2001 Conference (May 27-29)

Vancouver, B.C. Canada

Jeanette Bopry

Reconceptualizing "Information" in Educational Technology




This paper describes the conflict between epistemological positions on information in the context of educational technology. In educational technology, the container and transportation metaphors of communication dominate. Information is contained in messages and is transported from one location to another. The quality of communication depends primarily upon the sender, hence the development of areas of expertise in educational technology like message design (e.g., Fleming & Levie, 1978 (1st ed.)). The emphasis on transmission has had the unintended consequence of student belief in learning as something that is done to them rather than something they control (Johnson & Taylor, 1991).

The reconceptualization of information as "in-formation," as Varela (1979) occasionally calls it, denies information a material existence. Information is constructed at the intersection of the sensory fields of an individual and the material world. This conceptualization of information requires a different model of communication. One possibility is Krippendorff's Recursive Model of Communication (Krippendorff, 1994), with its dependence on the conversation metaphor rather than the transportation metaphor. In Krippendorff's model each participant in a communication situation constructs the entire process, proceeding on an assumption of mutual understanding until such time as the conversation breaks down. Breakdown triggers a negotiation intended to bring the conversation back on course; this is achieved when the participants once again believe they understand one another.

If we take Krippendorff's communication model seriously, there are implications for educational design. Design ceases to be a causal mechanism and more closely resembles what the sociologist Anthony Giddens (1984) calls the double hermeneutic. Design becomes an iterative conversation between designer(s) and design space, with both the designer's understanding and the state of the design space undergoing continuous change. Amongst other considerations, greater emphasis can be placed upon those things learners do (e.g., study, understand, perform, etc.) and the impact of these activities on design

The compatibility of the work of Varela with Krippendorff and with Giddens allows one to apply a consistent epistemological position across the biological, psychological and social domains we each inhabit.


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