12.0438 apprenticeship & the limits of distance learning

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Wed, 17 Feb 1999 21:31:58 +0000 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 12, No. 438.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

Date: Wed, 17 Feb 1999 21:28:36 +0000
From: Willard McCarty <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk>
Subject: apprenticeship and the limits of distance learning

Dear colleagues:

In "Keeping in touch with the world", a commencement address given at
Brevard College last May, the historian of science Michael Mahoney talked
about a kind of knowledge that cannot be verbalised, the kind communicated
in the objects of our material culture and acquired not through verbal or
mathematical texts but by apprenticeship. I quote from the end of his address:

"Now what does all this have to do with your future? For many of you, I have
simply belabored the obvious. You are musicians, and you know about master
classes. But consider some visions of the future: of distance learning, of
the obsolescence of the classroom, of schools and universities rendered
redundant by the wealth of information available online. Whatever you want
to know, we are told, there will be a site on the Web to teach it to you. We
are promised a world of learning unmediated by apprenticeship.

"As we stand poised at the edge of a virtual world, with all its allure, it
is worth bearing in mind how much we know through the experience of our
bodies in the real world. What we all know, we know in part because of the
objects we have handled, the gestures we have observed, the silent signals
we have received from our material and social surroundings, and we have
learned from sharing it actively --I dare say, interactively-- with others.
Many of those things lie below our consciousness, and we cannot articulate
them. We simply enact them or perform them in the process of knowing. It is
knowledge that cannot be rendered virtual, because we don't know it's there.
It is tacit.

"So the PC can teach you some things, and it clearly has a future. But, a
Stradivarius is a Stradivarius, because we can't figure out what
Stradivarius knew. And a birch-bark canoe? Well, once everyone knew how to
guide it through currents and rapids, at least everyone in the tribes for
whom they were the common mode of transportation. As for the rest of us, we
can learn, but it would be a good idea to learn it from someone who knows
how and is there to show you. Teachers have a future, too."

The entire address is online, at <http://www.princeton.edu/~mike/brevard.htm>.

Thinking about learning-by-watching-and-doing, I wonder what role
intelligent software might play? None at all? If none, or where none, then
what do we learn from the none?

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Dr. Willard McCarty, Senior Lecturer, King's College London
voice: +44 (0)171 873 2784 fax: +44 (0)171 873 5081
<Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk> <http://ilex.cc.kcl.ac.uk/wlm/>
maui gratia

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