Volume 13 · Number 3 · Pages 309–319

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Heterarchical Reflexive Conversational Teaching and Learning as a Vehicle for Ethical Engineering Curriculum Design

Philip Baron

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Context: South African public universities are currently undergoing a transitional period as they traverse the sensitive road of curriculum redesign that achieves an inclusive approach to education for the goal of the decolonisation of knowledge. Problem: Many classrooms have students from several cultural backgrounds yet in these spaces there is often a single dominant discourse on offer. An ethical question is raised in terms of what content should be addressed in the classroom. Method: An approach to curricula design as a conversation is presented. The philosophical aspects underlying shifts in epistemology are presented following an eclectic approach to curricula design that embraces second-order science in achieving the ongoing goal of decolonisation. The method used to achieve this goal is conversational heterarchical curriculum design assuming non quidem tabula rasa. Students can act as reference points (Nunataks) for curricula design, thus reducing the abstraction in the syllabus. Results: A heterarchical conversational approach offers a platform whereby social justice may be addressed in the classroom by providing a means by which the students’ own epistemology is embraced within the curriculum as the students provide the trajectory for the course content based on their own epistemology. A dynamic curriculum is then available that has immediate use in the communities that the students reside in. Students demonstrate understanding of the content as it is tied to their own way of knowing. Implications: The benefits of this approach include moving away from defining science according to a realist view. Educators may accept the idea that knowledge is not impartial and that method is tied to epistemology. When the observer is included in science, an awareness arises that theories (at least in the social sciences) affect what is studied, which in turn affects society. Constructivist content: The approach builds on von Foerster’s ideas on reflexivity. Pask’s conversation theory is a vehicle for the attainment of reflexive conversational teaching and learning.

Key words: Adaptation, curriculum design, conversation theory, cybernetics, decolonisation, ethics, heterarchy, nunatak, reflexivity, second-order science, ubuntuism.


Baron P. (2018) Heterarchical reflexive conversational teaching and learning as a vehicle for ethical engineering curriculum design. Constructivist Foundations 13(3): 309–319. http://constructivist.info/13/3/309

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