re: Vigotsky, Rogoff, Kelly
Sat, 3 Jun 1995 21:01:05 +0000

Here's a blast from the past! In rereading some old papers in support of a
new conference paper I'm preparing, I came across work done by Gordon Pask
in the 1960s which is, it seems to me, very relevant to our recent debate
on participative teaching and learning strategies.

In brief, what Pask did was to draw on the cybernetic concepts and
technologies of his day to suggest that such strategies, if successful,
would show all of the characteristics of a self-organising system as
described by people like von Bertalanffy and von Foerster. Among others,
characteristics such as
- not just an increase in the variety of responses and states available to
participants in their confrontation with the environment, but a rate of
change in the variety of their responses greater than the rate of change of
variety in the environment
- a fluidity of communication structures along which teacher(s) and
learners interact, the optimal communication structure changing with the
nature of the problem the group as a whole chose to address
- what he called a "redundancy of potential command", i.e. a situation in
which, depending on the nature of the problem addressed and the skills of
the individuals involved, different people could take the lead in
initiating actions that move the system from an earlier state to a later
state; in educational terms, that different people would take on the role
of "teacher" as the occasion demanded.

Most of this seems very compatible with constructivist ideas of sociality
and Boxer's notion of regnancy in collaborative construing. I suspect that
it has influenced the thinking of other people who were around in Brunel
University in the early 1970s, when Laurie Thomas taught a group of PhDs
like Pam Denicolo and Maureen Pope, (Laurie having participated in seminars
with Pask). And there's a lot of it present in the work of more recent
constructivists, to the extent, perhaps, that you'll tell me that Pask's
ideas are old hat.

But if any of these original cybernetic expressions (especially of the
notion of a self-organising system) are of interest, please e-mail me
directly and I'll send you a photocopy of the papers in question (they're
conference offprints and unlikely to be easily available otherwise). And,
if it is of interest, let's hear some more please from some of the
colleagues involved!

Kind regards,

Devi Jankowicz

Well, that was fun! Now back to the preparation of this wretched conference
paper. Does it _have_ to be like mineral prospecting, hacking out ideas
from a stubbornly resistant neural matrix; or is it just me? Anyone got any
more _soothing_ metaphors for the process of conference paper preparation?