Published: March 15, 2001.
Analysis of Learning, Experiences of Art and Ideas for Connections
Trudy Lane, Walker Art Center, USA
ABSTRACTIn following a thread of projects, this talk investigates the Walker Art Center's work with environments of creation, play, surprise and discovery. From early work in creating online activities for ArtsConnectEd (http://www.artsconnected.org/), to the creation of several interactive pieces based on a playful Artwork of the Month pamphlet series (http://www.walkerart.org/education/), to a more recent exploration of the online medium's ability to convey artistic concepts in the series SonicFlux (http://www.walkerart.org/pa/sonicflux/), there is a progressive interest in creating personal experiences for visitors that serve to initiate their own process of inquiry and understanding. In an analysis of these and other projects through the lens of Experiential Learning Theory, various approaches to both the experience and the learning environment are demonstrated. Included in this analysis and important to the work created at the Walker Art Center, is the online work of various artists. As solutions are sought to the various problems of presenting conceptual relationships online, how does it effect things to have artists running around nearby, working in the same medium that you are, making archives with attitude, para-site systems that question and track visitors, conceptual portals that direct you places you didn't expect, and asking your opinion of such statements as "the curator as conceptual artist, the exhibition as performance, the museum as web design, the web as readymade." Through the lens of the ideas of experiential learning, we can see connections and interplay between art, interface and the creation of learning environments.
Through the recent creation of SonicFlux (http://www.walkerart.org/pa/sonicflux/ ), a series of online interactives that explore the ideas of an artist or composer, an interest developed in the ideas of Experiential Learning. In looking back over the last three years of work created at the Walker, a progression can be seen in the development of small sets of highly engaging and interactive content explaining and/or exploring a concept or idea.
While an effective and engaging learning method, the production of such content can be very intense in time and resources, and so could not be created for, nor would it fit, all content areas. Many museums are not in a position to be creating encyclopedic content around their collections, presentations and exhibitions. Much online content created by museums is often re-purposed from exhibition labels, calendar copy and images, program notes and so on. This is due to limits in (often curatorial) people-time and resources for the creation of new content. Many museums however, have created or are creating databases of their collections, archives, and resources such as the above-mentioned re-purposed texts, to provide them online. For the Walker Art Center (and our partner The Minneapolis Institute of Arts), this database is given it's most visible form in the educational site aimed primarily at K-12 teachers, ArtsConnectEd (http://www.artsconnected.org/.)
A new and separate online manifestation of that database, Collections and Resources, is a project being developed which focuses on the Walker's areas of content-expertise and seeks to set in motion a long-term plan of effective digitization and engaging delivery of our archival and other materials. A question I raise in developing an online resource such as this, is how can these large, databased and template-driven environments be created in such a way that the often disparate elements might be presented in an engaging, and even intimate way? Are there aspects of the smaller, interactive projects that might be possible, or at least helpful to consider?
I. Searching for Solutions
In addition to Experiential Learning Theory, one other tool to help think through this difficulty might be the education psychology theory of Constructivism. A currently prevalent idea in education based on the accumulation of knowledge through self-discovery, there seems to be a significant sympatico between it's ideas, the Net as a medium, and many of the goals of presentation for a cultural organization in a postmodern age.
Micro / Macro
As Experiential Learning Theory (ELT) deals most directly with the experience, and Constructivism can be construed as the accumulation of experiences, I am to some extent working with these ideas in a sort of micro/macro fashion. The micro of the project level with it's singular interactions/experiences as are contained within SonicFlux, and the macro or meta-project of something like Collections and Resources (C+R). It is hoped that the analysis of these ideas might be useful in creating and evaluating the design for these spaces.
Input from Artists and Creative Practitioners
Another lens with which to view the creation of our various resources, large and small, is the now large and varied resource of work created by artists/creative-practitioners working in the online medium. Much work has been done that explores many different kinds of collaborative and co-creative spaces, social spaces, the visualization of conceptual matter and many other ideas important to both ELT and Constructivism.
In this paper I endeavor to give a brief but useful outline of both Constructivism and Experiential Learning Theory, with additional notes added on relevant examples by artists or others. Followed by a breakdown of the thread of projects created at the Walker, and intended goals and issues remaining to be resolved for Collections and Resources. Also included is a listing of relevant interesting artworks online.
II.CONSTRUCTIVIST AND EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING THEORY
Taking pointers from two Learning Theories
Constructivism is typically presented in opposition to "transmission" models of learning such as the stimulus-response mechanisms of Behavioralism. Constructivist learning is viewed as the active construction of knowledge by the learner, rather than the transmission of information from teacher (or parent or museum exhibit) to the learner.
