Wednesday, 18 March 2009

A Conversation with James Watson

This is a nice podcast of a conversation between Seymour Benzer, the James B. Boswell Professor of Neuroscience and James Watson in 2007

Watson, together with Dr. Francis Crick, was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962 for their discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA.

Is this a conversation, broadcast or interview? Are chat-show-esk podcasts a rich learning resource?

Friday, 6 March 2009

Role of Conversation or Dialogue in Education

This is fast becoming a favourite topic of mine, you may have noticed from my other postings.

Indeed a lot of the material we are reading in our course design module covers this topic in passing. I intend to blog about this here and hope to use this content at some point during the course for assessment purposes. It would fit with this module (Course Design), Information Literacy and would be a good dissertation topic perhaps?

A Modern Approach to Curriculum Design?

The role of conversation in education (workplace learning and higher education) is a topical and pertinent subject relevant in both academic and workplace contexts. Its place as a concept within education could be argued to be increasing in importance, heightened by current changes in society as a whole.

Globalisation has increasingly brought people together despite space and time zone differences and has equally been realised through establishing distributed virtual teams in the workplace and through developing distance learning courses for dispersed, remote and often diverse learners in higher education. In both of these learning contexts communication is fundamental.

In addition, traditional cohorts of students now entering Higher Education could be considered a dialogic generation of student, all be it text based. The use of SMS mobile texting, email, chatrooms and services like MSN for instant messaging or Facebook, Myspace or Twitter for networking and online chat seem common place amongst this dialogic generation.

Education is evolving and responding to society's needs to facilitate the learning process for them. Both workplace and Higher Education are radically changing their teaching and networking spaces. Computers (PCs, laptops, sophisticated phones like the iphone, blackberries) pervade the workplace, whether you are an office worker, travelling financial adviser, mobile hairdresser or washing machine repair person. Cybercaf├ęs are springing up, wireless connections are available in hotel rooms, on trains and at the lakeside in Vevey on Lake Geneva. Images of libraries are changing too, to more social spaces to capitalise on this type of learning. Their atmosphere is evolving from passive to active, from hushed inner sanctum of knowledge to energised environment in order to reflect current lifestyles and ways of working. Libraries are setting aside more space for conversation and group work, collaborative learning and knowledge sharing and for technology and portable communication devices, including laptops, phones etc. (Foreman, 2009, p. 1).

But have things really moved on?

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Conversation - tracking my interest back..

Takes me back to and allows me to reminiss about my ancient greek and latin days, It seems there may be an educational theorectical basis to such an approach, or at least an ideology or philosophy. Socratic methods seem to give this topic academic grounding, weight, credibility and kudos. A quick check of wikipedia reminds me of Cicero's dialogs, Xenophon, Plato and many others.....

An original interest in finding and sharing knowledge and information led me to a career in information and libraries. A long established interest in teaching & learning and a developing one in e-learning extends this original attraction as I believe teaching is all about reaching out and converting that information and knowledge into something deeper: understanding and learning. E-learning offers the opportunity to make even greater and faster 'connections'. Helping others to harness these connections and developing shared understandings also extends my original interest of helping others to access information.

These lurking interests or drivers heightened my interest in conversation when we were looking at the use of portfolios in education, whilst engaged in the art of chatting with peers via discussion boards and whilst producing my own weblog for the IDEL module last year. Conversations, all be them textual in nature (mostly), were held in these spaces, with myself in reflection or with my tutor via weblog or with peers via discussion boards.

Conversation is undeniably one way of sharing knowledge, cultivating understanding and facilitating learning and this is a method which suits my own style of learning. Digital technologies such as email, discussion boards, mobile texting and the development of web 2.0 technologies, such as blogs, wikis and social networking sites (Facebook, Twitter and Diig), make conversation online and across time and space a reality, which is ripe for exploitation within the academic arena.
Posted by Alison Johnson

Dialogue - Is there a clue in the title?

The term 'dialogue' itself has begun to intrigue me, as a route to learning.

I am wondering whether the word itself might hold the secret to the concept of learning and interaction I am trying to tune into? Being made up of the greek words dia and logos - I thought there would be something relevant in the 'dia' part of the word in terms of a 'process involved' and/or some form of inbuilt collaboration or connection which would be both pivotal and dynamic within the process as a whole.....

A quick check of some Greek/Latin dictionaries has revealed possibilities for this. Although, as I remember from old, one word in Ancient Greek or indeed Latin can mean many in English. Hence numerous interpretations can therefore be deducted in reality. Never-the-less, to humour me and follow my train of thought the ones which interest me - (since they support what I am trying to seek out) are:

DIA: between; on account of; through midst of; by agency of; throughout; in among; during; by means of; by mouth of; by aid of; mutual relations; one with another; different directions & variance. For definitions of 'Dia' check here and here

LOGOS: 'that by which inward thought is expressed'; word; talks; speech; conversation, a saying. From the Latin: thought; opinion; reason. For definitions of 'Logos' check here and here

In fact LOGOS, if we take the most literal meaning of 'that by which inward thought is expressed', could be associated with more textual (as opposed to verbal) forms of conversation. This sort of association could offer scope for digital environments to credibly underpin a conversational pedagogical shift or approach within education.

