Wednesday, September 21, 2005

about not understanding practice...

With Perspectives on activity and context, Chaiklin and Lave clearly overstrained my mind mapping capabilities. Too manifold where the examples of learning given in the chapters for me to keep a clear picture of where each author could be positioned in terms of Lave’s distinction between phenomenological and activity theory given in Part I.

I found the chapter on artificial intelligence especially interesting. From reading the title, my impression was that Suchman and Trigg wanted to describe the social (thus including learning) processes taking place in a community of researchers in the development of artificial intelligence, but I found that within the same chapter they also commented in terms of situated learning why it is so difficult to design programs showing artificial intelligence. The persons named C and M work together on a whiteboard and gradually work toward the solution of a problem through activities, observing the other’s activities and communication (Fleck came to my mind again at this point). But even if they manage to implement their solution to a program, the program will not be able to learn in terms of situated learning because it has no means of observing the world it is located in or to participate in the multitude of interactions constituting the social world. So with describing the process of the development of artificial intelligence, Suchman and Trigg to me actually showed that it is not possible to make such a program function like a human being because artificial intelligence will always lack access to certain aspects of situated learning (observation, social interactions and so on). Another question I tried to answer to myself, but did not find a satisfying answer, was: Where can the concept of legitimate peripheral participation be applied in this example? Is there supposed to be any relation at all?

The next chapter I found worth commenting is the Säljö and Wyndhamn chapter on solving the everyday problem of determining the correct postage for letters. This idea did not seem very new to me. I remember a study (although I cannot recall the author or the exact year) in which children from a South American country were tested on their math skills. The children worked in the informal sector selling certain products. It was shown that the children were able to perform all basic mathematical operations when calculating the total of a customer’s purchase but were less capable of solving math tasks in the format usually given in school. Thus it was shown that learning and performance are influenced by the context in which they occur. So, what is new about this idea in Understanding Practice?
Another question that occurred to me when reading this chapter was: How did Vygotsky influence all this? I have some trouble in drawing a line between Vygotsky’s theories and the ideas of those who were inspired by his theories (e.g. Rogoff) and Lave’s theory of situated learning. Vygotsky was (as far as I know) the first to point out that learning and development to not occur in a vacuum but instead take place in an environment influenced by history and constituted of social interactions. Learning in his terms requires social interactions and the use of language and other artifacts developed in the history of that particular culture. If anybody is familiar with Vygotsky’s theory, I would be very thankful for some explanations or ideas that could help me solve the confusion.


Blogger mdl said...

I took a crack and placing few of the authors within the framework (activity, phenomonology) in my post. But quite frankly, both of these are totally new to me. And, not to be totally critical (but here goes), I think Lave could have made this distinction clearer. Of-course, I am outside her thought collective, so it may not be her job to explain things to me. So, are you familiar with both of these theoretical approaches? May I make a request of my EdPsych classmates and others who are more familiar with this terrain: how about a two minute synopsis of these two theoretical approaches? This is coming from someone who is not even familiar with Vyogtsky (sp?) in more than a soundbite kind of way.

9:16 PM  
Blogger gt said...

You're barking up the wrong tree if you think this EdPsych person is going to clear this up for you. I'm hoping Peg, the expert in this area, can explain the difference between phenomenology and activity theory Lave refers to (p. 17). As far as Vygotsky goes, my understanding is he said all learning takes place twice: once socially, and then once psychologically as the learner internalizes the lesson.

2:44 PM  
Blogger Annie said...

According to one of my learning theory texts, "Learning and Instruction: Theory into Practice," by Margaret E. Gredler, Vygotzky was not the first to suggest a connection between culture and cognitive development, although in Western culture he often is credited with this. Two German academics, Lazarus and Steinthat introduced the concept 60 years before Vygotsky. According to Gredler, "the broad focus of Vygotsky's theory was to explain the qualitative changes taht account for the emergence of higher psychological (cognitive) functions from lower (or primitive) functions at both the species (phylogeny) and individual (ontogeny) levels and to explain the role of culture in these changes" (p.275).

5:08 PM  

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