Sunday, September 21, 2008

Not Getting It

“Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation.”

This is John McCain.

If you're going to have a private sector health care system - which is a questionable choice to begin with - then it would be sheer lunacy to deregulate it.

Quote via Joho.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Andrew Krystal Silenced?

I picked up this column from Andrew Krystal in my aggregator this evening, but when I went to respond on his blog website - nothing. The column was gone, like it had never existed. And you have to figure it's down because someone made him take it down.

Overall, I think his major point - that CTV has a Conservative bias - is accurate. But I completely disagree when he says that local CTV newscaster Steve Murphy is objective. He should hear the howls of protest when Murphy takes a decidedly right-wing slant on the issues "around here."

Anyhow, for those who missed it - and I'm guessing that would be everybody - here's Andrew Krystal's full column, brough to you through the magic of RSS syndication:

Why CTV has sold its soul to the Conservative party

Fox News is alive in well in Canada – it’s called CTV. And while I have the utmost respect for local reporters and the objectivity of Maritime CTV News Anchor Steve Murphy, the rest of the boys –and Jane Taber – in Ottawa and in Toronto are, figuratively speaking, bought and paid for by Stephen Harper and the Conservatives.

One reporter, Robert Fife, in particular, is making Harper’s Christmas card list – and Stephen knows who’s naughty and nice.

Here’s the reason CTV has a pro-conservative bias: killing the CBC.

CTV would love it; they would be all over the CBC’s demise like a fat kid – or a political analyst — on a smarty. A majority Harper government would ensure a Harper jihad on the public broadcaster: selling it off, or turning it into a non-profit PBS, either of which would be non-competitive.

CTV execs simply steam and go into orgiastic fits of chewing-on-furniture apoplexy over the idea that they have to compete for ad revenues with the CBC.

The CTV execs also have a point.

Former CBC chair Patrick Watson has said to me many times that he feels the CBC has lost its way. Take, for example, the salacious nose-to-the-coffee-table series “Secret Lives of Hockey Wives”. The drug-strewn sex-fest was T&A at its finest/lowest. The fact that public money goes toward lowest-common-denominator titillation, is beyond me.

The CBC is missing its mark in not approaching the stories that are unique to this country — and ennobling — not exploitive girls-gone-wild TV with a hockey “overlay.”

There are many other examples of CBC’s own soul-less sell out: running U.S. movies, etc. But that is the point. By going after private sector money the CBC reduces the tax payer burden.

The predicament of the CBC, and where/what its “soul” is, its purpose, direction and so forth, is an ongoing debate; and that there should be a cultural revolution from above, decreed by Harper, shuts down an evolution that should be internal.

And in the calling out CTV for what they are, a network in the Conservative fold, it must be said that the CBC have, for many years, been complicit in abject Liberal bias. You’ve heard of red necks? Well, at the CBC, they are pink.

There is no question that there are very few Conservatives in the ranks of the CBC. The BMW socialists who make up the CBC ranks foam and fume over Harper’s financial cuts to the arts, and the fact that Harper feels that films like “Young People F___ing” shouldn’t receive public funding (and they shouldn’t.). If you want to make soft core, pay for it yourself.

Regarding the debate over censorship, the left wing arts community did socially Conservative Canadians a disservice by not engaging in a dialogue over censorship and public funding. The reason: the arts community is sickeningly sacrosanct and patronizing in the moral superiority of its amorality; just because the protagonist is a hooker on heroin, doesn’t make it art.

So, what did Stephen Harper do, what was his reaction to an outraged arts community to the question of censorship (hell, I can’t say the word “shit” on the radio, so censorship does exist, and it’s not too bad) well, he cut everything. Rather than get into a debate over social standards Harper said “F- you”, and pulled the plug on arts funding.

But the debate over the CBC, and the left-wing arts community, and bias in the media when it comes to political commentary and reporting, comes down to coming clean with viewers, and coming to terms with what your bias is.

CTV, Robert Fife, et al, want, in their heart of hearts, to see the Conservatives win this election. Just look at editorial decisions on CTV: in news order on the campaign trail they run a clip of Jack Layton ahead of Dion — despite the fact that Dion is the opposition leader.

