Friday, March 20, 2009

The New Nature of Knowledge

I have written on various occasions in the past that the nature of knowledge is changing, a premise that is directly addressed - and challenged - by Tony Bates in his blog post, Does technology change the nature of knowledge?

I want to go through his post more or less point by point, not to be annoying, but as necessary in order to unravel a thread of reasoning that, I would argue, leads him astray.

Because, right from the beginning, I think, Bates has an idea that there are different types of writing, and different types of knowledge. He writes, "I should warn you that this is probably not a particularly suitable topic for a blog - an academic paper might be more appropriate to do the subject full justice."

One must ask, right off the bat, what he can mean by that. Because certainly it is not the placement of the body of reasoning into a printed paper and journal-bound form that renders it more appropriate. No, there is a supposition that the type of writing in an "academic paper" is a different type of writing from what he is offering here.

In what way? This begins to be a bit more difficult to pin down. Certainly it is not a matter of references or scholarly ability: Bates's article is filled with both. He is current on the academic literature - much more so than I - and covers his subject with an easy facility. At most, one can suppose it is some matter of the process of academic writing, then? The matter of reviewing and editing? Ah, but no; Bates's blog post could easily fit unedited into almost any journal one cares to name, unless it is a point in principle (and this I have seen) that he reference a particular body of literature that he is not covering here.

To Bates's argument, therefore, I must post this first challenge, that there ios nothing in principle that distinguishes the content of a blog post from that of an academic article. The same content may very well be presented in either, and the difference lies only in how that content is treated: subject to secret review and editing in the one case, and open scrutiny in the other.

Ah - but then, one argues, his case is made: that there is no distinction between knowledge of the past and knowledge of today. No, this is not established: only that the distinction is not one between academic and non-academic writing. The barbarians are not at the gates; they arise from within as well as without.

Bates next captures very nicely the nature of the new sort of knowledge with some asute citation from relevant works in academia: Jane Gilbert, citing Manuel Castells, writes, "knowledge is not an object but a series of networks and flows…the new knowledge is a process not a product…it is produced not in the minds of individuals but in the interactions between people," and Jean-Froncois Lyotard, "the traditional idea that acquiring knowledge trains the mind would become obsolete, as would the idea of knowledge as a set of universal truths. Instead, there will be many truths, many knowledges and many forms of reason."

We see the result, that "the boundaries between traditional disciplines are dissolving, traditional methods of representing knowledge (books, academic papers, and so on) are becoming less important, and the role of traditional academics or experts are undergoing major change," in the graphs that represent the state of knowledge today:


http://www.downes.ca/post/48207

These are points that have been captured in a wide body of writings, from Gibson's depiction of Cyberspace to the perceptron of the 1950s and the connectionist literature of the 1980s to populist works such as Rushkoff's Cyberia and the widely popular Cluetrain Manifesto. It is hard to know where this account originates; everybody (including the academics) as as though they have discovered it for the first time.

What is important is not who came up with the theory (because we know that what I will say is that the theory is emergent from the works of numerous writers) but rather what the salient points are of the theory. From the work just cited, we can identify three major points (and those who care to look will find those points repeated throughout my own writing):
  1. knowledge is not an object, but a series of flows; it is a process, not a product
  2. it is produced not in the minds of people but in the interactions between people
  3. the idea of acquiring knowledge, as a series of truths, is obsolete
These point to a conception of knowledge dramatically from the Cartesian foundation or the Platonic form, a conception of knowledge that challenges even the Aristotlean categpry and the Newtonian law of nature. In particular, what seems to me to be relevant, is that the knowledge thus produced is:
  1. non-propositional, that is, not sharp, definite, precise, expressible in language
  2. non-discrete, that is, not located in any given place or instantiated in any particular form
  3. non-objective, that is, independent of any given perspective, point of view, or experience
We can discuss - and many people have discussed, from people as varied as Wittgenstein and Derrida - how such knowledge assembles (as in a cluster or probability space), flows, inhabits, propoagates, and the rest. I will refer to salient features of this type of knowledge in what follows; let's leave the account of it for now.

