— S e b l o g g i n g

In September 2018 I am starting as a Professor for Digital Transformation (in German: “Digitalisierung der Arbeitswelt”) at the HfWU Nürtingen-Geislingen University (of Applied Science). HfWU is located in the wider Stuttgart area. It runs one campus in Nürtingen and another campus in Geislingen (Steige).

My position is attached to the Business and International Finance Faculty (FBF – Fakultät Betriebswirtschaft und Internationale Finanzen) in Nürtingen. However, I will teach cross-disciplinary modules on both campuses.

I am really looking forward to getting started in this new position.

“Proactively helping to shape the third digital revolution will require nothing less than a culture change in the social sciences. The dominant “positive” social science approach, which is one of path observation, will need to expand to include a much more extensive application of the “normative” approach. Positive social science focuses on explaining what has happened. A normative approach includes views on what should happen. It still must be grounded in evidence, including a clear understanding of the underlying science and the technology. By itself, normative work is often disparaged as not being science—though there are dedicated subcultures committed to what is variously termed action research, participant observation, and similar approaches. It is possible, indeed essential, to combine the positive and normative approaches by embracing and advancing bold, evidence-based analysis of accelerating technological developments and desired transformations.

The third digital revolution provides social science with a rare opportunity to engage with emerging new technologies while they are still in formation. It is a chance to look around the corner into the future implications across the many fields and disciplines—economics, sociology, political science, management science, industrial relations, and others. This will require the social sciences to shift into a more proactive stance to become path creators, not just path observers.”

Gershenfeld, N., Gershenfeld, A., & Cutcher-Gershenfeld, J. (2017). Designing Reality. New York, Basic Books.

Sebastian H.D. Fiedler Søren S. E. Bengtsen (Aarhus University, DK) and Ron Barnett (University College London, UK) have just announced all the contributions that were selected for the special issue of Philosophy and Theory in Higher Education (PTIHE) on “Imagining the Future University”.

  1. Bruce Macfarlane (United Kingdom): “Values in higher education: re-imagining a future based on student academic freedom”
  2. Barbara M. Grant (New Zealand): “A thousand tiny universities”
  3. Krystian Szadkowski & Jakub Krzeski (Poland): ‘Political Ontologies of the Future University: Individual, Social, Communal”
  4. Merete Wiberg (Denmark): “Academic understanding and listening in future universities”
  5. David S. Owen (United States): “The Vanguard University”
  6. Rikke Toft Nørgård & Janus Holst Aaen (Denmark): “University of the body: Academic existence between disgust and desire”
  7. Sebastian Fiedler (Germany): “Digital instrumentation in higher education: deliberations on complacency and resistance”
  8. Nuraan Davids & Yusef Waghid (South Africa): “Higher education in South Africa: A future so muddy, it cannot be left to stand (with respect to Lao Tzu’s “Muddy water, let stand, becomes clear.”)”
  9. Jan McArthur (United Kingdom): “A university dedicated to the “vicissitudes of human fate”: a vision for the future drawn from Horkheimer”
  10. Finn Thorbjørn Hansen (Denmark): “From Wicked to Delicate Problems in Higher Education: Why existential wonder can be a practice in meaning-driven innovation teaching in higher education”
  11. Wesley Shumar (United States) & Sarah Robinson (Denmark): “Agency, identity & risk-taking in entrepreneurship education”

It sure looks like this will be an interesting collection of papers.

Sebastian H.D. FiedlerIn a recent post titled A logic of learning Mark W. Johnson (University of Liverpool, UK) ends his deliberations with the following paragraph:

So whilst we might not (and cannot) agree about what learning is, we can unpick the logic upon which our propositions about learning are formed. Doing this is to tunnel under the foundations of our current mad discourse in education. It’s a strategy for reformulating an approach to education which acknowledges learning as metaphysical whilst embracing it within a transformed scientific approach.

Mark’s post brought me back to the book “Lernkultur, Selbstorganisation und Kompetenzentwicklung” (Learning culture, self-organisation and competence development) by Sebastian Jünger (2004). Jünger suggested at the time that the term “learning” should be primarily understood as an “explanatory principle”:

“Lernen erklärt die selbstbezügliche Selektion von Veränderung auf Seiten des Systems in Relation zu Veränderungen der Umwelt. Von Lernen zu sprechen ist also ein höchst voraussetzungsreiches Beobachtungsunterfangen, noch bevor wir uns damit beschäftigt haben, welche Art von Systemveränderung mit Lernen erklärt wird. Von Lernen zu sprechen sagt damit in erster Linie etwas über den Beobachter (und Erklärer) von Veränderungen aus: Lernen zu beobachten heißt, realisierte Veränderungen als Auswahl aus möglichen Veränderungen zu beobachten und die Auswahl durch die Selbstreferenz des Veränderungssystems zu begründen. So ist es auch zu erklären, dass Lernen mit Bezug auf die unterschiedlichsten Systemtypen verwandt wird” (p.74).

He is making the point here that what we denote “learning” actually is trying to “explain” the self-referential selection of changes by a system in relation to changes within its environment. So, talking about “learning” is predominantly telling something about an observer (and “explainer”, or interpreter) of changes. To observe “learning” thus means to observe particular (realised) changes as a selection of possible changes, and to justify this selection via the self-referential system of change. One could also say… we attribute the observed, selected changes to “learning”, instead to any alternative explanatory principle. In a way what we denote “learning” is a class of observed changes that we specify as such. In Jünger’s words again:

“Grundsätzlich gilt, dass wenn wir eine Veränderung als Lernen bezeichnen, wir die Veränderung damit nicht nur deskriptiv erfassen, sondern gleichzeitig auch erklären. Lernen ist Erklärungsmodell für die Beobachtung von Veränderung (p.73).

