've held as I said in my original post, I agree with that on certain levels. I disagree on certain levels because I do believe that there is an objective element and an objective reality that exists. And sometimes our learning structures have to align with that objective reality in order for us to do a service to our learners. In answering that first, yes it was an enjoyable discussion from that end and certainly any time you can get together with a group of people who share similar interests, there is always a learning experience.


I think that's what Stephen talks about when he uses the term emergence and association to refer to the process of learning. I don't have the quote handy here but he had a really good quote in there about how the point of association basically moves us towards that level of shared understanding. Meaning here is one of many ways. But meaning is an emergent phenomenon arising from connections between underlying entities. So the meaning that I derive comes as a result of extending the nodes in my network. So what is my main point though. My main point is that we are constrained in our philosophy and in our ideologies by the society in which we live. Part of education should be to alter the very constructs of our society. A part of education should create people who are better thinkers. It should create people who are willing to challenge the injustices that exist. It should allow equal access and equal opportunity to every learner regardless of disability, regardless of limitations. There are aspects to the educational process that do that. Those things unfortunately take a long long time. Often they can take decades, many decades in some instances for the constructs that inhibit effective leaning to be altered. However, while we are there we need to still serve those people who are entering that existing marketplace. We can begin to provide a basis for that philosophy and we can provide a basis for that theory in the manner that we provide education to our learners. We can inject critical thinking into it so that they are prepared in the future to tackle the bigger issues of their field or their domain. To right the injustices, to correct the wrongs of the world.


There are in my eyes though objective elements that exist and there ways sometimes that even though, especially in a connectiveness sense, my shift from the constructive viewpoints of life to the connectivist perspective resulted in realizing that there is an objective network that is created as I form and as I add knowledge to my own sense of continual learning. Through that process I'm actually creating an objective network that said something and hopefully aligns with the reality that exists outside there. Parts of those that network will be subjective, it will be filtered and interpreted using the perceptions, the notions that Stephen uses in his paper. Parts of it will be of that nature. Other parts will be sort of the emergent phenomenon of the network and some parts will be very objective and how it relates to the world that exists around it. Anyway, that's just a very quick overview of my perspective and my value from the discussion.
Dave Cormier: Thanks very much for that George, that was really good, that was great. I think that as long as Stephen can live up to your very high degree of skill in terms of wrapping this up, this is going to be a great thing that we can cut out and give people a sense of what the whole debate is going to sound like. So that they can listen to this and sort of bring them into the larger hour and a half long discussion. But Stephen this does behoove you to do as good a job.
Stephen Downes: But no pressure.
Dave Cormier: No pressure at all. So I'll turn it over to you and ask you the same question. Can you some up the position you have been following here and also how, if at all, this conversation has affected your understanding of the issues.
Stephen Downes: I've just got some notes here. Actually my position can be stated very simply. The first point is that objectivism is empirically false. It can' t be made true, contra George, by artificially creating smaller domains of discourse. And, if that's the case, my next point is that claims to have objective knowledge are in effect the imposition of ones values over another. It creates an instance of schooling being us and doing something to them. Or, to draw a little bit from what George said, it makes it ok to say that we are constrained in such and such a way. The third point is that society functions better, it's smarter and it is, if you will, more humane when values are not imposed. And consequently this leads to my conclusion about the nature of objectivism. We should not be making claims to have objective knowledge.


What does that mean in learning? What that means is that we're not taking what we know and putting it into students heads. Learning isn't a transfer of knowledge. It's a demonstration and it's an interaction. But the ultimate decision about what is learned and indeed how something is learned is up to the learner. The best we can do is model what we believe. If we go beyond that, my view is we are not only not teaching well. My feeling is we are actually damaging the student. As a consequence we are damaging society as a whole. I guess for me the thing that comes out most clearly in this discussion, and it sort of came out a little bit in my paper, but it's not so clear as it is here now that our understanding of how society works and our understanding of how learning works are inextricably conjoined. You can't talk about one without talking about the other. I think that's really important. To me that's an important thing to be thinking about. When we are talking about theories of learning there are theories of leaning that, simply said, accept that society is such and such a way are I think incomplete theories of learning because they don't presuppose as learning should that we could be any better than we are.
Dave Cormier: Well, I hate to cut off this conversation because I think it's by far one of the most enjoyable that I have had the privilege of being involved in here during our 57 or 58 some odd shows that we have done. I've got to say I've really enjoyed your contribution today Mr. Lebow. It's been fascinating. I'm wondering if he's going to comment. I just want to thank our esteemed guests for gracing the World Bridges Academy with their presence. I think it's been valuable even for those of us who don't often contemplate this level of EdTech issues. I think it is important to take a step back and ask some of these larger questions. I will look forward to re-listening and continuing to relearn from this show. As a wrap up comment I hope you guys will stay on the line for a couple of minutes and tell us what's going on with your elearning summit after this. But I would like to wrap up this audio so we can put it together as a package. I will say to the people listening and to any of you fine fine folks who have made it this far into the show and have actually listened along and taken notes like I have, go out and blog about this, talk to people about it, and give your positions out. This is the only way that these discussions are really valuable as they move towards action. I think that both Stephen and George have made excellent points all along the way. I mean certainly what George says about keeping the practicality in mind with the way that we actually look towards affecting our cultures is an excellent point. Stephens points about not rigidly creating big difficulties in our educational system are excellent as well. Please talk about it, comment about it, send us messages, send us hate mail or whatever. And let us know how you feel about these issues. This has been EdTech talk number 34? A Conversation between George Siemens and Stephen Downes. On January 29th.
Stephen Downes: Depending on where you are.
Dave Cormier: That's right. It's kind of subjective. I'd like to thank you all for listening and we look forward to continuing this conversation next time.


 

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