Bates identifies a singular feature of knowledge as discussed by Gilbert, Castells and Lyotard: "All these authors agree that the ‘new’ knowledge in the knowledge society is about the commercialisation or commodification of knowledge."

We get to this conclusion through an odd route: "'it is defined not through what it is, but through what it can do.’ (Gilbert, p.35). ‘The capacity to own, buy and sell knowledge has contributed, in major ways, to the development of the new, knowledge-based societies.’ (p.39)"

This is an oblique reference to what might be called a functional definition of knowledge, one that has its roots in the philosophical school of functionalism, "what makes something a mental state of a particular type does not depend on its internal constitution, but rather on the way it functions, or the role it plays, in the system of which it is a part, and this in turn perhaps derived from the Wittgensteinian doctrine of "meaning as use".

But functionalism is very distinct from commercialism, and it is a great leap to infer from a 'definition' of knowledge based on "what you can do" to an assessment of knowledge as a "commodification" - a turn, indeed, that turns the new definition of knowledge on its head, and returns it to the status of object, and in particular, a medium of exchange. The retreat from some account of functionalism, which is more or less accurate, to one of commercialism, is an unjustified turn, and one which should not be accepted without significant dispute.

What would explain it? I would suggest by the fact that networks of knowledge resemble networks of commerce, that there is a similarity between the 'emergent knowledge' and 'the invisible hand of the marketplace', through to the overt endorsement of market logic we see in writers such as Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds. But one should not read into the advocacy of a network theory of knowledge (as we have been describing) anything like a market theory of economics, at least (crucially) not to the degree of mistaking a descriptive interpretation with a causal agent.

Return to the definition of knowledge above. It is not an object (or objective), it is not discrete, it is not a causal agent. It is emergent, which means that it exists only by virtue of a process of recognition, as a matter of subjective interpretation. Mistaking a perception of value with 'value' as an objective driver is a classic mistake of market economics (in my view) and certainly a significant misinterpretation of network theories of knowledge.

But Bates has taken that road wholeheartedly: "I have no argument with the point of view that knowledge is the driver of most modern economies, and that this represents a major shift from the ‘old’ industrial economy, where natural resources (coal, oil, iron), machinery and cheap manual labour were the predominant drivers. I do though challenge the idea that knowledge itself has undergone radical changes."

Let us be clear about the view of knowledge that Bates has explicitly endorsed: one in which knowledge has causal efficacy, one where it is a "driver", more similar to objects (like coal or iron) than ephemera (like attitudes and expectations).

Bates then sets up what we have to uncharitably (but regretfully) call the straw man. Skipping the story, we can read: "in education academic knowledge has always been more highly valued in education than ‘everyday’ knowledge. However, in the ‘real’ world, all kinds of knowledge are valued, depending on the context. Thus while values regarding what constitutes ‘important’ knowledge may be changing, this does not mean that knowledge itself is changing."

To be more charitably, what we have here (I would say) is Bates distinguishing between the two types of knowledge according to the different types of uses to which they are put. This has the merit of being consistent with a form of functionalism, and at the same time allowing two different 'types' of knowledge to be (essentially) the same, but applied in different endeavours.

This, though, nonetheless commits two errors:

- first of all, while endorsing a functionalist definition of knowledge, it assumes an as yet undefended essentialist definition of knowledge (because, if functionalism were true, then two items of knowledge which were put to different uses would in fact be two types of knowledge, since function defines typology).

- second, the depiction of knowledge that I have been calling the network account of knowledge is not simply a functionalist theory of knowledge; it has an entirely different ontology in which the former objects, however defined, no longer exist, and something that is non-discrete and non-localized and non-specific is postulated as performing the function we formerly ascribed (mistakenly) to some sort of discrete entity.

Anyhow, having made the distinction between 'academic' and 'commercial' knowledge, Bates will (with reference to Gilbert) expand on the definition of 'academic' knowledge as "‘authoritative, objective, and universal knowledge. It is abstract, rigorous, timeless - and difficult. It is knowledge that goes beyond the here and now knowledge of everyday experience to a higher plane of understanding…..In contrast, applied knowledge is practical knowledge that is produced by putting academic knowledge into practice. It is gained through experience, by trying things out until they work in real-world situations.’"

