The following is from a forthcoming book and articles and are copyright 2011 by Scott J. Warren. It details my personal theory of teaching and learning called Learning and Teaching as Communicative Actions. I’ll post more as I expand it.
Viewed as communicative action, the core truths of learning and teaching emerge from understanding and fostering learning activities that allow for strategic (teleological) actions geared towards learners determining the validity of objective knowledge, constative actions geared towards allowing students to interactively make and challenge claims to the validity of objective knowledge, normative actions related to the validity of claims of truth about group, institution, and societal rules, and finally, dramaturgical actions that allow for individual expressions of truth through artistic forms of communication such as painting and poetry. In order to understand what this theory means in terms of what it is to learn, teach, assess, and design instructional activities from the perspective of LTCA, we offer the following examples from each of these perspectives.
Learning and Teaching as Communicative Actions
We extend Habermas’ work to construct our own Theory of Learning and Teaching as Communicative Actions (LTCA), originally outlined in Warren and Stein (2008) and (S. Warren, Najmi, & Alajmi, 2010). Our first claim is that the current separation of educational philosophy into at least three, if not many more, epistemic spheres, is not only problematic, but also falsely seeks to understand the holistic educational experience by examining it only from a limited perspective and therefore limits what can be understood of student and instructor. Specifically, in their discussion regarding early views of social constructivism, Prawat and Floden (1994) argue that there are effectively three worldviews that are incommensurate with one another as truth is constructed based on different:
1.) Mechanistic or information-processing (p. 41-42)
- Views all events within or outside the mind as explained best by referring to outside structures or models as part of designed learning materials
- Learning involves acquisition of accurate understandings of fixed relationships and items existing outside of human activity
- External representations or models are the best means of learning and internalizing structures within the mind
- Learning is at least partly a discovery process
- Truth is inherent in the models presented to learners and computers are the best models for how humans think
2.) Organismic or radical constructivist (p. 42-43)
- Views all knowledge as an act of individual creation by learners
- Truth is in the eye of the beholder/learner
- Truth claims may still be tested based on how inclusively the individuals system of beliefs allows for a complete understanding
- Theories developed from this perspective have little or no generalizability
- Listening to students is key to teaching
- Providing practical problems for students to solve challenges student thinking and forces individual reflections
3.) Contextualist or social constructivist (p. 43-44)
- Learning is an open-ended, emergent event in which anything can happen
- The world is constantly changing; social agreement allows for construction of accepted knowledge, though even that is unsettled
- Context is most important for understanding as the world changes
- Private learning activities must be understood within the larger social context to view the role that social factors play
- Requires that the individual shift back and forth between environmental and organismic viewpoints equally
- Students learn by working together to construct knowledge that helps overcome ill-structured problems posed by the instructor
Figure 2 provides a simplistic graphical representation of Prawat and Floden’s conception of constructivist perspectives and what they accept regarding the nature of truth and how an individual that ascribes to one view or another experiences the world.
Figure 2. Prawat and Floden’s depiction of constructivist worldviews.
Alternately, and while recognizing that reality is much more complex and likely configured more along a continuum, Figure 3 shows the larger philosophical breakdown into three simplistic views as indicated by Bernstein (1976) and in a research study on teacher worldviews by Schraw and Olafson (2002).
Figure 3. Larger philosophical worldviews or epistemic stances.
Instead of experiencing the classroom and larger world as the contextualist, mechanist, or organicist propose, we make the claim that learners and instructors experience all of these at once both cognitively and affectively or shift so rapidly between and among the views so as to appear seamless to them as we depict in Figure 4.
Figure 4. LTCA theory view of how learners and instructors experience the world.
For researchers and theorists who view the world only through one lens and both conduct analysis and design instructional interventions from only one worldview or another, this denies the holistic experience of the learner which requires understanding that there is interplay among the social, the internal cognitive and relative, and, the external information acquisition experiences that occur concomitantly or with a rapidity that makes them indistinguishable, but still necessary.
