What is Connectivism?

or “How I Went Searching for Answers and Found Myself–literally.”

The topic for tomorrow night’s MEd class is Connectivism. It’s a topic that really excites me because it confirms a lot of things that think are true about 21st century learning, but my professor presented us with these questions to consider in advance of tomorrow night’s class.

1) Connectivism lives largely in the cloud. True or False?

2) Tweets and blogs seem quite apropos for elucidating connectivism, but what is missing here?

3) How would we know if connectivism was NOT true?

4) Would connectivism work as an explanation of learning in the absence of technology? How? (or why not?)

5) What would you say are the facts in support of connectivism?

I’m finding some of these questions very tricky. Here are my attempts at answering them:

1) Largely? Yes, I suppose it does because connectivism is the view that knowledge and cognition are distributed across networks of people and technology and learning is the process of connecting, growing and navigating these networks (Handbook of Emerging Technologies for Learning). It exists in different ways at neural, conceptual, and external levels. So it’s not all in the cloud.

2) Tweets and blogs would only help elucidate connectivism if people were reading and commenting, making that network clear. You could in theory, tweet and blog and never interact with another person. You would be missing those external connections. When someone responds to one of my tweets like they did when I was looking for ideas for a 2020 math class, they pushed and expanded my thinking. The connections are essential.

3) Uh…. (elevator music playing sofly) … I guess I would know connectivism wasn’t true if you could learn as much in complete isolation as you could with your connections–I hesitate–nay resist the word “node” because it makes me think of those growths singers get on their vocal chords. I admit I find this question really challenging.

4) Does connectivism as a theory work in the absence of technology? I think parts of the theory work without technology, but at this point in my thinking, connectivism without technology kind of looks like social constructivism. Which makes sense because connectivism has evolved from constructivism and cognitivism. I … (okay I’m hearing the elevator music again.) I’m not sure.

5) I think this blog is evidence in support of connectivism. When I compare my professional practice before blogging and Twitter to my professional practice now, I’m astounded. Granted, I think even without my PLN I’d be a better teacher now than I was seven years ago just through experience. But I feel like I’ve got a much better tool box now.

So in trying to prepare for tomorrow’s class (because I’m really interested in this topic and I don’t want to sound stupid) I did some research. I looked at George Siemens’ blog where I looked at a presentation called Connectivism and Changing Times (which was interesting, but looking at statistics and graphs make my eyes bleed) and then I decided to check out his Twitter feed.

I saw this tweet

georgeI follow Alec Couros on Twitter and I always learn from his posts.  I was curious about Alec’s presentation so I clicked on it and I could see how Alec was building on a lot of the ideas in George’s presentation but his examples were easier for me to relate to.

And then I got to slide 56 and figured that if I set out to figure out what connectivism was and it eventually brought be back to myself (in a completely literal sense) was done research for the night.

I’m still having trouble articulating what I’ve learned but I’ve definitely learned something.

Ning Alternative Speed Dating (Round 2)


I’m already having a hard time keeping all the different sites straight, but the blog is helping. I’ve also decided that I’m only going to look at hosted options since non-hosted options might be a difficult concept for some teachers who are new to technology and I want to encourage rather than discourage (hence, I won’t be talking about Buddypress). So with no further ado, let’s meet our next bachelors:

Bachelor #3: Grou.ps

First of all, this is what my home page for my site on Grou.ps looks like:


I was actually able to import my template along with all my information from one of my previous Nings. I haven’t imported the information though because it would send an email to all the members and I didn’t want to confuse all of last semester’s students. Still, I’m pleased to see how much this looks like my Ning. And the ad is pretty small. I don’t think it would be a big deal to just say to students “this is where the ads are. Don’t click them.” It’s not like they’re not used to seeing ads online. *see comment from Grou.ps about this.

The little bar at the top with Zeus or Thor is a bit odd, but maybe I’m just being picky.

I feel like this site is the most Ning-like of the other ones I’ve looked at so far. It also has chat feature (nixed in Ning’s mini version). There are a lot of ads when you’re in “administration” mode but the ads seem to be pretty minimal in online mode.

Look: *****Since I can import my Ning template. This one wins!

Ease of set-up and use: **** Pretty easy. All your controls are up at the top with Zeus. Takes a bit of playing with, but so did Ning when I first started to use it.

Member Profile Pages: **** Doesn’t look like they can change the themes for their pages but other than that, they look pretty good.

Blogability: ****? I think individual users can maintain separate blogs.

Features and apps: ***** Lots. What more can I say.

Ads: **** Not bad. See earlier comments.

School Appropriateness: **** Seems pretty good. Lots of customizable privacy features.

Ning Migration: Yes.

Overall: The front runner. This guy may be getting the rose.

Bachelor #4: SocialGo

Look: *** Some nice looking templates to choose from, but not particularly slick. I think the premium versions have more templates and layout customization, but I’m evaluating the free version.

