Sunday, January 26, 2014

Knowledge: product -v- process

I'm reading George Siemens' Knowing Knowledge very slowly as there is a lot to take in and think about.  There are a couple of questions that I'm thinking about today:
  • Is knowledge acquired or created with others through active participation?
  • Is knowledge a personal activity or is it socially constructed?
I'm now thinking about the connection between learning and knowing, and have come across the word connectivism which asserts that learning is a network-forming process.  The success of these networks in encouraging knowledge varies depending on a variety of things:  
  • Diversity - how wide the points of view spectrum is
  • Autonomy - whether those contributing to the network do so of their own accord and share their own knowledge or whether there is pressure to promote a certain point of view
  • Interactivity - whether the members are co-constructing knowledge or simply sharing their perspectives
  • Openness - how easy it is for a perspective to enter into the network, be heard and interacted with by others.
When considering these 4 factors I started to think about my PLN network on Twitter.  Since I am choosing the people I want to follow I would imagine that it is not very diverse (mostly I am following educators, the diversity comes from different types of educators and their experiences in many different educational systems) and there is definitely a danger it could turn into an echo-chamber.  To the best of my knowledge all are sharing their ideas voluntarily.  I've not come across teachers who are forced to present a certain point of view, but have definitely known those who are pressurized not to write about certain ideas and who have been reprimanded for "disloyally" questioning things online in chats that are actually common place at their schools (for example in areas such as homework, professional development, communication issues and so on).  When I consider my Twitter network I think it is mostly sharing of information and perspectives.  I'm not sure it is such as easy platform for the co-construction of knowledge.  When I'm working with others to construct something I'm much more likely to use a wiki or a Google Doc.  Finally Twitter is very open, but being a part of a network depends on who you follow and who chooses to follow you.  When using TweetDeck I have separate groups in different columns and like the way that hashtags allow me to interact with those who are not already in my network.

Another thing I'm thinking about today is the difference between hard and soft knowledge.  Hard knowledge occurs in areas where change is slow and needs expert validation before acceptance by the public.  I used to work for Elsevier, the biomedical publishers, and for sure everything that appeared in their journals was hard knowledge that had been subjected to critical peer review before publication.  However it has been a long time since I worked there - about 25 years - and during that time there has been a huge shift from hard to soft knowledge as technology has developed, allowing anyone to publish or to have access to experts.  Now, for example, you are likely to see something first on Twitter and then later on the BBC website and then even later in a printed newspaper.  In an era of soft knowledge, things are often changed or replaced before they have time to become hard (think for example about how Wikipedia is constantly being revised).  Knowledge can be created by experts or by the masses and can be disseminated by one-way channels such as books or by a two-way flow such as on blogs, and as such is changing from being a product into a process.

This brings me onto the next thing:  what we do with knowledge.  Here's an interesting statement from George Siemens:  "We do not live our lives in active cognition.  We spend much of our time in containers that we have created.  Instead of thinking, we are merely sorting and filtering."  I'm interested in this because of things I've read in the past about how we learn - that it involves attaching something new onto something that we already know - this is done by our brains automatically and without actually doing much deep thinking.  So now I'm left pondering this quote:
We can no longer rely on categorization to meet our needs in a rapidly evolving, global knowledge climate.  We must rely on network-formation and development of knowledge ecologies.  We must become different people with different habits.
How do we need to change and what new habits do we need to form as we move from viewing knowledge as a product to viewing it as a process?  This is what I'm hoping to find out as I read on in Knowing Knowledge.

Photo Credit: CLUC via Compfight cc

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