The Internet, multiple intelligences, and education for democracy

…still enjoying some of John Seely Brown’s work…

“Three hundred years ago or so, Descartes’s philosophical stance was ‘I think, therefore I am.’ Within that framework, the more abstract the knowledge is, the better. Knowledge that is decontextualized and disembodied is all the more applicable to different situations. That seems like a very reasonable position to take. But in some ways it falls short – very short. It views knowledge as a kind of substance and leads to a pedagogy encouraging the optimal pouring of knowledge from a storage device into the head of a student.” (p.53) …but… “maximising our ability to pour information is not the same as creating learning.” (p.54)

Instead of Descartes’s disembodied thought, the separation between mind and body, ‘I think, therefore I am,’ I want to suggest that there is something much more fundamental at stake. This framework, coming more from Dewey and psychoanalytic theory than from Descartes, says ‘We participate, therefore we are’: we come into being through participation with others, and our own understanding is socially constructed. That means we have to start looking at how conversations can be evoked by content. This is not saying that all knowledge is relative – far from it – and it’s not the standard constructivist point of view according to which you construct everything yourself. What we’re really saying is that you often construct and augment your own understanding of the content socially through conversations.
I’m proposing a pedagogical approach that has to do with designing evocative knowledge objects and spaces that foster focused conversations that scaffold a student’s ability to construct his own understanding of what that object is about. This suggests that very often what makes a great simulation is not the absolute fidelity of the simulation, but how it encourages dialogue, how it leads students to play with it collaboratively, and how it functions as a boundary object for constructing their own understandings of it. Knowledge is information that has been internalized and integrated into out frameworks. To facilitate a student’s learning we need to design spaces that encourage and scaffold conversations to do that.” (p.54)

“one of our most brilliant failures.” (p.55)

“create an intellectual asset….” (p.56)

Learning that lasts stems from enculturation into a practice.” (pp.58-59)

The Internet started out as just being a network of networks, but it has unquestionably become a new medium or new collection of media, and each medium has its own set of genres. It’s the first medium that we have seen in a long time that has technological tools to support multiple forms of intelligence. Almost all the tools in the past have supported our ability to engage in text, engage in abstract mathematical reasoning. But now we’re beginning to find tools that start to honor the multiple intelligences of our students.” (p.63) [he was writing this before interactive textbooks and the like came out… how well do these engage other intelligences? just thinking…]

“…what makes [MMOs…] interesting is not the game itself, but the knowledge ecologies being formed around them.” (p.64) [I love that term!]

“As we contemplate a new charter for reinventing the university for the twenty-first century, we are going to have a lot of failures, because none of us know how to navigate this new space flawlessly.” (p.64)

“How can we learn from the community around us as well as help nurture it?” (p.65)

“Unfortunately we don’t have very good ethnographies of kids who grow up digital in these highly multiprocessing environments.” (p.66) [this was a statement made a decade ago, so probably not so true now as then – but perhaps still relevant? I am thinking of how slowly such studies filter out to places of practice…]

The essence of being educated in the twenty-first century has a lot to do with our ability to learn how to listen and to hear multiple points of view. …It’s probably more important than ever that our students spend time abroad, especially in a third world country, so they ‘marinate’ in the practices of a substantially different culture. But students often have prerequisites that prevent them from being able to take off half a year or a year. What an obvious way to use distance learning: they can stay connected to their school for prerequisite courses, and yet experience the other culture. And that ability to absorb multiple cultures is fundamental in addressing the issue of tolerance, because we become aware that there are people with different points of view that are sensible and can be argued out. When you live in their culture, you understand their practices, not their rhetoric.” (p.68)

“…in the age of discontinuity we have to be very much aware of how our lenses create a form of tunnel vision. We must learn new strategies to overcome the tendency to interpret the world with narrowly construed assumptions even if they worked for us in the past. I guess this is a twenty-first century twist to what Dewey always claimed about the critical need for an educated public if a democracy is going to be effective.” (p.69)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold mine) John Seely Brown (2002) The Social Life of learning: How can continuing education be reconfigured in the future? Continuing Higher Education Review 66, pp.50-69 [Note that I accessed this article through John Seely Brown’s website: – thank you to him for making so much thought available!!!]


About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
This entry was posted in Literate Contexts, Metaphors and Narratives around children and learners, Mono- Bi- and Multi-culturalism, Multiliteracies, social and political contexts, Standardised Testing, Teaching excellence, The effect of multimedia on children/childhood, Understanding Education and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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