This aside, LOGOS is obviously individualistic in nature and concerned with the externalisation of something which happens inwardly with all its contextual assumptions, prejudice and bias. DIA, meanwhile, seems to expect a degree of collective interaction or collaborative effort. When linked with LOGOS, the whole concept seems to have an unfinished subtext, bringing its connotations of 'throughout', 'during' and 'in the midst of' to the forefront. Such unfinished business neatly aligns itself with notions of education as an ongoing process and life long learning.

Conversing in Cyberspace

How can cyberspace facilitate dialogue?

The equivalent of this in cyberspace might be:

1. 'Lexia' - a collaborative effort in terms of 'textual combinations of thoughts, forms of dialogue, links leading to material produced by others with links to material published by others;

2. Hypertext - linking associated connections, produced by others, together in a collaborative way

3. Blogs used for dialogue - between oneself in reflective mode and/or between student and tutor. Discussion, debate, feedback can take place via comments function.

4. Recorded conversation taken from asynchronous discussion boards. A never ending conversation which can be extended and added to over time.

5. Transcripts taken from synchronus chat sessions conducted in spaces such as Skype or Second Life.

6. Wikis with their inbuilt collaborative space.

7. Eportfolios which have scope for including conversation as digital artefacts

8. Social Networking sites eg Facebook, Nature Network

9. Twitter; Diig and other similar web 2.0 conversational spaces

Most of this type of chat in cyberspace is textual but:

10. Podcasts can record interviews, academic discourse on trends or advances in their field, presentations with question and answer sessions

Conversational Theories and Dialogic Ideologies

A few musings:

1. Conversation Theory of Gordon Pask (1970). Pask puts forward a cybernetic and dialectic framework that offers a scientific theory to explain how interactions can lead to "construction of knowledge", or, "knowing". This theory preserves both the dynamic/kinetic quality and the necessity for there to be a "knower". (Wikipedia)

2. Socratic Methods or Dialogue

3. Constructivist Learning Theories of Vgotsky & Piaget. Constructivist values are about the quality of interactions with tutors, learning environment and other learners. Cooperative learning make learners accomodate different ideas, identities, misconceptions and mistakes and individuals gain new insights from group interactions. Dialog as a interaction is entirely appropriate in constructivist interactions. Constructivists aim is to make knowledge visible. Digital environments easily support such an approach through concept mapping, discursive spaces such as blogs, wikis, discussion boards and networking sites, podcasts etc.

4. Laurillard (2002) Rethinking University Teaching in the Digital Age offers a conversational model to enable a continuing iterative dialogue between teacher and student. Such as dialogue can reveal both participants' conceptions and the variations between them...

Moving into the social critical approaches/domains:

Dialogue can have inbuilt power positions. Social critical approaches to the curriculum seek to address this whilst retaining 'dialogue' at their core:

5. Paulo Freire theory of Dialogic Action

6. Egalitarian Conversation - designed to re-address the balance of power positions and the impact they can have on conversation: Dialogue is egalitarian when it takes different contributions into consideration according to the validity of their reasoning, instead of according to the positions of power held by those who make the contributions (Flecha, 2000, in Wikipedia:)

7. Social Constructivism - interactive groups of diverse learners (with different levels of education or from different backgrounds) teach and learn from each other, creating Zones of Proximal Development. Zones of Proximal Development can happen when learning from peers. Meaning making and learning do not depend solely on the intervention of professionals, but on all the knowledge brought by anyone related to the students (Flecha, 2000 in Wikipedia).

8. LeCourts Pedaogy (in Bayne 2004) anonymised discussion to allow for multiple subjectivity


Bayne, S. (2004). Smoothness and striation in digital learning spaces. E-learning 1 (2): pp. 302-316

Laurillard (2002) Rethinking University Teaching in the Digital Age

Shor, I. (1993). Education is politics: Paulo Freire's critical pedagogy. In Paulo Freire: a critical encounter. P. McLaren and P. Leonard (Eds.). (London, Routledge): pp. 25-35

Engaging Conversation?

In attempt to try and understand why some choose not to engage in discussion, debate, conversation or dialogue when learning online, I thought I would try and brainstorm some thoughts here. Especially since my learning style seems to suit conversational environments and because I tend to feel robbed of the learning that could transpire if those who do not, were to join the conversation.

Any ideas?

Keesing-Styles on Conversation

Keesing-Styles (2003) finds further connections between dialogue and critical pedagogies with critical consciousness being developed via ‘authentic dialogue’ between students and teachers.

Keesing-Styles (2003 pg 4) talks about humanised education which is about the collaborative and collective production of knowledge grounded in the reality of students lives in contrast to the historical or more traditional banking form of education, as labelled by Freire in 1984. ‘Dialogic relations’ she states ‘should be at the heart of any educational experience’ as ‘human life holds meaning through communication’.


Keesing-Styles, L. (2003). The relationship between critical pedagogy and assessment in teacher education. Radical Pedagogy 5(1). Retrieved: 28 October 2008.

