This paper concerns the connection between openness/closedness in the production of resources and “openness of expression and understanding” by teachers and learners. Following Pask (1971), Bateson (1978) and Bohm (1980) it is argued that the expression of understanding is contingent on the production of multiple descriptions, whether these take the forms of open textbooks, Powerpoint slides, software tools, YouTube videos, websites or expensive commercial resources. At the same time, teachers communicate their understanding through words, body language, intonation, variety in performance, and so on – usually supported with reference to objects of various kinds.
The method of research analyses multiple descriptions in a number of case-studies: multiple descriptions in sound; educational video; and descriptions presented by students using objects to explain their understanding. In each case, information theory is used to study the interplay of descriptions (Shannon and Weaver, 1949). A single description is treated as a flow of “surprising moments”, or in information theoretic terms, shifting entropies. A description can be words in a video, visible features in a rotating 3D object or physical gestures. For each object a variety of different flows of entropy are analysed and plotted using parallel coordinates. This reveals a “counterpoint” of multiple descriptions where the surprisingness of simultaneous descriptions diverges and coincides.
In discussing this, following Schutz (1956), von Foerster(2003) and von Glasersfeld (1995) teaching is presented as an intersubjective process mediated by objects which illuminate understanding. In particular, the intersubjectivity of Schutz’s “pure we-relation” demands openness whether objects are openly (freely) produced or not. However, restriction in the provision of objects can reflect in the openness of their effects in this process.
The analysis raises questions about the relation between “content” and “delivery” in education. Since much of the complexity of education involves organising the delivery of content, or the judgement of student-produced content, a reframing of the relationship between objects and people together with a deeper understanding of openness presents opportunities to transform educational organisation.
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Schutz (1956) The Phenomenology of the Social World
Shannon, C; Weaver, W (1949) A Mathematical theory of communication
von Foerster H. (2003) On Self-Organizing Systems and Their Environments. In: Understanding Understanding. Springer, New York, NY
Von Glasersfeld (1995) Radical Constructivism