In fact, this conflates two distinct types of knowledge:
  1. knowledge that is academic, and
  2. knowledge that is abstract, rigorous, timeless
No doubt there are many academics who would will that academic knowledge be abstract, rigorous and timeless, but in fact the argument is that no knowledge has these properties - we thought it did in the past, but this has in fact changed, and is not longer believed to be the case.

This is an important distinction to make because, first, the properties of being abstract, rigorous and timeless characterize what might be called common, practical, or 'folk' knowledge as much as the ever did academic knowledge, and second, what constitutes 'academic' knowledge is (as we see from the diagram near the head of this post) less and less abstract, rigorous and timeless.

This is what makes it possible to claim that the definition of academic knowledge is "too narrow" - much of what is represented as academic knowledge - "engineering, medicine, law, business" - apply academic knowledge, and academic knowledge (at least when well formulated) is "built on experience, traditional crafts, trail-and-error, and quality improvement through continuous minor change built on front-line worker experience."

There was, in the past, no significant distinction between 'academic' knowledge and 'practical' knowledge except where it was applied: and we could see 'abstract, rigorous, timeless' knowledge equally well in the church service, the farmer's field, or the grandmother's advice on weather. Knowledge was, in all cases, timeless wisdom. Such knowledge was power whether applied to engineering feats or to winning at three card brag.

Bates next considers the applicability of academic knowledge. It's a bit difficult to work with the argument now, since we are at such a fundamental divide, but let's consider the proposition: "my other quibble is that ‘academic knowledge’ is implicitly seen in these arguments as not relevant to the knowledge society - it is only applied knowledge now that matters. However - and this is the critical point - it has been the explosion in academic knowledge that has formed the basis of the knowledge society."

This goes to the point that academic knowledge can be used in a practical - even commercial - context, and therefore must not be distinct even functionally. The purpose to which we formerly ascribed only practical knowledge is found to result from academic knowledge (almost to the point of exclusivity): "It was academic development in sciences, medicine and engineering that led to the development of the Internet, biotechnology, digital financial services, computer software and telecommunication, etc. Indeed, it is no co-incidence that those countries most advanced in knowledge-based industries were those that have the highest participation rates in university education."

Leaving aside the question of whether these advances were in fact developed in academia or through some process we might call the academic method, let me focus on the question of the nature of these advances. Did, in all these developments - the internet, biotechnology, and the rest - did academic contribute abstract, rigorous and timeless knowledge? Certainly, there was some point at which it did. Newton's three laws were classical instances of such. The laws of thermodynamics equally so. And even in the last century, Einstein contributed to the paradigm with E=mc[2]. But recently?

I would argue - and this is a matter for empirical investigation - that the research paradigm based on "abstract, rigorous, timeless" knowledge has stalled, and that what researchers have in fact been harvesting over the last few decades is something much more like network knowledge, as I have described it above. This is a distinct form of knowledge that is not based on simple causality, laws of nature, objective perspectives, and the rest. It is (in the words of Polanyi) tacit and ineffable.

The internet is a classic example. While there are protocols, no law governs how computers interact - this is strictly a matter of agreement and individual choice. In biotechnology scientists are looking at systems and networks in everything from immunology to ecology. Financial services proves to be based on, well, Ponzi schemes rather than anything that might be called 'timeless'. And telecommunications are based on laws that have been known for decades, depending more and more on protocol and agreement, rather than natural law, for improvements.

Indeed, the sorts of knowledge that Bates identifies as important resemble more and more dynamic, interpretive, chaotic types of phenomena - our capacity to, as Rushkoff said, not navigate or surf through a dynamic information field, as though it were a gigantic wave (or office block parking garage), rather than an attempt to capture and hold:"it is not just knowledge - both pure and applied - that is important," he says, "but also IT literacy, skills associated with lifelong learning, and attitudes/ethics and social behaviour." But the point is: these are types of knowledge - they are, indeed, the new literacy, 21st century literacy.