CTV needs to come clean and admit it is Canada’s FOX News in the same way Wolf Blitzer and the rest of CNN should admit to their lack of impartiality and openly embrace their editorially flagrant fellatio of the Democrats.

And we all know about the CBC.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Types of Knowledge and Connective Knowledge

This is a presentation for Week Two of the Connectivism and Connective Knowledge course. It expands on the ideas in Part a of my paper, An Introduction to Connective Knowledge.

1.

What can we know about an object? Historically, we have had two types of knowledge:

First, 'qualitative' knowledge. What colour the object is, for example. What the object is shaped like. What sort of sound it makes. Qualitative knowledge is knowledge typically derived from the senses. The things we see, the things we feel, the things we hear: these are the qualities of the object.

Second, 'quantitative' knowledge. How many things do we see, for example. How much do they weigh? What are their dimensions? Quantitative knowledge is derived from the practices of counting and measuring. Quantitative knowledge gives us a knowledge that is deeper than that gained merely from the senses. It gives us an insight into the nature of the objects through concepts like mass, atomic number, equations and calculus.

These two types of knowledge account for most of what we know about things that there are out there in the world. These two types of knowledge combine the best of human capacities: our ability to perceive, to sense the world, and our ability to calculate, to think about the world. They form the foundation for language, the foundation for logic, and the foundation for all of the sciences we have had up to today.

Empiricism and rationalism: these are the two great schools of philosophy that have shaped the world in modern times. Empiricism, the philosophy that all knowledge is derived from the senses. Rationalism, the philosophy that all knowledge is derived from calculation and realism. the two great schools of thought in our time.

In the 20th century, things changed. On the one hand, the great philosophers of the Vienna circle and their allies in Great Britain founded a philosophy that joined empiricism and rationalism. This philosophy, known as logical positivism, held that we begin with observations, and then use logic and reason to derive statements about the nature of the world. Any statement not derived in this way, they argued, was literally nonsense. It made no sense.

On the other hand, there was an undercurrent of scepticism about that grand enterprise. The American pragmaticsts - William James, Charles Sanders Pierce and John Dewey, argued that there was a third, practical domain of knowledge. The test that something is known, they said, is that it works. In Europe, meanwhile, philosophers found it difficult to accept that all of religion, art and literature were reduced to nonsense.

There are different types of meaning, said some. Meaning is derived from the text, say people like Heidegger and Derrida. meaning is use, say people like Wittgenstein. And there are different types of knowing. The logical positivists describe only our knowledge about things. But, argues Michael Polanyi, there is also 'knowing how'.

It seems clear, at the beginning of the 21st century, that there is a third type of knowledge, a type of knowledge that exists above and beyond the knowledge derived from the senses, and that exists above and beyond the calculations of logic and mathematics.

But though the existence of this knowledge seems to be beyond dispute, the characterization of this knowledge has been elusive. What is 'practical'? What is 'use'? What is 'literature'? What is 'knowing how'? What is 'ineffable knowledge'?

What is this knowledge? We are subjected to all kinds of theories, some that seem reasonable, some that are patent nonsense. Biorhythms. Astrology. Harmonic convergence. The 100th Monkey phenomenon. The music of the spheres. Intuition.

More to the point, such descriptions were importantly empty. It's one thing to say we should do whatever is practical, but quite another to figure out what the most practical thing is. Or when you say something is 'practical', for example, that it 'works', your description depends on what it was you wanted to do all along. If I don't want to do what you want to do, then what you know isn't what I know.

Connectivism is a theory that described this third type of knowledge. It is a theory that tells us what this third type of knowledge is, where it is, what produces it, how we learn it, and how it can be used.

Summary: Three types of knowledge
- of the senses (empirical)
- of quantity (rationalist)
- of connections (connective)

2.

As we have said earler, connectivism is the thesis that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections. Let me expand on that a bit.

Think about what we know about a simple object, say, a lump of coal.

When we look at it, we can see that it is black in colour, and a bit shiny. It is a rough shape. It isn't that heavy. It is hard to the touch, but we can break it. That's the qualitative knowledge we have of the coal.

