(Initial) Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali's blog has now moved to http://blog.mahabali.me

Novelty, noise, and scaffolding


Some days you come across an idea that provides you with unexpected insights. The idea is simple and should have been obvious to you long ago, but somehow was not, until some other person articulated it well enough.

A couple of days ago, this insight came from a comment on Dave Cormier’s blog post about the upcoming open course on Rhizomatic Learning. Scott Johnson, building on the concept of scaffolding which another commentator mentioned, said:

“Without structure or some realization that help or accompaniment is available (the presence of a sense-making companion maybe?) novelty can be pushed aside as noise”

I’ve known about scaffolding and Vygotsky for years and years, I use the concept often, but this statement opened up my eyes to two important realizations:

1. It made me realize why, at work (I work as a faculty developer), sometimes a new idea that is mentioned in an email or meetings gets “shot down” very quickly by more conservative members of the team – I think I always realized there was some element of others not truly understanding where the new idea comes from, or not truly knowing the dimensions of it, and that this is partly the fault of the speaker for not communicating clearly in the first place and accounting for listener’s background. But the concept of “novelty as noise” is very enlightening. Recognizing that novelty might seem like  “noise”, means we understand that this noise causes discomfort, and you want to “shut it out”, because who wants to keep listening to noise? You’re not able to listen to it, you don’t understand the content of it, and it’s distracting you from listening to more important things. It never occurred to me when introducing novelty in a work setting (vs. a teaching setting) that one could use the concept of scaffolding. Yes, it now sounds obvious, but it was not that obvious to me beforehand!

2. An insight into connectivism: This (the need for some kind of sense-making e.g. via a peer or expert) might be what is truly problematic about connectivism. I have argued elsewhere (publication in process) that cMOOCs are not necessarily scalable across contexts because not all people feel comfortable with the technology or the lack of structure or info overload, and not all disciplines can easily be adapted for that kind of learning especially for non-autonomous and younger learners (well, I might have said it slightly differently, but that is the gist). But maybe what  Scott mentions is what is truly problematic with connectivism – the novelty of it, without peer (or expert) support, seems like noise to the external observer who is not an extremely connected/networked individual… and so it goes totally over their heads. Actually, I think the theory behind connectivism is difficult to imagine or absorb, and even harder to experience for the person who is not highly networked to begin with. I might be wrong, but I think the rest of Scott’s comment about the same people showing up in connectivist learning opportunities rings true: these people are feeling supported and trust each other enough to keep learning together.

This all also made me realize why #edcmooc (eLearning & Digital Cultures MOOC) might have worked really well – it had a lot of elements of connectivism (use of social media not just the traditional MOOC platform) but also some (quite loose) structure. And also encouraging lots of peer support (participants in the first run of the MOOC say they built community before the course even started and that this personal learning network stayed with them beyond).

And so… I think I know why the idea of rhizomatic learning and community as curriculum resonated with me a little more than connectivism. Because the emphasis on “community” seemed to emphasize the importance of the social relationships between learners… versus connectivism which seemed to emphasis the network connections which sounded to me (as a former computer scientist) as emphasizing the network (software or hardware) rather than the people and the social aspect. I’ve never gone too far in reading up on connectivism, and I assume it’s possible “network” means “social community”, but somehow it does not sound completely like that to me… I think I might get my head around all this as we go into #rhizo14. Or not. Either way, I’m excited about that course and the possibilities and social networks I could build and learn with/from through it.

More later…


Author: Maha Bali

Associate professor of practice, American University in Cairo

7 thoughts on “Novelty, noise, and scaffolding

  1. *.ismes. and very much other theories in education are true in context. So is connectivism. But you know that, I did read your post on generalizations. So is rhizome an image to try to understand learning in internet context. Do you feel connectivism and rhizomatic learning do differ that much?

    • Hi there. I am not sure I got to see your full comment, because it starts with “*.isms”, though you might have meant to say that all words that end in “ism” & other theories in edu are true in context?
      But to answer your question near the end… I don’t think I know yet the exact relationship between rhizomatic learning and connectivism. Your comment made me think that maybe my own response to the idea of connectivism was a bit conservative. I was telling Dave that for some reason rhizomatic learning resonated with me more, but I was not sure why. I don’t know enough about either rhizomatic learning or connectivism to truly compare them but I think we can explore that in #rhizo14? (I see u have blogged about it so i assume u signed up?)
      I teach adult learners who are teachers themselves, and usually use a communal approach in my teaching, so can imagine the idea of rhizomatic learning enhancing that further… Given that your own username is “connectiv” maybe you can tell me your perspective about relationship/differences between rhizomatic learning and connectivism?

  2. I have read a bit about both connectivism & rhizomatic learning, and I, too, am interested in figuring out similarities and differences. I went through what I think of as a connectivist MOOC a year ago, etmooc, and I think that there definitely was a strong element of connecting between people as well as with knowledge, resources, etc. I felt that the idea of community as curriculum really fit well there. And yes, having peer support, making connections to individuals made all the difference to me there–otherwise I would have felt overwhelmed, I think! Those connections to people have lasted already a year, many of them, and I expect at least some to last much longer.

    I’ve signed up for rhizo14, but so busy with regular job (I teach philosophy at a Uni) that I don’t know how active I’ll be. But I’ll try!

    • Hi Christine, thanks for sharing your experience. I would love to learn how your participation in connectivist learning experiences have impacted your own teaching.

      • Hi Maha:

        I wish I could say that my connectivist experiences have impacted my teaching a lot, but I’m afraid not. I have started requiring students to blog, either on a course blog or on their own blogs that are all connected to a single blog “hub,” and I tweet out links to the blog hub every once in awhile so others can see the great work the students are doing. I’ve been thinking about opening up my courses to outside participants, allowing others to blog with us, even having some open online synchronous meetings, but it’s more difficult than I thought. For one thing, this term, the vast majority of what I’m teaching comes from books and articles that one has to pay for (or get access to through a university subscription), so inviting others to join us doesn’t work so well unless they buy all those. For another, holding open online synchronous meetings actually takes more work than my informal face to face meetings, for which I don’t often have formal presentations ready but often just do discussions with the class.

        But I’m still thinking of doing this in the future, especially when I am teaching a class with a lot more free and open readings, and for which I’ll be doing some online presentations anyway, for the F2F students. We’ll see what happens!

  3. Pingback: Why #rhizo14? | Reflecting Allowed

  4. Pingback: Creativity, innovation are this rhizomatic concepts? Questions to orient | connectiv

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