Education has institutionalized a process that reifies cultures, ecological communities, and ultimately evolution itself. This enclosure has lessened our sensitivity to the pedagogical (eteragogical) nature of our lived relations with other people and with other living beings. By acknowledging that learning and teaching go on between species, humans can regain an eteragogical sense of the interspecies curricula within which they exist. This article explores interspecies lived curricula through a selection of ideas from ecopragmatist Anthony Weston, and cybernetician Gregory Bateson, and through lived experiences with shorebirds of Lake Ontario. Some gulls and a tern teach the author to enrich and diversify, rather than constrict, the potentiality of life. In so doing, being ecological and being educative become unified concepts. Relevance: The publication is concerned with the relational implications between humans and other species of Bateson’s cybernetic theory of learning.
Excerpt: Education has failed to show steady progress because it has shifted back and forth among simplistic positions such as the associationist and rationalist philosophies. Modern cognitive psychology provides a basis for genuine progress by careful scientific analysis that identifies those aspects of theoretical positions that contribute to student learning and those that do not. Radical constructivism serves as the current exemplar of simplistic extremism, and certain of its devotees exhibit an antiscience bias that, should it prevail, would destroy any hope for progress in education.
Context: Public universities in South Africa are currently facing the challenge of decolonising knowledge. This change requires a review of curriculums, as well as teaching and learning with the goal of embracing the epistemology of the learners, addressing issues such as social justice and transformation. Problem: Human communication is subject to several perceptual errors in both listening and seeing, which challenges the success of the communication in the education system. The ability of the teacher and the learners to effectively communicate with one another is a factor for the success of each reaching their goals. The teacher imparts her knowledge in the classroom, but according to von Foerster, “[i]t is the listener, not the speaker, who determines the meaning of an utterance,” for the listener contextualises this information based on her own past lived experience. Thus, the student’s epistemology and her expression of her understanding is integral in the classroom context and should be actively included into the education system. Method: I present a cybernetic approach to the teacher-learner system, challenging traditional ideas about the role of each actor within the system, with special attention given to Pask’s conversation theory. Results: Early empirical findings suggest that a conversational contextual approach results in higher student involvement and better memory retention among the learners. Conversational approaches that are epistemologically inclusive diffuse social problems where the student groups require their individual worldviews to be reflected within the curriculum. This reduces the friction of competing epistemologies within the education system, moving toward a co-created contextually-driven knowledge system. Implications: Many educators would like deeper engagement from their learners but have not found a way to successfully engage the student group. A cybernetic approach is one method that can be adopted to remedy this. This is particularly useful in contexts where there is cultural diversity and impending social change. Constructivist content: I address von Glasersfeld’s points on human cognition, linking it to Austin’s speech acts.
The merits of Empirical Modelling (EM) principles and tools as a constructivist approach to computer science education are illustrated with reference to ways in which they have been used in teaching topics related to the standard computer science curriculum. The products of EM are interactive models – construals – that serve a sense-making role. Model-building proceeds in an incremental fashion through the construction of networks of definitions that reflect the observables, dependencies and agents associated with a current situation. The three principal case studies discussed (teaching bubblesort, solving Sudoku puzzles, and recognising groups from their abstract multiplication tables) highlight respects in which EM accounts for aspects of computing that cannot be effectively addressed by thinking primarily in terms of abstractions, procedures and mechanisms. The discussion of EM as a constructivist approach to computer science education is set in the context of an analysis of constructivism in computer science published by Ben-Ari in 2001. Reconciling EM’s constructivist epistemology with this analysis involves recognising its pretensions to a broader view of computer science.
Educational technology is seen as key for lifelong learning, but it has yet to live up to expectation. We argue that current learning environments are typically oriented too much towards structured learning to meet the needs of the lifelong learner. Environments for lifelong learning demand a higher degree of autonomy for the learner, must be open to eclectic sources, support soft informal learning activity, and accommodate evolution both in the experience of the learner and in the context in which this occurs. We propose sense-making through the construction of suitable interactive artefacts as a core activity for lifelong learning, and discuss and illustrate how this can be supported using Empirical Modelling. The merits of Empirical Modelling as a constructivist approach are assessed with reference to a criterion recently proposed by Bruno Latour, namely, the extent to which it strengthens five guarantees, taken together.