If we denote a particular change as “learning” we do not only grasp it descriptively, we also “explain” it at the same time. Learning is thus an explanatory model for the observation of change. And it requires a sort of double-observation. To observe “learning” we first have to observe a change. But then we also have to put it into relation to other changes and observe a difference (“learning” vs. “not-learning”).

I always found Jünger’s line of thinking and argumentation relatively fruitful. At least quite a bit more helpful than a lot of the standard talk around “learning” that can be found in large parts of educational science. And now I am curious to hear if any of this resonates with Mark at all… ;-)

Sebastian Jünger (2004). Lernkultur, Selbstorganisation und Kompetenzentwicklung. Wiesbaden: Deutscher Universitäts-Verlag.

“The essence of education is not to transfer knowledge; it is to guide the learning process, to put responsibility for study into the students—own hands. It is not the piecemeal merchandising of information; it is the bestowal of keys that allow people to unlock the vault of knowledge on their own. It does not consist of pilfering the intellectual property amassed by others through no additional effort of one’s own; it would rather place people on their own path of discovery and invention.”

Tsunesaburo Makiguchi

“The unequal treatment of our language of the arts of learning and of teaching is visible in grammar as well as in vocabulary. Think, for example, of parsing the sentence, “The teacher teaches a child.” Teacher is he active subject of the sentence; child is the passive object. The teacher does something to the learner. This grammatical form bears the stamp of school’s hierarchical ideology in representing the teaching as the active process. The teacher is in control and is therefore the one who needs skill; the learner simply has to obey instructions. This asymmetry is so deeply rooted that even the advocates of “active” or “constructivist” education find it hard to escape. There are many books and courses on the art of constructivist teaching, that talk about the art of of setting up situations in which the learner will “construct knowledge”; but I do not know of any books on what I would assume to be the more difficult art of actually constructing knowledge. The how-to-do-it literature in the constructivist subculture is almost as strongly biased to the teacher side as it is in the instructionist subculture” (p-10).

Papert, S. (1996). A word for learning. In Y. Kafai, Y. & M. Resnick (Eds.), Constructionism in practice (pp. 9-24). Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum.

“No paradigm is ever able to imagine the next one. It’s almost impossible for one paradigm to imagine that there will even be a next one. The people of the Middle Ages didn’t think of themselves as being in the “middle” of anything at all. As far as they were concerned, the way they were living was the way people would be living till the end of time. Even if you’d managed to persuade them that a new era was just around the corner, they would’ve been unable to tell you a single thing about it—and in particular they wouldn’t have been able to tell you what was going to make it new. If they’d been able to describe the Renaissance in the fourteenth century, it would have been the Renaissance.

We’re no different. For all our blather of new paradigms and emerging paradigms, it’s an unassailable assumption among us that our distant descendants will be just exactly like us. Their gadgets, fashions, music, and so on, will surely be different, but we’re confident that their mindset will be identical—because we can imagine no other mindset for people to have. But in fact, if we actually manage to survive here, it will be because we’ve moved into a new era as different from ours as the Renaissance was from the Middle Ages—and as unimaginable to us as the Renaissance was to the Middle Ages.”

Quinn, D. (1999). Beyond Civilization: Humanity’s next big adventure. New York, River Press.

Sebastian H.D. FiedlerMy main problem with all of the “didactic” theorising is that “auto-didactic” learning is never really on that screen. It is not part of the analysis. It is simply ignored. As if it was something unworthy, amateurish, incompetent and of secondary interest only. From a “didactic” perspective learning activity is always considered to be (more or less closely) coupled to some sort of instructional/teaching activity.

  • What if we dropped that bias…?
  • What if “auto-didactic” self-education was treated as the “norm”…or even premier form of intentional learning?
  • What if we explicitly tried to foster environments in higher education that support and cultivate self-education…?

I hold the view that the steadily expanding digitisation and networking capabilities within our societies are fundamentally changing the dynamics around self-education.
To ignore this in the realm of higher education and university teaching and learning is more than an unfortunate omission. It basically ignores the reality of how a lot of intentional learning and personal growth is increasingly realised and mediated beyond the confines of contemporary formal education.

“In the framework of the technocratic interpretation of the information society, the computer technology of self-education looks different. Because technical progress and the priority of technology in all spheres of life activity (including spiritual and intellectual life) are bringing it about that humans are coming to resemble machines, functioning according to the law of efficiency and rationalizing human relations to the maximum, under the conditions of the information society self-education portends the loss of personal identity, reducing the individual to a set of roles in the system of the production, exchange, and use of knowledge” (p.76).

Shuklina, E. A. (2001). Technologies of self-education. Russian Education and Society, 43(2), 57-78.

Sebastian H.D. Fiedler The abstract that I proposed for the special issue “Imagining the Future University” in the journal Philosophy and Theory in Higher Education (PTIHE) made it through the review. The issue is edited by Søren S. E. Bengtsen (Aarhus University, DK) and Ron Barnett (University College London, UK).

The working title of my proposed contribution is “Digital instrumentation in higher education: deliberations on complacency and resistance”. I am looking forward to working on this piece…