#cck11 Hope for Connectivism as a Theory for the Future

These are 3 things I’m thinking about in regards to theory in psychology, education and for evaluating Connectivism as an educational theory that can provide a pathway to the future.

  1. The difference between reducible physical objects and non-reducible psychological properties.
  2. The hermeneutic nature of cognition and theory’s conceptual role in hermeneutically informed science.
  3. Recent criticisms of connectivism as a standalone theory that I think it should be judged within a wider field of educational theory.

Social Action is not Reducible to Individual Behavior: The Complex Emergent Variable Field of Social Science

This continues a previous conversation with Alan Cooper about the nature of theories and educational theories.  See here and here for that conversation.

First, start with an example of the development of communication between mother and child (From Vygotsky, need reference) .  The child randomly grasps for an object, but the mother interprets this as intended communication to obtain the object.  Overtime, the mother helps the child formulate efficient communicative actions by presenting objects and interacting with the child to refine the resulting communicative acts.  This demonstrates the social genesis and nature of communicative action.  Neurology is not the only foundation of action.  Communicative action also functions at a higher social level. You will never see the complete neurological correlates of social behavior because it involves the neurology and practices of other people.   Social action is not reducible to individual behavior.

This is also just one example that shows why the variable fields social and educational research are so diverse.  Natural science is able with some success to reduce experiments to a narrow field of variables, but in ways that are not available to social sciences.  This does not mean that education and social science research is not possible or valid.  It is just that it cannot operate within the same standards for validity as natural science research.  Validity is an integrative evaluative judgement of the degree of support for research.  Standards cannot be established a-priori, but must fit a situated holistic understanding of the method, intentions and variable field in which the research is operating.

Digging Deeper: The Hermeneutics of Psychology and Education

But during the 60s (Paul) Ricoeur concluded that properly to study human reality one had to combine phenomenological description with hermeneutic interpretation. For hermeneutics, whatever is intelligible is accessible to us in and through language and all deployments of language call for interpretation.  Paul Ricoeur Entry in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

First Aspects of Hermeneutics: Our Horizon, Our Prejudice and Our Ability to Change

Our field of interpretation is often referred to, through a vision metaphor, as our horizon.  This horizon represents our field of experience.  The object we interpret stands in this field and we compare and contrast it to our experiential field to make our interpretations.  It is both our horizon and the basis of our prejudice, the preconceptions that we bring to any interpretive task.  These preconception are the horizon with which we see or interpret any subject or object.  Our horizons are not static, but are ever changing.  They change in the process of fusing different horizons.  The primary work of interpretation to take something alien and interact with it in a way to expand our context of meaning.  What first appears alien can later be understood as a function of our initial perspective or prejudice.  (Note – Prejudice in this usage is about all preconceptions not just bigotry)

Second Aspect of Hermeneutics: The Dialectic Between Part and Whole

The hermeneutic circle expresses the central idea that interpreting any text (or experience) is by reference to the whole, whether it be a body of texts, a discipline or the whole of one’s experience.  In turn, one’s experience (our horizon) is made up of other experiences and texts.  No idea, project or theory can be understood by itself, but only in reference to other ideas, theories and projects.  While this does presupposes no ultimate or final interpretation, is does not preclude the ability to make judgements about the validity of interpretations.

The Hermeneutics of Theory

Theory, like any concept, cannot be understood except as a reference to a wider conceptual field.  This mean convergent and divergent differences with other theories as well as it’s position relative to broader intellectual movements and by considering lower level concepts that can be juxtaposed and compared with the concepts of other theories.  Therefore, evaluating the validity of connectivism involves (1) situating it within broader intellectual movements, (2) by comparing it’s structure and concepts to the structure and concepts of other theories, and (3) by evaluating conceptual parts of the theory for comprehensiveness and consistency.

How do reviews of Connectivism fit within this evaluation framework and what theories and movements would I consider relevant for evaluating Connectivism.  I’ll leave those questions for future posts.  I am looking for the pragmatic ability to peer into the future.  This is the future question posed by John Hagel at Edge Perspective:

(H)ow do we embed teams in increasingly rich platforms that will scale by encouraging the formation of  more and more teams. How do we then motivate and help these teams to connect with and learn from each other? What would these platforms look like?  . . . a pathway that is pragmatic and provides short-term value while also building the foundations for much more powerful long-term learning and performance improvement.

This is the next killer app. for education.  How do we create knowledge flows, the pragmatic web, the places that bring everyone together in increasingly empowering ways?  I don’t think that existing theories can foot that bill.  And we can’t wait 25 years for traditional theoretical development pathways to work their magic.  This is the hope I have for this Connectivism journey.

Two New Project Ideas – Validity and Social Media Pedagogy

For the next couple of months I should have time to pursue some intellectual projects.  #1 is backward looking (extending on things that I have researched in the past) and #2 is forward looking (developing ideas and knowledge in areas to which I have not devoted as much time).  

#1 Evidence-based programs (practice, management, education, etc.) as well as quality programs like six sigma miss an important point if they do not focus on measurement concerns.  All these programs begin with measurement to generate data and measurement concerns should be at the center of their methodology.  All of these programs start by defining a standard methodology, and that is all well and good, but in an example of quality data in / quality conclusions out, their methodologies can only be as good as the quality of their data.  

The question is, how do you determine good data.  A simplistic definition of good data will only obscure the issue and result in an intellectual sleight of hand.  I propose validity as an idea that has measurement and data quality as its central focus and can provide a framework that can eliminate and clarify this issue.  Specifically (as I mentioned before) I like Messick’s framework.  It’s complex, but not unmanageable, and serves to provide a 360% view of data and measurement quality.

#2 Social media pedagogy.  This is about how to use social media to teach and to further student development.  To this question I will also use a Vygotskian constructionist lens by which I determine what outcomes might look like.  That is, Vygotsky help me to determine what I want students to be able to do, and social media are the tools by which those outcomes can be achieved more effectively and efficiently.  These ideas should occupy some of my thinking (and posting) for a while.

Note – Maybe pedagogy is not the best term given its pedantic history, but again I am following Vygotsky who seemed to have a broad and forward-looking perspective on the subject.

Response to Stephen Downes: Free the Facts!

Stephen Downes’ OL Weekly last Friday (1-24) contained a bit of a rant on Karl Popper this week.  It was an aside under the heading Free the Facts!  (Free the Fact (the article) advocates open access to research journals, a very worthy cause, but SD took exception to the view of science expressed.)  I disagree totally.  

I admit that Popper, like many philosophers, tends to be obtuse; writing more for other philosophers not scientists or the public.  But, I believe the gist of his argument (at least for scientists) is that: you can’t support a theory or proposition based solely on one or two studies.   You can prove that you specific proposition is false (at least usually with 95% certainly), but you can never be certain that your proposition really captured the actual cause in the correct fashion.  Many studies seem to act as if confirmation is true, but confirming propositional claims is a complex and broad-based task.  Confirmation should be based on bodies of work not individual studies.  It can also be supported with effect sizes in meta-analysis, with power reporting and with validation studies. (See Brualdi, 99, for a complete idea of what the concept of validity can entail.)

This viewpoint does many the translation of research to practice difficult, but it really was easy, we would have solved most of our pressing problems long ago.  Assuming an easy confirmation process is not helpful.  It makes the process even longer and erodes confidence in research efficacy.  (Think fashion in educational research as one example.)