Relativism & Connectivism for Understanding

I hadn’t considered that my teaching values and classroom practices could be connected with theories, but obviously the beliefs and values of these theories have been absorbed through my own interactions and experiences with education. First, I would say that the theory of relativism influences how I interact, not only with my students but with others in general. I understand and acknowledge that we all move through this world with various experiences and I believe that how one interprets these interactions shapes their own individual meaning. The construction of meaning and understanding of experiences is “highly dependent on the individual building [these] constructions” (Shuh & Barab, 2013, p. 72) In this way, ensuring that students have a variety of ways to learn and experience knowledge is crucial in my planning. Also, my interactions with students is based on the awareness that all of my students are coming in with their own histories and baggage and my interactions and classroom environment need to be  sensitive to that.

The second theory that aligns with my philosophy of teaching and classroom practices is the theory of connectivism. Connectivism and Relativism align in the value that knowledge and learning is dependent on the individual and individualistic qualities. As Ertmer & Newby (2013) share, we need to develop adaptability and resiliency within our students so they are able to take their knowledge and apply it to each of their individual experiences, even when the experience seems to be challenging. I think that my understanding of what knowledge really is has changed over the past few years of experience. My students don’t need to know the answer to every single addition fact, but they do need to know how to use their tools, whether mental or digital, to figure it out when they need too. I view connectivism as an educational theory to mean that we are not teaching a whole classroom full of mechanics, so there is no way for us to teach students everything they need to know for their future endeavors. The goal of education in my room, is to have students become confident in their ability to find and utilize the tools they have at their disposal.

Both of these theories beg education to be multi-modal. Benjes-Small (2014) examined the follies of following in learning theories without vetting and asking the right questions. Thinking back to last week, this seems to be a common theme, and one that I know I need more practice in. Creating the habit of questioning the theories and philosophies that are entering our classroom is important. At the end of the day, we are here for the best for the kids and the future. To make learning fit each kid, we need to move away from “relying too heavily on the idea of mode” (Benjes-Small, 2014) and make knowledge and understanding make sense for the “context and content” of our class. Allowing for meaning-making in using different experiences, and not relying on one true way, allows for all of our students to find a path into understanding.

One thing that stood out to me this week, was Skinner’s Teaching Machine (Solanki, 2013). At first, I thought this is some sort of gross psychological experiment, but then I thought about programs that I have used for my early finishers. In some classes, students have been asked to go to Epic!, Raz-Kids, or Prodigy when they have finished their work, often because those who are having a harder time understanding are benefitting from smaller group instruction. These websites all use instant feedback and rewards for students, and I began to wonder if we had anything like this when I was in elementary school (2001-2014). After our conversation about conditioning last week, I have become very aware of the ways in which I am using these conditioning techniques in my practices. In many ways I feel dirty using psychological manipulation on children. Even the wait and watch technique, I have become uncomfortable with, knowing that this is working on a shame-based approach to having students comply. I wonder if anyone would be willing to share some of the ways that they have improve the classroom environment, without shame-based approached, such as waiting and watching, or the behavior chart?



2 thoughts on “Relativism & Connectivism for Understanding

  1. Thank you sharing your thoughts Casey. The idea of connectivism is relatively new to me (in fact I think that this is the first course that I have heard it mentioned), but its central tenants make a lot of sense. Strangely it is something that I apply to my own school work (evaluating sources, using technology to seek out relevant information), but I doesn’t explicitly inform all of my instruction. I think that connectivism makes some good points, but it also comes from a place of privilege. It may not be important for my students to know or memorize facts, because most of them have cell phones and access to data – but this may not be the case in less fortunate communities or in the developing world. Certainly I see the gap widening between those who are “haves” in the digital age, particularly in classrooms. I wonder if first world countries designing instruction and technology along these principles will further widen this inequality?


  2. Thanks for your reply Casey! I thought Skinner’s Time Machine, was something to be very interesting and when first hearing it, I thought the same thing. Reflecting on my teaching experience however, through Raz kids and Prodigy, this is a prime example of his Time Machine, in my opinion. However, I think sometimes instant feedback is good and can create a competitive aspect to it (which can be good in small doses). Would you agree? Furthermore, I appreciate your thoughts on your students. It is true, they do not need to know everything, mistakes can be made but it is all about the learning process and how flexible, adadptive and how they use their tools that matters. This can be said in any subject and even their day to day life. Thanks for your input! I look forward to reading more of yours.


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