Learning designers: not musicians, but dancers…?

Hello #OLDSMOOC ers and world…
Here I go with my W1 reflections, starting from a question:

Should we adopt the music metaphor for Learning Design?

The LARNACA DECLARATION, http://www.larnacadeclaration.org/ invites us to do so.
Adopting Downes citation on the declaration (oh, forgive me for my laziness…) http://www.downes.ca/post/59780
“The purpose of creating musical notation was not simply the abstract concept of music representation; rather, it was a vehicle for conveying great musical ideas to others.”, The metaphor emphasizes, in fact, the idea of representing not for quality, but for sharing valuable design ideas (should we say…teaching (that ‘s in fact Downes irony’s target…)
Going ahead for a long while, the Larnaca declaration uses the metaphor of music and design to explain how this last could benefit of a framework of representation:
 Western music tradition slowly developed a notational system for describing and sharing musical ideas. This standard format allowed great musical ideas to be shared from one musician to another without a need for personal contact

…Musical notation contains enough information to convey musical ideas from one person to another over time and space.


In one sense, we have made progress already. The “content” dimension of education is captured in books, websites, recorded lectures, videos and other resources. But content transmission is not the only dimension of education – otherwise educational institutions would need only libraries, rather than libraries and classrooms.

It seems that the problem of notation in education is a complex one, and the hope is that as slowly as the music developed its notation system, the education will do its own.


Ballet Russes by August Macke, 1912

As far as I went on reading the Larnaca declaration, it came to my mind the problem of notation in the case of coreography and dance.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 I used to be a dancer (contemporary dance); I loved and explored the explotion of creativity of the Ballet Russes of Diaghilev   –
Once I had an argument with a musician: He thought that music was a superior art because of its “mathematical” notation system, whereas for dance and coreography, that’s impossible. In fact, while there are refined techniques to transmit dance styles (for example Martha Graham techniques of movement and repertoire) it is nearly impossible to annotate it. I contended with the musician that there was a complex attempt, the Labanotation () but that technologies would help Dance to find a way of notation. Labanotation in fact was so complex that coreographers do not adopted it massively. A coreography is a kind of distributed system between the coreographer and the dancers.

Rudolf Laban presenting his notation system

Why is it so difficult to generate a notation for dance. There is an element: while music is placed on a dimension of time (and time is extremely important to a musical performance) and notation regards the activities of instruments over time (I’m considering the most complex way of doing music, orchestration), dance adds another dimension: space. Time is combined with space in the movements, not only in the individual dimension of the dancer, but also in the many combinations given by the small and the big group within a coreography.
I guess that something similar happens with an education notation and Learning Design.
There are several levels of complexity, a combined educational dimension composed by the time of the teaching and learning process and the space of curriculum, group  goals and activities, single goals and activities. The granularity that Learning Design has to phase is one of the most complex combinations we can imagine.
And, like in the case of the techniques of dance, the transmission is from one generation of dancers to another; in the case of teaching (and the connected activities of Learning Design thinking, following Kali et al., 2011) a folk pedagogy is transmitted from one generation of teachers to another. Moreover, teachers’ behave as if they where virtuous performers. They interpret and improvise because teaching is in the teacher’s mind. This is my experience with K-12 teachers and academic teachers.
I think the Larnaca declaration makes a valuable contribution, and that the metaphor of music is a valuable one. But at the same time, I think that the metaphor could be a pitfall, for a framework for education notation is a complex object of study. It requires a long and intense effort of research (and I would say, empirical research) to understand how to represent the many vectors of the several dimensions (yes!). And, like in the case of the dance, it requires to overcome the complexities of representation, to be adopted in practice (as in the case of music). I guess that we have already dozens of “Labanotation” systems in educational notation. That remain unknown to the common teachers.
This is a first order of things.

The second order of things is the willingness of teachers to communicate their designs.

