Stephen posted recently on meaning in language in a way that I don’t generally understand in conceptualizing education practice. He divides word use into units like token or types, similar to a computational method. He goes on to criticize constructivism saying:
This is also why constructivism is so hard to criticize. There are many different ways to make meaning. If you show that one way of making meaning is inadequate, then the constructivist always has another one to show you. After all, the theory (mostly) isn’t about some specific way of making meaning. It’s about the idea that ‘to learn’ is ‘to make meaning’, and these can be made in different ways
I generally think on a practice or pragmatic unit of analysis. Thinking of Bakhtin’s concept of Genres; recognizable ways of speaking, or Wittgenstein’s language games. Take the drunken artisans from Dostoevsky’s “Diary of an Author”, whose six characters repeat a curse word six times, but each repetition indicates a different meaning conveyed by the inflection and position of the speaker as well as the genre the speaker is referencing. Same word, but six different meanings. Meaning does not come from the words or from reference, but from re-cognizable practice. Maybe a pragmatic nominalism. Here’s something from an old blogpost of my I was thinking on earlier today but makes an example of how practice could constitutes meaning in assessment:
To see the future (think prediction), students and teachers should focus on their horizons. Horizons here refer to a point in developmental time that can’t be seen clearly today, but that I can reasonable expect to achieve in the future. Because many aspects of this developmental journey are both precarious and dependence on future actions, this joint vision can’t be wishful thinking, but must be clearly framed in terms of privileges and obligations. When it is treated this way, assessment is not a picture of student achievement, but is a methods for making both student and teacher visible to each other in a way that is rational, meaningful and conducted in an ontologically responsible manner; that is, in a way that is true to who we we want to become.
This references John Shotter’s “Cultural Politics of Everyday Life”.
The point I’m making is that meaning begins with assessment items and scores, but it does not become meaningfully useful until it allows student and teacher to “see” each other in their mutual journey toward an agreed upon horizon or end point and the privileges and obligations that makeup the path. This is where the general concept of assessment is fails because of the limits we place on the “genre” of assessment Another example is Vygotsky’s conception of a baby’s grasp for a rattle. The Mother interprets the grasp as a desire and slowly guides the baby into what the mother considers an understandable practice. I agree that there are too many conceptions of constructionism, and I like to ground it in practice which I fell is more secure, but still suffers in many ways from George Lackoff’s limitations of cognition and speech as metaphoric.
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.)
Further thoughts on the Connectivism course:
I like inclusion of the negotiation of meaning and the nature of network nodes instead of hierarchy. A favorite author of mine has been John Shotter who also speak in this way. In a rewrite of a 1994 book (Conversational Realities Revisited; (2008; http://www.taosinstitute.net/) he says that life as an academic leaves us with something missing, something to do with creativity, novelty and the uniqueness of everyday life. He says that an excessive focus on linguistic representation (note the similarities to Stephen’s rejection of the centrality of representation) has left us (as academics) unable to be receptive to our “spontaneous bodily reactions to events occuring around us” . . .. This is a highly philosophized notion of learning and practicing (based primarily on Bakhtin and Wittgenstein) that may be supportive of a connectivism theory and may refute my previous assertion that the theory is not mature.
Also; this is a comment I made to Stephen’s post this morning (9/10/08).
This post reminded me of many of the problem associated with higher ed today. *Tuition cost are too high! *The current structure is not conducive to supporting a life course that may include 4 or 5 different career paths, in knowledge intensive environments, where lifelong intellectual growth is expected! *If innovation is important to the economy, we must ramp up our intellectual infrastructure through community development and make it more accessible to all. Can current pedagogy address these issues? I think experimental pedagogy is needed, just like this course is offering.
I also indebted to Geof Cain’s comment that led me to think in pedagogical terms. These critiques and Stephen’s responses have a lot to do with pedagogy. Any learning theory will imply a pedagogy, but I think connectivism’s implies pedagogy even more than most because of the importance of the network aspects and because I think the theory and the course are really directed right at practice and an experimental pedagogy.
An update to a previous post. I mentioned Vygotsky’s idea of tools and concepts reflecting back on and changing the learner. I should have referred to these tools and concepts as artifacts. This word reflects Vygotsky’s approach better and is also consistent with Karl Poppers work on the 3 worlds, physical, mental and artifactual.