Reading Graham Attwell’s post on Vygotsky and Learning Environments leads me to relate a social cultural constructivist approach to the educational critique he discusses. It relates to the idea (originating in my study of Vygotskian ideas)that knowledge is a mediator for doing things and knowledge develops a different mediational function and purpose if you insert it into another activity.
Think of the Vygotskian triangle encompassing and unifying the subject object and mediator in a specific activity. All three aspects (subject, object, mediator) are defined by the way they are joined in activity. Contrast that with many educational endeavors where we take practitioner knowledge, originally design as a complex mediator that enables a worker to achieve a specific outcome. (eg. a theory, used by a scientist, to produce new knowledge) and put it into an educational setting. In the educational setting the Vygotskian triangle changes. The worker becomes a student, the outcome – a representation of the knowledge, and the mediator is some sort of memorization schema. Is it any wonder that the represented knowledge does not transfer to a new situation (i.e. transform from a knowledge representation to a complex mediator in a completely new activity).
A valid critique of the way education is set up is Graham’s reference to Herrington, Reeves, and Oliver (2005) and teachers focus on giving information or knowledge to students. I relate this quote to new educational methods like Carl Wieman‘s (discussed here) and Middendorf’and Paces’ Decoding the Disciplines (2004) (discussed here). These methods focus on using knowledge in a mediation function to do things instead of learning information.
I differ from Graham when he says “socio-cultural theories of knowledge acquisition stress the importance of collaborative learning and ‘learning communities”. Communities are important because that where activities are historically developed, where mediators are thought up and where activity outcomes become culturally important. Community is also important because that is also where everything is passed on to others. But if you want to know how social media functions, don’t look at the surface, look at how it functions within activities (how people functionally integrate social media into culturally important activity). If you look at the surface of social media, what pops out at you is the communication collaboration aspects. But, from this (Vygotskian derived) educational theory, the importances is in how social media can be adapted as a mediation source and incorporated into ones activity. The communication and collaborative aspects are usually surface aspects (unless it makes sense to think of them as the activity itself). What I advocate for is to look beyond appearances to how social media functions (or could function) in people’s activity.
Herrington, J., Reeves, T., and Oliver, R. (2005). Online learning as information delivery: Digital myopia.Journal of Interactive Learning Research, 16(4): 353-67.
Middendorf, J. & Pace, D. (2004). Decoding the Disciplines: A Model for Helping Students Learn Disciplinary Ways of Thinking, New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 98, 1-12.