The problem is, Bates hasn't let go of the old account of knowledge, the one with abstract, rigorous and timeless truths, knowledge based on objects, the acquisition of content. He writes, "My point is that it is not sufficient just to teach academic content (applied or not)." No, it is not sufficient to teach this type of (old-style) knowledge. It is (arguably) not even necessary. Because what we want are the new skills, based on the new more formless type of knowledge, skills that allow people to et by when nothing is abstract, rigorous, timeless: "the ability to know how to find, analyse, organise and apply information/content within their professional and personal activities, to take responsibility for their own learning, and to be flexible and adaptable in developing new knowledge and skills."

But Bates doesn't admit of this; he explicitly rejects it. "These skills and attitudes may also be seen as knowledge, although I would prefer to distinguish between knowledge and education, and I would see these changes more as changes in education. What is changing then is not necessarily knowledge itself, but our views on what educators need to do to ‘deliver’ knowledge in ways that better serve the needs of society."

This may be the case if, as he suggests, we are simply facing an explosion of new knowledge. But while we are seeing an explosion of content, our stock of abstract, rigorous and timeless truths remains constant - indeed, arguably, it has been on the decline, as we realize more and more tht the laws and principles of nature that we took for granted were at best approximations of reality and at worst projections of our own thoughts, values and beliefs on nature (how else does one explain an economic system based on the infinite expansion of capital?).

What we are experiencing a proliferation of is points of view, and with each iteration of points of view it becomes apparent that the former world in which there was only one (authoritative, lawlike and Catholic) point of view is more and more misrepresentative. The new form of knowledge is a recognition that the propositions in our content, no matter how apparently abstract, rigorous and timeless, are in fact not knowledge, but merely more sea through which we must navigate.

This is why we must change our educational system, indeed, even as Bates says, "moving away from a focus on teaching content, and instead on creating learning environments that enable learners to develop skills and networks within their area of study." Because, contra Bates, content is not still crucial (more, more accurately, no particular bit of content is crucial) and academic values that propel enquiry toward abstract, rigorous and timeless truths are not only obsolete, they are dangerous.

Indeed, I would argue even that what might (again) be called 'academic method' is itself under siege. Bates writes, "we need to sustain the elements of academic knowledge, such as rigor, abstraction and generalization, empirical evidence, and rationalism." But these very principles misconstrue what it means to reason - the practices of abstraction and generalization, for example, ought to be understood not as mechanisms for finding more truth (as the old inductivist interpretations made out) but are rather ad hoc means of creating less (but more manageable) truth.

The very forms of reason and enquiry employed in the classroom must change. Instead of seeking facts and underlying principles, students need to be able to recognize patterns and use things in novel ways. Instead of systematic methodical enquiry, such as might be characterized by Hempel's Deductive-Nomological method, students need to learn active and participative forms of enquiry. instead of deference to authority, students need to embrace diversity and recognize (and live with) multiple perspectives and points of view.

I think that there is a new type of knowledge, that we recognize it - and are forced to recognize it - only because new technologies have enabled many perspectives, many points of view, to be expressed, to interact, to forge new realities, and that this form of knowledge is emerged from our cooperative interactions with each other, and not found in the doctrines or dictates of any one of us.

10 comments:

  1. Hi Stephen :-)
    This is really interesting stuff - (I'm not a philosopher, I'm an educational developer). I really enjoyed comparing your post with Dave Bates'. My question is; is it actually the nature of knowledge that has changed, or it is the massive change in how knowledge is tangibly represented that makes it look like its nature has changed?

    The new ways we have of representing knowledge allow us to demonstrate the interconnectedness of these representations in a way that simply wasn't possible before. The idea of knowledge as interconnected 'memes' was a key theme of Vannevar Bush's work in the 1940's, but even he didn't conceive that one day we would not only have a 'memex' facility in the Internet, but that the rise of Web 2.0 would mean that the connections between knowledge representations would be so fluid, collaboratively created and continually added to.

    I also found it interesting how you and Dave addressed the issue of different types of knowledge - yes, you're coming at the question from different perspectives & paradigms but it didn't seem to me that Dave Bates was focusing so much on distinguishing the different types of knowledge but simply stressing that all types are important, often interchangeable and in flux. I read his emphasis of the importance of what he terms 'academic knowledge' as an attempt to apply distributive justice to it. The old representations of knowledge are, as he rightly points out, what enabled us to grow. The new representations of knowledge simply allow us to continue to grow at a faster rate than before.

