Vol. 13 - Issue 1 2017 - ISSN 1504-4831
Sunday, 19 May 2024

Volume 3 - issue 2 - 2007

Editorial - a remark you made

img2285 ”A remark you made” is the title of a wonderful tune by the famous jazz-rock group “Weather Report”, issued on the influential “Heavy weather” LP some 30 years ago. In an age where planning and rationalizing is the main issue in most contexts, whether it’s a matter of studying, teaching, doing research or using a diet, “A remark you made” is a symbol of attending to the unplanned, unforeseen and often, unwanted. In most accounts on cognitive development one is overtly focused on the manageable, on the predictable and expected, and not so attentive to the opposite. “A remark you made” makes us think again and reconsider what might be of value, in what we otherwise might neglect.
A remark made by Terry Anderson at a conference last year (2006) was rather telling. Anderson is the renown distance educator from Athabasca University, Alberta Canada, and editor of our fellow e-journal “The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning”. I recite it here totally from my own memory, and I have never approached him to have it verified, falsified or commented. That doesn’t matter in this context. Standing on the podium, he lowered his voice and asked if any Danes were present in the room. There weren’t! Then he explained that his argument might be presented differently with Danes present: “You see – Danes seem to think that learning alone is no longer possible!” That remark caused quite a good laugh, not the least because any comment – good or bad – about fellow Scandinavians generally is considered to be a good joke. But it was also a comment on how not only distance education, or open and flexible learning, but learning theory in general is driven by the sociocultural learning theory, - and according to Anderson, particularly so in Denmark! Our first contribution in this issue is about the theory of media theory developed by one of our editors: Lars Qvortrup. Lars is now the rector of the Danish “Royal School of Library and Information Science”. His presentation rests on an understanding of learning that makes it totally an individual experience, namely radical constructivism, as presented by Niklas Luhmann. In Denmark it would be fair to say that constructivism and social constructivism are two vital, but different approaches to learning, and in distance education in particular. In most other contexts nowadays, ideas about dialogues, scaffolding, collaboration, and mentoring relies on the theoretical tradition from Lev Vygotsky, via several contemporary interpretations and developments performed by J. Wertsch, J. Lave, R. Scardamalia, E.Wenger etc. Since Timothy Koschmann placed the development of educational psychology to fit with an evolutionary scheme, he unavoidably suggested a normative taxonomy, in which learning in a social context was placed at the top, and behaviourism at the bottom.

This has led to a normative regime in higher education and elsewhere in which learning through working in social contexts, such as in seminars, groups and projects has gained a superior position. The paradox is that learning in this way is, for the most part, not very flexible. On the contrary, the more you add assignments that demand contributions and collaboration from more than one person, the less flexible it gets. How do we then come to terms with the paradox? In practice, the average design of a distance education programme allows students to work in flexible manners, which opens for collaborative work for those who prefer to work collaboratively, and a straightforward independent course progression for what usually is the majority: students working for themselves. In a recently published PhD thesis by dr.Ulf Olsson of Karlstad University, he demonstrates that working independently, not relying on social activity in the virtual classroom, pays off in order to survive in the distance education classroom (Olsson 2007). Therefore it seems that holding learning in the social context as a moral predicament has some serious consequences. First, it devalues personal knowledge, and explains how individuals learn poorly. Second, it builds on a sort of normality, or even moralism that dismisses the learning strategies that are based on individual achievement. Since adult education was founded gradually as an academic field, individual and collective learning has been taken seriously as a question of variance, of adapting to different learning styles and contexts. Making the social contexts of learning the superior is out of line with a policy for flexible learning anyhow.

Joakim Samuelson's article in this journal reveals a closer look at what happens when classrooms are dominated by computers. Even if computers in the classroom have been expected to promote communication and dialogic exchanges of knowledge, Samuelson demonstrates in the case he reports from that this is hardly the case. Students prefer to work alone, also in primary grades. Stephen Dobson and Rune Sarroma Haustätter tell a fascinating story in their paper about how the Internet changes educational knowledge. Their frame of reference is not the classroom, but public debate. Initially Dobson, Brudal and Tobiassen published an article about a particular tradition in Norway. Students finishing their thirteen-year long junior and secondary education celebrate this by partying and performing a collective masquerade for two weeks, in a manner that has caused parents and teachers much concern over the years. Dobson et.al. interpreted this ritual differently, finding it to be a rite-de-passage with serious care-taking and gentle socialisation into a new and different position as independent students. Gradually this "new knowledge" generated by educational researchers became one of the hottest topics in the public debate. Dobson and Hausstätter discuss how this knowledge is interpreted and codified according to the schemes of the sociology of education. Finally in this issue AnnBritt Enochson presents her findings from a study she made on how tweens - children between 11 and thirteen - address each other on a very busy Swedish site for children: LunarStorm. While most attention is given in the media to the misuse of the Internet, this report suggests that in the vast majority of instances, kids address each other in a polite and inviting manner. In the casual context, communicating is a necessary and enjoyable exercise for kids. Reframing communication in the context of schooling separates communication for social purposes and for subject matters. The dream of social constructivism is that the two modes of communication merge. In many instances that is a process of chasing rainbows.
As the editor writes these lines, international media reports that the composer of “A remark you made”, Joe Zawinul just died (Sep.12.2007). We thank him for the musical remarks he made for us all.


Dobson, S, Brudalen, R. and Tobiassen, H. (2006) Courting risk. The attempt to understand youth cultures. Young Vol. 14, No.1 (49-59)
Koschmann, T. (1996). Paradigmshifts and instructional technology: An
I T. Koschmann (red.), CSCL: Theory and Practice of an Emerging Paradigm. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Olsson, U. (2007) Flexibel utbildning. För vem? [Flexible education. For whom?] PhD dissertation. Karlstad University, Karlstad.