A few days ago I wrote down some practical thoughts on what connectivism might bring to the way I teach and the way my students learn.
As a result, I did a concept mapping activity with both my tutor groups last week. They are currently starting small-scale teaching development projects of their own, and a common anxiety among them is their lack of knowledge of educational theory and pedagogic research. I wanted to get them exploring what they already know and understand in terms of the connections between things they’ve read, heard, discussed and experienced.
I started off by pairing them up and suggesting they share what they thought of as their central topic or concept – in most cases this would be their action research question – and help each other come up with three or four aspects of the concept to explore on their maps. I then gave them around 15-20 minutes to start constructing the maps before getting feedback from them on what they would take away from the activity, and what challenges they encountered in constructing the maps.
Everyone in the group said that in the process of starting to construct the map they had a) realised they knew more than they thought they did and b) uncovered at least one aspect that they hadn’t yet investigated at all, but which could be quite central to their study. So the activity definitely appeared to have some value; it will be interesting to get more feedback from them later on in the year when they are writing up their projects.
The most common challenge identified was the organisation of the maps; we were using paper and pens and some people were making flexible maps using post-its (well, just sticky notes – I’m not sure they were the leading brand). I suggested they might want to do a little planning first in order to make the best use of the space but in hindsight I’m not sure the process benefits from too much organisation! I did supply sticky tape so they could create bigger sheets of paper if they wanted, but what I would really like to do is something like my colleague Paul did when hosting the most excellent JISC Mediating Boundaries event in May – he got the participants to write and draw on paper tablecloths (see image).
I think our scribblings eventually got transmogrified into an electronic uber-mind-map on flickr.
My guess is that anything I can do to bring the focus on the identification of connections, rather than the mechanics of organising them, will result in a more valuable experience and a more useful outcome.
I said before that personally I think I’m completely rubbish at drawing concept maps, but after forcing myself to give it a go, and having the opportunity to do this in a group and share our thoughts about it, I think I might try it again. like many things, it’s going to take practice – good old David Kolb and his experiential learning cycle again…! Next time I might use Prezi; that should help me break the mental shackles of the A3 sheet of paper