Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Educational Transactions, Artistic Transactions and Improvisation

One of the things that fascinates me about Live Coding (see http://dailyimprovisation.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/improvisation-and-performing-coding.html) is that every improvisational act is made explicit - there as a record of a particular aesthetic decision taken at a particular point in time, in a particular context. As I hack around with Sonic Pi and the equally wonderful and more sophisticated Overtone this transactional aspect of improvisatory experience in Live Coding is becoming more important to me.

This is at a time when I am exploring (in a potential bid) the possibility that education itself might become more transactional in the same kind of way. I've had many arguments with friends about whether education is or is not transactional. I say that as far as any kind of final assessment is concerned, of course there is a transaction there: "I've done this work; you give me a mark". The problem is that this transaction is large-scale, processed in batch and only done once at the end of a learning process which has involved many much smaller interactions which are also transactional and which are never captured, nor can ever be inspected.

Education is organised in the way it is because it cannot break its transactions down. It has enlisted technologies to reinforce its traditional batch-mode of operation, and reinforce the status of institutions which are seen as the guardians of 'quality' - a substitute for the inability of the system to expose its decision-making processes. So the inability to handle transactions has implications not just in the management of learners on an everyday basis, but the global organisation of education, access to opportunity, social status, elitism and so on.

Coming back to music, and seeing improvisatory music as a set of artistic transactions, in a group there are processes of evaluation and ranking of individual decisions. One of the things which I am about to explore is group improvisation using Live Coding. Here, individuals not only listen to what they do, but to what others do. They copy. In doing so, a natural structure of ideas and the creative agencies which produce those ideas emerges.

Teaching and learning is like this too. Lecturing, for example, is usually quite an improvisatory performance: good preparation for a lecture means leaving enough space to react to the situation among the learners. Teachers and learners make declarations about concepts, or rather reinforce other peoples' declarations. Teachers make declarations about the declarations made by learners (right or wrong...) What if this was captured in the way that Live Coding captures a musical performance? I'm not suggesting that teachers and learners actually engage in writing code as part of their interaction, or even that a big brother system captures every utterance. But we lose consciousness of these transactions because we've got so used to the assessment (the big transaction) being the only thing that matters, we've forgotten to listen to the small transactions. At least acknowledging the transactional nature of what we do would be a good start.

First of all, it would discourage teachers talking too much. It would encourage more "What do you think?" moments. And it emphasises our inability to capture the What do you think moments and stand back from them and reassess our approach. Maybe some real-time polling systems can be used for this (e.g. Socrative) - personally, I'm much more interested in telegram.

There's something else about recording transactions which I think is important. Education operates in batch mode partly because of the conviviality of the classroom. The class we-relation is important - even if the lecture is terrible. What is that we-relation? Alfred Schutz, who invented the term, thought that it had something to do with the shared passing of time. Music creates a we-relation even when the performers are no co-present with the listener, or the composer is dead. Might a transaction record similarly have this temporal quality? There's a need to experiment...

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