Saturday, 26 June 2010

Learning activity, widgets and cybernetics

The idea of 'designing activity' for learning has almost become an aspect of 'political correctness' in teaching. What does it mean? How might cybernetics help us to understand the concept of 'learning activity', or even activity in general?

One way of looking at it is the simple equation that relates one teacher to many students. Activity through technology at least can serve to amplify the variety of the teacher by providing instructions to coordinate students through self-organising behaviour. But I wonder if there's more to it than that...

The different ways of managing the variety between teachers and students 'feel' fundamentally different from a student's perspective. The 'student attenuation' of the sage on the stage can (but of course not always) dis-empower students preventing them from challenging authority. The teacher as co-learner model is clearly different, giving students more opportunity to make a contribution, but could also dis-empower if students are over-whelmed with variety.

Positioning theory might tell us something about what this 'empowering' is and how activity can play a role. The interesting question for e-learning is the role that coordination of technologies can play in coordinating activity. It's here, I think, that the Widget integration into VLEs is most interesting...

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Activity, Boal and my daughter's piano practise

This improvisation takes it's cue from Isobel's practise of her grade 1 pieces which she recorded (it begins her playing, which I then take over). I suppose this is a type of participative online activity which I'm becoming very interested in.. particularly keen on the 'virtual choir' (see

I see a relationship between activity and communication, where activity can change the way individuals 'position' each other through their communication (as according to Rom Harre's 'positioning theory'). This is close to what Boal seems to be suggesting when he tries to involve audiences in subverting dramatic action.

I tried some role-play with our Strategy Cascade conference yesterday. We provided a series of 'pen portraits' of difficult people in the institution, and asked participants to put themselves in the mindset of those people. Worked very well, probably because the positioning between the participants was altered through them playing a role.

Next stop: try this online, maybe in some sort of 'virtual theatre'...

Monday, 21 June 2010

E-learning and Death

As with all human agency, e-learning contributes to a technological lifeworld which continues beyond any individual life. It's causal in the development of new younger lives and transformative of social structures and communications which form the context for lives to come. Universities have played a key role in safeguarding the agency of learning of past generations; the living go there to consort with the dead, and in so doing, keep the agency of the dead alive. Technology will in time assume this role too. The preservation of agency of the dead in technological forms will, I have little doubt, be utterly transformative for future generations in ways which we cannot yet imagine. The metaphysical mysteries of all this are of course not mentioned in any learning theory I know of!

This is a ghostly improvisation. Since I've been looking at 'ecological' approaches to memory and perception, I've become interested in how this might translate to a cybernetic understanding of spiritual phenomena. It's all very weird, but equally fascinating, and I think probably not entirely stupid.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Due Process and Bureaucracy

To what extent is bureaucracy in institutions ultimately concerned for fairness for individuals? To what extent does it relate to 'due process' and morality? What is the relationship between the ontological matters of 'being fair' with the epistemological matters of knowledge and learning?

To be practical about this, is it fair for a student to fail because they 'don't know' something that we deem they ought to know (an aspect of the subject)? Is it fair for a student to fail because they fail to follow the rules of the bureaucracy (particularly if their failure doesn't give them an advantage over other students..)? Is it fair for a student to fail because their teachers failed to follow the rules of the bureaucracy? These are clearly different questions, and different circumstances... but we tend to lump them all together...

Do we need more bureaucracy to deal with increased diversity? What's the risk of removing bureaucracy? Do we risk removing fairness? If we need more bureaucracy, is that a move towards ontology from epistemology in education? Is the epistemological emphasis on knowledge an enlightenment thing - and is it finished?? Maybe there's hope for cybernetics in the institution yet! Andrew Pickering will be pleased!

The improvisation is a sort of study in pentatonic scales...

Saturday, 19 June 2010

The Bureaucracy of Institutions

This improvisation is a bit random... but I'm starting to think about the relationship between the bureaucracy of the institution and the communication of teaching and learning with the reproduction and transformation of value that goes with it. Not sure how this might work, but there would appear to be different levels of value, with the values associated with the 'observation of an effective bureaucracy' very important for maintenance of the capital value of institutions. Those values, I guess, are associated with particular positions regarding reality and observation.

Tweeting from Blogger

I blog much more than I Tweet! (I got bored with Twitter a while ago... after encouraging everyone around me to use it... must stop that - bad habit!)

I've just signed up for Twitterfeed which will tweet my blogging. That'll be interesting...

Friday, 18 June 2010


I'm having trouble sleeping at the moment. So time for interesting discussions with Astrid! (she was obviously delighted!)

1. The difference between art and religion.
Seen from the perspective of perception and communication, art concerns the drawing out from deep perception to communication; it concerns communicating things we don't normally communicate. Religion concerns using communicative practices (ritual) to enlarge our perception; to make us aware of deeper mystery which is beyond communication. Astrid equated this to focusing on 'higher' things.

2. Also we talked about 'free' schools, and the risks of removing the bureaucratic regulators in education.
Universities may be only about bureaucracy. Without the quality procedures, they have no capital value (the power to award degrees). Is the 'content' of what they do (teaching) becoming less important? Is it part of a general move from content to process? Astrid suggested that the EU is rather like this. There the regulatory processes fundamentally serve to prevent (armed) conflict. In a University, the regulatory processes serve to maintain the capital value of the institution in the form of its degree awarding powers. Where does value sit with that? Where does the teaching and learning come in?

But neither of us are going to get to sleep thinking about questions like that!!

Monday, 14 June 2010

Memory and Bids

Bill told me about a French philosopher who remembered his childhood memories by returning to his childhood home, remembering that he ran his finger against the wall, to find that only when he ran his finger against the wall at the height of a 3-year old would the memories return. This ties into the idea of memory involving a dynamic mechanism between essences and their context.

Also thinking about this with regard to optical illusions. Think about this:

The oscillation between essence and context is very vivid here. As we become aware of the context, what was the essence becomes the context and then back again.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Essence and Memory

Must think about the relationship between context, essence and memory. In what way is it an ecological thing? How does it fit into the model that I already have?

Busy day on Eluminate with JISC!

desert music

Maybe I ought to write something.. I've put lots of videos up recently and no commentary! About to embark on more elluminate interviews. Lots of arguments yesterday concerning utopianism in elearning. There does seem to be something opening up with regard to agile development for process design. Should we let managers solve their own problems rather than determine the problems they ought to have? I think this is about 'finding the grain' in things and working with it. What is made out of a material is determined by the properties of that material, and the better these properties are known, the more successful the result.

The video is a rehearsal for New York...