    I'd love to hear your thoughts on the above :-)

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  2. Hiya Lindsay, it's Tony Bates, not David (don't worry, I've made the same mistake myself, it happens).

    You ask, "is it actually the nature of knowledge that has changed, or it is the massive change in how knowledge is tangibly represented that makes it look like its nature has changed?"

    I think what we need to understand is that 'knowledge' is an artifact; it is created by humans. There is not 'knowledge' out there in the world. The word 'knowledge' is used to describe a specific state of affairs or relation between people and putative) states of affairs.

    As a consequence, what counts as knowledge has changed over the years, and continues to change depending on your particular perspective or world view.

    Generally, knowledge has been held to be either a certain privileged state of mind, or a certain privileged relation between a mental state and a world state.

    The former, for example, associates knowledge with a 'feeling of certainty' (Hume), an 'inability to doubt' (Descartes), or some such mental state.

    The latter describes knowledge variously as 'justified true belief' or the result of a 'truth-preserving causal sequence'.

    In fact, of course, what 'knowledge' is (on my account) is some complex combination of all of these and more. In my own work I have depicted knowledge as being a state where you "can't not know", a state of "recognition", like when you see a face or find Waldo.

    But the other way in which knowledge has changed does not have to do with the definition of knowledge. This is important.

    Because while people have defined knowledge as above, there has been a parallel discussion about what constitutes knowledge.

    And it has been taken for granted in recent years that knowledge is constituted of propositions - sentences in the brain. And that knowing is a process of being able to ascribe truth values to these sentences, in a reliable and formal manner.

    And it is this where we are seeing a change in the nature of knowledge.

    Alternatives to the sentence theory have always been with us, but have always been dismissed as metaphorical. When people advance, for example, the 'picture theory' of mental representation, nobody supposes (we are told) that there are actual pictures in the brain.

    Except that - there are actual pictures in the brain - more accurately, our mental representations (top now misleadingly use the word) are more like patterns of perception thatn they are like words.

    This means that the depiction o knowledge as though it were composed of sentences or propositions systematically misrepresents mental states, and hence, systematically misrepresents knowledge itself.

    It is in this characterization that our understanding (as opposed to the 'definition') of knowledge is changing (note even how the request for a 'definition' presupposes the old, sentence-based, version of knowledge).

    When we move from a sentential, or code-based, story of mental states, and move toward a pattern-based story of mental states, then our account of knowledge changes in the way described by the authors cited in the story: concepts are no longer fixed, meaning and truth are distributed, and states of affairs vary according to one's perspective.

    > The idea of knowledge as interconnected 'memes' was a key theme of Vannevar Bush's work in the 1940's

    Not to deny Bush's paramount importance in the field, but we need to draw an important distinction.

    On the one hand, we can represent mental states as some sort of systems theory, with a series of interconnected entities, and with 'knowledge' as the stuff that flows between them.

    This picture allows us to think of 'knowledge' as something that flows, something that can be a commodity. Even if the 'stuff' is somewhat theoretical - even if it is 'information', for example, the essence is that it travels from one entity to the next.

    This is a transactional theory of communication. It's the sort of think we'll find in Dretske. It is one that characterizes traditional distance education (eg., Moore) and even some forms of connectivism (a lot of George Siemens's stuff, for example, looks like a transactional theory).

    Well, there is undeniably stuff tat flows from one entity to another, whether in a system or a network. But what is arguable is whether what flows is knowledge. I argue it is not.

    This sets up the alternative to systems theory, which may be referred to as emergence theory. The central tenet of emergence theory is that even if stuff flows from entity to entity, that stuff is not knowledge; knowledge, rather, is something that 'emerges' from the activity of the system as a whole.

    We can look at the human brain as system to understand this. the brain is a network of neurons, the neurons are connected to each other, and they send signals in the form of electrical impulses, such that the signals cause activities (spikes) in the neurons.

