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Re: [xmca] From Keith Sawyer on learning sciences

Thanks for getting Keith to share his take on the thread, Mike...

The only part I might push back on is the centrality of Vygotsky to the field of the learning sciences (at least the portions I'm interested in) - my impression is that its more important than let on by the handbook and its statement on "situativity," which I'm still not sure I quite understand...the goal I placed before myself this semester was to test this hypothesis...

Finally, I would agree that Keith's other chapter in the handbook on the analysis of collaborative discourse has been quite instructive, though I'm finding my collaboration with David McNeill (and what he refers to as a multi-modal approach) to be more robust for my current needs...

On Sep 17, 2009, at 5:02 PM, mike cole wrote:

Keith is not currently subscribed to xmca. Here is his response to some of the recent posts. I will collate relevant replies and send along to him as
seems useful.

I read through the thread.  But rather than subscribe (I have been
subscribed before and I can't afford to have that many messages in my inbox) I will send you this note which you have my permission to post on my behalf. If in a week or two you think I need to return to the thread again, please
email and let me know.

<Beginning of quotation for you to post>

The most comprehensive view of the interdisciplinary field of the learning sciences is the 2006 handbook that I edited, THE CAMBRIDGE HANDBOOK OF THE LEARNING SCIENCES. This follows on and is compatible with the 2001 HOW PEOPLE LEARN book, but that earlier book is more directed towards education practitioners and policy makers. My introduction chapter to the handbook, based on interviews with several founding figures of the learning sciences, answers a lot of the questions that have appeared in this thread. Here are
my answers to some of the thread questions:

1. In the early 1990s, the learning sciences emerged from several historical

(a) the Artificial Intelligence and Education conferences that were taking place through the 1980s. These were very much production systems in the Anderson mold. Those who became learning scientists rejected the AI and Education approach for the most part, so the concern with production systems in some XMCA thread postings is misplaced. The AI and Education conferences continue to take place today but there is basically no interchange with the
learning sciences.

(b) cognitive developmental research (conceptual change, continuations of Piagetian studies of developmental stages of various cognitive abilities;
think Lauren Resnick, Andy DiSessa)

(c) the broad 1980s shift in the cognitive sciences from a narrow mentalist focus on cognition, to a more situated/distributed notion of cognition. Vygotsky was only one of many influences in this movement, which was part of the 1980s zeitgeist in AI and in cognitive science; that may be why you don't see more explicit citation to Vygotsky in the Handbook. (I chose not to have a series of "theoretical foundations" chapters in the handbook; if I had, Vygotsky would have been one of them.) So situativity has been built into the learning sciences from its very beginning almost 20 years ago.

2. It's a complicated question to ask, what distinguishes the learning
sciences from educational psychology more generally (or, from cognitive development, or from instructional design, or from constructivism in IT, or from situated cognition, or from human-computer interaction, or from serious games research, or from science education research, or from math education research). Learning sciences has links to all of these. So what unifies it
as a distinct perspective warranting its own name? That's not a simple
answer, but my handbook introduction attempts to answer this question by summarizing the epistemology that is generally shared by those who call themselves learning scientists. If I try to elaborate that here my posting
will get too long.

3. LS is absolutely not the same thing as neuroeducation. Most learning scientists do not neuroimaging, and most of us are quite skeptical of the
present capabilities of cognitive neuroscience to impact educational
practice. (See John Bruer's "A bridge too far" ER article.) However, we are receptive to benefiting from neuroscience, once the methodologies become more advanced...perhaps unlike some LCHC-ers whom I suspect in principle are opposed to neuroscience and education. The NSF news story about Meltzoff
that started off this thread may have given some of you an unfortunate
misimpression of the field.  Meltzoff is one of the co-PIs of the NSF
science of learning center along with John Bransford and Roy Pea (Stanford) and several others, and none of the other PIs are doing neuroscience. The reason why the story refers to the "science of learning" rather than the
"learning sciences" is because the NSF grant program had that name.

And yes, I am the same Keith Sawyer that does research on creativity and collaboration. My own chapter in the handbook (other than the introduction
and conclusion) is titled "Analyzing collaborative discourse."

mike coole wrote:

Keith-- A discussion of learning sciences, its history and its functions,
has erupted
on xmca. You are right there in the middle. It would be great if you could
find time to
help in the discussion and educational process.

R. Keith Sawyer
Associate Professor
Washington University
Department of Education
Campus Box 1183
St. Louis, MO  63130

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