Complexity and critical literacies

Is a critical literacy for networked learning to know something about Complexity Theory?

Dave Snowden was today’s speaker on the Critical Literacies open online course, talking about complexity. We had technical difficulties and had to move from ‘Open Meetings’ to ‘Elluminate’ (many thanks to Carmen) and when we finally got going it all seemed like a bit of a rush.  I’m not completely ignorant about complexity theory, but it was too fast for me and I will have to listen again to the recording when it finally gets posted (probably more than once), as there was a lot packed in there. We were also given this link which I have dipped into and looks as though it will be very useful.

http://learningtobeprofessional.pbworks.com/From-induction-to-abduction,-a-new-approach-to-research-and-productive-inquiry

My interest in complexity theory is related to what it has to say about teaching and learning – which comes back to critical literacies. My understanding is that a complex system is one in which you cannot predict what is going to happen and just that over-simplified one statement presents huge challenges for our education system (UK), which seems to want to prescribe and measure everything in sight. In an article that I read this afternoon, this question was asked about what complexity theory might mean for the philosophy of education:

Complexity theory poses a major question: What do the following mean for the philosophy of education: emergence and self-organization; connectedness; order without control; diversity and redundancy; unpredictability and non-linearity; co-evolution; communication and feedback; open, complex adaptive systems; and distributed control?

Any teacher will know the challenges that these ideas present,  just as anyone who took part in CCK08 might also recognise these as characteristics of a complex system.

I found this article (cited below) very helpful as an introduction to thinking about teaching and learning in terms of complexity theory.  Unfortunately it is not available online and I can’t post the pdf because of copyright restrictions, but it is likely to be in a University library if you have access to one.

Morrison, K. (2008). Educational Philosophy and the Challenge of Complexity Theory. Philosophy, 40(1).

So plenty to think about and plenty to come back to! Is complexity theory ever included in a teacher trainee’s degree course? It wasn’t in any of the courses that I was ever involved in, but it seems to me to be important in helping teachers to manage the inevitable uncertainty, unpredictability and emergent learning which is going to increasingly occur as students become more and more connected and networked.

8 thoughts on “Complexity and critical literacies

  1. Heli Nurmi June 10, 2010 / 11:10 am

    Thanks a lot Jenny again

    I listened to Snowden via the link you gave and now I have an idea of yesterday evening studies, I was not patient enough to wait fo the voices to come through

    Complexity is the focus now, yeah? In that teacher education I worked we had no courses at all: the education was totally integreated, a program and PLEs, portfolios etc. Teacher Education program 60 credits.

    We studied system theories and chaos theories, not deeply, but we used the ideas and implemented. – Until we came a part of bigger organisation with engineering management, qualityprograms with measurable outcomes. Abduction in development, falling back to lower levels. this is real life in educational institutions.

  2. María Fernanda Arenas June 12, 2010 / 6:57 pm

    Jenny,

    I agree with your understanding of complexity “a complex system is one in which you cannot predict what is going to happen and just that over-simplified one statement presents huge challenges for our education system”.

    I listened to Snowden too via the link of the newsletter and I could recognize some of your comments on Snowden´s ideas expressed on the podcasts (I found a new and different vocabulary to me and I could also recognize the complexity of having a communication in meeting on line: noise, moments of silent, different levels of sound).

    In my teaching experience complexity involves our capability to manage with uncertainity and incompleteness with an organization system that, in many cases, follows predictable and measurable outcomes. (as Heli told on her post).

    I found some ideas from Edgar Morin ´s book “Pensamiento Complejo” that let me understand the meaning of “complexity”. Morin believes necessary to dispel two illusions that keep the spirits of the problem
    complex thinking: the first is to believe that the complexity leads to elimination of simplicity and the second illusion is to avoid confusing complexity with completeness.

    Thank you for your reflections!
    María Fernanda

  3. jennymackness June 25, 2010 / 3:47 pm

    Thank you Maria for your visit. I’m interested in your last sentence

    Morin believes necessary to dispel two illusions that keep the spirits of the problem complex thinking: the first is to believe that the complexity leads to elimination of simplicity and the second illusion is to avoid confusing complexity with completeness.

    If you come back here and have the time – could you say a bit more about this or point me to an English reference. Sorry to say that I don’t speak Spanish.

    Jenny

  4. María Fernanda Arenas July 10, 2010 / 7:50 pm

    Jenny,
    When I referred to the illusions that Edgar Morin on his book “Introduction to complex thought” postules about complexity I mean the semantic perceptions of this term.

    The first one is “the first is to believe that the complexity leads to elimination of simplicity”. That is that it is used to think that complexity excludes simplicity, the the minimal unit. complex thinking integrates all the elements that can contribute order, clarity, distinction, accurate knowledge, but reject the consequences mutilating, reductionist that can produce an extreme simplification.

    The second illusion is “avoid is to confuse complexity with completeness”. That consist on the approach seeks to integrate complex thinking, establish relationships, full knowledge is impossible.

    It is a difficult approach because it questins Sicence approach and offers a multidimensional point of view.

    Hope I had explained it in a comprehensive way.

    Regards,
    María Fernanda

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