What I’m Working On (#WIWO) – Truth in Legos

I like history and reflection.

I have a colleague, Alana Robinson, who had the bright idea of documenting  the transformation of our workplace: the soon-to-be Virginia Commonwealth University Learning Innovation Center (LInC or maybe LINC).  This center will be tasked with promoting connected learning by providing leadership in the areas of student engagement, faculty development, communities of practice, and technology-enhanced active learning.

I liked Alana’s idea of documentation, from historical and personal perspectives. If nothing else, it is a means for self-reflection during a time period of potential personal and professional change.

Alana calls this documentation #WIWO, or “What I’m Working On.”

My first task, as graduate fellow and perennial seeker-of-truth-packaged-as-potential-dissertation-topics, was to deepen my understanding of the center’s underlying message.  By strengthening my personal understanding of the epistemologies and praxes at play, the hope is that I can churn out annotated bibliographies and relevant copy in a variety of formats like the mad academic writing machine that I can be.  I am sure you will eventually see academically-acceptable evidence of my deep dive into connected learning literature, but it won’t be nearly as entertaining as the fact that I dove so deeply that I reinterpreted the LEGO movie as a message of connectivism.

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Which, despite only one retweet, did spark a conversation.  To review connectivism briefly:

Whether or not you believe connectivism is a theory or just a hypothetical phenomenon (and, yes, there are articles published with the sole purpose of arguing one way or another), connectivism was originally put out there by George Siemens almost ten years ago. Its main tenets (and yes, I cut and pasted from my linked source):

  • Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.
  • Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources.
  • Learning may reside in non-human appliances.
  • Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known
  • Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.
  • Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill.
  • Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.
  • Decision-making is itself a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due to alterations in the information climate affecting the decision.
Now, before I get academically skewered some more, I need to point out explicitly that “connectivism” and “connected learning” are not the same thing.  “Connected Learning” is not a learning theory nor a specific set of instructional techniques per se, but rather a set of guiding principles for practice.  I like to think of it kind of in the same realm as Community-based Participatory Research in that respect–not a prescribed set of techniques but rather a certain set of values.  So Connected Learning is:
  • Production-centered (hands-on and constructionist)
  • Interest-powered (based on learner interests)
  • Participatory (peer-culture)
  • Openly networked (relevant and accessible across academic, home, work, and peer spheres and spaces)
  • Academic, in the sense that learner affinities are capitalized upon to drive meaningful academic achievement, civic engagement, or professional development…it’s not just about a lot of kids looking at pictures of cute cats together…they need to develop that shared purpose into a productive and meaningful project. 
Ok, so if you care to watch the LEGO movie, you’ll be watching Emmett struggle to become “The Special,” ie the lego man who can save the lego universe from the evil Lord Business and his weapon of mass destruction, “The Kygle” (Also known as a bottle of “Krazy Glue” with some of the letters rubbed off).  Emmett goes through serious personal transformation through hands-on, “need-to-know” active learning.  He is tasked with learning to build products using lego blocks in unintended ways.  In other words, it’s all about connecting nodes in unique ways.  Active learning ensues, in which he tries something and then he and his buddies reflect on the results and then try again.  The lego buddies build with shared purpose in a peer-culture in which each person brings their own personality and gifts (distributed and collective intelligence) to the socially-embedded problem at hand.  Decision-making is, indeed, a learning process.  There are so many obvious plugs for connected, active, generative learning that I was foaming at the mouth and waving my arms in a seriously violent fashion by the end of the movie.  

And yet some people were incredulous that a kids movie might actually speak to academically sound teaching and learning principles. 

Whether you agree with me or not about the LEGO Movie and connectivism is not the point – the point is that it is very possible for knowledge to be beautifully represented in pop culture–and at a 6-year-old’s level, at that.  Maybe things are especially potent when presented at a kid’s level – because it is there that you must get to the heart of the matter.  For children, micromoments last for eons, and so they pick apart every detail of their experiences.  Whatever you tell them must make sense on some level.  Kids are much better than adults for many things. 

All of this (children aside), brings me to an article I read which asked that scholars not automatically favor the traditional literary cannon over less traditional, modern, digitally-based, multi-media texts.  Hooray for that.  I think it’s ok to admit that other people who work in media beyond double-spaced font are capable of interpreting “knowledge” and building awesome things.  With or without legos.

Although legos make it much more fun.

And that is what I’m working on. #WIWO
   

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