When we begin to measure it we can say more. We can say that it has a mass of 500 grams, say. We can say that it has a certain density. Our lump of coal is composed of some billions of individual carbon atoms. Under certain conditions, it combines with oxygen, producing a certain amount of heat and releasing a certain amount of smoke. It is values at 23 cents on the international market. That's the quantitative knowledge we have about coal.

Yet there is a third type of knowledge we have about coal. We can know how many carbon atoms we have. But what makes coal, coal, is not just the fact that it is made up of carbon, but also of the way these carbon atoms are connected together. Take exactly the same atoms and connect them differently and you have graphite. Take the very same atoms and connect them differently again and you have diamonds.

This is a very simple example. Carbon atoms are very simple entities. The connections are simple, and they don't vary very much. They are stable, not changing a whole lot with time. So we can find out about how the atoms are connected indirectly: coal has a particular colour, diamonds have a particular hardness, graphite has a particular weight. Still, knowing about the connections is to know more than to know about the qualities and quantity of the material involved.

So, connective knowledge is knowledge OF the connections that exist in the world. It is knowledge about how such connections are created, and what impact, or effect, such a system of connections has. It is knowledge about how we see such connections, how we observe them, and how we observe their results. It is a theory, in addition, about how we measure such connections, how we count them, what sort of measurable properties they have. This is important: connectivism is a new type of knowledge, but it is not independent of other types of knowledge. We need to be able to see connections, and we need to be able to count them, in order to talk about them.

But I also want to introduce a second aspect of connective knowledge: the idea of connections as a WAY of knowing. This is a bit trickier, but is essential to our understanding of what we know and how we know it.

A network is a set of connections between a collection of things. A diamond, for example, is basically a network: it is a collection of carbon atoms that are very tightly connected to each other. But these connections don't appear out of nowhere; they are not created by magic. If we ask, how did these carbon atoms come to be connected *this* way, we learn something about the history of those carbon atoms, that they were subjected to intense heat and pressure. So information about what happened in the past has been stored in these carbon atoms, in the way they are connected.

With *any* set of connected objects, we can ask how the connections came to be that way. Which means that *any* set of connected objects can contain information. What happened to the individual entities in the network, what sort of *input* did they have, to become connected in this way?

A network, therefore, is like a sense organ. A network is stimulated, it takes a certain shape. Stimulate a network of carbon atoms with intense heat and pressure, and the carbon atoms reorganize; they take the form of a diamond. This is what can happen in any network of connected objects. When you impact that network in some way, the connections between the objects in the network change. And this results in the storage of information.

So we have two types of connective knowledge, the knowledge that we have OF networks, that we obtain by looking at networks, and knowledge that is created and stored BY networks in the world.

Summary: Connective knowledge is both:
- knowledge OF networks in the world
- knowledge obtained BY networks

3.

There are many types of networks, and therefore, many types of connective knowledge. We will look at these in much more detail through this course. For now, though, it is important to identify some different ways of talking about networks.

As we discussed in the introduction to connectivism, there are several types of networks that involve humans. One network, for example, is the human brain. The brain is composed of a collection of neurons that are connected to each other. Another network is society itself. Society is composed of humans that are connected to each other.

Now when we are talking about connectivism it is pretty easy to slip back and forth between these networks without noticing. It's easy to get confused. So it is important to keep in mind one's perspective or point of view when talking about networks.

Let's take, as our starting point, a single person.

This person is a part of a network. He or she is what we would call a 'node' in that network. As a node, he or she is connected to other people; it is this set of connections that make up what we can call a 'social network'.

At the same time, the person in question *has* a network. Or we might even say that the person *is* a network. This person is composed, at least in part, of a neural network, a brain, a complex organ for perceiving the world and storing those perceptions in the form of connections in a network of interconnected neurons.

These make up what may be thought of the person's 'active' participation in the network: the actual interactions that take place, the actual interactions that happen between this person and other people, the actual perceptions that reshape the person's neural network.

There is also a set of what may be called 'passive' or 'reflective' participations in the network.

Consider society. Society is a network of collected individuals. A person can participate in society as a node within the network. But it is also possible, through a variety of mechanisms, to observe society as a whole. To, if you will, detach oneself from society and to study it as though it were an collection of objects out there in the world. The same way you might study a lump of coal.

