Monday, August 20, 2012

Flavours of graduateness

I've been thinking about 'epistemic fluency' for quite a while now. Then, a similar concept popped up in a parallel session at NLC2012 I was privileged to chair. Richard Walker from York was talking about 'Blended PBL' (this is the link but it'll break when they move the proceedings over to the archive). Richard refers to Fox and MacKeogh's 2003 '16 categories of cognitive thinking' as informing the coding of his data. It was interesting though that Fox and MacKeogh merely refer back to, more or less, the same source as Peter Goodyear, i.e. Stellan Ohlsson (1995).
Then I was reading Brad Mehlenbacher's book and it occurred to me (eventually) that his concept of 'Rhetoric Design', which was forcefully argued for as needing to take a central place in the design of learning opportunities in higher education. However, Brad does not go back to Ohlsson or Collins (as Goodyear does). His background is in rhetoric so it's natural for him to refer, in page 179, to folk like Bahri and Petraglia (2003) who, 'explicitly connect cognitive science with rhetorical theory, defining "rhetorical intelligence" as "the cognitive abilities required for inquiry, and interpretation with a view to pursuing argument and change.' See also Spinuzzi (2006), who, after being quoted saying, 'knowledge workers need to become strong rhetors...', Brad adds (p182):
Central to the business of formal instruction is a rhetorical design perspective where learners come to understand ways of knowing (inquiring, analyzing, interpreting, synthesizing, etc.) and articulating through shared discourse sophisticated arguments within particularized disciplines of knowledge. 
I wonder how many others have made a case for a similar approach separately. That's two so far...

However, I think there's something to say about rhetoric compared with epistemic fluency. Brad deals with the familiar slur on rhetoric, that it is something of a 'dirty word' in common parlance, because of the potential to lapse into mere sophistry. Brad defends rhetoric, rightly in my view, as a vital skill for members of higher education institutions. However, I still have worries that a focus on rhetoric leans towards a focus on the external or performed knowledge, rather than the implicit metacognitive emphasis that I feel is carried by epistemic fluency as a concept.

Clay, S. (2006). What Do We Need to Teach About Knowledge Work? ( No. 060925-1). White Paper. Austin TX: Digital Writing and Research Lab, The University of Texas at Austin. Retrieved from
Fox, S.,. & MacKeogh, K.. (2003). Can eLearning Promote Higher-order Learning Without Tutor Overload? Open Learning: The Journal of Open and Distance Learning 22, no. 2: 121-134.
Ohlsson, S. (1995) Learning to do and learning to understand: a lesson and challenge for
cognitive modeling, in P. Reimann & H.Spada (Ed) Learning in Humans and Machines:
towards an interdisciplinary learning science (Pergamon, London).
Petraglia, J., & Bahri, D. (Eds.). (2003). The Realms of Rhetoric: The Prospects for Rhetoric Education. State University of New York Press.