— S e b l o g g i n g


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.

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.

Sebastian H.D. Fiedler A week ago I finally got a chance to start fooling around and tinkering with a Makey Makey kit which its makers describe with the following words:

“Makey Makey is an invention kit for the 21st century. Turn everyday objects into touchpads and combine them with the internet. It’s a simple Invention Kit for Beginners and Experts doing art, engineering, and everything inbetween”.

[MakeyMakey.com Website]

To get started we hooked up the Makey Makey with a bunch of different objects, ranging from bananas, various kitchen tools, and water filled cups, pieces of tinfoil, coins, etc. and used these as input devices to play with a number of Web apps that can be found on the Makey Makey Website.

Here is an example how my 10-year old co-creator plays a kitchen tool piano setup that we had thrown together:

And while I was starting to gather more information on the overall topic, I began to realise more and more of the (initially hidden) connections in my personal network of interests, knowledge, and previous studies. It turns out that the inventors of the Makey Makey – Jay Silver and Eric Rosenbaum – are both related to the Lifelong Kindergarten group at MIT, and thus intimately linked to the work of Mitchel Resnick and Seymour Papert whose work I studied in the late 90s while being a student of the “MEd in Instructional Technology” programme at the University of Georgia, USA. In fact, “Constructionism in practice” with its bright, yellow cover was easy to find on my book shelf… and immediately reminded my of Papert’s opening chapter “A word for learning” which I had wanted to revisit for quite some time for its explicit references to “mathetics”.

While I was pondering all these unfolding connections a blogpost titled “Personal Learning, Technology and the end of the Curriculum” of Mark W. Johnson from the University of Liverpool popped up in my Twitter stream. Mark revisits the concept of the Personal Learning Environment and offers some deliberations of his recent experiences with using digital tools and objects in the context of language learning. He concludes…

Objects as technologies should be the organising focus of education, not curriculum. We should create ways in which objects can be manipulated so as to create a natural flow of inquiry between teachers and learners and between learners and each other. The ridiculous thing is that I don’t think this is hard to do. But to achieve it we have to deal with that other pernicious object in education: the assessment. Assessments are where everybody hides their lack of understanding! In an authentic world of object-human relations, there may in fact be no need for assessment. But that’s an unthinkable thought in the education system of today.

The Makey Makey seemingly offers an intriguingly low barrier for turning a wide range of objects into input-devices for computational explorations and inquiry. It sure looks like a fun way to prototype new types of interfaces and interaction patterns. I think this is an important field for tinkering with new, emancipatory forms of expression and knowledge creation that can go beyond the forms and cultural “programmes” that dominate the “book and industrial culture” as
the media historian Michael Giesecke has so aptly analysed and described over the years. In fact, Giesecke already reminded us in 1995 that electronic media offer a chance to go beyond our cultural bias on particular forms of visual and acoustic forms of input. Giesecke wrote (in German):

Die neuen elektronischen Medien bieten nun die Chance, die einseitige Orientierung auf bestimmte Formen der visuellen und akkustischen Informationsgewinnung und -darstellung aufzubrechen. Im Gegensatz zur noch oft geäußerten Meinung liegt ihre Stärke keineswegs in der Automatisierung der bislang mechanisch betriebenen Textverarbeitung. Die Entwicklung der Robotonik und der vielen elektronischen Sensoren zeigt, daß die Computertechnologie nicht notwendig am Sehen und/oder an standardsprachlichen Inputs anzuknüpfen braucht.
(Giesecke, 1995. Von den Mythen der Buchkultur über die Versprechungen der Neuen Medien in das Jahrtausend des Gesprächs. Rundfunkbeitrag.)

Well, I am really curious to see now if I can turn the Makey Makey into a generative object of inquiry and a mediating instrument within my personal learning environment. The start sure looks somewhat promising and I can already see multiple trajectories for expansive development and further connections down the line… Scratch, the wider Maker movement, revisiting the PLE concept,… and my ongoing interest in “mathetic” principles in an increasingly networked lifeworld.

Sebastian H.D. Fiedler On Thursday and Friday (08.09 and 09.09.2016) we held our first in-house conference at the Hamburg Center for University Teaching and Learning (HUL) in collaboration with researchers from the Competence Center for Educational Development And Research in Higher Education (CEDAR) at the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland.

The event was titled “Perspektiven und Zukunft der Forschung zum Lehren und Lernen an Hochschulen” (Perspectives and future of research on teaching and learning in institutions of higher education) and catered to German speaking researchers who work in the area of research and development of teaching and learning in higher education.

The final programme (in German) offered 4 parallel tracks of “symposia” that grouped a number of related contributions from a variety of German and Swiss institutions.