Similarly, we can (with more or less precision) reflect on our own neural network with some degree of detachment. We can observe, and feel, our sensation and passions, our thoughts, our ideas. We can study our own mind, through introspection. This process of reflection is a way of learning about ourselves.

When we are talking about connectivism and connective knowledge, we are talking about all four of these activities. And it is very easy to get caught up and mistake one for the other, to get confused by them. We need to get into the practice right from the very beginning of being clear about what sort of thing we are doing.

Now connectivism is sometimes characterizes a theory that emphasizes 'knowing who' over 'knowing what' and 'knowing how'. This may be, but only from a particular perspective. Only from a particular point of view. When you are looking to become a part of the network, to be and act as a node in the network, then you are most interested in 'knowing who'. You are interested in creating connections and using connections.

But it would be a mistake to characterize connectivism as a theory that is *only* about 'knowing who'. Understanding how networks work will help support our participation in them, but it will also help use create better networks - *knowing* networks - in ourselves and in our society, and it will help us better understand what we see when we *look* at networks.

Summary:

Active participation in the network:
- as a node in the network, by participating in society
- as a whole network, by perceiving with the brain (the neiural network)
Reflective participation in the network:
- by observing society as a whole
- by reflecting on our mental states and processes

Friday, September 12, 2008

That's Week One in the Record Books

It's Friday evening, I've just sent out OLWeekly, and I can reflect on the first week of the course.

I know that George can probably claim to have had the busier week, since he was on the road in England all week. But I think I had my own share of business as well, with a couple of on-line presentations sandwiched between a trip to Fredericton and some other writing.

Much of my week was taken up getting The Daily up and running. I decided, at the last minute, to adapt gRSShopper for the task. The software, which I use to run my personal website and newsletter, wasn't really designed for a course, so I had to make some changes.

First, I needed to create a screen to allow people to submit their feeds. This is usually an admin task. The only thing readers do on my site is submit comments. So I added a screen - but had to turn off the spam-filtering mechanism in order to accept the feeds. Within a day, I was knee-deep in spam. I spent a lot of time this week deleting spam messages - not here, but on my home website.

I also had to set up the system to allow me to mass-import a whole bunch of names and to subscribe them to the newsletter. This actually went pretty well. I also had top adjust the archive system to allow different pages to be viewed, something I would have had to do anyways. And I had to create the templates for the various pages and displays. It wasn't a huge pile of work - probably only a couple of days - but it came at a bad time.

This weekend, I'll be atten ding to the feed harvesting. For some reason, my feed authorization system isn't working on the connect.downes.ca site (this allows administrators to 'approve' feeds before harvesting starts - otherwise I'd be harvesting spam every day). And I want to finish the submission form, so people will edit (right now, they back up and try again, which results in multiple submissions). Then a small bit of work to get the posts into the newsletter - this bitr is already tested, so I know it works.

So that's the mechanics of it - what about the course?

Well, I'll say right off that I think i allowed myself to be pulled into the Moodle discussion too much. It's seductive - the system defaults to sending you these emails, and you start reading them with the best of intentions, and then, someone was wrong on the internet and, of course, must be corrected immediately. This happens once or twice on the first day, a dozen times on day five. Ack!

The course elements have kept me busy. There are three major things to do - the Monday presentation (I did a video, George did a doc), the Wednesday Elluminate (two sessions because of time zone issues) and the Friday UStream. That's four hours right there. And I haven't had to set any of that up - George did the wiki, moodle and website, along with the Elluminate site, and Dave Cormier and Jeff Lebow set up the Skype-UStream set-up. This really is a group effort, even if it doesn't appear that wai - Alec Couros is helping, Helene Fournier has set up a survey, and I'd really like to get someone to manage the documentation (Leigh....?) Not to men tion the people who set up Google Groups, Second Life sites, translations, and all the rest.

It was funny to read some criticism part way through the week about this being a course - if we were really practicing what we preached, we wouldn't be offering a course! Funny, first of all, because I've been practicing what I preach for many years - more than seven years of OLDaily, for example. And funny because the course elements of this are the hardest bits to pull off, the bit6s that feel the least natural, the bits that create the most needless complexity.

