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Impossible Conversations - Areo
A review of Peter Boghossian and James A. Lindsay’s Impossible Conversations: A Very Practical Guide (2019)
bookreview  philosophy  socraticmethod  conversations 
7 days ago by kongharald
David Gooblar on Twitter: "I want to urge you to read @rtraister's extraordinary piece on Elizabeth Warren as a professor. If you, like me, are very interested in both the future of this country and the discipline of teaching and learning, it’s more tha
[via: ]

“I want to urge you to read @rtraister’s extraordinary piece on Elizabeth Warren as a professor. If you, like me, are very interested in both the future of this country and the discipline of teaching and learning, it’s more than worth your time.

Traister’s argument: although one might think Warren’s professorial manner might be a liability on the campaign trail, she’s actually a *really good* teacher, and the way that she’s a good teacher might be the key to her success, both as a candidate, and as a political leader.

The way teaching is talked about here—by Warren, but also by Traister—gets to the heart of what it means to be an inclusive teacher, and (to me) draws a thicker line between teaching for social justice and plain old political action for social justice.

For instance: Warren, as a law school prof, relied on the Socratic method in her classes. The Socratic method means different things to different people, but in a law-school context, it usually means the relentless grilling of students, one at a time, to reveal their weaknesses.

There are a lot of problems with this mode of teaching, like: what are all the other students supposed to be doing while the one unlucky sap is being questioned?

Traister refers to “the seeming paradox of a woman known as a bold political progressive adhering to an old-fashioned, rule-bound approach to teaching.” But it’s not a paradox, because the way Warren conceives of the Socratic method is actually deeply progressive.

She worried that “traditional” discussion, in which the professor only calls on those students who raise their hands, inevitably reinforced privilege. “The reason I never took volunteers,” Warren tells Traister, “is when you take volunteers, you’re going to hear mostly from men.”

Instead, she adopted a cold-calling approach that made sure as many students were involved in each class period as possible. Here, Traister quotes one of Warren’s TAs, whose sole job during class was to keep track of who had spoken, and who hadn’t yet.

[image: “In this position, Ondersma remembered, she had one job: to make sure everyone got called on equally. “The whole idea was that she wanted everybody in the classroom to participate.” Ondersma would sit with the class list and check off every student who’d gotten a cold-call question. Then, in the last ten minutes of the class, “I’d hand her a notecard with the names of all the students she’d not yet called on,” and Warren would try to get to them all.”]

(A few years ago I wrote about cold-calling as a way to invite students into discussions. It’s a weird thing: it feels old-fashioned and authoritarian to many of us, but it can actually help ensure your discussions are more democratic.)

In line with that emphasis on reaching everybody, whenever a student would come to office hours before an exam with a question, Warren would ask the student to write the question down, so she could send it (and her answer) to every student.

Traister quotes one of Warren’s students: “it was very important to her that people were not going to have any structural advantage because they were the kind of person who knew to come to talk to a professor in office hours.” What a great idea!

I often tell faculty that teaching is much more defined by their mindset than by whatever teaching strategies they adopt. From what this piece tells us, it’s clear that Warren gets that, and that her mindset is the right one.

Look at how she talks about teaching:


““That’s the heart of really great teaching,” she said. “It’s that I believe in you. I don’t get up and teach to show how smart I am. I get up and teach to show how smart you are, to help you have the power and the tools so that you can build what you want to build.””

"But she explained to him the thinking behind hers: 90 minutes, she said, is a long time to sit and be talked to. The Socratic classroom as she handled it forced everyone in it to pay close attention not only to what she was saying but also to what their fellow students were saying. She was not the leader of conversation; she was facilitating it, prompting the students to do the work of building to the analysis.

It’s a pedagogical approach that Warren sees as linking all of her experiences of teaching. “It’s fundamentally about figuring out where the student is and how far can I bring them from where they are.”"]

Her approach to teaching begins with students, with thinking about the students’ experience, with consciously altering her approach so that as many students as possible can get as valuable an experience as possible. That is, at heart, an inclusive teaching practice.

But maybe even cooler is the way in which Traister goes beyond showing what a great teacher Warren was. She connects Warren’s pedagogical approach with her political one, in a way that really gets me thinking about the role of teaching and learning in our public life.

We often talk about politics in terms of communication—how well a certain candidate is getting her ideas across to potential voters—but the task is more complex than that typical lens suggests. It’s less communication than it is persuasion—persuading people to act.

