Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Annie, Don't Get Your Gun

Sorry about the title. I really couldn't help myself, really. I want to respond to Annie's post this week because I think it directly relates to the reading, and I'm afraid the post might get overlooked in the comments section. I think Annie's discomfort with the drive in our class for "rights" and "wrongs" is similar to the tension felt by participants in the XCHL(?) (the online forum) in Syverson's book. In any complex system, there seems to be that existing pull between chaos and order. Annie's comments about the validity of multiple views in the reading of a text pushed towards chaos, possibility, openness. The counter comments sought for clarity, order, and structure. It seems that our class is a perfect example of a complex system.

That said, a level of tension was still created and needs to be reviewed. How does a complex system deal with the tension between chaos and order? Syverson's example of the student work group is helpful in this discussion. In a cognitivist perspective, one could blame the students for a lack a ability, effort, or any other individual characteristic. Likewise, we could blame the class for being closed-minded and inflexible in thought and say that most of the students are just naturally pulled towards self-ordering and not openness. However, our class is just as much distributed, embodied, emerging, and enacted as the student group. I agree with Annie that there has been an emphasis most of the semester on order over chaos. What factors contributed to that?

Let's look at the structure of the course. First, Dr. Syverson purposely left classtime fairly unstructured and sincerely hoped we students would help self-order our interactions. Since this is less structure than we usually get in other classes, it seems likely we'd feel higher levels of ambiguity and want to nail stuff down instead of creating more ambiguity. The class was also structured in a survey format, with new ideas and concepts each week, which also lends to, as Jim would say, "CHAY-os." With lots of ideas in a little amount of time, synthesis becomes an important cognitive task, and synthesis is a form of ordering. If we'd spent more time on each concept, it's possible that a threshhold of tolerance for ambiguity would have been reached and the class would have had more exploratory discussions. Since Annie has a strong exposure to complexity theory, her level of tolerance would be high, especially when compared to other students like me who were still trying to figure out what Arthur's wife was doing, much less how chaos organized itself into patterns. Also, the very nature of the concepts presented in the class were amiguous and challenged our own conceptions of the mind and self, creating more ambiguity. With all of these layers, it seems natural for a class to tend towards order. And this doesn't include the overarching American culture strongly tied into value judgments and order.

Also, let me mention an embodied limitation. As graduate students with busy loads and lives, the time we spent outside of class ordering our thoughts so we could explore more in class was limited. If I'd spent more time outside of class researching to understand concepts, I would have been able to exploit that learning in class.

Using our class as an example, complexity theory does a good job of describing our system. The big question remains, though: what changes can be made to the system in order to influence a greater level of tolerance for ambiguity in the future?


Blogger Annie said...


Great post, thank you. I really appreciate your skillful analysis, prompting/questioning, and tying my comments in with the texts.


2:02 PM  
Blogger IB said...

Great post, I agree! You showed how applicable complexity theory is to group processes by analyzing our very own situation in this class. As to your last question, I would suggest creating a common ground at the beginning of every session by clarifying basic questions that came up in the blog entries or during private conversations. I feel much more comfortable venturing into new ideas when I stand on solid ground and know what I am venturing out of. But being the non-talker in this class I am probably not the right one to make suggestions.

2:15 PM  

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