Having everybody descend on the thing at once, for example. Not that the 2152 people currently signed up aren't welcome. But it has felt, at times, like people wanted to cover the entire subject in the first five days. It's a lot easier if we can have people join more gradually, if we can ease our way into a discussion of various subjects. This instant pressure will lessen as the course progresses.

The nature of the subject has also contributed. If it were a course in logic and critical thinking (which I'm thinking of doing in the same style some time in the future) there would not have been the same rush. Most people in this course didn't even know what connectivism was when they started, and those that did know weren't sure they believed it. A less controversial subject would have a different type of discussion.

Also, connectivism is a really difficult topic to introduce. Normally, when you introduce a topic, you can do so with realatively common and widely understood concepts. Even something difficult like calculus, for example, is introduced using the vocabulary and tenets of mathematics. We aren't so luck in education. The foundational tenets of our discipline are almost uniformly in dispute. The ontology of the study - the nature and purpose of the things being studied - is in dispute. We say in our discussion this week that we could not even agree on what a theory is.

Next week will help, if we can get away from the arguments debunking connectivism long enough to study the underlying precepts of connectionist knowledge. I have found myself running around in circles this week, trying to respond to criticisms while at the same time trying to explain these underlying concepts.

I need to be careful - again - not to be drawn into this. Because, while I am happy to describe the theory, I really don't want to be drawn into arguments about the defense of it. Because these are disputes that will not be resolved by argument. If you think connectivism is fundamentally wrong, then noting I say is going to change your mind. I don't mind criticism - that is what advances thought. But I will attempt to draw a line for myself when it comes to trying to convince the critics.

What I've seen thus far is that the criticisms have come from two directions. This reflects the strength of the theory, but also underlines its fundamental challenge. On the one hand, we are accused by some of collectivism and even some form of communism. And yet, on the other hand, we are accused by others of rampant individualism. (There are other dichotomies like this in the discussion; this is just the most vivid).

I believe that this is because the theory is neither collectivist nor individualist. It doesn't argue that people (students, whatever) should subsume themselves under some sort of general will. At the same time, it doesn't suppose that people live their lives as lone wolves, responsible for and to only themselves. There is a middle ground between these two extremes, a half-way point between joining and not joining, which (we believe) may be found in the network. Oh, b ut to get to this point, which doesn't come up until week 5!

Well - George is on a train in England right now, and I'm relaxing at home on a Friday night. Time to rest for a bit - I have some programming to do this weekend, then another video to record. I want to move slowly, certainly, through the basic ideas, not arguing for them so much as letting the iudea make their own case for themselves. We'll see. This is a fun and extrordinarily fascinating process, yet not without its challenges.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Response to Fitzpatrick

Here is my response to Catherine Fitzpatrick's lengthy critique of What Connectivism Is. Her comments are in italics.
Here's my problem with your ideology, Stephen, which appears to me to be even more radical than constructivism and tries not only to describe or defend a new epistemology, but appears to disrupt social systems as well, in the name of some putative technocommunism that will reign supreme on the Internet with everybody working for nothing and getting everything for free and living happily ever after.
The theory explicitly attempts to define a new epistemology, that I've described in detail elsewhere.

As for the labels - well, the problem with lables is that they are vague. There are some elements of the theory that you may associate with communism, or radicality. But to infer based on that similarity that the theory is a type of communism, or a type of radicalism, is to substitute nomenclature for argument. It's a shallow form of criticism.
If that seems extreme or a caricature, I can only say that I can read out into the logic of your statements to see how you are destroying the idea of the university established through the ages.
I don't see how it forms the heart of either communism or radicalism to "destroy the idea of the university". But, again, as I've stated elsewhere, I believe that these traditional structures ought to be reformed. I have no difficulty admitting this, and do not consider it to be an objection to my position.
1. The theory might explain *some* types of learning *about some subjects* in *some situations* -- like opensource groups hacking around together on software. But that doesn't mean you can globalize it and make it apply to every single human endeavour. You can't.
This is unclear - is it the job of the theory to explain or is it something that we have to make apply to human endeavours?

