Thursday, December 18, 2014

Pedagogical Affordance and Entrepreneurial Action: A Framework for Thinking about Connected Learning

This working paper consists of a series of posts written for an online workshop in connected learning: Connected Courses. It was conducted in the Fall of 2014 and was sponsored by the DML Hub, as part of the MacArthur Foundation, and the University of California Humanities Research Institute. Course URL:

  • Introduction: Pedagogical Affordance, Entrepreneurial Action?
  • Vygotsky Tutorial
  • Pedagogical Styles 1: Coaching and Midwifery
  • Pedagogical Styles 2: Lectures, and beyond…
  • Learning to Learn and Co-learning, NOW
  • Co-learning Models: Meta-Cognition, Democratic Schools, and Entrepreneurs
  • Pedagogical Styles 3: Courses I have taught (or taken)
  • “VICTORY IS MINE!” – Active engagement with computing in connected learning
  • Connected from Birth: You, Your Double, and Cyberspace
  • Education, not just for the young
  • Pedagogical Styles 4: Cognitive Demands and Interpersonal Dynamics
  • Appendix: Interdisciplinarity is the Utopian Dream of an academic culture whose time is rapidly running out

Introduction: Pedagogical Affordance, Entrepreneurial Action?

With roots extending into the final decades of the previous millennium, online learning has begun blossoming at the beginning of this one. These efforts are fueled by the romance of invention and discovery, the idealism of making knowledge widely available at low or even no cost to students, and the practical desire to achieve dramatic reduction in the per unit cost of instruction. Online learning is here to stay.

This working paper began as a series of posts to an online workshop: Connected Courses: Active Co-Learning in Higher Ed. The workshop is interested in a particular kind of online learning, co-learning, where much of the learning takes place in interactions among the students rather than in the interaction between the instructor and students, one by one. It quickly became obvious, however, that co-learning has been most extensively explored in certain kinds of courses, courses involving media and writing where the emphasis is on students building presentations of one sort or another rather than on describing, analyzing, and describing things.

The question arises, then, of how far can co-learning techniques be extended to other kinds of courses. Could classical mechanics be taught in this way? What about the economics of the ante-bellum South? Ultimately, the only way we’ll know is to try and see what happens.

But such exploration is best undertaken in the context of a framework for thinking about how instruction and learning are organized. That’s what these posts are about.

The term “affordances” is from the ecological psychology of J. J. Gibson, who used it to characterize those aspects of the world to which a perceptual system could “catch hold.” What structure is there in the optical, auditory, or haptic arrays that provide strong clues about what’s going on in the world? Accordingly, I’m interested in identifying those aspects of the instructional interaction that can be “opened up” to online use. Those are pedagogical affordances.

I begin by laying out Lev Vygotsky’s account of how the young child’s capacity for “inner speech” is the result of internalizing the language directed to her by others. That is a very basic kind of learning, one that isn’t even instructional in nature. The child acquires language without being deliberately taught how to speak (a distinction that later turns up in the post, Learning to Learn and Co-learning, NOW). Then I consider two contrasting pedagogical styles, the intensely student-focused style employed in leaning a musical instrument, or the Socratic method, and the content-focused style of lecturing, which we’ve inherited from the medieval university. In a third post on pedagogical style I examine four different kinds of courses that I’ve taught (freshman comp, technical communication, and the contemporary novel) and fourth kind that I’ve only taken (symbolic logic). The objective of these posts is simply to set out contrasting styles of teaching for contrasting subject matter.

Between the second and third posts on pedagogical style there’s one section where I responed to two webinars presented to the workshop. I the first of these sections I consider the relationship between learning to learn and co-learning, with a glance at the history of formal education. In the next post I look at the development of metacognition and of democratic schools (a student-centered movement in secondary education). That’s where entrepreneurial action enters the picture, as one of the participants, himself an entrepreneur, talked of his classes as though the students organized themselves into start-up businesses. That’s a very different mode of student organization from the fundamentally passive mode required in traditional classrooms.

The next post, “VICTORY IS MINE”, was also prompted by a workshop webinar. It is about the importance actively engaging with the technology of the open web. At the very least, install your own blog platform. If we don’t actively engage with the technology then we’ll have to accept whatever technology is provided for us; we will give up our power to guide the further evolution of web-technology.
A last webinar prompted the penultimate post, which continues into technological engagement. The take-home here is that we must take-over our online identity, including all the information that’s out there on the web about us (medical records, payment histories, insurance information, etc.). Following a suggestion made by Simon Thomson, I end with this:
When a child is born, they’re given an identification number (Social Security in the US) and an online hub. Initially, the child’s parents or guardians will administer the child’s online hub. In this world, the primary coming-of-age ceremony will then be the transfer of legal responsibility for that online hub from parents to child. Think about the legal, institutional, and ritual requirements of THAT.

I suspect that the technology is almost able to support this, or soon will be. The problem is with the legal and political issues raised by that vision. Will we control our online identities, or will others use them to manipulate and control us? I’ve followed this post with one I’d written somewhat earlier in the workshop, a post on life-long learning: Education, not just for the young.

The workshop never really addressed the issue of curriculum design: What should an undergraduate education look like? Consequently I’ve not addressed it either. I note only that, if we’re talking about reconfiguring role of education in one’s life, that surely will affect curriculum design. Designing an undergraduate program to last a lifetime in which there is no further education is quite different from designing one where further education of various kinds is assumed.

The final post returns to pedagogy, and argues that we have two independent sources of constraints on course design. We have the cognitive demands examined in the first three posts on pedagogical style, but we also have the desired style of interpersonal interaction between teacher and student and among the students. That is independent of the cognitive issues. Just how co-learning can be utilized in online course design depends on both those factors.

I conclude with an appendix on the wretched issue of interdisciplinarity. I believe the problem is deep, poorly understand, and any solution will require a fundamentally new cultural regime.

* * * * *

Looming over this entire enterprise, of course, is the fact that the world is undergoing tremendous change. It is not at all obvious to me that existing educational institutions are prepared to respond to this opportunity in a creative an imaginative way. They will attempt to harness connected learning to their current institutional needs, needs established in the 19th century. Just how one deals with that situation is not at all obvious. Still, the world has changed in the past and it will surely do so in the near future. In change there is opportunity.

1 comment:

  1. "At one point he tells here to sing from her toes. What does that mean?"

    It's the easiest way to teach how to alter sound, when projecting, think of you're chest you're voice will go deeper.

    Sound has to resonate through the whole bone structure of the body to amplify. Simplest way to teach that and remember simply to focus on it. The girl in the video, she is focused on projecting through the bone structure of the nasal cavity almost entirely.