The skeleton of a conversation - Sample Essay

However, CT does make considerable use of one particular distinction, familiar from the time of Aristotle onwards, the distinction between “knowing why” (cognitive, conceptual knowledge) and “knowing how” (procedural, performance knowledge). As discussed further below, “why” knowledge is critically about the coherence (and hence, reproducibility) or otherwise of conceptual systems. “How” knowledge refers to the pragmatic effectiveness or not of applying a particular concept that is part of such a system.

Here we develop a theory of learning that includes the role of the teacher where learner and teacher can be said to be “in conversation” with one another. The model may be interpreted developmentally to inform accounts of the genesis of personhood and the “inner dialogues” that support human learning, as in the classic accounts of Vygotsky (1966), Mead (1934) and Luria (1961). This aspect of the theory is not elaborated upon here (see Scott, forthcoming b).

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As well as showing a teacher and learner in conversation, the model may also be interpreted as showing two peers in conversation exchanging, justifying and demonstrating theories and their associated models and procedures. The basic model is shown in figure 3 (scott). Pask refers to this model as the “skeleton of a conversation”. It shows a “snapshot” view of two participants in conversation about a topic. Notice how it distinguishes verbal, “provocative” interaction (questions and answers) from behavioural interaction via a shared modelling facility or “micro-world”.

The horizontal connections represent the verbal exchanges. Pask argues that all such exchanges have, as a minimum, two logical levels. In the figure these are shown as the two levels: “how” and “why”. As in Rescher’s model, the “how” level is concerned with how to “do” a topic: how to recognise it, construct it, maintain it and so on; the “why” level is concerned with explaining or justifying what a topic means in terms of other topics. The vertical connections represent causal connections with feedback, an hierarchy of processes that control or produce other processes.

At the lowest level in the control hierarchy there is a canonical world, a “universe of discourse” or “modelling facility” where the teacher may instantiate or exemplify the topic by giving non-verbal demonstrations. Typically, such demonstrations are accompanied by verbal commentary about “how” and “why”. In turn the learner may use the modelling facility to solve problems and carry out tasks set. He or she may also provide verbal commentary about “how” and “why”. Note that the form of what constitutes a canonical “world” for construction and demonstration is itself subject to negotiation and agreement.

Here, a brief example will have to suffice. Pask refers to learning about “why” as comprehension learning and learning about “how” as operation learning. and conceives them both as being complementary aspects of effective learning. These distinctions allow Pask to give a formal definition of what it means to understand a topic. For Pask, understanding a topic means that the learner can “teachback” the topic by providing both non-verbal demonstrations and verbal explanations of “how” and “why”.

Laurillard (1993) provides a useful elaborated account of the exchanges that make up the skeleton of a conversation, interpreted for the kinds of learning conversation that take place in Higher Education. She distinguishes a domain of exchanges of descriptions, conceptions and misconceptions about both “how” and “why” from a general domain of “tasks”. “Tasks” are interpreted liberally as any learning activity the learner is asked to engage in which generates some product or outcome which can then be the subject for further discussion.

In order to round-out our discussion of “learning as conversation”, following Harri- Augstein and Thomas (1991) we will elaborate the Pask model in a different way. Pask notes that conversations may have many levels coordination above a basic “why” level: levels at which conceptual justifications are themselves justified and where there is “commentary about commentary”. Harri-Augstein and Thomas make this notion central in their work on “self-organised learning”, where the emphasis is on helping students “learn -how-to-learn”.

In brief, they propose that a full “learning conversation” has three main components: conversation about the how and why of a topic, as in the basic Pask model; conversation about the how of learning (for example, discussing study skills and reflecting on experiences as a learner); conversation about purposes, the why of learning, where the emphasis is on encouraging personal autonomy and accepting responsibility for one’s own learning. The model in figure 4 shows the relationships between the components. Laurillard makes many similar points about the importance of these higher levels in the conversations that take place in universities.



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