Connectivism is, in the first instance, an epistemology and a description of human cognition (that is why we attach 'connective knowledge' to the title of the course). While I think we both would agree that there is an almost infinite variety to human reasoning, it is arguable (and I so argue) that the basic mechanisms are common to all humans.

It would be hard to assert otherwise. Cognition - in every human who has ever lived - takes place in the brain, and the brain is composed of an interconnected set of neurons. Neuroscience has explored the nature of the neurons and their connections, and describe the functioning of the brain in a manner consistent with our theory. That's the global part. But bothy George and I would also argue that, within that framework, there is also a great deal of diversity. This diversity also forms an important part of the theory.

A similar pattern applies to our theory understood as a theory of education and learning (the 'Connectivism' part of the course title). We argue that learning occurs in networks, and therefore, that the properties of successful networks are also the properties of successful learning environments. We don't 'apply' this in any strict sense - we would never force people to be connectivists. Indeed, within the learning environment, we believe there should be diversity; we believe people should be free to choose their own form of learning.

It's kind of like you are saying we are trying to make freedom apply in the educational process. But freedom isn't something one person makes, or applies, to another. It is something each person grasps for him or her self, given the opportunity and the circumstances. We seek only to provide the oppostunity and the circumstances.
a. I still have to pay a college some tuition if I want a degree -- you might think credentialing is all I buy, but I buy knowledge, too, which is not somehow withheld in some grasping and greedy capitalist manner, but simply requires *paying human beings who know, because teaching is work*. Don't you, as a professor, wish to get paid? Maybe tuitions are inflated; maybe more has to be made free -- these are social policies decided in a democratic society, not by technocrats welding theories into "disruptive technologies".
I has responded to the 'existing institutional structure' argument elsewhere.

But I would point out that neither George nor I expect professors (or whatever form instructors take in the future) to go unpaid. We are not arguing for free labour, insofar as labour is required.

But neither do we think that the professor or instructor figure ought to be doing everything that is currently done, and we are not in favour of an educational model that matches one expert to a small, select number of students. We believe that learning should be open, which means changing the nature of professorial work.

If George and I can successfully teach 1900 students, then we should be paid. But we should probably not be paid at the same per-student rate of current professors. Not that either of us couldn't use the million dollars.
b. Certain teaching has to occur with certain life situations that aren't endlessly accessible from people who aren't endlessly available on a 24/7 Internet that is itself a reduced form of connection, whatever its marvels. Let's take nursing a baby, for example, which few realize until they've learned it that it is learned behaviour for both mother and child. There's no substitute for having your mother, or more likely, a very well trained and capable lactation nurse, sit with you and the baby and impart the techniques by demonstration and interaction. It is not merely a job of connection, or "proper connection", latching on. It has to do with experience, storage of concepts and "lore," memorizing technique, many elements that only a literalist and reductivist would parse into endless "connectivity".
I am not an expert in the pedagogy of nursing practices, nor would I claim to be so. But it seems to me that the majority of mothers learned to nurse their children outside a formal educational institution.

And this just is part of the sore idea of connectivism. We certainly agree that some types of learning involve close personal connections between individuals. We encourage that. What we disagree with is the idea that only formal learning environments and qualified professionals can offer such connections. Learning, as often as not, takes place on a person to person basis, on a student to student basis. The person with some experience - the mother - shows the person with no experience - the daughter.

As to the theory of learning that is advanced here - "experience, storage of concepts and "lore," memorizing technique, many elements that only a literalist and reductivist would parse into endless "connectivity" - we respectfully disagree (at least I do; George will make his own statement).

From my perspective, statements like "storage of concepts" are in important ways fundamentally misleading. It is not a case of me being a literalist or a reductivist - a better description would be to call me an 'eliminativist'. I simply think that the phrase "storage of concepts" has any correspondence with what actually happens.
2. Not content to merely describe how *some* learning *might* be going on in the Internet context (which mainly applies *to technology itself* but not to the content that can fill those new means of communication), you now manufacture a pedagogy out of this. It now has to become a learning doctrine inflicted on our kids in the schools, although they've already been dumbed down and impaired by the constructivist ideologues for the last decade or more -- and by other variously rewarmed and recycled Ilich or whatever they read in the 1970s to make everything meaningless, relative, and dependent only on child-centric operations that lead nowhere, as they can't fill with content or demand any standard.
It is not clear to me that it is constructivism that has dumbed down (to use your phrase) education. Countries such as Canada and Finland score very well on international tests (imperfect measurements though they are) and yet widely use constructivist techniques.