    But we would not say that a given electrical impulse sent from one neuron to the other constitutes 'knowledge'. Far from it. Knowledge results only from a large number of neural impulses; it is not in the impulses, but rather is what results from that.

    What results from that may be represented in two ways, each of which is a suitable candidate for our new depiction of knowledge.

    The one way is the set of interconnections that results from the activities of such a network. The activities, as has been described in numerous places, actually create or sever connections between the neurons. Hebbian associationism is an example of such a process. This results, at any given time, in a network of connectivity between these entities. This network - and subnets with the network (aka 'patterns of connectivity') - may be depicted as knowledge.

    A second way of representing knowledge, and one that I embrace in addition to the first for a variety of reasons, is that patterns of connectivity can be recognized or interpreted as salient by a perceiver. A pattern is just a pattern until it is recognized as significant by some system typically, another network external to the original network.

    > academic knowledge

    Bates relies on the traditional distinction between 'academic' knowledge and 'practical' knowledge, and he has a subtle and interesting account of this distinction, which as you suggest he collapses.

    My own issues with respect to 'academic' knowledge as it is currently represented, by contrast, have nothing to do with whether it is 'practical', and everything to do with whether it is fundamentally sound, representative and reliable. It's not so much a question of the use of academic knowledge (though it shades into this) as with the veracity of academic knowledge.

    This is a rather trickier distinction to maintain than one might think, and makes it difficult to criticize academic knowledge on my own grounds, without falling into some of the truisms I have described above as characterizing traditional knowledge. This is necessarily the case, because ultimately, academic knowledge can only be criticized on academic grounds, which means that I need to show that, in the light of new forms of knowledge, academic knowledge fails according to its own merits.

    Thus, for example, we see (say) some instance of academic knowledge purporting to instantiate, say, 'timeless truth' or 'universal principle'. Merely asserting that there are no timeless truths does not convince a person who believes in them it needs to be shown that this instance of academic knowledge does not support the claim of being a 'timeless truth', while at the same time using only he mechanisms available within academic knowledge (words and sentences, observation and experience, definition, inference and explanation) to do this.

    This is a long and tedious process of limited value, because (in my world at least) there isn't really any upside to convincing some academic (who won't be convinced that their entire world view is wrong. So while I engage in such a process from time to time, it is for the purpose of establishing at least a semblance of credibility in academic circles.

    Mst of my work - and most of the work of people working with the new understanding of knowledge - occurs outside academic circles; some of this work may be practical, some of it may be theoretical, and I think that we have the belief tat what we are doing will eventually become 'academic' - but not without a whole-scale change in the understanding of what it means to b 'academic'.

    And that, ltimately, is what 'change', from the perspective of Bates's presentation, comes to. It comes as a cleave, between those who would argue that the current means and mechanisms employed by academic, the 'academic method' as I have characterized it, can be productively retained, and those who would argue, as I do, that academic method systematically misrepresents knowledge, and must, therefore, the substantially altered.

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  3. Wow, this post took you half an hour to write? I find that unbelievable!

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  4. Very interesting post on what I think is a very important topic. One thing about academic knowledge these days in the UK is that it has to meet the requirements of a Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). This means it has to jump through the hoops necessary to get printed in peer reviewed journals of the first rank (preferably). The RAE has a significant impact on the amount of research funding a University will get from the Government. So this is not knowledge per se. It is officially approved knowledge by the 'academy'. I like George Siemen's attitude (reference needed here but I think an interview he gave David Tosh in the early days of Eduspaces – I’ve got a recording somewhere) that he was happy to publish his articles on-line in the public domain for the criticism of his peers in the blogosphere and take his chances there. A much more productive knowledge building conversation ensues than the sanitised and formulaic offerings of the learned journals. It is not just the ‘gnawing criticism of the mice’ (there’s probably a nice pun here somewhere) that this risks but also the possible wisdom of the crowds. Personally I think that we live in an information society rather than a knowledge society. I haven’t got my head round what the difference is but we tend to conflate the two terms. The process that builds knowledge implies some degree of reflexivity that I think is not necessarily part of the process of producing information. It makes sense to talk of ‘information literacy’ but not of ‘knowledge literacy’. Knowledge is a precondition for information literacy so cannot be the same as information. I’m happy to be helped out on this one! I tend to think of knowledge and wisdom as being of the same sort of thing and information as something else.

