How does Social Media Function in Activity: A Vygotskian (Via Attwell) Inspired Idea

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.
Non-linkable References
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.

A New Business Model for Higher Education

I have a larger than normal amount of posts because I’m doing spring cleaning, getting some stuff off my hard drive and into the cloud.  Here’s one

A Meme that has interested me for sometime is that universities should be more like businesses and businesses should be more like universities.  As Susanne Lohmann points out (2004 in Economics of Governance, Vol. 5, 9-27), this is more complex than it might seem on the surface.   But I want to focus not on the past, but on new evolving pressures for change.

  • Situation#1 – Workers need to be involved in continuous learning. The old model that you go to university from 18-22, and then work from 22 – 65 will not work anymore.  The learning community that universities are so good at fostering needs to continue lifelong.  Universities can not continue to ignore alumni (except in regard to charity) and businesses need a model that engages universities and businesses on an ongoing basis.
  • Situation #2 Competitive advantage is now in brains, not brawn. Neither universities, nor businesses can afford to hire all the brains that they will need.  Social media is one response to this problem, but I believe we also need to find more direct engagement.
  • Response Targeted Knowledge Revenue Streams. This idea came to me while reading a HBR article, although I can’t remember which one.  In addition to students, universities should target the development of courses and ed services to the specific needs of businesses. Alumni can be brought into a closer relationship to the university through their use in marketing.  Not only will the alumni’s businesses benefit, alumni will be involved in a more substantial way  as continuing learners and scholars will have a deeper understanding of the knowledge needs of businesses.  This understanding in-turn can be incorporated into regular course improvement.  In fact, this revenue stream will not only increase revenues to the university and provide knowledge capital to businesses, it will also fund course improvement and new course development for the university.
  • Finally, walled gardens will no longer suffice. The continuing development of this knowledge economy will requires porous boundaries in all organizations.  What are the models by which this can be achieved and can this be one?

How Dialogic Relationally Responsive Philosophy is Important to Learning

There’s been some discussion of a Harvard Business Review Article by Peter Bregman.  He describes a case where people were unresponsive to a new corporate learning process and he solved the problem by being flexible and allowing them to individualize the process.  Ken Allen was responding to this article which generated my though of how Bregman’ case was a good example of a relationaly responsive dialogical approach and I posted this comment.

Hi Ken

I look to dialogical philosophy (Wittgenstein, Bakhtin, John Shotter) not postmodernism to understand Bregman’s case.   (I’ve read critiques that the anguished postmoderns were as negatively obsessed with the lack of certainty as the moderns were obsessed to trying to obtain it.)  A dialogic approach looks at people as relationally responsive.

Instead of trying to solve problems exclusively by analyzing “patterns and regularities” for perfection, we must also live in “the context of peoples disorderly, everyday conversational realities. . . (where) to solve problems, our task becomes the more practical one of struggling to create new ‘pathways’ forward into the uniquely new circumstances we create for ourselves as we live our lives together”.

Quotes from the back cover of John Shotter’s book Conversational Realities Revisited

I had a mentor in college (Helmut Bartel) that once said new paradigms were only successful if they could account for the successes and the failures of the old paradigm, while moving beyond it.  That’s what I think the idea of dialogic responsiveness does.  In Bregman’s case we can see the failure of the company’s and Bregman’s first modernist approach and how Bregman succeeded by being more responsive to the involved people.  The recent idea of closing training departments can also be read in the same terms of the failure of modernism (prescribed ‘one size fits all’ instruction based on observed patterns and regularities) for the dialogical (facilitating the ability of people to work together to solve problems in people’s everyday context).

Thanks for your post.  I struggle to understand philosophy that I know is important, but I can’t alway articulate just how.  I just grown by responding to your conversation and I am learning in dialogue right now.  And, I think my brain is completely fried for the moment.

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.