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Ian Luxford

Knowledge and stuff

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Thinking about this idea of knowledge being, in the constructivist and connectivisit view of things, personal and contextual, not independent and objective.  I have agreed with this view of knowledge for a long time and often got frustrated with the concept of “knowledge transfer” when it is used to mean “making sure people get the hang of certain facts” etc.

But the thing I have struggled with a bit is what this looks like and how to explain in meaningful terms what knowledge looks like when it is unique to the person holding it. So here’s a go.

I understand facts to be useful building bricks that may support our knowledge if we can combine them together in useful ways and apply and interpret them.  I am not sure that many things we think of as facts can still be proven to be objectively true and then you get into what truth is all about and William James and Karl Popper and so on but for now it’s probably OK that there is a concept that some things could be called facts.

So it might be a fact that when you are driving on UK roads, if you come to what is called a yellow box junction, you are not supposed to enter it unless the way out is clear (it is not a fact that you physically can’t or that you will definitely get prosecuted etc but it is reasonable to say it’s a fact that you are not supposed to. Even then, our understanding of this fact might vary.

Most drivers in the UK will have this fact in their memories with, perhaps, some degree of similarity in how they undertand it.  On its own though, it is still not very useful as knowledge.  When a driver is confronted with a yellow box junction, s/he will make a decision on what to do – possibly based not on this fact alone but on knowledge.  This means that the decision is guided by a number of things including this fact but also by other experiences of what happens if you do or don’t enter the yellow box, what the consequences are for you the driver and the drivers behind you and in the other parts of the road network and what value system you are working with at the time, i.e. whether you want to obstruct other drivers or help them, how quickly you want to get on your way etc.

This decision therefore might be guided by the use of a single fact but it might better be guided by knowledge – the driver’s understanding of that fact, combined with lots of other inputs and contexts that come to bear uniquely at that moment.

And all this is OK unless you want to live in a world with everything is fully defined and clear and black and white and there is only one way of arriving at decisions and the people who are best at making those decisions are the ones who are at the topic of the league table in terms of the number of “facts” they know.  Can’t see it working but it worries me that so much of our education seems to want this to be the case.

Permalink 1 comment (latest comment by Alan Clarke, Saturday, 20 Apr 2013, 15:26)
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