HUL in-house conference 2016

An interesting element of the overall event was labeled “conference phenography” which Gabi Reinmann had initiated as part of the conference design. Teams of two observed and participated one particular conference track, took notes, and finally recorded a conversational commentary on video that is finally going to be shared with the other participants. I had the privilege to go through this exercise with Frank Vohle (Ghostthinker company) and my HUL coworker Eileen Lübcke. It’s going to be interesting what others make out of our short video snippets.

I will try to write up my overall impressions in the coming days.

In the meantime, I can already point to a commentary (in German) that my colleague Tobias Schmohl has published on the matter and a small selection of photos that I took during the event.

Sebastian H.D. FiedlerI am playing around with the Fargo outliner. Apparently it can be used to interface with WordPress sites. I have always liked to do structured writing in outliners. Especially for Web publishing. The old Radio Userland plus Manila Frontier combo was a pretty cool setup. One could edit good part of a Manila website through the Radio outline interface. Nothing that came after this could quite live up to this user experience.

Well, Fargo might bring some of that old workflow back. It is all OPML based and makes some clever use of the Dropbox infrastructure. It sure looks very interesting so far.

What I find missing right now is…

  • separate WP blog interface settings per outline
  • collaborative editing of one single outline
  • (I am sure that list will grow when I play around a bit more…)

If you have never worked with dedicated outliners before than the following description from Dave Winer (one of the guys behind the Fargo outliner) provides a pretty nice summary:

An outliner is a text editor that organizes information in a hierarchy, allowing users to control the level of detail and to reorganize according to structure. Your notes can have full detail, yet be organized so a casual reader can get a quick overview. Outlining is a great way for teams to organize work…

[via Small Picture ]

Sebastian H.D. Fiedler Since March I have engaged in a series of conversations with Dr. Emanuele Bardone. Apart from some obvious similarities in our current set up (we both hold postdoctoral Research Fellowships at Tallinn University, have Estonian partners, occasionally struggle with the odd inter-culture challenge, and so forth), we quickly detected a certain compatibility in interests and orientations. Emanuele’s background in philosophy (of cognition) and his focus on “chance-seeking” in digital learning environments make an interesting fit with my longterm interest in autodidaxy, self-education, and the emancipation of individual and collective learning activity in the context of the unfolding, digital transformation of society.

Well, we will see where things are going… but at the moment we are tinkering with some rather practical ideas on how to give a research collaboration a more concrete shape. Stay tuned.

The conference theme responsible teaching and sustainable learning focuses on elementary issues that educational researchers investigate. Besides, it picks up EARLI’s twofold mission in researching learning and instruction and also connects to recent developments in educational research and practice…

[via EARLI 2013 conference website]

Sebastian Fiedler The submission deadline is October 31, 2012. For details have look at the first call (pdf) issued in March 2012.

[Sebastian Fiedler]

Kalamaja Sadam, Tallinn, Estonia

Kalamaja Sadam, Tallinn

Sebastian Fiedler In July I managed to re-vist Athens, Georgia, where I worked and studied at The University of Georgia from August 1998 to May 2000. It was a great opportunity for an occasional “walk down memory lane”. I was able to spend a few days with Chad Galloway, one of my trusted sources of diversion and entertainment in and outside of the Learning Performance Support Lab… back in the days. It sometimes felt like I had never left.

The UGA campus was as beautifully landscaped and well maintained as ever. And the climate was as hot and sticky as it usually gets in the deep South in the middle of summer. For my Baltic travel companion, Terje, this was surely a new and somewhat challenging experience…

It is still amazing how much night-life is packed into the rather small downtown area of Athens, GA. This hasn’t changed a bit… as it seems. Though it was “slow season” right at the end of summer session the live music scene felt alive and kicking. That was always one of the best feature of nocturnal Athens for me.

ICALT2011 was hosted in the Georgia Center on South Campus. We presented our paper “Expanding the concept of learner control in higher education: consequences for intervention design” there and I managed to catch up with Lloyd Rieber and Janette Hill. I also got to know Ike Choi who had joined the Instructional Technology faculty at the UGA right after I had left. I also walked over to beloved Aderhold Hall (or Aderhold Hell… as it was sometimes called)… but offices looked pretty much deserted and I could not find anyone there.

Terje on the other hand managed to find two Estonian researchers at the conference: Mario Mäeots and Heilo Altin from the University of Tartu. They turned out to be a very enjoyable company on various tours in and around town during the conference days.

All and all it was really nice to touch base with the UGA folks… and float around campus and town after all these years.

[Sebastian Fiedler]