Saturday, 25 January 2014

From Forms of Knowledge to Routine and Big Data

Educational interventions may not ‘create’ experiences so much as they punctuate them. In education, discussion about experience has appeared under various guises: from the implicit experiences that lie behind the efficacy of content within behaviourist approaches such as instructional design, through to philosophical musings on the ‘best’ approaches to education which go back to Plato, through to more recent thinking about the ‘forms’ of knowledge (Hirst). In the final analysis, each of these is talking about the relation between events and experiences, between subjectivity and objectivity: without any objective component, then they could not make any practical recommendation for intervention for improvement; without subjectivity they could not make any commentary on the efficacy of one intervention over another. In all cases, such approaches tend to be blind to the events that they themselves make in the experience of the education professor, politician, or student – where experience continues to filter through into policy through ‘folk pedagogy’.

Mental life continues irrespective of what happens in the classroom, living rooms and bedrooms. Yet the nature of the punctuation is such that the form of experience develops in particular ways which emerge from what happens. An abusive or shocking experience is not the same kind of punctuation as a boring Maths lesson. Abuse, loss of attachment figures and so on can cause abnormal growth of a person in the same way that carcinogens may impact the reproduction of cells. Moreover, the nature of the effect of punctuation will depend on the orientation of the subject who undergoes it. The design challenge of education is to consider the likely punctuating effects of interventions across a broad range of different students. Whilst different kinds of punctuation effect people differently, there appear to be ways of designing things where everyone becomes coordinated in a similar orientation and so the punctuation serves more predictably. The formulaic structures of Soap-operas or Hollywood Romantic Comedies are good examples of this.

Fundamental to the problem is the connection between an underpinning phenomenology and analysis and critique. The task is to understand the nature of punctuation of experience and to be able to characterise the relationship between embodied subjective experience and the events which impact on the orientation and structure of that experience.

Hirst's work is very interesting in this regard. He posits a view of knowledge and learning which is fundamentally Platonic: his is a reified curriculum of 'ideal types' where learning is a process of acquiring the requisite conceptual apparatus to be able to inhabit these ideal types. I'm curious as to why Hirst thought this - what were his constraints? One of them may well have been that to measure 'experience' per se is hard, and the sociomaterial paraphernalia of knowledge in the form of lessons, textbooks, timetables, etc is quite concrete.

I think new analytical techniques will turn this on its head. We can now (thanks to the huge amounts of data we have on the internet) look at the ground of experience - the routines, absences, redundancies which each of us experiences in daily life. We can compare one person's routine with another. We can see the overlapping of redundancies and expectations between people. And with a deeper understanding of the dynamics of overlapping expectations, we may get a far richer view on human learning, knowledge and the most effective ways we might organise education.

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