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Subject:

Re: paradigms

From:

Nic Voge <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Open Forum for Learning Assistance Professionals <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 11 Apr 2001 16:15:24 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (173 lines)

Steve (and anyone else reading in),

I have thought about the issue you broach in a similar, but somewhat
different, way. I teach reading and study strategy courses at UC
Berkeley. Obviously these students have been extremely successful
academically or they wouldn't be here. Yet, many of their approaches
are NOT adaptive to this new environment with new expectations and
demands. It occurred to me in working with my students that those who
have been successful will often be LEAST  amenable to changing their
learning approaches. Those approaches have been useful for them. As
you say, it would be risky, if not irrational, to adopt a new
approach over one that has been proved to work. This only stands to
reason. So, what I realized is that I need to make a case to them for
how post-secondary education, learning, reading etc. is different
from secondary education. It's not merely "more", (more reading, more
"in-depth" etc.) but qualitatively different. In my view it is
different in a number of ways, but one of the most important is how
professionals in their respective disciplines think about, create and
share knowledge; that is in terms of conventional epistemological
beliefs in the disciplines. I usually frame this to my students as
disciplinary "Ways of Knowing". What counts as knowledge and knowing
and good evidence, etc. is not the same in college as it was in high
school and it's not the same across the disciplines. At Berkeley
students are being asked (implicitly) to learn to know the world in a
certain way, to think like an anthropologist or an electrical
engineer or a historian, not merely know the content of these fields.
This REQUIRES epistemological realignment, sometimes from hour to
hour as they move from a course in Math to one in Ethnic Studies.

I think I can speak to another of your questions. You ask, "Has
anyone researched or run across any articles/books/people who take
this perspective on students?" The short answer is "Yes". Educators
who do their work under the aegis of "new literacy studies" often
take this perspective toward students transitioning to
college/university studies.
What these folks do (I humbly count myself among their number) is
view literacy and learning and education as social processes, as
enculturation and socialization as much as cognitive development or
expansion. So for me, making the transition to college is about being
socialized into new communities who have new and different ways
(norms and conventions) for reading, writing, thinking, making
arguments, collecting and evaluating evidence (here's where the
epistemological issues come in) and the like. Work by Glynda Hull,
Linda Flower, Brian Street and others may be of interest to you.

A fairly direct link can be drawn from this approach to the work by
philosophers and sociologists of science (Thomas Kuhn being the most
famous and the one who popularized the term "paradigm") in the sense
that these scholars were interested in the ways that science as a
social enterprise changes, develops and as Kuhn so famously put it
"shifts".  That is, they recognized that science isn't only about
facts and findings (nor is learning in one's major) it's about fads
and conventions and norms and personalities and social movements and
entrenched interests. Scientists are socialized into communities just
like everyone else and are subject to their pressures like anyone
else (think of it as professional peer pressure). The risks you
mention that a  scientist (or educator, for that matter) faces when
deciding whether to shift paradigms are largely professional (just
another way of saying "social') in nature, not "scientific" per se.
So, ideas are taken up, built upon, ignored, shunned, even sabotaged
based on social considerations, not just on their merits as
"objective" ideas. This exemplifies the point that it's not always
the best ideas that prevail in science. Scientists must, and do,
consider social implications of adopting a paradigm. The entrenched
ideas and communities of scholars who share them will almost always
exert undue influence over the movement of a field because it is in
their interest to not see their paradigm go by the way. In short,
science, in one very important sense of the word, is a social
enterprise with all that that term connotes.

The shared notion between these seemingly rather different comments
is that science like education is a social-institutional enterprise.
Science and education are not, respectively, merely about finding
facts and learning them. So, I think discussions or studies about
epistemological beliefs are important but often incomplete because
they rarely address the issue of where these beliefs came from.
Belief systems are learned, generally, through socialization. So in
my view college students must often adopt new belief systems,
seriously tweak their existing epistemological frameworks and,
perhaps most significantly, give up beliefs and ways of thinking that
they have internalized from their experiences and their communities.
Sometimes adopting an approach to studying and reading and learning
entails changing one's whole way of thinking about what knowledge is
and what education is for. It's no wonder then that students are
circumspect about shifting paradigms just because we tell them to.

Lastly, I'm not sure that the challenge/dilemma faced by students is
best termed one of paradigm shift. Kuhn (See "The Structure of
Scientific Revolutions"), as I understand it, uses the term to talk
about a socially held framework of ideas, methods etc. and not
residing in any individual. Moreover, Kuhn's work has been widely
lauded, but he received some trenchant criticism over his loose use
(hey that rhymes) of the term "paradigm". So, expanding the use of
the term even further may be counter-productive.

Hope that is a little useful, and more than a little provocative.
Nic

>This is a multi-part message in MIME format.
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>
>Hi, all,
>
>I just went to a really interesting lecture by a philosopher on
>paradigm-shifts in the sciences . One of the things he talked about was
>this interesting conundrum:  on the eve of a paradigm shift (e.g., just
>after Einstein published e=mc squared), a scientist trying to decide
>whether to stick with the old (newtonian universe) or go with the new
>(relativistic universe) has a tough dilemma. Do I go with this new idea
>that seems to explain some tough, hitherto unsolved problems but that
>flies in the face of everything I believe? Or do I reject it, because I
>think the old theories will eventually solve these tough problems
>without having to turn everything on its head? Deciding to go with the
>new is, in a lot of senses, irrational, unless we re-define what counts
>as rational.
>
>Now, I'm not just going on about this talk because it was engaging. It
>occured to me that students being confronted with a college-level
>workload (and expectations about analyzing, synthesizing, writing,
>etc..) for the first time might be having the same kind of dilemma,
>where taking the advice of learning assistance folks seems irrational.
>For instance, say I advise a student unsure about how to proceed with an
>assignment that he needs to meet with the professor. In all of his past
>experience, "meet with the teacher," was always about getting something
>wrong, which he understood as being bad. I don't know this, but I can
>see I'm having a tough time convincing him. I try to say the professor
>will "help" him. In his experience, the word "help" has always been a
>euphemism for "punish," as in "this will be good for you."
>
>Here's my question (finally!): Has anyone researched or run across any
>articles/books/people who take this perspective on students? (I already
>read avidly the article "Epistemological Beliefs of Underprepared
>College Students" in the Fall JCRL.) I hope I'm not hopelessly outdated
>in using the word "paradigm" in this setting.
>
>Thanks,
>Steve Runge
>
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>tel;work:315-229-5600
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>org:St. Lawrence University
>adr:;;;Canton;NY;13617;USA
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>title:Academic Skills Coordinator
>fn:Steve Runge
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>--------------BD62B4713821C6ECF14C317D--

--


Dominic J. Voge
UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education
Language, Literacy and Culture
[log in to unmask]

"I have spent a lifetime learning to read." --Goethe
"The best educated human being is the one who understands most about
the life in which he is placed."--Helen Keller

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