Ease of set-up and use: **** Pretty easy. There seems to be a lot of jumping back and forth to different pages in order to set stuff up though.

Member Profile Pages: *** Lots of different boxes on the profiles but you can’t change the background and I don’t think you can get rid of or customize all the boxes without a premium membership.

Blogability: ****? I think individual users can maintain separate blogs.

Features and apps: ***** Chat, video, music, groups, blogs, photos. Plenty. But I don’t like that I can’t get rid of the boxes I don’t want.

Ads: ***** I don’t see any other than advertising for SocialGo.

School Appropriateness: **** It does not allow adult content and you can’t create an account unless you’re 18 or older, and you must be 13 or older to be a member of a group. It also has pretty comprehensive rules about misuse of the site. It appears that students just need an access code to sign up which may be a bonus.

Ning Migration: No.

Overall: I’m trying to figure out how they make money. It doesn’t seem like there’s any advertising on the site I set up other than advertising for SocialGo itself. Customization levels go up when you pay. They also have a “concierge service” to help you set up your site. Maybe that’s where the $ comes from.  I think it’s a solid option, but I don’t think I’m going to go with it because it doesn’t feel as good as Group.ly or Grou.ps. Just a gut reaction I guess.

Breaking News!

After re-reading Alec Couros’ google doc on Ning alternatives I noticed that Grouply has premium accounts available for educators! That means no ads! I sent an email to them about the creepy friend request I encountered while experimenting, so I’ll keep you posted. I’ve also been rethinking the lack of individual blogs and it’s not really a big deal. I just need to be more flexible. Students can all post to the common blog and I could get them to use categories to help me sort through the posts (use their name as the category.)

More Breaking News!

Just got a very quick response from Grouply. My site has been given the educator status and re “friending”. Rich Reimer from Grouply says

People can search for other people, but they would need to know the
exact name. But the kids can make it so they are excluded from
searches. We have a lot of privacy settings that should serve your
needs: http://www.grouply.com/settings.privacy.php

Well, colour me impressed. Going to do a bit more digging, but this is promising.

Gosh, what will I do? This is like having to choose between Chris and Roberto… (did I get my Bachelorette reference right?)

I don’t think I’ll be blogging about any other alternatives because I’m pretty sure between the four I’ve discussed, I’ll be able to find one that works. However, if you want some more suggestions remember to check out Alec Couros’ google doc.

Time to start seeing other people?


Sometimes when you’re getting a little too cocky and pleased with yourself (see previous two posts) the universe decides to come along and give you a good old slap upside the head.

My slap upside the head came in the form of Marc Andreesen’s recent announcement that Ning would be discontinuing its free networks. This resulted in a veritable “twit-storm” (did I just coin a new Twitter word?) of activity, including a #bitemening hashtag and a Google Doc from the awesome Alec Couros
with some Ning alternatives.

I have created six different nings that I use throughout the school year with my English classes. My students LOVE them and I feel like I’m just tapping into the potential of this social networking platform. There’s no way I’ll be able to afford the premium account price of $20 a month for all my nings. Even if I just kept one per class and modified them, I’m still looking at $60 per month, and that would be out of pocket. Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand companies need to make a profit and if Ning’s current business model isn’t profitable, they need to make some changes but… but…

Ugh, I’m so disappointed. That’s all.

I was just getting some teachers really excited about the possibilities of using Ning in the classroom and now I know many of them will be frustrated and unwilling to try if they find out they’re going to have to pay.

I really hope that Ning will follow the lead of other companies like Wikispaces by providing free educator’s accounts, because I don’t want to have to stop using this amazing product.

So lesson learned. I’ll probably be a little more cautious next time before embracing “the next big thing”.

Here are some of the alternatives I’m just starting to explore if I have to give up on Ning:

  • Grou.ps-Looks kind of similar to Ning, and promises to stay “free”. But I’m bitter and jaded now.
  • Google groups-This looks okay, but my kids really like how similar Ning is to Facebook and this just doesn’t look similar enough.  I can’t tell if students can create their own profile pages.
  • Webs.com This gives me hope. It has more of the look my students like.
  • SocialGo Looks pretty appealing too.
  • Yuku Very cute! But it doesn’t seem like there are many features available in the free version. Also some of the features don’t look very school appropriate.

So the good news is, there are lots of options out there. The bad news is, who knows if they’ll suffer the same fate as Ning. For me, it’s not really a big deal to switch (provided that the alternatives give me the same kinds of features) because I’d be starting from scratch at the beginning of the next school year anyway. I’d just take some screen shots for exemplars. I hope to participate in Steve Hargadon’s Elluminate discussion this Tuesday on Ning. I’m sure there are lots of good ideas out there!

But if Ning were willing to provide educator accounts for free, or even for a $10/year per site cost, they’d keep my loyalty. I still think they have an awesome product.

I still love you, Ning I just think I may have to start seeing other people.