Connecting outside your discipline

I’ve always considered myself a “highly connected person” in an online sense. But over  the last year or so that I’ve made a concerted effort at moving beyond my own discipline of geography to gain insight from those in other disciplines. Through my online texts (The Physical Environment and Earth Online)and blogs (The Physical Environment blog and Earth Online blog) I’ve been able to connect with many in the geoscience community, but have learned that there are many more outside the this community I can learn from. One of those is Stephen Downes. Stephen works for the National Research Council of Canada who specializes in the fields of online learning, new media, pedagogy, and philosophy. He’s definitely a person who I’d love to meet as our interests are so similar. Though I haven’t communicated with him directly, I’ve been gaining much from reading his blogs and subscribing to his newsletter, “The Oldaily“. In a recent edition of the newsletter he created a list of his top ten articles. One that I’ve enjoyed and should be required reading for those promoting online work for their students is “Seven Habits of Highly Connected People“. I encourage you to check it out.

Another person I’ve been gaining a great deal of insight from is George Siemens, Associate Director in the Learning Technologies Centre at the University of Manitoba. I’ve been particularly interested in his concept of  Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age .  George states the principles of connectivism as:

  • 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.

Both Stephen and George have also been instrumental in my exploration of personal learning environments, something I’ll have more to say about in a future post.

Much is to be gained by stepping outside our disciplines to broaden our horizons as educators, and the Internet has done much to facilitate it.

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About Michael Ritter PhD
Professor of Geography at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, science textbook author, educational technology blogger, podcaster, and freelance media consultant.

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