Monday, 16 April 2018

Openness and Educational Cosmology for #oer18

I'm at #OER18 on Wednesday this week, presenting on an information theoretical analysis of objects in education. The "open education" discourse interests me because it presents an opportunity to talk about the big questions in education. It's perhaps unfortunate that this opportunity is often missed. Objects interest me because they tend to be the focus of the open education debate (free content, self-publishing, etc), but the relation between teaching and objects (whether free or not) is poorly understood.

It doesn't make any sense to talk of "open" unless we understand what "closed" means. Generally, the terms refers to the difference between scarcity and abundance. But people (teachers) can be closed and open too. That isn't an aspect of scarcity. It relates to a spirit of generosity, ontological security, or a willingness to express uncertainty. Open and closed expression is mediated by objects. But there is no reason why a teacher should be open simply because they are using open resources. Indeed, acts of generosity in teaching can be more meaningful if they are conducted with scarce (or even expensive) resources. What unfolds with open communication and a willingness to communicate uncertainty, is dialogue. So what is the relation of objects to dialogue? What difference does it make if those objects are free or not?

To answer this, we have to consider the difference between scarcity and abundance. Scarce things are either scarce by decree, or by nature. Scarcity refers to restrictions on the possibility of existence of something. It amounts to the restriction on the number of descriptions that might be made about something. If something is abundant, there are many ways in which it might exist, and there are many rich descriptions which might be made of it by many people.

Multiple descriptions are essential to the communication process. Objects illuminate rich multiple descriptions of individuals communicating with those objects. They provide ways in which individuals can understand each other, increasing the likelihood of future communications. If an object is abundant then the range of descriptions can be magnified with the possibility that each individual might recreate their own version of an object. If an object is scarce, then it may illuminate the teacher's attitude to something precious - for example, in inviting biographical revelations about the teacher. However, even if an object is scarce, things may be done to make a scarce object more abundant. Equally, an object such as a powerpoint slide may reveal the teacher's unwillingness to expose their uncertainty.

The properties of an object and the properties of a discussion may be examined. Descriptions of an object and the discussions which surround it are produced both synchronically and diachronically. Dialogue is the unfolding of synchronic and diachronic patterns in the engagement between humans. Objects help to coordinate the structure of this dialogue.

Dialogue does not involve a free choice of talking. There is an emergent demarcation of levels of recursion. For example, conversations about an object produces a conversation about the conversation about the object, or a conversation about the conversation about the conversation about an object. These different levels of discourse shift over time. What emerges are different discrete strata of construction.

There is a question as to whether our forms of dialogue reflect deeper structures in the universe. The multiple strata of patterns of engagement in dialogue help us to perceive something deeper. Abundance of objects can help with the process of tuning-in to a discovery about symmetries in the universe. In the final analysis, teaching and dialogue are processes of generating redundant descriptions.

Open education really needs to be seen as open scientific dialogue. To make scientific dialogue work better, we need to be increasing the redundancies of multiple description. With an increase in redundancy there is a better chance of detecting deeper patterns which will help coordinate a better understanding of the order of nature and consequently a better world. 

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