Learning as the use of various tools

‘Tools are understood as anything that mediates subjects’ action upon objects.’ ‘Think of the many means –tools- that can be used to send a message or teach arithmetic, for example, and how these differ culturally and historically’. (Russel, 2001, p.11) The tools we use for learning shape our activity. If I decide to use digital material (audio & videorecordings, text, pictures and presentations) and ask the learners to go through material that may seem interesting to them, I may give it to them on a DVD that can be read only on a computer. For some learners this may mean carrying out a few other activities in order to comply with my demand. They may need to learn how to use the computer or encounter difficulties accessing the material.

However not only does the teacher brings in tools but learners bring to the activity a variety of tools such as personal experience, cultural, lingual, character, friends with the desired skills and others. These tools can be explored and used effectively in achieving the desired object and outcome.

• Discuss also G. Bateson’s example of the blind man with his stick. How is this perspective linked to activity, context and human cognition?

I would like to start the discussion with an article called: Where a Blind Man Ends: Five Comments on Context, Artifacts and the Boundaries of the Mind, Systems Research and Behavioral Science, May, 2000 by Yair Neuman, Zvi Bekerman http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_7349/is_3_17/ai_n32007946/?tag=content;col1

In the first few paragraphs, the authors outline that cognitive science finds it quite bizarre that the mind may include artefacts. Bateson wants to show that ‘the mental world – the mind – is not limited by the skin, and the boundaries of the mind are determined by context rather than by anatomical boundaries. He considers the mind as a dynamic system that has dynamic boundaries set by the specific context of the activity. For example, in a case involving the locomotion of the blind man, his stick counts. In a case where his eating behaviour is the activity in question, his stick does not count (unless he is eating with chopsticks!)’ (from the article below) I now include the first few paragraphs of the article:

“The mind as constructed by orthodox cognitive science excludes artefacts. The current paper challenges this by using Gregory Bateson’s radical notion of the mind, according to which the mind is a system whose boundaries are demarcated by context, rather than by stable physiological boundaries, allowing thus for the inclusion of artefacts. The cognitive science orthodoxy is challenged through the identification of five problems concerning its treatment of the synergism that can develop between artefacts and human agents. Insights from cybernetics and activity theory are used in commenting as to how these problems can be alleviated by adopting Bateson’s radical notion of mind. In one of his most famous pedagogical reflections Gregory Bateson questioned the boundaries of the mind by asking where a blind man ends: Suppose I am a blind man, and I use a stick. I go tap, tap, tap. Where do I start? Is my mental system bounded at the handle of the stick? Is it bounded by my skin? Does it start halfway up the stick? Does it start at the tip of the stick? But these are nonsense questions … The way to delineate the system is to draw the limiting line in such a way that you do not cut any of these pathways in ways which leave things inexplicable. If what you are trying to explain is a given piece of behavior, such as the locomotion of the blind man, then, for this purpose, you will need the street, the stick, the man; the street, the stick and so on, round and round. (Bateson, 1973, p. 434)Even after more than 30 years since Bateson’s ideas were published, the idea that the mind may include artefacts seems quite bizarre for all those who have been educated under the hegemony of cognitive science. Cognitive science as an interdisciplinary enterprise seeks to understand the mind in computational terms, with the computer as its leading metaphor (Anderson, 1993; Newell, 1990; Simon, 1969; Turing, 1950). This enterprise totally ignores the notion that artefacts may be included in the mind and exclusively focuses on the computation process, which takes place in the brain. Therefore cognitive science does not support a theoretical framework for discussing the possible broadening of the mind through the use of artefacts. In contrast, for Bateson, the mental world — the mind — is not limited by the skin (Bateson, 1973, p. 429), and the boundaries of the mind are determined by context rather than by anatomical boundaries. That is, instead of a well-demarcated mind located within the physical skull, Bateson considers the mind as a dynamic system that has dynamic boundaries set by the specific context of the activity. Bateson’s conception of the mind suggests that within the right context an artefact may be included in the mind. For example, in a case involving the locomotion of the blind man, his stick counts. In a case where his eating behaviour is the activity in question, his stick does not count (unless he is eating with chopsticks!).”

• Do you see differences to other approaches of learning? Of what kind? • Where do you see the benefits and a true potential of this perspective? • Where may be problematic aspects?

To be able to see others in their context opens many doors to understanding others. An artefact is any thing made or used by mankind. Much of what we see today around us are artefacts and we don’t seem to stop destroying nature. But the sky is the limit as to what may be possible. Social media allows people to connect with each other according to their interests and common goals. This brings with it added responsibility for each actor in the community and those in charge of government. Social media may serve to exploit or to benefit people. Common standards and shared values and a common vision are necessary if we are to continue building an ever-advancing civilisation.

Illustrate your arguments/statements by examples drawn from your own meaningful experiences!

Encouragement has been for me the single most important ‘artefact’ as it has helped me to stand up and dare ask difficult questions. Encouragement provides the fuel for action. Can you encourage someone without love? Artefacts don’t have to be physical objects. Can they not include generosity and justice?

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