    Thanks for your tireless efforts in carrying the great enterprise forward. I trust you realise how much it is appreciated by the ‘crowd’.

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  5. Thanks to all of you for this. You can see my response to this at: http://www.tonybates.ca/2009/03/22/bates-and-downes-on-new-knowledge-round-3/
    I look forward to continuing the discussion.
    Tony Bates
    (Lindsay: Dave Bates is my son! Much brighter than me).

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  6. This is a fascinating exchange that is really making me think. 2 things are bothering me though.
    1. I don't understand the presentation of academic knowledge and practical knowledge as two simple alternatives. Researching academics adopt a very wide range of approaches to their theories of knowledge and methods by which they try to contribute to it. Some would see knowledge as situated and contingent, other closer to the academic knowledge that you describe. Allen Lee wrote over 10 years ago in MISQ about the tension between rigor and relevance (this video and slide show give a flavour http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/informationSystems/newsAndEvents/2006events/lee.htm )
    2. How / where can the 'usefulness' or validity recognition of salience by an interpreter of emergent knowledge be discussed? Is there not a role for case studies here as a means of linking theory to practice?

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  7. Sorry my second question was not very clear
    2. Stephen Downes said "My own issues with respect to 'academic' knowledge as it is currently represented, by contrast, have nothing to do with whether it is 'practical', and everything to do with whether it is fundamentally sound, representative and reliable" My question is how can we best explore and discuss the soundness and reliability of (emergent) knowledge? Is there not a role for case studies here as a means of linking theory to practice? If not, how do you propose that we explore said soundness and reliability.

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  8. the 'academic method' as I have characterized it, can be productively retained, and those who would argue, as I do, that academic method systematically misrepresents knowledge, and must, therefore, the substantially altered.

    My sense is that the value provided by the academic method, or its validation and acceptance of knowledge, is just moving too slowly these days and will become less and less potent as the future unfolds, although I do not want to minimize the need for validation and rigour, which can and does suffer in some or many networks.

    And that is not to say that there are not networks wherein knowledge is constructed that are not disciplined and rigorous about validation. Gee, a lot of 'nots' (or is knos ?) in that sentence.

    Anyway, there are some serious networks of interest and practice out there where the validity and substantiation of knowledge are central to the networks' activities. Usually the process is different than in academe, to my observation.

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  9. Stephen,
    You’ve given an interesting demonstration of one thing that the concept of ‘knowledge’ does – it causes people to be deeply confused and to argue about it endlessly! It has a similar effect to not unrelated concepts like ‘Consciousness’, ‘God’, ‘Art’, ‘Power’ and (god forbid) ‘Education’. I suspect ‘knowledge’ does its things pretty much as it always has done (I think this is what Bates is driving at). Maybe all we do (in learning technology) is change the context for those things to continue.

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  10. Thanks for interesting thoughts. I looked up the definition of academic and found one on princeton.edu: [hypothetical or theoretical and not expected to produce an immediate or practical result; "an academic discusion"; "an academic question"]. So this blog post is a hard core academic discussion on knowledge based on the academic knowledge of the participants. It seems that you equals academic institutions with academic principles, much like religious organizations or countries are taken as a representatives of the content of religions. To me the concept of knowledge has not changed, but now new knowledge develops more outside traditional academic institutions than before due to technology based connectivism. By 'before' I mean the last 1000 years or so, before that knowlenge was created outside academic institutions just as we are witnessing now. At that time of other reasons. We have moved from in-workplace (apprenticeships) to off-workplace (universities) creation of knowledge. Now we are turning back toward in-workplace knowledge creation again. This is due to the availability of information by use of new communication tools like this blog. As educators we need to adopt to 'stay in business'. Learners will 'follow the knowledge' anyway, i.e. the knowledge perceived as the most valuable by the current society much as decisions in business are seen to 'follow the money' mostly irrespective of political decisions to control this.

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