Indeed, it seems to me, from where I sit, that as education in the U.S. turns more and more 'back to basics', with rote and drill test preparation, the resulting education is more and more (to use your phrase) "dumbed down." The place where education is failing the most seems to be the place most resistant to constructivist and modern 'progressive' educational methodology.

That said, this is not a defense of constructivism, which has its own able adherents.

I would certainly resist the suggestion that connectivism in any respect resembles a "dumbing down" of education. Indeed, one of the more frequent criticisms we hear is that students are not capable of learning this way, that it sets the standards too high, that they need far more instruction, guidance and direction than we propose.

Indeed, read the rest of your criticism, and you see this type of argument frequently repeated. How can you say we are offering a dumbing down when we are passing so much responsibility on to the learner?

As for people like Illich and Friere - we openly admit our debt to these thinkers. That does not mean we are mere Illich and Friere clones. But when they suggest that bthere is a connection between traditional forms of education and oppression, we agree (at least, I do; George again can make his position known).
3. There's a lot that seems not to be captured by this doctrine. I'm with Tony when he says "Connectivism should still address the hard struggle within of deep thinking, of creating understanding. This is more than the process of making connections."
Again, it's not clear what is being required here.

The difficulty and depth of connectivist learning should be obvious to anyone who looks at this course; again, the complexity is one of the most oft-cited concerns.

Probably the suggestion is that there is not an instance of 'deep thinking' in any particular instance of content. That we have not, for example, subjected students to a long and extended argument, built on sustained chain of reasoning.

Well - I may well teach a course one day where Principia Mathmatica is part of the curriculum. But that said, I simply do not think that that sort of structure constitutes 'deep thinking'.

When you analyse the structure of such treatises, the reasoning is very clear and evident, formed of relatively simple types of inference - propositional and predicate calculus, modal and deontic logic, probability, mathematics (if it's advanced), boolean logic, and maybe (if it is advanced) inductive reasoning, metaphor and analogy.

These forms of inference, being in the main linguistically and syntactically based, can be assembled into a relatively long and complex chain without a lot of difficulty (at least, by someone who has mastered the basic forms).

Rather more difficulty occurs when the reader seeks to look beyond what is said, to analyse the terminology employed against a background set of beliefs, to expose the inconsistencies and ill-formed inferences, to find the empty and vapid concepts, to distill the clutter of rhetorical device, to identify the assumptions, the presuppositions, the linguistic traces of theory and unstated inference, to expose what is manifestly the emptiness of much traditionally 'deep' literature.

To me, far more complex - and insightful - forms of reasoning are being created through the interplay among thousands, or millions, of individual content elements. Where each content element may by itself appear to be simple, it is the interconnections between them that creates a much more complex, deep, and rich tapestry of meaning, far more than could be created merely using linguistic devices.

That's why Polanyi describes much of our knowledge as tacit - as subsymbolic. It is too complex, too detailed, to be rendered as mere text.

To complain that the form of reasoning we would encourage students to take part in as shallow is a gross misrepresentation.

It is substantially harder to work with the disorder and complexity we see within a connectivist network. Because linguistic (syntactical and semantical) descriptions of the concepts and entities in such a network just barely touch the surface, and students must therefore immerse themselves in the process of reasoning in such a system, rather than merely reading about it.
The process of "enlightenment," if you will, for lack of a better term ("recognition" isn't adequate), isn't just connecting dots; it's a process of intelligence -- human intelligence making sense of the myriad connections, and you cannot reduce intelligence to connections -- comprehension, awareness, memory -- these faculties are all about something higher than mere connections that does indeed depend on three things that constructivists seem to destroy or deny:
Goodness, I would never say that 'recognition' is merely a process of connecting dots.

Recognition is a physical process in which an already existing and relevantly similar patten of connectivity in a neural network is activated through an interplay the corresponding sensory stimuli. To be able to do this is to have first grown the relevant pattern connectivity, a long and involved process.