Persuading people to vote for you, yes. But also persuading people that they are capable of action. Persuading people that they have agency, that they can do more than they currently think they can.

If you want to succeed at this kind of persuasion, you’d be wise to learn from the scholarship of teaching and learning, which is precisely concerned with these questions. How do we help other people do things—for themselves?

If learning is the work of students—if we can’t *make* students learn—then how do we help them do that work? What conditions can we create that make that work more likely to happen? That is the teacher’s task.

Likewise, if real political change is the work of citizens—many, many citizens changing the political reality, not a single politician—then how do we create the conditions in which that work is more likely to happen? That, Warren suggests, is the political leader’s task.

Elizabeth Warren can’t make us do the work of banding together to defeat corruption, inequality, injustice. But maybe she can use inclusive teaching methods to help us come to the conclusion—on our own—that such action is necessary, and possible. That is a wild sentence to type.

Traister does great work drawing parallels between Warren’s teaching practice and her campaign tactics. She quotes Warren talking about the challenge of teaching people about her proposed wealth tax, and why it’s not so radical:

[image: "When she was first doing town halls, after proposing a wealth tax, she said, “I’d look at the faces and think, I don’t think everybody is connecting. It’s not quite gelling. So I tried a couple of different ways, and then it hit me. I’d say, ‘Anybody in here own a home or grow up where a family owned a home?’ A lot of hands would go up. And I’d say, ‘You’ve been paying a wealth tax forever. It’s just called a property tax. So I just want to do a property tax; only here, instead of just being on your home, for bazillionaires, I want it to be on the stock portfolio, the diamonds, the Rembrandt, and the yachts.’ And everyone kind of laughs, but they get the basic principle because they’ve got a place to build from.”"]

Elsewhere, Traister brilliantly points out that Warren’s habit of calling individual donors on the phone—regular people who gave $50 or whatever—mirrors her cold-calling in class, ensuring that *more people* are being heard from than the usual men raising their hands.

This is partly because I’m really inspired by Warren in general, but the piece really underlines for me the value of inclusive teaching, the importance of the work teachers do, in helping students remake themselves, and remake their worlds.

Inclusive teaching practices are based on sturdy research on how students learn best. But they follow, 1st of all, from a choice the teacher makes. We must choose to be committed to every student, to put their development first, to be led by them, rather than the other way around

That is, I’m sorry to say it, a political choice. Not because we’re trying to get our students to vote a certain way. But because we help students believe in their own possibility, in their own agency. I happen to think it’s hugely important.

Anyway, I should probably have just written this as an essay (and I don’t want to quote/screenshot from it any more)—go read the piece!

Oh, and the companion episode of The Cut on Tuesdays (one of the best podcasts going, by the way), is delightful. You get to hear Warren herself talk about teaching, including a truly excellent rubber band metaphor that I’m going to use in workshops.

Also also: [image of Elizabeth Warren with her dog]“
davidgooblar  elizabethwarren  teaching  howweteach  politics  elections  2019  2020  learning  howwelearn  education  highered  highereducation  inclusion  inclusivity  rebeccatraister  socraticmethod  instruction  pedagogy  via:audreywatters  cold-calling  lawschool  studentexperience  citizenship  participation  participatory  gender 
9 weeks ago by robertogreco
Doug Engelbart, transcontextualist | Gardner Writes
"I’ve been mulling over this next post for far too long, and the results will be brief and rushed (such bad food, and such small portions!). You have been warned.

The three strands, or claims I’m engaging with (EDIT: I’ve tried to make things clearer and more parallel in the list below):

1. The computer is “just a tool.” This part’s in partial response to the comments on my previous post. [ ]

2. Doug Engelbart’s “Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework” [ ] is “difficult to understand” or “poorly written.” This one’s a perpetual reply. 🙂 It was most recently triggered by an especially perplexing Twitter exchange shared with me by Jon Becker.

3. Engelbart’s ideas regarding the augmentation of human intellect aim for an inhuman and inhumane parsing of thought and imagination, an “efficiency expert” reduction of the richness of human cognition. This one tries to think about some points raised in the VCU New Media Seminar this fall.

These are the strands. The weave will be loose. (Food, textiles, textures, text.)

