More babbling about what it means to know


Great week of thoughts fired from everywhere… always the hardest for me to approach the screen when i have too much i want to say. I want to talk about how cool barbara ganley’s classes must be, but the truth is, the show does that much better than i can. For me to simply repeat her words here won’t do them justice. I want to talk about the Cross/Siemens interview… I also want to talk about philosophy, about how it gets confused with sophistry (i’ve written a two page piece i’ve decided not to publish), and how if we really talked about the words we’re using and what they mean it would clear up alot of disagreement… I’m going to talk about the latter.

I promise that there is a long line of cool people who think these kinds of questions are important, and not just a waste of time: Socrates, Erasmus, Wittgenstein and a whole pack of postmodernists. We use words all the time where we don’t pay attention to the meaning (nothing like teaching English to teach you that!) or where the meaning changes when we changed the context. love. i love my house, my cat, my partner, my computer chair, fall leaves, the smell of roast chicken, and a whole host of other things in very different ways. I don’t need to explain them, because the contexts are probably familiar to you. But. But if I say, I love Bonnie, you are left asking, who is bonnie and what do you mean love? Words like weird, nice, fun, deadly, terror, smelly and easy are also like this. They require context before they have meaning. If I tell someone that my quodlibetal was fun… they will probably be confused.

What is learning?
The simplest definition of this is – acquiring knowledge. A slightly longer definition would be To gain knowledge, comprehension, or mastery of through experience or study.

Either way, we have the words ‘acquire’ and ‘knowledge’. Other definitions could be found, but, probably, they would leave with some version of ‘get knowledge’. Getting is an action verb, it leaves us with the question ‘how to we get’. Knowledge is a noun… we need to know what it means.

What is knowledge?
This is the tricky part. I like this definition from dictionary.com “Familiarity, awareness, or understanding gained through experience or study.” Essentially – what you get from learning.

We’ve created a circle, and quickly. That’s why i told you it was a waste of time. someone might say at this point. But lets ask the question another way.

What does it mean to know?
This depends on what we are talking about.

    know what…

  • If we are talking about “the generally accepted fact about an issue” like “who is the president of the united states”… to know is to have the information ‘George W. Bush’ somewhere in you head. This kind of knowledge is as old as recorded (see the word recorded) history. (often called ‘know what’)
  • If we ask about a current phrase like “what is web 2.0″ we are going to get a different kind of knowing, as George Siemens says “Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due to alterations in the information climate affecting the decision.”
  • know how…

  • If we are talking about “to know how to fix my car” this may involve knowing how to combine the information form my instruction manual, with my knowledge of how to use tools, and my experience doing it before (often called ‘know how)
  • if we are talking about “do i know how to blog” the answer changes again. The answer to the car question has a limited number of responses. There are a certain number of parts to a car, and a limited amount of ways they can break down. A blog runs on a completely different set of rules. You can add links to other places, images, audio, video, wikis, rss or a bunch of other things that I can’t think about. The technology does limit you, but among the things that are possible are an indefinite amount of choices.

What it means ‘to know’ is very different in both those cases. In the case of the president, it is to remember a recognized fact. In the case of web 2.0 it is a far more complex ‘decision’. It is actually a decision about what definition to give. In the second set of examples, what it means to ‘know’ has far more to do with ‘decisions’ about assembly, rather than ‘interpretation’ or what would be the ‘correct’ thing to do in the case of the car.

So, let’s return to our original questions.

What is learning, when we are talking about learning how to ‘decide’ about blogging?

What is knowledge when we are talking about things that shift instead of things that are solid?

What happens to Jeopardy! if there are no right answers? There are certainly right answers… as long as quantum theory doesn’t disprove 2+2=4 (whether this is knowledge or not is a whole other ball of twine the cats played with) and we leave sarcasm out of it, facts will not disappear… we are, however, adding a new kind of knowing, and many things we used to think of as Truth will become ‘truths’. A kind of knowing that we will all have to get used to.

