This post is part of a weekly reflection requirement for a graduate level introductory course of the historical and philosophical foundations of the Learning Sciences. As such, it may seem a bit out of place without the context of the in-class discussions, but I’m including it here for posterity. The general premise is to create a brief summary of each reading and include a reflection about them.

Schon (1983) starts by acknowledging the array of different perspectives on how to do design. He states “All occupations engaged in converting actual to preferred situations are concerned with design” (p. 77). Designers use disciplinary mediums and language to do their work. They attempt to consider different variables within a finite model to accomplish their goals, while simultaneously responding to a situations ‘back-talk’ when unintended consequences occur. He describes the process of good design as a conversation with the situation. Throughout the narrative, there is mention of the idea of starting from “a discipline” and then thoughtfully departing from that discipline if needed, as the conversation evolves. There is a threefold cycle in evaluating each move or local experiment: the implications based on disciplinary norms, the implications based on prior moves, and possible consequences of the current move. Schon, stresses design as a continuous process of oscillating between the local and the global, through series of experiments and commitments until a final design is achieved.

Holland (1998) presents a conundrum in describing identity through constructivist and culturalist lenses. The culturalist perspective positions identity as something shaped by societal norms learned in childhood. A constructivist identity relies on situational conditions, negotiations, and relations. Holland says, “identity is a concept that figuratively combines the intimate or personal world with the collective space of cultural forms and social relations” (p. 5). Her striking description of the woman who climbed up the wall exemplified improvisation as a response to a situation that the woman’s identity did not have a set response.

DiSessa (1983) outlines the differences between novice and expert intuition within the context of physics. He discussed the notion of Phenomenological Primitives (p-prims): a “heterarchical collection of recognizable phenomena in terms of which they see the world and sometimes explain it” (p. 16). He describes a case of a student basing their understanding of physics on common sense observation. The student can see and explain the concept of springiness, but appears to struggle with applying the concept to other objects such as a ball bouncing. The instructor attempts to describe the correlation, but the student counters their claims with examples they believe to disprove the correlation. DiSessa notes how the student relies on cues from what they’ve observed in the past to try and explain a ball bouncing. The different between expert and novice he says is the depth of their priority system. Experts have a larger array of experiences and awareness of what abstractions of physics concepts should be prioritized in a given situation.

DiSessa highlights a simple, yet pervasive, concept: we rely on our senses to interpret the world. Progressing to the level of expert requires a continuous cycle of abandoning previous knowing to allow for new knowing. In much the same way Schon speaks of design, we start with a disciplinary norm and then have to experiment in a local context to develop meaning and its implications on a broader scale. Schon’s notion of reflection-in-action through design could be paralleled in education. As an educator, I can design a course based on my prior experience with disciplines of students, physical space, content, cultural backgrounds, personalities, etc. In knowing something about each of these components, I can attempt to “experiment locally” with each piece to see how it fits with other pieces. With each piece, I have to reflect on how it “talks back” to the overall design goals as well as each other piece. Holland’s discussion of identity brings to mind the possibly profound impact identity can have on learning. I think of the learner that may have been raised never to oppose an authority figure or speak out of turn as strongly shaping their identity and learning experiences. Such a student may be reluctant to discuss their p-prims with others, which would affect their progression to expert. As Schon says of good designers, educators need to similarly be in conversation with the situation and its ‘back-talk.’ How does changing the design for one student affect the others?