Whether one recognizes local, regional, state, and national global social constructions of knowledge and truth or even have the power to take part in them, they do take place through discourse within society. For example, the construction of social studies standards and related knowledge bases for the state of Texas took place in 2010. During the period of developing these standards, which themselves make claims to truth about historic events and their relative importance in American and world settings, social discourse took place in news outlets, through public comment, and through meetings of the politically elected group which was chosen to make agree upon what constituted the knowledge that would be contained in textbooks that students and parents expect will contain objective truth. However, when these textbooks are brought into classrooms, each student will bring their past experiences and knowledge to their discourse and learning activities engaged in completely relative cognitive activities such as reading interactions with the texts, externally through social experiences with other students and teachers as they seek to construct understandings about the truths contained in the text, and at the same time they must acquire the socially validated knowledge and related world model and internalize it for later recitation on a standardized examination because the larger educational system privileges the mechanistic information processing view over all others and is therefore preeminent in terms of assessing knowledge. However, even this privileging of an information-processing worldview at the state level has been socially constructed through political discourse and each voter’s choice of official because their election is construed as tacit approval of their agenda and views.
In this theoretical framework, we accept the Habermasian lens of communication as the means through which we seek to understand learning and specifically adopt his four types of communicative action (strategic, constative, normative, dramaturgical). This is done not only for research purposes as already described and implemented by Carspecken (1996; 1999), but also to provide guidance for the design of instructional and learning activities in educational settings and that activities that encourage all four types of communication at different, appropriate times should be constructed in response to student needs and learning goals. We further claim that learning and teaching are both activities that have inherent claims to truth and knowledge that emerge from the designed instructional activities and the discourse that accompanies them are presented in Table 1.
Table 1: Communicative Actions in Higher Education Settings.
|Strategic (Teleological) actions are geared towards effectively getting what the student or teacher wants from the objective world and what one wants to communicate as true or valid knowledge.||Communication is geared towards effectively getting what the student or teacher wants from the objective world and wants to communicate or accept as true or valid knowledge.||Students are told by a computer literacy teacher to read a section of a textbook containing objective knowledge regarding computer hardware components in a state mandated curriculum. Reified Knowledge contained in the text has been socially agreed upon as valid by a state coordinating board and experts in the field who reviewed the text. Students may then evaluate what information is true/valid and either accept or reject what has been communicated by the text and instructor. In this form of communication, there is no negotiation about the truth of contained claim. It ends only with acceptance or rejection by students.|
|Constative are geared towards allowing students to interactively and inter-subjectively make and challenge claims to the validity of objective and even subjective knowledge. In this case, a truth claim is challenged or accepted through communicative negotiation such as argumentation regarding the entirety of a claim or particular supporting evidence or critique of sub-claims.||Communication and learning require students to interactively and intersubjectively make and challenge claims to the validity of objective and even subjective knowledge. A truth claim is challenged or accepted through communicative negotiation such as argumentation regarding the entirety of a claim or particular supporting evidence or critique of sub-claims (Habermas, 1984; Warren et. al., 2008).||In the same computer literacy course, an instructor makes a claim regarding the truth regarding the necessity of taking security measures to protect user names and passwords by regularly changing them and using complex alphanumerics. This is intended to spur discourse amongst students in their class regarding the validity of this claim with respect to student experience. Students thus challenge the truth of the claim and develop counter-claims emerging from experience or data. This spurs discourse among students as to the claim, counter claims, accompanying texts’, and other data sources’ validity. The instructor facilitates and moderates the discourse towards agreement regarding truth claims that are accepted among the group of learners.|
|Normative relate to the validity of claims about group, institution, and societal rules. Such actions are constructed through consensus with other faculty, administrators and the students of a class.||Communicative actions relate to the validity of claims about group, institution, and societal rules and norms. Such actions are constructed through consensus with other faculty, administrators and the students of a class.||The teacher communicates the norms of appropriate behavior including rules for grading, required assignments, attendance and class expectations, most often using a syllabus, but also through modeling and classroom discourse and enforcement through consequences. Students may choose to follow or not follow those they feel are valid. Rule transgression is an implicit rejection of that truth claim. These may and should also be further negotiated within the classroom group.|
|Dramaturgical actions allow for individual expressions of truth and personal identity such as when a teacher teaches with an inner passion for the subject matter with the goal of inspiring similar passion in students. It is taking action to achieve a purpose related to one’s identity or personal truth; however, it is open to interpretation by participants in the learning process.||Such communications are those that allow for individual expressions of truth and personal identity such as when a teacher teaches with an inner passion for the subject matter with the goal of inspiring similar passion in students. These are about taking action to achieve a purpose related to one’s identity or personal truth; however, it is open to interpretation by participants in the learning process.||Dramaturgical actions include student expressions of their personal identity and may be an artistic work (i.e. dance, poem, painting, drawing, story, etc.) These expressions critiqued by peers and instructor to improve the level to which the work communicates the meanings intended by the artist. The instructor may model such work or provide examples.|