Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Schemas and Enthymemes

I enjoyed the introduction to Strauss and Quinn because it gave such a clear (though long) description of the situation out of which their book arose. I also enjoyed the section on connectionism, which seemed very familiar to me (especially the discussion of how the brain works) though I don’t know where I have encountered those ideas before. Their ideas do a good job tying together all the different theories of the books we have read so far, accounting not only for the societal influences that impact learning and learning’s public characteristics, but it also accounts for how the individual is able to learn in relation to those societal factors.

In addition, connectionism supplies an additional way to study context as it impacts the individual learner. Perhaps it was the fact that the book was only preventing a single viewpoint that made its impact more clear to me, but I felt Strauss and Quinn gave a better description of how to study context than I found in Understanding Practice. Perhaps this opinion is based on a misreading on my part, but at the very least the different views provide more than one way to look at context besides the container model.

Theoretically, I was fascinated by the idea of schemas. Strauss and Quinn point out that schemas are the knowledge or structures that we keep in mind (or, in a connectionist model, the various weights of neural pathways that connect to each other) that help us to compensate for situations with missing info. They give the example of the beer ad, described not seen, and point out the way in which we tend to fill in—or flesh out—missing details. This seems to me to be an enthymematic process. Like an enthymeme, it leaves out part of the argument that is assumed to be shared or uncontestable. This seems to indicate to me that confusion in communication comes from assuming that schemas are shared, when they are not. I’m not sure that Strauss and Quinn have a method for making sure that schemas are communicated more clearly, but the connection would certainly be helpful for rhetorical studies, since it would give a cognitive basis for good and bad communication.


Blogger Annie said...

Hi Jmj,

I'd like to ask a rhetorical question (ha, ha--it's 3am, forgive me)...what constitutes good or bad communication? Acutally, my question's not completely rhetorical; I'm curious what others think about it, too.

We may assume that confusion indicates "bad" communication, but if we allow time for reflection, then confusion may, through connections/connectionism, evolve into novel ideas that wouldn't otherwise have emerged.

3:00 AM  
Blogger Anthony M. said...

I'm sort of assuming that what you mean by "bad" communication is that in which what a communicator intends to convey is not properly recieved by the intended communicatee. Right? And you'd hoped Q and S would give a "cognitive basis" that explains why this happens.

I have to say that I don't think there can be a individual-cognitive basis to for such a thing. There isn't a communication without more than one individual. To me, this is the reason we need to have good ways to look at context. A decent explanation of "bad" communication seems to be that it's the result of the individuals invovled being in different contexts. So if we want to try to avoid "bad" communications, we'd better try to understand the context.

This is something that I think Strauss and Quinn's theory can't help us with. They explain how subtly and/or powerfully a given context can shape an individual's schemas, but they don't interrogate the context to the extent that Lave and Chailkin's book does.

5:16 PM  
Blogger IB said...

As I understand it, schemas are fundamental for communication because if there was not a mutual understanding of certain concepts, objects or symbols, communication would not work at all. I think that you make a good point in saying that confusion in communication might come from assuming a shared understanding of a particular matter. However, I wonder how we can measure this? If we define communication as “bad” when confusion occurs, we still do not know about the communicative situations where communication seems to work out on the surface, but the persons communicating leave the scene without a shared understanding (and without being aware that this is the case). But, as I wrote in my post as well, I think the schema theory presented in Strauss & Quinn should prompt us to think of ways to improve communication, e.g. between teachers and students.

12:44 PM  

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