Saturday 10 December 2011

Uninstalling EU...? (or why I am an Educational Cybernetician)

The best tweet I saw today was "Uninstalling EU... 1% complete". There's some 'big stuff' happening at the moment.

The problem seems to be to get any clarity on the situation. The first step is identifying where the crisis is. I'm tempted to say it's not the Euro which is in crisis, or the EU... the economic crisis is a "crisis of economics". The uncertainty over causal connections stems from the collapse of the available models we have for making sense of the world. Interestingly (but predictably), the reaction to this collapse is one of denial: economics can't be wrong; we have to fix our institutions to make them fit the available models - and 'fixing our institutions' means different things depending on whether you are France, Germany, Greece or the UK.

But really, we should be concentrating on fixing our models! There is a theory-practice gap, and I don't think the practice can develop without some serious attention being paid to the theory.

This is familiar territory for learning technologists. There's long been a theory-practice gap in educational technology (and education in general). It's telling that there has been very little coherent theoretical development in 50 years, whilst there has been an inordinate amount of shifting of practice - usually to advance towards pre-existing theoretical positions (whether constructivist, instructivist or whatever). But it's rare to find work which looks at practice as it is and seeks to remodel the theory.

We urgently need to look at the world as it is. We need to look at the lived experience of people in the globalised, technological bubble that we have created for ourselves; not from the perspective of wanting to oppose it (although we might), but simply from the perspective of acknowledging that it has happened, and at some level we (collectively) wanted it to happen. But most importantly of all, we need to recognise that living in the bubble produces the conditions under which it gets harder to stand back from it and ask "what's going on?". We need to see the danger in that, and find ways of doing something about it.

I was struck in a recent meeting in my University that staff are increasingly being asked to study for PhDs, whilst at the same time are so busy that they have no space to think. That's the situation that technology is producing for us (and particularly the species of 'techno-education' which has taken over the University sector). We have to understand it to learn how to live with it and manage it. And we have to make space for ourselves (whether we are in a University or not) to think.

This depends on having tools to think with. As I see it, the study and theorising of 'organisation' is the only disciplinary area which can feasibly and defensibly examine the mechanisms behind everything from the atoms of matter, to the biology of the cells from which we are composed, to the psychologies that yield us consciousness and action, to the communications that we make, and the institutions and nations we build. This is why I'm a cybernetician. More importantly, though, because I see that the only hope for us is to teach each other our understanding of these mechanisms, I would say cybernetics on its own isn't enough. It must be an 'Educational Cybernetics' which recognises that however good its models might be, those models must be taught and learnt before any change is possible.

1 comment:

Simon Grant said...

Mark, that clear vision is good for leading the IEC! ;-)