In the last post, “Working on tasks and material in a personalised way”, I described a way to work with media and topics: Try to find a connection to something relevant, something that interests you. Think about this connection, write a short text, post some photos, link a video; explain this connection to the rest of the course.
Snippet: The german word “Alternativlos” (“there is no alternative”, in Great Britain known as TINA) was chosen as un-word of the year 2011 by a leading german newspaper. Politicians’ justification for a majority of drastic fiscal decisions were based on the claim that there were no alternatives to choose from. From Heinz von Foerster’s POV, german politicians saw only decidable questions.
If so, democracy would be obsolete.
This is a recurring figure of speech in politics.
„Moral truth is the same in every culture, in every time, and in every place. […] We are in a conflict between good and evil, and America will call evil by its name.“
– George W. Bush (2002), “Remarks by President Bush at 2002 Graduation Exercise of the United States Military Academy“
[A good example for an artistic-subversive criticism on this is Gonzalo Frasca’s Flash game “September 12th”, where there is an obnoxious artificially enforced case “no alternatives”.]
Example of a made connection:
How does this work for me as lecturer?
When I am giving courses at Hamburg University for educational scientists and teachers to-be, the students are for example confronted with different learning theories (see e.g. Ertmer & Newby 1993). Some of these theories are, mischieviously, mutually exclusive.
Thus there always had been the question from the students for a failsafe, “true” method to teach, to use media, to create learning games etc.; they concluded that more recent paradigms like constructivism are always “better” than the older and obviously obsolete ones like behaviorism.
This is one of the reasons I started courses with reading Heinz von Foerster’s “Metaphysics” from his lecture “Ethics and Second Order Cybernetics” with the students.
This has from my Point of view two benefits:
First, “The dog that barks does not bite”. They encounter a text with an alienatingly technical sounding title, but they learn that cybernetics is – among other things – about observing observers, about observing ourselves, and the difficulties that arise from subjective and objective stances. Cybernetics is originally a ‘technical’ approach to self-regulatory systems, but Heinz von Foerster translates this into an example for education, learning, teaching and even ethics. He shows that an apparently dry, technical theory can be turned into an approach to something deeply relevant for students, especially teachers, in a multicultural, highly diversified society.
So: Try to make theories relevant for you, turn them into something you can explain as something applicable!
Second, “For a man whose only tool is just a hammer, every problem looks like a nail”.
The text sets the mood (so I always hope) for the remaining time of the course to let the students see the different theories and approaches as mere tools that have or had their use for specific tasks. Von Foerster explains that the use of a specific approach tells you more about the user and his or her intentions than about an objective, general correctness of method, and that we should be aware of the tools we use and not simply rely on their “modernity”, or that they are the major paradigm of our decade. We have always the choice; but we can choose only if we aware of this possibility and of alternative choices.
So: Try to learn of alternatives where there is seemingly no alternative!
[For a more practical approach, I usually go for the modification of games, as a metaphor for a cultural medium: You have rules explaining what is allowed and forbidden, and you have narratives explaining why you should act. But unlike in their cultural variants, the rules and narratives are ‘visible’, they are explicit and changeable. We can decide, what game we play; and we can modify and change it, if we ‘need’ another game to play.]
So, what does this translate to… for a critical photographer? A positive psychologist? A designer? A teacher?
“…in the photographic camera we have the most reliable aid to a beginning of objective vision. Everyone will be compelled to see that which is optically true, is explicable in its own terms, is objective, before he can arrive at any possible subjective position.”
– Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, “Painting, Photography, Film”, 1925, reprinted 1969, quoted in Charles Traub, The New Vision, p.28. (Link to webpage)