Shor, I. (1993). Education is politics: Paulo Freire's critical pedagogy. In Paulo Freire: a critical encounter. P. McLaren and P. Leonard (Eds.). (London, Routledge): pp. 25-35

Toohey and Freire on Conversation.

Toohey's Social Critical approach to the curriculum has much overlap with Smith's process and praxis approaches and the role of conversation here also takes pride of place too. Toohey identifies Paolo Freire as the most famous social critical pedagogue. Shor (1993) takes a look at the Freirean pedagogy in more detail and in doing so expertly illustrates the prominent role dialogue has within such a pedagogy using terms such as dialogue leaders and to teach dialogically.

A Freirean pedagogy tries to avoid a one way monologue in the class room, to develop a student centred and problem posing dialogue, to teach subject matter dialogically and to create a new attitude in doing so.

Freire (1973: 52 in Shor 1993) argues that dialogue has been absent from our upbringing and education up to this point. In a Freiran pedagogy, problem posing is considered key to critical dialogue and a teacher following freirean principles would be a critical teacher, a problem poser who asks thought provoking questions and a dialogic teacher who does not seperate themselves from the dialogue. Inside a rigorous dialogue and thematic discussions a freirean teacher would have the right and responsibility to put forward his or her ideas, in a language accessible to students who have the freedom to question and disagree with the teacher's analysis.

In a freirean pedagogic approach to teaching critical dialogue would be used to problematize experiences, relationships, situations and dialogic reflections amongst peers and to help a student gain some critical distance from their conditions, giving them space to consider how to transform them.

Problem posing often used questioning techniques so some comparisons can be drawn with socratic methods of teaching and learning.


Shor, I. (1993). Education is politics: Paulo Freire's critical pedagogy. In Paulo Freire: a critical encounter. P. McLaren and P. Leonard (Eds.). (London, Routledge): pp. 25-35

Toohey, S. (1999). Beliefs, values and ideologies in course design. In Designing courses for higher education. Toohey, S. (Buckingham, SRHE and OUP): pp. 44-69

Where does assessment fit with conversational theories?

Toohey (1999 p 47) queries what assessment tell us about what is valued in education?

HE assessment seems to value....
· Isolated rather than integrated knowledge
· Individual rather than cooperative achievement

This seems to run counter to society and business needs as it stands with its need for networks, inclusivity, multidisciplinary and team working or collaboration. With the recent report on Childhood identifying a potential problem for society with the rise of greedy individualism which needs to be addressed not only by parental guidance but education and with the recent demise of the banking sector due to individualistic tendencies an imbalance not only in society but also in education perhaps needs readdressing? Within the current product driven curriculum followed in many HE establishments could conversation and discourse be one way to re-address the balance?

Keesing-Styles (2003) notes that assessment must be based on dialogic interactions – eg reflection on action, authentic dialogue (teacher and student) and self assessment and peer review.


Keesing-Styles, L. (2003). The relationship between critical pedagogy and assessment in teacher education. Radical Pedagogy 5(1). Retrieved: 28 October 2008.

Toohey, S. (1999). Beliefs, values and ideologies in course design. In Designing courses for higher education. Toohey, S. (Buckingham, SRHE and OUP): pp. 44-69

Smith on Conversation

Smith (1996, 2000) highlights the role of conversation in a curriculum which adopts a process rather than product approach. Curriculum in this context is seen as an interaction of teachers, students and knowledge; an active process; a constant interaction; a practical form of reasoning. Smith notes that teachers adopting this sort of approach enter the schooling system with an understanding of their role, expectations others have of them and a proposal for action which sets out essential principles and features of an educational encounter. They couple this with an ability to think critically-in-action and use these parameters to guide them in their design of teaching interventions. Conversation within this context becomes a valid teaching intervention or learning encounter. Drawing upon the parameters identified above, teachers encourage conversations between and with people in the situation, with the aim of cultivating thinking, facilitating mean-making and encouraging action thereafter.

Smith also highlights the role of conversation in a curriculum which adopts a praxis approach, where resulting actions, probed for in the learning intervention, are not simply informed but committed to some form of collective emancipation or social change. Smith notes that teaching interventions following this approach are for the most part extensions of the process model. However whilst this model places emphasis on judgement and mean-making, a praxis approach goes beyond situating the learning intervention within the experience of the learner, a context which whilst a resourceful aid to learning could be considered (from this perspective) confining, possibly restrictive or worse, limiting, innately oppressive and hence ultimately self determining.

Conversations which take place within this type of learning intervention therefore also go beyond the immediate experience of the individual learner. They focus beyond the confines of an individual's context or limiting experiences which can blinker the individual, hold them back from questioning the status quo or from confronting their relationships and very existence. Such conversations draw from the experiences of both the teacher and student with the aim of building shared understandings through dialogue and negotiation rather than individualistic learning stemming from connections made within a learners own context or situatedness.

A praxis approach places collective human well-being or emancipation of the human spirit at the centre of the process.

Smith (1996, 2000) Curriculum Theory and Practice: