02 June 2011

Our epistemology, and entrepreneurial learning

Have you struggled to understand or explain the word epistemology?

Try this:
learning can be framed around the traditional Hellenistic knowledge dichotomy episteme and techn√©. Episteme stands for big picture learning, for learning about the world as a whole and one’s position in it. It represents education towards cultural citizenship, i.e. the responsibilities and contributions one makes to the society by participating in the community and generating culture. Techn√© instead focuses on learning about special traits, i.e. learning the techniques of a profession and producing economical value by performing the tasks associated with it through the division of labor – this knowledge allows for what Delanty (2001) dubbed technological citizenship.

If that's an accurate depiction, then I think I reject this framework for thinking about knowledge. To suggest that technical skills and knowledge is not concerned with big picture and culture, seems a ridiculous distinction to make. I must be missing the point (again). Is this really the (epistemological) framework for thinking about knowledge that our research and 'higher' education institutions follow?
This quote comes from an article recently suggested to me called, Entrepreneurial learning in the networked age: How new learning environments foster entrepreneurship and innovation. By Max Sengles, John Seely Brown and Howard Rheingold. It seems, as I begin reading through it, to be another article trying to explain the significance that computing and Internet technologies (and culture) has over notions of knowledge and learning. From, or I should say in their explanation, they are attempting to make the arguments for change. A change across the board, more inline with this so-called new understanding of knowledge and learning.

The sway that the subject of technology has over discussions about education and learning, is giving me increasing cause for concern. Absent from the explanations of new understandings of knowledge and learning, and their arguments for change, is some balance to the largely utopian ideals. The sub headings in the 'entrepreneurial learning' article for example, read like evangelical slogans, without a single word for caution or circumspect (that I could see by scanning). What would one include to strike a balance? Most obvious would be Postman, in particular his warnings in Technonopoly, but their could and should be many others. Surely we agree that technology gives potential to all traits of humanity, not just the bits we'd like to pick out.

For example, reading through the first few pages of 'entrepreneurial learning'..
Rather than developing in parallel with technology and modern businesses, education is still dominantly geared to condition its subjects to embody what Germans dub «Fachidioten» – people who are well suited to adapt into hierarchic organizations, and to perform repetitive tasks.

Are they suggesting that technology and modern business is going to somehow free us from fachidoten, because from where I sit, looking at corporations like Google for example, or worse Goldman and Sachs, it sure doesn't look like it. Perhaps their suggesting that corporations themselves are being challenged by "technology and modern business"? I wonder what the authors are going to make of Curtis' new doco, Machines of Loving Grace?

By focusing on the potential of innovative socio-technological learning environments, we address this discrepancy by proposing an enlightened humanistic educational paradigm

Enlightened humanistic educational paradigm! I feel like getting dressed up and putting on a wig. Is this article reading like it really is going to focus on the potential, in ALL its expected forms... oh but wait, it seems I can't get through a single sentence without a jolt of anxiety!

When all information is available, the educator’s challenge is to identify and select materials

Its a stark contradiction. Surely they'd rather not have an 'educator', most likely someone who has succeeded in a system of fachidoten, identify and select materials for people they'd class as 'learners'? And will there ever be a time when all information is available? Nothing new in that, plenty of potential for a not so pretty future really.

I think I have to stop reading... see if anyone challenges and motivates me to read more. So far I'm too uncomfortable to read on. I'd like to say however, that I respect the work and perspectives of the authors, despite my way of writing. I hope people can ignore my expressions here and see the point trying to be made. Show me how to discuss these points with civility and innocence - I'd like to remain in the conversations...


robertogreco said...

Here's what I shared on Twitter (hope the links work):

Isn't this an issue of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's gatekeepers [That's a more specific pointer than appeared on Twitter.] and something like Gregory Sholette's “Dark Matter” and (more) ?

“The educator’s challenge is to identify and select materials" might be part of the struggle to maintain or achieve gatekeeper status, unless the materials are identified based on the interests and needs of the learner who has chosen the "educator" as mentor, not been assigned to the educator based on institutional demands like degree requirements. [Note: These thoughts are not fully baked, I just want to continue conversation.]

As far as “dark matter” goes: "lines separating "dark" & ”light” creativity appear almost arbitrary" could easily be applied to "dark" & "light" learning … informal/formal, self-organizing/accredited.

That brings me back to Florian Schneider's "Institutions and Ekstitutions". "In-stitutions basically … insist on the inequality between those who know & those who do not know. […] Networked environments… [aka] “ekstitutions” are based on exactly the opposite principle … promise to provide instant access to knowledge…main purpose is to come into being … exist outside institutional framework … instead of infinite progress … based on a certain temporality."

Leigh Blackall said...

Thanks for bringing the twitter conversations in here Robert. I know we're on the same page in our thinking about this topic. I've just finished the paper on Dark Matter and loved it. WIll be looking for a way to incorporate it into my own writing in future, as I have many of your links, such as in the first draft on the Ubiquitous Learning critique.

I'd be cautious with that half baked thought regarding the educator's role though. In the places I've worked, meeting "learner needs" and "learner centredness" has moved into the rhetoric, but amounted to no more than a "rearranging of the deck chairs" as one of my colleagues describes it. The sure sign of this is where institutions have managed to bring themselves to find and replace text with "learning and teaching" instead of "teaching and learning". How embarrassing. And so, I'm very reluctant to give any ground to the concept of educator/teacher as imagined and professionalised in educational institutions. I do however, say that with some caution, as I come to realise that what we have to replace that, is also a half backed idea.

I suspect, the dark and the light is a matter of scale. I just don't think we understand what really is human scale. That is to say, at what point does something become large enough to risk losing humanity somewhere. Clearly globalism is far beyond human scale, as is 'the market'.. the nation? the district? the institution? the town? the neighborhood? the family... I think its a fluctuating line, but at the moment, my senses tell me its not far outside the neighborhood level. Beyond that, the trends of neo liberal management seem to me to willingly overlook questions of humanity on a regular basis.

Thomas Steele-Maley said...

This conversation is important. Both of you have made excellent points and to me it is simple. Schools as they are today equal callus management systems in light of the human and environmental condition.

Leigh, yes "half baked" solutions exist everywhere.

My interests in open and networked learning (and I believe Rob and Yours also) is of organic human imaging and praxis that sees a global mesh of learners who are connected to their local nodes in dynamic ways (your "neighborhood"). The more these nodes emerge and transition from the schooled society, the more real our 10,000 year romance with empire may crumble (I am of the belief that it already is).

Rob is living his vision and no its not utopia. That said I have been a part of networked learning connecting a learning node he is in praxis with and one that I was with (his was more appealing). In this interaction I witnessed young people who were freer than most precisely because their adult pedagogue lived his theory. What we need is more action on the ground--the hard work of co-connecting these spaces, discharging and counseling with each other about our patterns and how best to ensure movement. You are right Leigh, appropriating terminology means little and sets praxis at greater length. We need a network of practitioners in a mesh....let the theoretical charlatans make money off of each other. Lets live our social imagination.

Thomas Steele-Maley said...

As this conversation started with the critique of a paper co-authored by Howard Rheingold want to be on the record that I respect his work. In many ways he is working to decolonize learning with his course offerings and beyond. His passion and interests are progressive, participatory and meaningful to this dialogue. I hope he joins in.

simonfj said...

Sawasdee Ka,

It's funny that one of the books I bought with me is called "The Greek view of Life" written in 1896 by an awfully nice chap. It's always a danger to take an ancient word out of its original context, especially if one can't have a 2000 year old greek explain his invention.

It's a horrible thing about an Aussie education that philosophy doesn't fit into the curriculum like it does in France, Italy, Spain, etc. geezus!

I guess the starting point for reading would be in investigating the meaning of "dichotomy". Wouldn't want your enforced shcizophrenia warring between your platonic "temple of ideas" and your practical nature.

Re, the "entreprenuerial Learning" moniker. I'm sure seely brown would want you to read Peter Drucker's "Innovation and Entrepreneurship".

It's a bit of a prob, specially with all the prententiousness around the ancient edu institutional habits. e.g. "Here's my report"..... "OK. Put it on that shelf. I'll read it later."

Let's be blunt. An educator's role is to answer the bloody question and make suggestions, which i hope I've done, as I know you would do for me.

So would you mind asking David Nicholas a question for me. Something like; "David, you're obvioulsy very knowledgeable about your subject. As you say 'Scholarly communication does not exist in a vacuum'. So can you point me at your online community?"