Friday, February 29, 2008

Peer Review

I've heard the observation that the process of learning through reading blogs and publishing one's own is not really all that different from reading and publishing in print journals, except that it's light years faster. Of course, that's the first radical difference, but it dawned on me the other day that, although the blog conversation, through comments and linked posts, still uses third-person language, it has much more of a collaborative "talking with one another" feel than the old, strident, confrontational "talking about others" tone of academic debate in printed resources. Is this also mostly a function of the shortened response times? In print, scholars have significant lag time before somebody hammers them for one thing or another in their work and then another lag before they get their equally fiery response into print. Of course, my perspective is skewed by the way I "vote with my feet" re: who is worth listening to--I spend lots of time (maybe too much) following the friendly banter and civilized discourse in web communities; I would have no time for any who prefer bashing and flaming (and I'm dismayed whenever people I've come to respect slide over into that style in putting forward their strongly-held positions).

Safe Playgrounds

George Siemens responds to Peter Tittenberger's The Strength of Garden Walls. I wonder if there might be something else at work here besides educators' tendency to think in outmoded terms of "my stuff" and the attendant view of education as something that ought to happen behind closed doors (though I heartily agree with the assessment that the notion of intellectual property is something that needs a hard look--and I would add that what is problematic here is the idea of knowledge as "property" or commodity, an attitude that grows out of an acquisition mentality).
I've been thinking that, for me and (if it's legitimate to thus project) for students generally, a safe place to air ideas within a smaller community, for the peer review of people I trust and whose counsel could keep me from making large mistakes, would be immensely valuable en route to publishing those ideas, suitably reworked, for the whole world. In fact, I think if I were designing a learning experience for students that featured Learning 2.0, I would make that a central feature in both content and practice.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Causality vs. Intentionality

Thiemann rejects the causality inherent in foundationalism & turns instead to intentionality: “According to this form of philosophical analysis, a person's identity is constituted by the intentions he or she carries into action. Actions are appropriately described as enacted intentions, and intentions are rightly described as implicit actions. Identity-description is nothing more or less than the description of characteristic intention-action patterns across a chronological sequence. Such temporally ordered patterns are given natural description in narratives” (Revelation and Theology, 90). He connects this to MacIntyre’s description of a unified character across a narrative, so this links nicely to virtue epistemology. In God, Action, and Embodiment, Thomas Tracy (briefly) contrasts causality and intentionality, but his book is most helpful as an introduction to the latter.
It occurs to me that, although both are metaphors of movement, intentionality is superior because causality, in its incarnations as either reasoning back to an unmoved Mover or as the determinism inherent in the
decretum absolutum, is both mechanistic and suggestive of idolatry. (Idolatry, that is, in the sense that its practitioners assume that “the gods” cause whatever happens in the world and that they can “cause” them to act in their favour.)
I think this fits a theology of education better, too--in a sense, we can think analogically of being in a
“cognitive apprenticeship” with God, where God both shows us what he is doing and explains his purpose (as in Scriptures ascriptions to God of the phrase, “I'm doing this so that . . .”).

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Revelation and (non)-foundationalism

