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Archive for March, 2010

In 1978 Milan Kundera wrote a novel , The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, and said: “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”

Now in 2010, in our context, perhaps, this statement might be revisited. Our struggle, in the digital medium, is not of forgetting our digital memories (look at Zoetrope). Rather, it is a struggle to make meaning against acquiring instant information.  Translated, I mean the struggle is of the use and development of technology (and techniques) to make meaning over the use and development of technology (and techniques) to acquire information.

The two are often mutually exclusive, and I don’t count ordering search results or ranking them or retweeting, as making meaning.  Meaning (and knowledge) can be variously defined though, but I use it in the sense that Meaning is made when there is a dialogue (or soliloquy) or experience that generates a resonance (or connotation) within us.

The struggle is all around us. When we see the huge  amount of investment in technology and marketing that goes around us, much of it is around information or relating bits of it – where to get it, how to store it, how to search it, how to bookmark it, how to share it – but not much (atleast from what I have seen so far) in other more critical areas – how do we use it, how does it contribute to widening our horizons, how does it empower us, how does it help us in the struggle of “man against power”.

The struggle gets skewed at the idea stage itself – is this a mass market application, can it scale to millions of users, what is the cost per user/instance, is it potentially viral – of a new product or service idea. Perhaps because few people believe that they can really make a difference or are motivated (risk taking?) enough to step forward and be counted.

The struggle perpetuates a continuously evolving asymmetry. What others invest in is what you get. What you get is information. It is upto you to figure meaning and if you don’t, nobody really cares.

The networks have created their own divide, because the more you follow it, the more spaces you leave unseen, the more meaning you ignore. For example, “how should we use Facebook or Google Groups in education?”  or “does your LMS support blogs?” become important topics for debate when  the real questions perhaps should be “what kind of networking platform needs to be created that will engender meaning-making” or “is there a way that structured scientific thinking can become mainstream in such and such area?”.

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Found an interesting article after talking with an expert in Chaos theory. JoAnn discusses possible impacts of Chaos theory on classroom learning using systems, initial effects, bifurcations and fractals. She also explores existing theory in relation to chaotic systems for learning.

Essentially, the point that needs to be explored is whether learning is linear, deterministic and predictable or is it inherently non-linear, dynamic and unpredictable. Chaotic systems may appear random and dynamically changing, but still exhibit an underlying pattern or order.

With such a myriad of factors at all levels (content, teacher, student, learning environment) that affect the teaching-learning process, it is a little wondrous to assume that learning is determinate. For example, as JoAnn points out, prior knowledge has an acknowledged role in what we learn. From the point of view of Chaos theory, small changes in initial conditions may cause very large changes in individual learning or performance.

George Siemens brings more in through adding theories of complexity, chaos and emergence into understanding learning. George appeals to “deterministic unpredictability” of the learning process as reason enough for us to consider the impact of these three theories in our own think about learning. More links here.

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