1. There is no such thing as “just a tool.” McLuhan wisely notes that tools are not inert things to be used by human beings, but extensions of human capabilities that redefine both the tool and the user. A “tooler” results, or perhaps a “tuser” (pronounced “TOO-zer”). I believe those two words are neologisms but I’ll leave the googling as an exercise for the tuser. The way I used to explain this is my new media classes was to ask students to imagine a hammer lying on the ground and a person standing above the hammer. The person picks up the hammer. What results? The usual answers are something like “a person with a hammer in his or her hand.” I don’t hold much with the elicit-a-wrong-answer-then-spring-the-right-one-on-them school of “Socratic” instruction, but in this case it was irresistible and I tried to make a game of it so folks would feel excited, not tricked. “No!” I would cry. “The result is a HammerHand!” This answer was particularly easy to imagine inside Second Life, where metaphors become real within the irreality of a virtual landscape. In fact, I first came up with the game while leading a class in Second Life–but that’s for another time.

So no “just a tool,” since a HammerHand is something quite different from a hammer or a hand, or a hammer in a hand. It’s one of those small but powerful points that can make one see the designed built world, a world full of builders and designers (i.e., human beings), as something much less inert and “external” than it might otherwise appear. It can also make one feel slightly deranged, perhaps usefully so, when one proceeds through the quotidian details (so-called) of a life full of tasks and taskings.

To complicate matters further, the computer is an unusual tool, a meta-tool, a machine that simulates any other machine, a universal machine with properties unlike any other machine. Earlier in the seminar this semester a sentence popped out of my mouth as we talked about one of the essays–“As We May Think”? I can’t remember now: “This is your brain on brain.” What Papert and Turkle refer to as computers’ “holding power” is not just the addictive cat videos (not that there’s anything wrong with that, I imagine), but something weirdly mindlike and reflective about the computer-human symbiosis. One of my goals continues to be to raise that uncanny holding power into a fuller (and freer) (and more metaphorical) (and more practical in the sense of able-to-be-practiced) mode of awareness so that we can be more mindful of the environment’s potential for good and, yes, for ill. (Some days, it seems to me that the “for ill” part is almost as poorly understood as the “for good” part, pace Morozov.)

George Dyson writes, “The stored-program computer, as conceived by Alan Turing and delivered by John von Neumann, broke the distinction between numbers that mean things and numbers that do things. Our universe would never be the same” (Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe). This is a very bold statement. I’ve connected it with everything from the myth of Orpheus to synaesthetic environments like the one @rovinglibrarian shared with me in which one can listen to, and visualize, Wikipedia being edited. Thought vectors in concept space, indeed. The closest analogies I can find are with language itself, particularly the phonetic alphabet.

The larger point is now at the ready: in fullest practice and perhaps even for best results, particularly when it comes to deeper learning, it may well be that nothing is just anything. Bateson describes the moment in which “just a” thing becomes far more than “just a” thing as a “double take.” For Bateson, the double take bears a thrilling and uneasy relationship to the double bind, as well as to some kinds of derangement that are not at all beneficial. (This is the double-edged sword of human intellect, a sword that sometimes has ten edges or more–but I digress.) This double take (the kids call it, or used to call it, “wait what?”) indicates a moment of what Bateson calls “transcontextualism,” a paradoxical level-crossing moment (micro to macro, instance to meta, territory to map, or vice-versa) that initiates or indicates (hard to tell) deeper learning.
It seems that both those whose life is enriched by transcontextual gifts and those who are impoverished by transcontextual confusions are alike in one respect: for them there is always or often a “double take.” A falling leaf, the greeting of a friend, or a “primrose by the river’s brim” is not “just that and nothing more.” Exogenous experience may be framed in the contexts of dream, and internal thought may be projected into the contexts of the external world. And so on. For all this, we seek a partial explanation in learning and experience. (“Double Bind, 1969,” in Steps to an Ecology of Mind, U Chicago Press, 2000, p. 272). (EDIT: I had originally typed “eternal world,” but Bateson writes “external.” It’s an interesting typo, though, so I remember it here.)

It does seem to me, very often, that we do our best to purge our learning environments of opportunities for transcontextual gifts to emerge. This is understandable, given how bad and indeed “unproductive” (by certain lights) the transcontextual confusions can be. No one enjoys the feeling of falling, unless there are environments and guides that can make the falling feel like flying–more matter for another conversation, and a difficult art indeed, and one that like all art has no guarantees (pace Madame Tussaud).