That said, this - "you cannot reduce intelligence to connections -- comprehension, awareness, memory -- these faculties are all about something higher than mere connections" - remains a proposition yet to be proven. And - again - I am not proposing to reduce such folk-psychological terms as comprehension, awareness or memory. I am rather challenging their capacity to explain anything at all, and questioning whether a theory formed of such concepts can ever work at all.
a. Created cultural and knowledge context -- institutions. Hey, they aren't evil. They work. They are not "all broken" as the "personal democracy" networkers imagine.
Institutions, as they say, tend to 'work well' for the people they favour.

We have just finished a century wracked with world war and atomic destruction, and we live in a world that is dying environmentally, perpetuates poverty and misery for a large number of its citizens, and continues to tolerate armed conflict as a means of resolving international differences.

Even in relatively stable societies governed almost entirely by institutions, poverty runs rampant, millions get by without health care, crime is rife, the economy is teetering and the country is on the verge of being plunged into a credit crisis while the government borrows its way into oblivion in order to fund an illegal and immoral war.

Your definition of 'working' is very different from mine.
b. Authority -- established by actual practice, experience, being proven right etc. Again, not inherently evil, but necessary in a democratic society to prevent the endless tyranny of a zillion subjectivities claiming decentralized or nodic "authority" just by showing up.
Most authority in our world is obtained through the barrel of a gun or purchased with unearned (and often stolen) wealth.

The phrase "tyranny of a zillion subjectivities" is literally nonsensical.

The sentiment expressed in this paragraph is classically Hobbes - his justification for the right of the monarch is that without such a central authority the lives of the mass of men would be "solitary, poore, nasty, brutish and short."

The justification of order and authority in contemporary society are more subtle, based on the (oft ill-used) 'consent of the governed'. Such 'social contract' theories, ranging from Locke to Rawls, are based on some sort of fiction that, were we given the choice, we would opt for the government we have. After all - to quote Locke - if we don't like it, we could always leave.

I certainly don't think that anything like a majority would have opted for what we actually have as a society. The governance of society has essentially been handed over to an elite, and, as Rousseau says, an elite, when it governs, governs solely in its own interest.

'Authority' - properly so-called - is typically the representation of the will of this elite. And it is only the illogic of such an elite that can depict the freeing of a population from this will as some sort of imposition or tyranny.
c. Tradition -- while opensourceniks imagine they have utterly escaped anything that seems oppressive and old-fashioned or "Luddite," in fact they create even more rigid doctrines and rituals. Tradition does help create a knowledge context and means of conveyance that does work.
Actually, we call such 'traditions' things like 'standards' and 'protocols' - and the major difference between our interpretation of tradition and that of the previously existing regime is that we believe that such are the result of voluntary cooperation rather than imposition from a centralized voice of authority.

This is a long argument and I'll return to it only if it comes up again.
You try to reduce all learning and intelligent comprehension to mere connections by denying intentionality or implying recognition is merely linkage of connections. And yet without intent and will to apply to what is indeed discrete bits of knowledge relayed by others, you won't learn.
Again, connectivism isn't (to my undersatnding) a reductivist position. It is an eliminativist position.
If Connectivism were true, merely exposing children to the facts scattered around on the vasty Internet or on a whiteboard or Smartboard would be enough. It isn't.
There is evidence to the contrary.
4. I don't believe that each learner is reconstructing reality, either, so I don't suffer from the problems which Connectivism is trying to solve with its even more radical critique of Constructivism. Connectivism is borrowing from and relying on the same destructive deconstructivism of Constructivism that says each constructs a thing anew.
Each bit of learning is created (I would say 'grown' rather than 'constructed') but I do not think that we 'suffer' from this.
5. I sense in the "pixie dust" remarks an inability to be content with any mystery of the universe that isn't reduced by the reductivist mind -- which isn't the same thing as the eternally curious scientific mind. I'm going to have to insist on the magic of cognition just to derail your reductivism because it's incomplete.
Again, connectivism isn't a reductivist theory.

As for "magic of cognition" - well, that's your phrase - but I am not prepared to base a theory of learning on magic.