[iDC] epistemology vs. pedagogy

john sobol john at johnsobol.com
Tue Jun 28 15:05:13 UTC 2011

Hello iDCers,

it's wonderful to read all of your introductions and to hear about  
all of the excellent work you are all doing. Mobility Shifts  
certainly looks to be a great event.

May I take the liberty of nudging this listserv back towards  
conversation and follow up with a few thoughts and questions?

In your post, Elizabeth, you say, in reference to your book about the  
disconnect between the academic learning establishment and socially  
networked students:

"Each side is not really fighting the other, I argue both opponents  
are actually conducting an incredibly destructive war on learning  

Is this simply because so much energy is being wasted on defining the  
terms of this conflict? Or is it a deeper failure of both parties, as  
you see it?

Because while I definitely agree that there is a war under way in  
education, personally I see it as an epistemological as opposed to a  
pedagogical one. Not an attack on learning or even a conflict between  
pedagogical models so much as a conflict between different - and in  
many respects incompatible - knowledge systems. To my mind the  
intransigence of educational institutions is based on their deeply  
entrenched allegiance to a literate epistemology that is hundreds of  
years old, and the crux of the emerging crisis is not that students  
have access to new networked technologies but that as a result of  
their having such access they do not define knowledge the same way as  
their teachers.

No doubt you have addressed this in your book to some extent, but I  
wanted to probe a bit deeper on this subject, and also to raise it in  
relation to the many other interesting projects that have been  
described in various introductions here, like Anya's ebooks (Anya,  
when will these come out please? I would love to read them), as well  
as Kiko's ambitious escuelab, Nishant's activist Digital Natives With  
a Cause, Michael's inspired visionsofstudents.org, Cathy's revealing  
research on attention, etc.

I would ask any of you to feel free to respond to these practical  
thoughts about epistemology and how it informs the new pedagogical  
models you are exploring. I am particularly interested in hearing  
about any situations in which epistemologies collide in the real  
world. In Peru and India, for example, I wonder if you have found  
that in doing outreach using innovative digitally-driven learning  
models that what the students end up learning unexpectedly challenges  
(or reinforces) other social power structures? That what is being  
learned is fundamentally different from what was being learned in the  
traditional academic context? I'm curious to hear if you have any  
concrete examples of this.

I would just add that I see this as a very common sort of event, this  
kind of epistemological collision. We see it for example in the  
academic context which certifies published peer-reviewed research as  
more 'true' than, say this listserv post, or in the scientific  
insistence that only what can be objectively reproduced counts as  
'true', which de facto excludes all 'anecdotal' or 'subjective'  
insight into the nature of the world as not true. And of course these  
sorts of epistemological determinations have profound consequences at  
the political and economic levels, in terms of what can be owned and  
by whom, such as a patent on a human gene, or the copyright on a  
sound or image, or whether or not a treaty is enforceable, or whether  
or not Julien Assange is a journalist, etc. etc.

All comments welcome...

John Sobol
john at johnsobol.com

On 27-Jun-11, at 9:07 PM, Anya Kamenetz wrote:

> Hello!
> I'm intrigued by the goings-on on this list and excited to join you  
> in the fall.
> My somewhat unusual entree into the topic of education was as a  
> freelance writer in my early 20s writing about the effect of  
> student loans on young people. I published a book (Riverhead,  
> 2006), and two columns, one in the Village Voice and later on  
> Yahoo! Finance, all titled Generation Debt, all dealing
> with generational economics and politics including student loan  
> policy. Message: the system is broken.
> This led to my first job at Fast Company magazine where I ended up  
> covering technology and innovation, with an emphasis on social  
> entrepreneurship and sustainability. The two streams merged when I  
> published
> DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of  
> Higher Education, (Chelsea Green, 2010) which investigated the  
> roots of the cost, access, and quality crises in higher education  
> as well as innovations to address these crises. Message: the system  
> can be fixed, or maybe we'll just make a new system!
> DIY U was researched and written in conversation with an amazing  
> community of thinkers such as yourselves. So were two forthcoming  
> followups: Learning, Freedom and the Web, funded by the Mozilla  
> Foundation, and The Edupunks Guide, funded by the Gates  
> Foundation.  Both are free ebooks. LFW, which will also be  
> available print-on-demand, glances over the scene of makers and  
> hackers using openness and technology to transform learning. The  
> Edupunks Guide is a hands on manual for people without a lot of  
> cash who want the shortest path to an education that will transform  
> their lives.
> I have a Fast Company column Life In Beta, a  Tribune Media column  
> The Savings Game, my book is found here DIY U: Edupunks,  
> Edupreneurs and the Coming Transformation of  Higher Education , I  
> Blog DIYUbook.com  and Twitter @Anya1anya.
> A
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