Sunday, July 19, 2015

Unit 2: Why Context Matters for Meaningful Connections

Rob: So, what’s your idea of a meaningful learning connection?

Stacy: My background in information science tends to steer my thinking toward information connections.

Rob: Okay, so what’s your idea of a meaningful information connection?

Stacy: One that’s more than meaningless data.

Rob: Which would be pretty much the equivalent of noise.

Stacy: Bingo. Information doesn’t actually become informative unless you connect to it at the right time and place.

Rob: So for you, meaningful connections happen when when learners connect to information at the point of need?

Stacy: And context. Information without connection or context is just data.

Rob: And by context you mean personal context.

Correct. Informative information, data with strong potential of becoming useful knowledge for a person, must generally be perceived as necessary or meaningful.

Rob: I’m suddenly being transported back in time to my high school Geometry class, the one with the teacher who constantly cleared his throat and said, "Ah...there" before every sentence."

Stacy: I take it you didn’t take away much from that class?

Rob: Not really. I couldn’t see any value in the subject and no one could explain to me what possible application the theorems and axioms might have in my live.

Stacy: So you never made a connection with geometry?

Rob: I did later, when I found it really useful in framing houses.

Stacy: Exactly. You had context and made a connection.

Rob: This reminds me of something Dan Myer wrote recently about modeling math. He said it’s "the process of turning the world into math and then turning math back into the world." It’s about helping students see math in their daily lives and understand is incredible usefulness.

Stacy: Exactly! It’s about providing context and, through that context, motivation for connecting to the information.

Rob: And for you, personal context is the key to making meaningful connections and increasing student engagement.

Stacy: Correct. Now it’s your turn.

Rob: What’s my idea of a meaningful connection?

Stacy: Yes.

Rob: I think it’s an extension of your idea, actually.

Stacy: How so?

Rob: Well, for me, meaningful connections happen when we want or need something. I believe that, as teachers or facilitators, our responsibility to to help learners understand what they need (and why – that’s your context), and then to introduce them to the networks and communities that make sense for them.

Stacy: That reminds me of you picture from the Long Room at the Trinity College library in Dublin.

Figure 1.2: [Bruce Washburn, Long Room, Old Library, Trinity College, July 15, 2014,]
Rob: How so?

Stacy: Well, the books there weren’t organized like our modern day classification systems. The library wasn’t designed for users to browse the stacks.

Rob: You’re right. Books were organized by size and then alphabetically within that grouping. The librarians knew where the books were. But wait. I hope you’re not you’re not thinking that I see the teachers as information gatekeeper.

Stacy: Not at all. I was thinking rather, that in your model, the teacher or facilitator’s role is to help each learner find his or her own context that makes sense of all the information out there.

Rob: That’s exactly how I see it. We’re here to help them find the personal context that makes their connections with people and information make sense.

Stacy: In other words, the context that will make their connections meaningful.

Rob: Right on.

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