I was having a skype discussion at the same time… and this is what I got from barbara sawhill
Barbara Sawhill Reminds me of the argument I have with people about learning a language vs acquiring a language…being proficient in a language vs being communicatively competent.
[21:25:24] … we need to get our terms straight, although i fear that means that we spend 20 mninutes of preamble for every point we want to make setting out the context so we don’t offend, confuse or be misinterpretted
[21:26:01] dave cormier true… but were not arguing about table… we’re educators arguing about learning and knowledge
[21:26:09] … that’s a good point[you made]… i’m going to add that.
[21:26:15] Barbara Sawhill table?
[21:27:25] … When there is no right or wrong, no right answer no wrong answer, it can be a very linberating thing for students and a very terrifying thing for teachers. But what i have learned in my 300 years as a language teacher is that unless you make mistakes, take risks, piss people off, wjatever, learn ing does not happen.

5 Responses to “More babbling about what it means to know”

  1. barbara Says:
    After the Barbara Garvey conversation I picked up Pierre Levy’s “Cyberculture”. I am sure you have read it, but here are some quotes that I think follow with what we were talking about before..

    “The faster technology changes, therefore, the more it seems to come from somewhere outside. Moreover, the feeling of strangeness increases with the separation of activities and the opacity of social processes. It is here that the central role played by colective intelligence is felt most strongly, for it is one of the principle engines of cyberculture. the synergy of skills, resources and projects, the constituion and maientance of shared memories, the activation of flexible and non heirarchical modes of cooperation, the coordinated distribution of decision centers stand in sharp contrast to the hermetic separation of activities, the insularity and opacity of social organization, As the process of collective intelligence develops–which quite obviously calls into question relations of power–individuals and groups will more easily appropriate technological change, and the ability of accelerating technosocial movements to cause human destruction and exclusion will diminish.”

    from Pierre Levy “Cyberculture” translated by Robert Bononno, UMinnesota Press, 2001, page 10.

    (gosh how -does- one do citations on a blog? MLA Style? Chicago Scientific?) :-)

  2. Clarence Fisher Says:
    Many of the people who work at OISE, (Ontairo Institute for Studies in Education) have performed and captured a lot of ground breaking research on knowledge and knowing. Their definition is that knowledge is a “conceptual artefact that can be improved upon.” The idea being that knowledge is something that can be changed, improved, and refined. Check out their website for further information:

    http://www.ikit.org/

  3. dave Says:
    Hi clarence…

    Any chance of you pointing me a little closer to that ‘ground breaking research’? The website that you included seems to have a barrier up for certain pages, and it would be easier to peruse the research if I could get a little closer to it.

    and, since i haven’t been able to see any of it, i will comment anyway :)

    The idea of knowledge as artefact has always had a certain appeal, and the addition of ‘improved upon’ does allow for some subjectivity in the truth variable, but it does suggest an evolution from ‘worse’ to ‘better’ and that seems to imply a value judgement on knowledge. I’m not sure what position that value judgement can be taken from. Improved in whose eyes i wonder. I can imagine any number of things that I would be loathe to call a ‘conceptual artefact’ and would still count, or would have counted as knowledge, say, before the invention of the printing press.

    But this, in itself, does not get us anywhere. I would guess that this definition is of use when speaking about knowledge transference… but i’ll look forward to specifics (from someone i hope), and thereby find out if i’ve been silly in assuming what you meant…

  4. Doug Symington Says:
    Scardamalia and Berieter speak of the intentional learner and the fact that Knowledge building is a process of improvement and revisiting and working ideas in a “public” forum. And that’s the issue that continues to trouble me. Because the “knowledge forum” communities are in “walled gardens” are they really public?

    The longer that I study about, and work in online education the more that I see that the “public/private” argument is the one that needs to be addressed by any stakeholder in online education.

    I’d suggest that until one is able to wrap one’s head around the notion of the “public voice” and how important this is to the process, one doesn’t really reach the potentila of what’s possible in terms of “building knowledge in public.”

    As someone who has been blogging since early ‘02 while a student at OISE I can tell you that was a distinct differnce in how wrote for the web and how I wrote my posts in course “Knowledge Forums.” I think I’m a better writer for my blogging. It’s said that the prime consideration for any write should be the audience.

    I’d suggest that there’s nothing like the “Submit” button in a blogging application to accentuate this for the writer, and speaks to the “ownership and responsibility” that Barbara referred to in EdTechTalk#24

    I’m happy to report that steps are underway at OISE/UT to take the conversation online and to me this means that the “public” nature of the process Scardamalia mentioned can begin to take place.

  5. Doug Symington Says:
    Visit Knowledge Building wiki for CTL 1603:Introduction to Knowledge Building this semester at OISE/UT.

Author: dave

I run this site… among other things.

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