Tuesday, 2 February 2021

The Constraints-Based Approach to Teaching in the Classroom

If you read this and think 'hey, this sounds like something they do in [insert teaching method here]', please let me know. I've had some chats about the Montessori method, and there's certainly overlap there. But I'm on the hunt for a literature I can connect to, and any help would be appreciated.

I've been thinking a lot about education lately. I'm home-schooling the kids, I've been chatting a lot with coaches about ecological approaches to their teaching (most publicly here and here), and I'm reading Tim Ingold's Anthropology And/As Education. I'm also wondering why the demonstrated success of the ecological dynamics approach in sports pedagogy has had zero consequences for education more broadly. 

I think a couple of things. I think the reason why ecological dynamics hasn't spilled over is that we live in a dualist world where knowledge and physical skills are two distinct domains (think about how physical education is treated in schools). I also think that because the ecological approach doesn't endorse that dualism, there is simply no reason for classroom education to work completely differently from physical education. And finally, I think this might be really, really important.

I used to teach a module called Foundation Research Methods, and after a while I finally realised that I was teaching it in a constraints-based, ecological dynamics style. (This explains why a lot of my colleagues were genuinely confused by what I was doing at times, I think!). The module developed over the years, and the last year I taught it we solved our attendance problem and the students crushed the exam

I want to walk through what I did, and reflect on how it embodied an ecological approach. This is not me saying this is how all classes should be taught. This is just me laying out what a constraints-based approach looked like in the class, what I thought worked, and what I would like to have done next.  

Tuesday, 24 November 2020

An (Draft) Ecological Approach to Hallucinating

Sabrina and I are planning our next papers, and in typical style she's been thinking about how to tackle a hard problem - this time, hallucinations. These are one of those go-to topics for representational people, because hallucinations by definition are not based in the detection of perceptual information. They are a kind of perceptual experience, however, and so seem to be a good candidate for identifying how perceptual experience is constructed internally. 

We've never let a little thing like a topic being hard stop us before, so it looks like this is next on our list. The goal is to lay out an ecological analysis and see where we end up. We are going to build on the work we did in the Ecological Representations paper, in which we considered how to understand (at least some) neural activity as the selection of consequent neural actions (pg 243 and on). This is the first of a few papers we have in mind where we apply our ecological analyses as worked examples to interesting topics (verbal instruction in coaching is on my mind too, as are cells making blood vessels). 

In this post, I'm going to do my usual thinking-out-loud about my notes from our first chat; all conclusions are works in progress! At this point, I am just assembling the resources our ecological approach provides us, and lining them up in their proper places so we can use them rigorously.

Monday, 16 November 2020

Verb Your Nouns

One of the things that makes it hard to communicate with people about the ecological approach is that it is actually a radically different way of thinking about cognition. That means we are often literally not talking about the same things (this is why Hobbes is so concerned).

One of the ways this shows itself over and over is nouns vs verbs. Information-processing cognitive science studies nouns; memory, attention, perception. Describing things with nouns drives your science in very particular directions. For example, as soon as you talk about memory as a thing, you naturally ask questions such as 'where is it?' and 'how do you access it?'. 

In contrast, the ecological approach studies verbs; remembering, attending, perceiving. Verbs also guide your science in particular directions, but instead of talking about things that must be somewhere, we talk about processes that happen at times, in places.

Ecological types are often challenged to explain nouns cognitive psychologists are interested in. Memory is the big one; language is the other. I've realised, we can't, but only because we don't study nouns. So whenever I encounter this challenge now, my very first move is to verb all the nouns. While this doesn't provide an answer, it immediately makes me ask ecological style questions about the topic at hand, and now it can help you too.

Monday, 9 November 2020

Turvey, Lectures on Perception: The Story So Far

I have now reviewed the first 7 Lectures on Perception from Turvey' textbook (posts indexed here). I feel like I've reached a natural pause point before carrying on with the rest of the lectures, and I wanted to summarise what I thought has been going on so far.

These are lectures on perception, quite generally. While Turvey will explain the ecological approach, that's not what is currently going on. Right now Turvey is laying out the scope of the question 'what kind of material system could be a perceiving system?' and reviewing the typical, non-ecological answers to that question.

The main takeaway at this point is that we have been trying to answer that question using 17th century notions of material systems, specifically Newtonian mechanics. This has placed what turn out to be unacceptable restrictions on the kinds of properties we are allowed to invoke, and theories of perception have had to fill the gaps with unpayable 'loans of intelligence'. 21st century physics, however, has more on offer; complexity science and quantum mechanics teach us many valuable lessons on how to expand our horizons so that perception becomes possible, rather than miraculous. 

Thursday, 5 November 2020

Verbal Instruction in Sports Coaching

A few days ago I posted a Twitter thread about the role of verbal instruction in sports coaching. It's a thing that comes up a lot as a key point of contention between ecological and non-ecological types, so I wanted to think it through. This post collects what I said in the thread, and adds a few things that have occurred to me since. 

Coaches want to be able to give their athletes instructions. Usually, this is about technique; ‘place your feet here’, ‘angle your club like this’, etc. This fits with the idea of coaching as imparting knowledge. Ecological coaching approaches tend to veer away from verbal instruction like this, and focuses on creating constrained environments players find their own way through. This becomes a key point of contention. From the traditional point of view, it makes no sense to not verbalise instructions. 

So what’s the ecological motivation for avoiding this?

Thursday, 22 October 2020

Lecture 7: Empiricism and the Man in the Inner Room (Turvey, 2019, Lectures on Perception)

The last two Lectures have laid out the mechanical, Cartesian analysis of the problems of perception. Every flavour of this analysis, right up to an including modern representational accounts, rests on 'loans of intelligence', in which important work that's required to make the system work is simply given to the system. For example, Descartes proposes a set of cognitive axioms to ground the inferential processes required to implement knowledge, and makes these innate (specifically, given by God). This won't do - if we want to develop a naturalised theory of perception, we need an account of where every part of the system comes from. 

The Cartesian programme is a form of rationalism, roughly the claim that knowledge is based in reason rather than experience. This chapter reviews the opposing camp of empiricism, roughly the claim that knowledge is based in experience rather than reason. Turvey reviews the approaches of Locke, Berkeley, and Hume, with respect to how they assert a mind can come to know about the world via experience. They end up running into very similar problems as Descartes et al, because of their continued commitment to the mechanistic hypothesis. We are going to have to reject both of these as we progress.

Monday, 12 October 2020

Lecture 6: The Cartesian Program (Turvey, 2019, Lectures on Perception)

Turvey is arguing that modern psychology is still operating within a mechanistic framework, which assumes things like linear chains of causation and predicative properties. In the last lecture, he laid out the kinds of properties this framework allows, and connects his critique of them to the more interesting notions of causation and impredicativity he introduced in Lecture 4

In this Lecture, he spells out the way psychology implements the mechanistic framework and identifies that it is, specifically, a Cartesian implementation. Here, we will learn the form of the program, and note how it shows up in the familiar terms of cognitive psychology.