Wednesday, October 26, 2005

This book's great! You should read it....

Okay, so Clark wins my "book of the semester" award hands down. Well, until we read Dr. Syverson's book, and then hers will win the "book of the semester" award, of course. But anyway, Clark does a masterful job of presenting the complexities of cognition in a way even education majors can understand. Good for him! Plus, he did it all while still allowing for a self, which after last week seemed all but impossible.

I really enjoy how Clark accommodates different approaches to cognition by emphasizing both strengths and critiques in a non "my way or the highway" style. For example, while Varela et. al. left me groundlessly vexed on the point of self, Clark acknowledges "conscious contents supervene on indvidual brains" though those "conscious episodes are at best snapshots of the self considered as an evolving psychological profile" (p. 216). See, you can have your self and eat it, too. His presentation of Dynamic Systems theory as a companion tool to computation and connectionism was also insightful, as it built a bridge between the work that has been done in the field and the direction research will need to go in the future.

I have been trying to apply his definiton of the emergent approach to institutions of higher education, and it seems directly connected to institutional change. In the computational approach, institutional change is caused by focusing on representations (mission, vision, the story of that one amazing faculty member) in an effort led by the president or one other campus figure. In the connectionist approach, the focus would be decentralized to the department level, looking at how each department interacts and the patterns that form in the manipulation of the mission, vision, and other legends or artifacts. The emergent approach is different, though, in that it would attribute the cause of change not to the leadership of one person (the president) or a group of leaders (the department chairs). Instead, it would focus on the arising changes among faculty: how Dr. Syverson, one faculty member in English, decided to create a learning record, while another faculty member in chemistry implemented components of learning communities in his freshman courses. It would try to understand the environmental forces at play that leads individuals to adapt and adopt instructional methods leading to cultural changes in the institution, and it would look at what other forces were hindering that devleopment. In focusing on individual faculty and larger groups of professors at the same time, it would compare larger trends to individual perceptions. Then it would attempt, using language to represent the forces into form computable by the institutions, to encourage the forces that lead to the desired change.

Have I got it? Does that make sense? Am I really just clueless and only think that an education major can understand Clark? Enquiring minds want to know....



Blogger Alison said...

I like your application and it makes sense to me but then again - I'm in your department!

10:32 PM  
Blogger Alison said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:33 PM  
Blogger Eileen McGinnis said...

Greg, I didn't follow his explanation of Dynamical Systems theory (not because it wasn't well-presented, but there was a lot of unfamiliar terminology), so I copped out midway through. Would someone recap in class?

3:19 PM  
Blogger IB said...

In line with Alison, I think you correctly applied the emergent systems approach to institutational change. Good job! In fact, although Clark's book is focussed on explaining the mind and its interactions with the world, it seems to me that the emergent systems approach could be applied to a variety of institutions and human behavior within large groups. Social psychology should have a look at Clark.

3:48 PM  

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