About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Writing forces learning

In reading Tony Karrer's presentation handout I came across the phrase "writing forces learning". While I think the context of this was about blogging, the presentation was about group learning. I currently am trying to figure out how collaborative writing affects the individual and how that then affects the organization as the individual takes back what they have learned from the writing process.

Tacit Knowledge

So how does writing (especially collaborative writing) help create learning (especially in non-academic environments)? According to Kolb, much of what we experience leads to a type of knowledge he identified as "apprehensive". Atherton further defines it as knowledge by doing. I, however, interpret Kolb's apprehensive knowledge as an unconscious, intangible process that many consider "instinct" or "gut feeling". Most gut feelings are based on experience, an understanding of the environment, and our own analysis of what is going on: tacit knowledge.

Explicit Knowledge

Most of the knowledge that is valued in our culture is explicit knowledge (what Kolb calls comprehensive knowledge). This is knowledge that has been codified and can be
recorded, taught, and tested. There are various ways that this knowledge can be codified: as models, written documentation, curricula, plans, processes, formulas, podcasts and other audio presentations and visual representations (e.g. photos, videos, graphs, maps, etc...). The question that most organizations have is how to capture the tacit knowledge and convert it to explicit knowledge.

A Third type of Knowledge?

In looking at collaborative writing, I wonder if there is a third type of knowledge, or even many different levels of knowledge as tacit knowledge is codified to become explicit knowledge. My own observations in watching my students doing collaborative writing is that there seems to be stages in the collaborative writing process that correlate to what both writing researchers and group communication researchers have identified as the "collaborative writing process". I wonder if the collaborative writing process allows individuals to become more conscious of their tacit knowledge, forcing them to look at the knowledge, craft it, creating individual hypotheses, and creating new understanding and meaning as the knowledge becomes explicit.

This process was the basis for Kolb's experiential learning model (which seems to have been lost over the years as researchers have dissected only selected parts of the book as a whole to critique). While he did not look at collaboration per se, much of what he wrote about experiential learning can apply to the collaborative writing process and what impact it has on individual, group, and organizational learning.

However, I believe more is going on as individuals and groups go through the experiential learning process. Collaborative writing includes concepts on cognitive dissonance, social identity theory, the choices the individual makes for the group but takes away as an individual (dual levels of "knowledge"--what the group "knows" and what the individual really believes is "true"), epistemologies and comparative rhetoric, cognitive awareness, metacognition, and perspective taking. Clearly there is more going on than a written record of activity and explicit knowledge.

1 comment:

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tēnā koe Virginia

Your suggestion that there may be a “third type of knowledge” may not be too far-fetched. I have little formal understanding of how the brain thinks, but the distinctions between tacit and explicit knowledge I can comprehend.

I study poetry. My interest is in what brings it forth. For this to happen requires not only knowledge and experience of events and situations, people, emotions and also a creative ability, but a powerful command of language.

The reknown poet James K Baxter, in his book The Fire And The Anvil, describes what he calls ‘the matrix’ of a poem. He defines this as “the primal substance of a poem, non-verbal, which the verbal structure of a poem reflects; not its overt meaning, but its secret incandescence, its point of contact with the world of Thou.”

This “non-verbal” substance intrigues me, for knowledge of a sort must also exist in a similar form. I liken it to the reflective observation coupled with abstract conceptualisation that J S Atherton discusses. But I also see a strong similarity to tacit knowledge here. I'd like to know your thoughts on this.

It is what follows on from what is in the mind of the poet that intrigues me most, for then the conceptualisation has to be put into tangible language and written if necessary.

It’s now well recognised that language is required for thinking. Students who are not well familiar with the language of a new subject find difficulty thinking in the terms of that subject. This persists until they are able to use fluently the language associated with it.

Often the language refers not just to things, but to concepts and ideas, such as the language associated with thermodynamics (which has both abstract and tangible components). So often, higher thinking skills are also required to well understand some subjects especially if they are of an abstract nature or have a significant abstract component.

What I’m positing here is that the act of putting ideas into words, whether written or spoken, in the collaborative environment forces the individual to use the language of the subject. Being pressed in this way to write puts one in a similar position to the poet who is about to create from “the world of Thou” (abstract thought) a tangible, explicit piece of written knowledge.

With this in mind, Tony Karrer’s “writing forces learning” can be understood as using language (in the act of writing) as a vehicle for learning.

Ka kite
from Middle-earth