In this post, I would like to take the opportunity to explore two perspectives on knowledge, considering the ramifications of such upon the module one terms we are expected to define (those terms being innovation, creativity, teaching, and learning).
Culturally summative: This is commonly the “normal perspective” that many of us hold towards knowledge. It is the idea that knowledge, information, and wisdom is accrued by society, and the development of future knowledge is then added onto this. In other words, it considers individual knowledge and action (which by proxy also includes creativity and innovation) within a comparative context of peer groups, as well as against regimented ideals of expert function. Value is accredited by “expert” validation (see Frank’s discussion of Van Gogh), and knowledge/understanding is given a value of right or wrong dependent on its congruence with accepted ideas. Simply, cultural knowledge is cumulative.
Individually formative: In contrast, we can look at knowledge as the development of understanding within an individual. A simple way to think of this is by considering the following question:
What came first, Dr. Seuss or Plato? From a cultural perspective, we can take a historical viewpoint and clearly define Plato as predating Dr. Seuss. However, based on individual exposure, we can quickly understand why this supposition would be false. We are (most of us at least) exposed to Dr. Seuss first. And while we can consider the innovative ideas of today as being products of the established conceptions dominant in society, we cannot forget that our own prior understandings will facilitate our understandings of new materials.
While it is a stretch to claim that Dr. Seuss will influence our interpretations of Platonic theory (likely) decades later, how we define the pathway on which understanding develops, will lead to how we understand the vocabulary for this module.
Below, we will view the terms in two contexts, that of cultural and that of individual definitions.
In the texts provided for Module 1, it is clear that the focus is more towards a cultural grounding. However, the question we must ask is, in terms of the classroom, and in consideration towards our students, is this the best way to approach these ideas?
As education shifts away from “sage on stage” mentality and towards a “facilitation of discovery” perspective, now is an ideal time for this debate.
- With what philosophy are we educating our students?
- Are we checking boxes of trivial knowledge, and assessing memorization of facts?
- Are we grooming and shaping pupils to adopt the life skills and work habits necessary to be successful in our modern economy?
- Are we helping our students to grow fundamentally, allowing them to develop a breadth of skills that can then be applied to later situations?
The fundamental contrast here is this:
What do we take as the focus?
- The student
- The curriculum
In the text, Social Influences on Creativity: Evaluation, coaction and surveillance (Amabile, Goldfarb, Brackfield, 2009), the authors state that evaluation has a strong limiting effect on creative expression.
To understand this more deeply, let’s consider how evaluation and the understanding thereof develops as a result of our current school system. While this is anecdotal, the medium of “blog post” is well acquainted with almost-stream-of-consciousness ramblings.
In the articles by Amabile, Goldfarb and Brackfield (2009), as well as The Bias Against Creativity: Why People Desire but Reject Creative Ideas (Mueller, Melwani, Goncalo, 2012) – evaluation is clearly presented as a summative assessment. While part of this is determined by the nature of the studies addressed in the articles (including a fixed timespan and limited meetings), it is important to consider the social ramifications of summative assessment, and the role it plays towards social indoctrination.
Our school system is designed around the concept of curriculum and expectations to be met. Through the addition of evaluative processes and analyses, students are then placed categorically, based on their proficiency meeting the established learning goals.
In turn, this leads to a conflict, not unlike the one outlined above. Students can either seek within themselves to find solutions to problems, or follow explicit, teacher-led instruction to solve the assignments presented.
Effective students will supplement their own internal capacities with those learned by the teachers, engaging with them enough to add them to their own skilled repertoire.
If we consider this in relation to a Hegelian dialectic, students are provided with information – a thesis, they then engage with it thoroughly, and through their intuition, understanding and errors, can develop an effective antithesis, finally resulting in the capacity for synthesis.
In the cultural context, creativity and innovation are immensely difficult to obtain because of the existing expert groups. Therefore, if we consider creative expression against society, or even against students’ peer groups, we will naturally devalue the worth of some students’ contributions.
As well, we can naturally consider innovation from a societal perspective as breakthroughs in understanding and technology that lead to new human capacities. Obvious examples are the assembly line, electricity, computers, etc. While thousands of ideas can be considered innovative, it is highly unlikely for individuals to be the progenitor of those ideas.
However, taken from an individual perspective, we can consider creativity as being defined as novel ways for an individual to approach a task, and innovation as being the genesis of a new plane of understanding.
As explored in the previous post, teaching can be considered the transmission of “accepted” social features, methodologies and actions, and how they can be applied to generally well-defined problems.
To explore this idea in somewhat more depth, we can briefly consider the prevalence of well-defined, algorithmic problems in the traditional school model as being a product of desires for consistency and standardization within the education system.
This system of one right answer creates a relationship of teacher – student, certain – uncertain, defined concept – acquisition.
In this situation, to teach is to speak on a ground of knowledge that learners are meant to climb up towards.
To define this metaphorically, teaching is to spread a stable base of certainty, learning is to move from uncertain instability to the stable social constructs of accepted knowledge.
It is easy to see why this model is not conducive to creativity. The risks of innovation and lateral thinking include failure, social demotion and instability.
Considering teaching and learning from a non-social perspective, we can once again return to the Hegelian dialectic but bolster it with references to Bloom’s Taxonomy.
Let us consider learning as creation and teaching as articulation.
Why learning as creation?
I am in no ways trying to present a concept of the mind as a tabula rasa, rather I believe that learning is the establishment of information within the already developed psychological constructs that define an individual’s understanding of the world. Learning is a way of making connections with existing knowledge to construct new knowledge.
With regards to the Hegelian Dialectic, new knowledge is presented (thesis), and contrasted with existing knowledge (anti-thesis), then connected to the individuals psychical understanding of their world (synthesis).
In an act of creation (learning), the individual creates a psychological representation of the construct being explored. This is then articulated, defined, defended and specified through experiences, conversations and explorations (developing an anti-thesis). Once the concept has been fully developed it is synthesized within understanding.
Again, (and I will need to make a list of these tangents) I will try and write another post about my reflections on the social developments of understanding. Reality as defined, augmented and modified by social interactions.
To return to our previous dialogue, we can simply state that learning occurs when developing and constructing an idea. After learning, the individual teaches what they understand about the concept at hand. While this might seem a strange supposition (learner as teacher), if we strip teacher of its hierarchical value and consider it rather as an act of transmitting understanding (in this case personal understanding), we can see it is a natural fit.
Once the individual teaches their understanding, it aids them to further identify it in the social context – both through personal revelations derived from their own articulations, and even more so, from the social feedback of others.
When understanding has grown ideas to such an extent that they can then be further developed upon, giving rise to new ideas, we can claim that the idea has been synthesized into our understandings.
With reference to Bloom’s taxonomy, we can see that learning, in respect to concept generation begins at the upper echelons of effectiveness and then expands downwards. Even when we are expecting students to remember facts, they need to create the paradigms in which to support these facts. Deficits of understanding arise from ill-creation of the necessary paradigms.
In summary, I believe that a lot of struggles with regards to defining these terms, but also in encouraging student expression derive from a foundational error in perspective. Rather than considering knowledge, creativity, innovations, learning and teaching from a more grounded perspective in individuals, we are more inclined towards taking a social perspective. Given the trajectories of our society, this is only natural (and perhaps worthy of its own blog post!).
All in all, if we want to encourage growth and creativity in our students, we need to recognize and champion the intellectual development of individuals themselves, and not of people in relation to a social/societal contrast.