That make me remind another example taken from arts: The great architect Brunelleschi.
I recommend you to read the nice book of Ross King “Brunelleschi’s Dome: The Story of the Great Cathedral of Florence”.
According to Ross, Brunelleschi avoided any form of representation of his brilliant ideas. In a time where patents did not exist, Brunelleschi was affraid of being stolen. And he was!!!! So he had everything in his head till the moment of the realization of models (that where just small replications of the final building!). When he presented his genial dome’s idea in his model,  the evaluators of the project expressed their astonishment about how simple the idea was in the end, and the consternation about the fact that no other architect was able of planning something similar. Brunelleschi said: If I would give my design, anybody could have done it. 
Brunelleschi knew that the design was the via maestra to share ideas. But he was the designer and the performer. He did not want copies…
Many teachers are deeply attached to their activity as art, as a mysterious object that is somewhere in the teachers’ head and hart…

Do you think that the problem of implementing Learning Design is nearer to the, say, Diaghilev problem (the real difficulty in adopting systems of notation) or the Brunelleschi’s one (the belief of teaching as an art rather than as science)

Teaching is changing. It is no longer simply about passing on knowledge to the next generation. Teachers in the 21st century, in all educational sectors, have to cope
with an ever-changing cultural and technological environment. Teaching is now a design science. Like other design professionals – architects, engineers, town planners, programmers – teachers have to work out creative and evidence-based ways of improving what they do. But teaching is not treated as a design profession (taken from another MOOC: Week 31, The Georgia Tech MOOC, 2012!!!).

Talking with teachers, particularly higher ed teachers (I’m not the first person to do that…from ’80’s the research on teaching profession has focussed the teachers’ thought, their cognitive and metacognitive representation of the activity of teaching, planning teaching, teachers’ narratives, etc. This idea is clear on the article of Yali et al.) you have that impression: nobody can say them how to teach (including how to represent their ideas). I could say that teachers are the first to be diffident to the idea of teaching as a design profession…they see themselves more as performers, first line performers! (we are working on that with my colleagues Patrizia Ghislandi and Nan Yang…see a presentation we made regarding the tensions and contradictions of including eLearning -and the design it encompass- in Higher Ed teaching practice)

In my professional activity as….I used to consider myself instructional designer (I hope after #oldsmooc I will be able of saying I’m designing for learning), I have always struggled to define the line between designing for learning (introducing some ideas to make content more interesting, accessible, inclusive, sharable…that depending on the institutional context of practice (according to Mor)….design is contextual and non linear) and content. The person that considers herself a content expert is frequently not keen on representing…She considers representations a waist of time. The hidden can remain hidden, since it is part of the art…
A number of interviews we are doing with teachers at the University of Trento (a project leaded by Patrizia Ghislandi) raised something new: there is a new generation of higher ed teachers that, due to their sensibility with the ongoing changes in Higher Education institutions (starting from the impressive growing number of students) are open to unburden that hidden dimension.
So it seems to be a good time for designing: is time for openness. And openness means,  beyond the affordances of technology, that we are now in front of a culture that is changing, and in front of new formae mentis, where design could have a chance as part of the rethors strategies. Let me build on Gunther Kress’s words (after reading Latour…)
In a model of communication for full and equitable participation in the new communicational world, the rhetor’s  interests need to be fully acknowledged. (…)
There is a need for careful considerations of designs for meaning and knowledge making: the shaping of routes and environments of meaning making and production of knowledge and, in this the shaping of “inner” semiotic resources.
The sites, the processes, the designs all shape “concepts” and in that they shape what dispositions become habituated as subjectivities and as identity.”
Gunther Kress, 2009:27 (1)
Image: Roman Duszek © 2003
I find connections with Latour’s idea expressed in the following paragraph:
So here is the question I wish to raise to designers: where are the visualization tools that allow the contradictory and controversial nature of matters of concern to be represented? A common mistake (a very post-modernist one) is to believe that this goal will have been reached once the “linear”, “objectified”, and “reified” modernist view has been scattered through multiple view points and heterogeneous make shift assemblages. However, breaking down the tyranny of the modernist point of view will lead nowhere since we have never been modern. Critique, deconstruction and iconoclasm, once again, will simply not do the job of finding an alternative design. What is needed instead are tools that capture what have always been the hidden practices of modernist innovations: objects have always been projects; matters of fact have always been matters of concern  Latour, pp. 13
My project on design will be about this: how can we open teaching practices?
For oppennes, according to me, entails the teacher reflection on making her art understandable; to carry out a message beyond the message (as Latour emphasizes) to the other experts. And then Learnign Design becomes necessary.

That’s all for this first week. I must jump into the W2!!!!


(1) Kress, G.R. (2009). Multimodality: A Social Semiotic Approach to Contemporary Communication. London: Routledge.


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