Diverse forms of constructivism can be found in the literature today. They exhibit a commonality regarding certain classical positions that they oppose – a unity in their negative identities – but a sometimes wild multiplicity and incompatibility regarding the positive proposals that they put forward. In particular, some constructivisms propose an epistemological idealism, with a concomitant relativism, while others are explicitly opposed to such positions, and move in multifarious different directions. This is a potentially confusing situation, and has resulted in some critics branding all constructivisms with the charge of relativism, and throwing out the baby with the bath water. In addition, since the epistemological foundations of even non-relativist constructivisms are not as familiar as the classical positions, there is a risk of mis-interpretation of constructivisms and their consequences, even by some who endorse them, not to mention those who criticize. Because I urge that some version of constructivism is an epistemological necessity, this situation strikes me as seriously unfortunate for philosophy, and potentially dangerous for the practice of education.
Context: Constructivist teachers who find themselves working within an educational system that adopts a realist epistemology, may find themselves at odds with their own beliefs when they catch themselves paying closer attention to the knowledge authorities intend them to teach rather than the knowledge being constructed by their learners. Method: In the preliminary analysis of the mathematical learning of six low-performing Year 7 boys in a Maltese secondary school, whom one of us taught during the scholastic year 2014-15, we constructed a conceptual framework which would help us analyze the extent to which he managed to be sensitive to constructivism in a typical classroom setting. We describe the development of the framework M-N-L (Mathematics-Negotiation-Learner) as a viable analytical tool to search for significant moments in the lessons in which the teacher appeared to engage in what we define as “constructivist teaching” (CT) during mathematics lessons. The development of M-N-L is part of a research program investigating the way low-performing students make mathematical sense of new notation with the help of the software Grid Algebra. Results: M-N-L was found to be an effective instrument which helped to determine the extent to which the teacher was sensitive to his own constructivist beliefs while trying to negotiate a balance between the mathematical concepts he was expected to teach and the conceptual constructions of his students. Implications: One major implication is that it is indeed possible for mathematics teachers to be sensitive to the individual constructions of their learners without losing sight of the concepts that society, represented by curriculum planners, deems necessary for students to learn. The other is that researchers in the field of education may find M-N-L a helpful tool to analyze CT during typical didactical situations established in classroom settings.
Context: There is a movement to change education so that it is adequate to social expectations and uses the full potential of technology. However, there has been no significant breakthrough in this area and there is no clear evidence why. Problem: A potential issue explaining why education falls behind is the way educators focus on education. There is a possibility that a significant step in the learning process is routinely neglected. Method: Two different approaches to using IT in education are tested in two different environments: a university level course based on constructionism and IBL projects for secondary school students. Results: It is possible to apply constructionism in education, but there are still problems. They are not related to how students construct knowledge, but how they deconstruct knowledge. Implications: The most significant problem of deconstruction is that it requires creative skills. This makes it very difficult to formalize it and to provide effective recommendations for its application. Constructivist Content: Deconstruction is a prerequisite of construction, thus deconstructionism deserves more attention and study. A proper application of deconstructionism will make it possible to reconstruct education in a way that is impossible with the current approaches.
Context: In 2015, we are surrounded by tools and technologies for creating and making, thinking and learning. But classroom “learning” is often focused on learning about the tool/technology itself, rather than learning with or through the technology. Problem: A constructionist theory of learning offers useful ways for thinking about how technology can be included in the service of learning in K-12 classrooms. To support constructionism in the classroom, we need to focus on supporting teachers, who necessarily serve as the agents of classroom-level innovations. This article explores a central question: How can we support teachers to engage with constructionism as a way to think beyond a technocentric view in the classroom? Method: I approach this work from the perspective of a designer, using the process of supporting teachers working with the Scratch programming language in K-12 classrooms as a central example. I draw on reflections from six years of the ScratchEd project, which includes interviews with 30 teachers, and observations from teacher professional development events and an online community of educators. Results: I describe five sets of tensions that I encountered while designing the ScratchEd model of professional development: tensions between (1) tool and learning, (2) direction and discovery, (3) individual and group, (4) expert and novice, and (5) actual and aspirational. I describe how these tensions are negotiated within the elements of the PD model (an online community, participatory meetups, and an online workshop). Implications: The tensions I describe are not specific to Scratch, and can serve as a more general model for PD designers to scrutinize and critique. Constructivist content: This work contributes to ongoing conversations and questions about how to support constructivist/constructionist approaches in classrooms.