Key to my exploration of education, epistemology, theology is the question of revelation, and particularly the issue of whether/how we can know God. (E.g., Jerry H. Gill, On Knowing God: New Directions for the Future of Theology [Westminster, 1981] and idem, Mediated Transcendence: A Postmodern Reflection [Mercer, 1989]; Denys Turner, Faith, Reason and the Existence of God [Cambridge, 2004]; Paul D. Janz, God, the Mind's Desire: Reference, Reason and Christian Thinking [Cambridge, 2004].)
In his Revelation and Theology: The Gospel as Narrated Promise (Notre Dame, 1985), Ronald F. Thiemann sharply criticizes Torrance for his foundationalist epistemology (165-66, n. 40), a stance that, Thiemann says, stems from his commitment to the scientific method. (This is surprising to me, not least since Torrance is as enamoured of Polanyi as Thiemann is. On that note, I'm also interested to see how John Seely Brown and Richard Adler [see my comments on their article in my previous post] use Polanyi on tacit/explicit knowledge.) I'm not so sure Thiemann's criticism is just here; part of what he assigns to Torrance is inconsistency re: a "reciprocal relation between the investigating subject and the object of inquiry" (38) required by the scientific method and Torrance's insistence that the direction of revelation is necessarily from God to humans. I haven't seen anything in Torrance that would suggest he subscribes to that notion of a necessary "reciprocal relation"; in fact, I'm pretty sure he would oppose it as much in terms of science as in theology/revelation. (That may mean he's inconsistent re: scientific method--I can't rule on that--but it wouldn't mean inconsistency re: revelation.)
What Thiemann does re: non- (or "soft") foundationalism is instructive, though, for something that's puzzled me about both Torrance's and Lonergan's presuppositions. Thiemann wants to "begin with a set of accepted dependent beliefs and move by implication to the more general belief upon which they rest" (76). Specifically, he outlines "a group of dependent beliefs concerning God's promises and their narrative fulfillment and concerning the relation of God's identify and reality," arguing "that there are good reasons for assenting to these beliefs as constitutive of Christian identity. If that argument holds, then it follows by implication that the belief upon which they depend, belief in God's prevenience, is also a justified belief constitutive of Christian identity" (77). Clearly, there are links here to what Lindbeck tries to do with his “cultural linguistic” approach (and with the way Vanhoozer reworks it), and it also supports my model of aspects-of-learning/knowing-held-in-tension, but I also wonder if this is in fact what both Lonergan and Torrance are actually doing without realizing it--building up a set of beliefs re: the learner and the object of study, respectively, that not only presuppose but also support (in the way Thiemann suggests) their background beliefs about knowing God.
Even more helpful for me is Thiemann's distinction between an epistemology built on causation vs. one proposing an intentional direction of movement, and that will keep me busy re: both Lonergan (in the way he uses the phenomenological idea of intentionality to reshape Aquinas) and Torrance.

Participation and Learning 2.0

Both Rick Schwier and Mark at E-BCNZer (see there also links to his interchange with George Siemens on connectivism) refer to an EDUCAUSE Review article by John Seely Brown and Richard P. Adler that nails for me the reality that important theological themes and trends in education theory are converging rapidly--clearly, evidence that I need to get my project done before its conclusions are so obvious that those evaluating it use that wonderfully pointed popular ironic expression: "Ya think?"
Some excerpts illustrating my point (just substitute "disciple/follower of Jesus" or "theologian" for "student"):

“The emphasis on social learning stands in sharp contrast to the traditional Cartesian view of knowledge and learning—a view that has largely dominated the way education has been structured for over one hundred years. The Cartesian perspective assumes that knowledge is a kind of substance and that pedagogy concerns the best way to transfer this substance from teachers to students. By contrast, instead of starting from the Cartesian premise of ‘I think, therefore I am,’ and from the assumption that knowledge is something that is transferred to the student via various pedagogical strategies, the social view of learning says, ‘We participate, therefore we are.’

“Mastering a field of knowledge involves not only ‘learning about’ the subject matter but also ‘learning to be’ a full participant in the field. This involves acquiring the practices and the norms of established practitioners in that field or acculturating into a community of practice.”

“In a traditional Cartesian educational system, students may spend years learning about a subject; only after amassing sufficient (explicit) knowledge are they expected to start acquiring the (tacit) knowledge or practice of how to be an active practitioner/professional in a field.9 But viewing learning as the process of joining a community of practice reverses this pattern and allows new students to engage in ‘learning to be’ even as they are mastering the content of a field. This encourages the practice of what John Dewey called ‘productive inquiry’—that is, the process of seeking the knowledge when it is needed in order to carry out a particular situated task."

9 Michael Polanyi, The Tacit Dimension (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1966).

“The web offers innumerable opportunities for students to find and join niche communities where they can benefit from the opportunities for distributed cognitive apprenticeship. Finding and joining a community that ignites a student’s passion can set the stage for the student to acquire both deep knowledge about a subject (‘learning about’) and the ability to participate in the practice of a field through productive inquiry and peer-based learning (‘learning to be’). These communities are harbingers of the emergence of a new form of technology-enhanced learning—Learning 2.0—which goes beyond providing free access to traditional course materials and educational tools and creates a participatory architecture for supporting communities of learners.”

John Seely Brown and Richard P. Adler, “Minds on Fire: Open Education, the Long Tail, and Learning 2.0,” EDUCAUSE Review 43 (January/February 2008): 16–32.