Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Learning from Verbs: The Shape of Knowledge

Knowmadic (2012, M.A. Reilly)
I. Photographing

I read a post, What Schools Can Learn from the World of Photography by George Couros in which he outlines four lessons from the field that he says are lessons we can apply to school. In thinking about how digital photography has altered that industry, Couros makes these insightful claims:
  1. The technology is better and cheaper which changes everything. 
  2. Communities make us (or force us to be) better.
  3. Create a culture where risks are accepted.
  4. The more access, the more we have to rethink the way we have always done things
What interested me, apart from the four examples cited, is the significant shift with regard to authority that occurred alongside the rise of the digital image/camera.

Access matters.

Who can make, not only an image, but a worthy one altered alongside the technology. This is a story about an industry that had its sanctioned experts and altered into a growing collective of professionals/aspiring/amateurs whose expertise rests not in sanctioned individuals, but more so in the collective. In opening the field, the idea of image making also changed, broadening in ways that could not have been understood 20 years ago. We have new ways of expressing, knowing/unknowing, and sharing because we can now easily (and cheaply) think through a lens.  It is this shift from lone expert to collective that disrupts authority and resituates knowledge. This shift fascinates me and I suspect is beneath the four examples Couros cites.

II. Schooling

A parallel between digital photography and school then, may well be a story about knowledge being the community (a nod to Dave Cormier) and how that transition disrupts more traditional understandings of authority.

It's rhizomes all over again.

David Weinberger (2012)  in  Too Big to Know makes several related points about the shape of knowledge and how the changing shape is also about authority.  He writes:

Shape matters. When knowledge was a pyramid, when it was based on firm foundations shared by all members of the community, when it consisted of contents filtered by reliable authorities, when we knew what was in and what was out, when it had a form and shape, knowledge had an easy authority... Knowledge now is the unshaped web of connections within which expressions of ideas live.
If knowledge is more a node and nodes are contextualized by that which they connect and are connected to, then knowledge is without a foundation. Such thinking asks us to question many of our most trusted assumptions about what counts as important knowledge and whether any ideas can be valued apart from the context in which they occurred. Weinberger explains:
Architecturally, the Net’s lack of an overall permission system makes knowledge less like self-standing content—bricks, in Bernard Forscher’s sense—and more like nodes that cannot be fully credited or even fully understood outside of the network that connects them. (Kindle Locations 3009-3011).
If schooling has been shaped by our expressions of knowledge as bounded, listable, and transferable-- then is it not expected that a new shape of learning is emerging that mimics a networked understanding of knowledge?

Borrowing from Weinberger's description of networking scientific knowledge, we could think about the shift from schooling as institution to networked learning as being:
(1) huge, (2) less hierarchical, (3) more continuously public, (4) less centrally filtered, (5) more open to differences, and (6) hyperlinked. (Kindle Locations 2104-2105)

III. Mapping is So Yesterday

Now an oddity here is how the list above conflicts with the recent push to standardize, control, centralize, and limit what counts as important knowledge via undertakings such as the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). I want to suggest here that what we see in this gesture (expensive at that) is perhaps a last (?) vestige to a past where knowledge, like authority, remained stable and known.  Modeled from within a perspective of paper-based knowing, the CCSS is a contained world punctuated by stops.  There is little, if any, middle as it is beginnings and ends that dominate. Again, Weinberger characterizes paper-based knowledge in this manner:

We created knowledge as a system of stopping points both because that’s what paper enabled and because it’s a highly efficient strategy.(Kindle Locations 2983-2984).
Stopping points.

The institution of school is filled with big stopping points. Just consider these: curriculum mapping, grade levels, student-teacher roles, school calendar, graduation, report cards, diploma, attendance, seat time, core subjects. The choice of being definitive is a stopping point.

Perhaps a rule to adopt is if you can map it, it may not be worth traversing?

Work Cited:

Weinberger, David (2012-01-03). Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren't the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room is the Room . Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.


  1. Yet, don't maps help us by giving us an initial direction, common path and common language. I agree that we can't let the map trap us and confine the journey, that we must see it for what it is a center point that people will move above, beyond and around in many, many ways. For example, if we think of the Common Core as a map--now we need to look at ways to make it more flexible and responsive to the real children before us. I look forward to pushing myself with regard to your notions above

  2. Also, I love your "Knowmatic" image--amazing and inspiring.

    1. Thanks Maureen. I will respond to what you wrote above, but need some time to think.