(This is part of the work I am doing for my Masters course “Conceptualizing the Learning Sciences” at the University of Calgary as part of my Design Learning program. I am planning on posting my work here, as well as on the site that my course is based on. This may not interest anyone beyond me, but when it comes to reflections, I like to post mine on my blog regardless of whether they are simply for me, for my PLN, or for another purpose like my Masters coursework.)
Reading academic articles is not something I am well practiced in. I find myself feeling very confused and, at times, even distraught over my lack of understanding of what the author(s) is trying to convey. I am trying to use all the tools I have to deal with the difficulties but it has been harder than I expected.
Take for example this quote from Chapter 4 in Illeris’s book Contemporary Theories of Learning: Learning Theorists…In Their Own Words written by Yrjo Engestrom entitled Expansive Learning where he presented this about the insensitivity of a version of Activity Theory to cultural diversity:
Michael Cole (1988) was one of the first to clearly point out the deep-seated insensitivity of the second-generation activity theory toward cultural diversity. When activity theory went international, questions of diversity and dialogue between different traditions or perspectives became increasingly serious challenges.
I had trouble with this, because I needed an example. I thought why not provide an example right there in the text? That’s probably not something that often happens in academic writing, maybe because the people reading the journals don’t need the analogy and probably even find it patronizing. One of the tools I believe I learn well with is analogy, and find that an analogy can help me understand the concept being put forth more easily. I was really pleased when I saw an article from the journal Cognitive Science by Joel Chan and Christian Schunn about the impact of analogy on creative concept generation. (of course I found it a lot easier to understand in the article that summed it up on Business Insider.) Here is a quote from the journal article:
In technological innovation, analogies have been associated with innovative outcomes in protocol studies and retrospective studies of expert and prominent inventors and designers , experimental studies of design processes, and computational models of design.
Luckily for me, my classmate, Kate, had wrote an amazing reflection about an experience she had while teaching in Northern Ontario, that worked very well as an analogy for difficulties in understanding that can arise from cultural diversity:
I had just finished my Bachelor of Education and had taken a job teaching grade one in a remote, fly-in reserve community in Northern Ontario. I thought we would start the day off with a read-aloud, so I brought out a classic, Stone Soup. The book’s opening page had an illustration of some soldiers walking through the woods, and the text said something about how the soldiers were very hungry and had no food to eat. A six-year-old in the front row raised her hand timidly.
“There’s a bird right there,” she observed when called upon. “If they have their slingshots, they can eat that.” I tried my best to keep the puzzled look off my face, acknowledged her idea, and started to turn the page. A young man near the back piped up: he pointed out that, though it wouldn’t be anyone’s first choice, there was also a dog in the illustration. If they had to, he told us, they could always eat that. I was flustered and confused. This worldview was completely contradictory to my own, and probably to that of the illustrator of this folk tale. Yet, to my students, it made perfect sense. How could the men be starving if they had sources of food right there in the forest? The punchline of this book (namely, that the three desperate soldiers tricked the townspeople into cooperating and feeding them a hearty meal) was completely lost on these students, who couldn’t understand why the three men – presumably capable hunters – weren’t fending for themselves.
In another instance, I was having difficulty with a reading by Robert Kegan What “form” transforms – Chapter 3 from Illeris’s book, when he talked about the difference between the self-authoring mind and socializing mind, like in this paragraph:
But when the adult education experts tell us they want students to “understand how to separate what they feel from what they should feel, what they value from what they should value, and what they want from what they should want,” do they take seriously enough the possibility that when the socialized mind dominates our meaning-making, what we should feel is what we do feel, what we should value is what we do value, and what we should want is what we do want?
I couldn’t separate this from my thinking of a person maturing or developing, I wasn’t making the connection to learning. Then in discussion today, my classmate Andrea made the connection to how Jarvis talks about the impact of learning on a person, in Illeris’s book as well (Chapter 2):
Fundamentally it is the person who learns and it is the changed person who is the outcome of learning…
This really helped me understand, and her assistance in making this connection was pivotal to my moving past this difficulty in my thinking. In Illeris’s own chapter of his book he talks about how social interaction plays a major role in learning, making up an integral piece of his learning diagram below:
And he describes the role in learning that this interaction dimension plays:
The interaction dimension provides the impulses that initiate the learning process. This may take place as perception, transmission, experience, imitation, activity, participation, etc.. It serves the personal integration in communities and society and thereby also builds up the sociality of the learner.
This really connected to our readings for today’s class when the topic of community of practice was brought up and Engestrom cites:
Recent theories of situated learning (Lave and Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1998) and distributed cognition (Hutchins, 1995) tell us to look for wellbounded communities of practice or functional systems, such as task-oriented teams or work units, to become collaborative subjects of learning.
I think my class is acting as a community of practice, one that is making learning possible for me. I feel like I’m living the analogy for what we are studying and it is the ultimate connection to aid in my understanding. Reflecting on my learning and myself as a learner is really helping me connect more easily with the material, and I need all the help I can get.
Illeris, K. (Ed.). (2008). Contemporary Theories of Learning: Learning Theorists…In Their Own Words. Florence, KY, USA: Routledge.
Chan, J. and Schunn, C. (2014) The Impact of Analogies on Creative Concept Generation: Lessons From an In Vivo Study in Engineering Design. Cognitive Science, 1(1), 1-30.