Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The tool-form of knowledge

I'm thinking about the ways knowledge exists in people and the material forms it takes: Educational resources (open or not) are examples of that material form. But we might say that technologies also carry knowledge as well. For example, a Greek vase carries knowledge - explicitly in this case because is contains images of people making music.

What's the difference between the knowledge contained in a vase and the knowledge contained in an online learning tool (like ReCourse below)
Can we say then that knowledge has a 'tool-form' as well as a 'content-form'? (or maybe a tool-form is a type of content-form...

What's clear to me however is that the person with knowledge - possessing the person-form of knowledge (the knowledge embodied in the knower) - uses the tool-form and the content-form to regulate a language-game with with learners. It may not be that knowledge is 'transferred', but that the game is played. How the game is played may well be passed on to those who 'learn it' (by learning how to use the content and tools to regulate their own games). They may well play the game with others in the future. 

Often such language games are used to teach skills (for example surgery). What is the difference between playing the surgery game with a teacher, and using those skilled game-performances in real life? There are clearly differences in risk! 

If a surgeon acts alone in operating on a patient, is he playing the language game with himself? What happens if the patient nearly dies, or the surgeon recognises that they have made a mistake? What is a mistake in this circumstance? A mistake might be a 'move' which threatens the viability of the language game and any future language games: the patient dying would be a catastrophic upsetting of the game. The knowledge in the surgeon is likely to contain the person-forms of their teachers, the content-forms of their textbooks, and the tool-form of their instruments.

There's something about concernful action here, and the way that agency reproduces and transforms structure. The accidental killing of a patient may also have implications for knowledge - the inquiry would identify the cause of the accident: education might come under scrutiny, the teachers, or the tools, or the textbooks. Obviously, the inquiry itself would be another language game!


dkernohan said...

This is a really important conceptualisation of the learning & teaching process - I'm struck very profoundly with the idea that higher education (especially) is at heart a language game.

I'm also thinking, less helpfully maybe, that tool-form/content-form == signifier/signified - and where we need to be is in the gaps between the two.

Nice playing as well (this is the best edublog ever!)

Mark Johnson said...

Hi David,

The semiotic stuff is interesting... not sure where I sit with that right now (I used to be really into it!). There may be a paper to collaborate on there...?

I do think all learning technologists should read the Philosophical Investigations though!