2. So now the second strand, regarding Engelbart’s “Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework.” Much of this essay, it seems to me, is about identifying and fostering transcontextualism (transcontextualization?) as a networked activity in which both the individual and the networked community recognize the potential for “bootstrapping” themselves into greater learning through the kind of level-crossing Bateson imagines (Douglas Hofstadter explores these ideas too, particularly in I Am A Strange Loop and, it appears, in a book Tom Woodward is exploring and brought to my attention yesterday, Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking. That title alone makes the recursive point very neatly). So when Engelbart switches modes from engineering-style-specification to the story of bricks-on-pens to the dialogue with “Joe,” he seems to me not to be willful or even prohibitively difficult (though some of the ideas are undeniably complex). He seems to me to be experimenting with transcontextualism as an expressive device, an analytical strategy, and a kind of self-directed learning, a true essay: an attempt:

And by “complex situations” we include the professional problems of diplomats, executives, social scientists, life scientists, physical scientists, attorneys, designers–whether the problem situation exists for twenty minutes or twenty years.

A list worthy of Walt Whitman, and one that explicitly (and for me, thrillingly) crosses levels and enacts transcontextualism.

Here’s another list, one in which Engelbart tallies the range of “thought kernels” he wants to track in his formulative thinking (one might also say, his “research”):

The “unit records” here, unlike those in the Memex example, are generally scraps of typed or handwritten text on IBM-card-sized edge-notchable cards. These represent little “kernels” of data, thought, fact, consideration, concepts, ideas, worries, etc. That are relevant to a given problem area in my professional life.

Again, the listing enacts a principle: we map a problem space, a sphere of inquiry, along many dimensions–or we should. Those dimensions cross contexts–or they should. To think about this in terms of language for a moment, Engelbart’s idea seems to be that we should track our “kernels” across the indicative, the imperative, the subjunctive, the interrogative. To put it another way, we should be mindful of, and somehow make available for mindful building, many varieties of cognitive activity, including affect (which can be distinguished but not divided from cognition).

3. I don’t think this activity increases efficiency, if efficiency means “getting more done in less time.” (A “cognitive Taylorism,” as one seminarian put it.) More what is always the question. For me, Engelbart’s transcontextual gifts (and I’ll concede that there are likely transcontextual confusions in there too–it’s the price of trancontextualism, clearly) are such that the emphasis lands squarely on effectiveness, which in his essay means more work with positive potential (understanding there’s some disagreement but not total disagreement about… [more]
dougengelbart  transcontextualism  gardnercampbell  2013  gregorybateson  marshallmcluhan  socraticmethod  education  teaching  howweteach  howwelearn  learning  hammerhand  technology  computers  computing  georgedyson  food  textiles  texture  text  understanding  tools  secondlife  seymourpapert  sherryturkle  alanturing  johnvonneumann  doublebind  waltwhitman  memex  taylorism  efficiency  cognition  transcontextualization 
july 2017 by robertogreco
Subverting the System: Student and Teacher as Equals | MindShift
"Not having someone in the role of classroom manager created a vacuum the teenagers initially were reluctant to fill. “At first they didn’t believe it,” Henstrand says. “Then they found it very scary, because they weren’t able to just sit passively and wait for someone to tell them what to do. And they were being asked what they thought; for many, it was the first time they had experienced such respect for their thinking. They were waiting for structure and saying, ‘Tell me what to learn, and I’ll learn that.’”

Henstrand stayed the course and watched them gradually adjust to their new-found freedom. “All humans want autonomy and a say in what they’re doing,” he says. “Some students seem to want more to be told what to do; my feeling is that they’re just uncomfortable with the power of directing their own destiny, and their own learning.”

He adds that this is probably more a function of conditioning than human nature, because “by early spring, they were all fully running with it.” Some stood up and started group discussions, perhaps based on the videos and texts that come with the course; others preferred one-on-one discussions.

“The students create the class,” Henstrand says. “It’s not guided, except by what they’re saying. It’s breaking down all the old paradigms.”

He has carved out a new role for himself, as a dialogue starter. “I introduce questions, but I don’t have answers,” he says. “A different educator will come up with a different approach. We often look for a teaching technique, but the teacher has to find what drives them. It’s about being present with the students, being passionate about the same questions, and working together to learn something and build a narrative.”"
howweteach  subversion  teaching  learning  tcsnmy  tcsnmy8  education  bighistoryproject  criticalthinking  history  socraticmethod  teacherascolleague  2013 
november 2013 by robertogreco

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