Hammer, Elby, Scherr, and Redish (2005) discuss the difficulties in using the term transfer to describe students application of learning from one context to another. Primarily, transfer assumes a unitary view of knowledge that can be cleanly extracted in one context and used in another. Instead, the authors suggest considering how students activate resources and sets of cognitive structures. Rather than knowledge as static, they describe it as emergent and dependent on context and experience. Furthermore, learners frame contexts using social, affective, and epistemological factors to activate cognitive resources established from past experiences/learning. In that sense, it becomes a generative process.

Gupta, Hammer, and Redish (2010) challenge previous work by Chi and Slotta in that the former do not see concepts as things vs concepts as process to be static ontological categories. Instead, they propose ontologies as dynamic models that can traverse these categories based on contextual factors. Gupta et al., argue students and experts share this dynamic approach to reasoning and that it is context dependent, and limiting students or experts to one ontological category can undermine their learning. Experts and novices can and do move back and forth between ontological categories when it is advantageous to do so.

Datson and Galison (1992) give an extensive historical overview of where ideas around objectivity came from and how they evolved. They describe the ongoing and alternating influences of technological advancements and societal conventions on objectivity. Overall, the goal of objectivity revolves around a quest for truth. As the article implies, obtaining such objectivity is bound by the irreducible tension between the available tools and the agent using them (Wertsch, 1998). Atlas makers faced tensions between showing untarnished recordings of nature with the limitations of recording tools. For example, the quality of early photographic technologies was poor and could not show the level of detail a painter could. The drawback that being a painter could inherently impose their own interpretations on representations of nature. Datson and Galison describe scientists going to great lengths to minimize human influences in creating atlases. At the same time, there was debate about what should be included in an atlas: Should it be an idealized version of nature that is unlikely to exist or should it be an accurate depiction of a found specimen which includes all of its unique features. Photography has long been held as the de facto standard of objectivity, but the authors point out its limitations as well. Paradoxically the concept of objectivity has remained controversial and the authors conclude by saying “objectivity is a multifarious, mutable thing, capable of new meanings and new symbols: in both a literal and figurative sense, scientists of the late-nineteenth-century created a new image of objectivity” (p. 123).

In reading these articles, I noticed an ongoing tension between attempts to categorize, simplify, and theorize ways of knowing and learning versus the immense complexities of knowing and learning. In the same way that the term transfer assumes a unitary view of knowledge, early photographic methods in atlas production yielded a single perspective of nature. In each article, the authors describe historical attempts to constrain human nature to simplistic models only to realize much was lost in doing so. Instead, they all realized the dynamic and emergent nature of knowing and learning that was heavily context dependent. As well, they realized that outward appearances of learning do little to describe the complexity of what is occurring internally and how previous and current experiences shape that learning.

Daston, L., & Galison, P. (1992). The Image of Objectivity. Representations, 40(1), 81–128. https://doi.org/10.2307/2928741

Gupta, A., Hammer, D., & Redish, E. F. (2010). The Case for Dynamic Models of Learners’ Ontologies in Physics. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 19(3), 285–321. https://doi.org/10.1080/10508406.2010.491751

Hammer, D., Elby, A., Scherr, R. E., & Redish, E. F. (2005). Resources, framing, and transfer. In J. P. Mestre (Ed.), Transfer of learning from a modern multidisciplinary perspective (pp. 89–120). Greenwich, CT: Informaiton Age Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1002/car.1158

~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.~