This however is not a literal building of blocks, as the founding figure of Constructivism, Jean Piaget, began his career as a biologist, and his subsequent work was deeply influenced by biological ideas and biological ways of thinking. The Piagetian dynamic between assimilation and accommodation was clearly inspired by his observations of biological phenomena. Piaget viewed learning not as a mechanical construction but as a complex, dynamic interplay in which the mind refashions certain ideas to fit into its existing models and structures -- and sometimes refashions its models and structures to better accommodate new ideas.
Constructivist learning is concerned with how the learner is being provided with the means to self-construct and discover for themselves. It is believed that "learners construct their own reality or at least interpret it based upon their perceptions of experiences, so an individual's knowledge is a function of one's prior experiences, mental structures, and beliefs that are used to interpret objects and events." "What someone knows is grounded in perception of the physical and social experiences which are comprehended by the mind." (1).
There are obvious parallels here to the common philosophy of museums, especially contemporary art institutions, as to the multi-interpretation of art-objects and ideas.
Going further into this idea gets us into interesting epistemologic territory, for if each person has their own view about reality, then how can we as a society communicate and/or coexist? Jonassen, addressing this issue in his article Thinking Technology: Toward a Constructivist Design Model (9), makes the following comments:
This social negotiation is mediated in it's online guise, through the use of mechanisms such as message boards, chat rooms and other communication forums. The encouragement of this kind of social communication and resolution can be seen as an important goal for a cultural online resource.
In Cognitive Constructivism we become the facilitators of learning. Piaget (3) posits that humans cannot be "given" information which they immediately understand and use. They instead "construct" their own knowledge. They build their knowledge through experience. Experiences enable them to create schemas -- mental models in their heads. Teachers are required to provide a rich environment for the spontaneous exploration of the child.
Learning is an active process: Direct experience, making errors, and looking for solutions are vital for the assimilation and accommodation of information. How information is presented is important. When information is introduced as an aid to problem solving, it functions as a tool rather than an isolated arbitrary fact.
Learning should be whole, authentic, and "real": Piaget helps us to understand that meaning is constructed as children interact in meaningful ways with the world around them. Thus, That means less emphasis on isolated "skill" exercises that try to teach something like long division or end of sentence punctuation. Students still learn these things in Piagetian classrooms, but they are more likely to learn them if they are engaged in meaningful activities (such as operating a class "store" or "bank" or writing and editing a class newspaper). Whole activities, as opposed to isolated skill exercises, authentic activities which are inherently interesting and meaningful to the student, and real activities that result in something other than a grade on a test or a "Great, you did well" from the computer lesson software, are emphasized in Piagetian classrooms.
In a Piagetian classroom, students must be given opportunities to construct knowledge through their own experiences. They cannot be "told" by the teacher. There is less emphasis on directly teaching specific skills and more emphasis on learning in a meaningful context. Technology, particularly multimedia, offers a vast array of such opportunities. With technology support such as videodisks and CD-ROMs, teachers can provide a learning environment that helps expand the conceptual and experiential background of the reader. Although much of the educational software created in the 1970s and 1980s was based on behavioral principles, much of the new multimedia educational software is based on constructivist theories. Technology provides essential tools with which to accomplish the goals of a constructivist classroom.
Constructivism and Computers
With personal computer technology came the popularity of constructivist approaches to educational technology, where open-ended environments provided individual students with tools to experiment and build their own learning constructs. In the last few years, as the internet and World Wide Web have matured; the social aspects of learning as described by Vygotsky (10) have become useful for those looking to design educational projects involving a distributed but intercommunicating audience. Indeed, close analogies came to be made between the learning mind and the computer:
Constructivism and the Network
The World-Wide Web is a meta-medium which combines aspects of many other media, such as television, radio and print. Text, image, sound, voice, video, illustration, and animation are all commonly used. A 1999 Museums on the Web paper by Slavko Milekic and others define some of the unique aspects of the online medium (12). These are adapted and re-summarized here as the following:
Virtual Learning Environments (VLE's)
Because of these multiple aspects to the medium, there has been an increasing amount of development in networked computer-based learning. The environment may utilize various technologies and communication protocols and has come to replace previous distance-learning media. There are several commercial software available for the both the creation and use of such learning spaces. Among these are TopClass, LearningSpace and Web Course in a Box. Below is an overview of the elements that have come to be expected from a VLE : Noticeboards, Course Outline/Schedule, E-mail, Conferencing Tools, Class Lists & Student Homepages, Metadata/Categorization of objects, Assignments, Assessments, Synchronous Collaboration Tools, Multimedia resources, File Upload Area, Calendar, Search Tools, Bookmarking, Integrated Navigation Model
As institutions seek ways to use technology to make teaching more effective both off and on-campus, there are a number of alternate systems currently under-development such as CoMentor, Learning Landscapes, and CoSE.
Constructivist Learning Environments (CLE's)
Investigating the creation of these environments as is specific to constructivist thinking, Jonassen (1) proposes that there are eight characteristics that differentiate constructivist learning environments:
Interesting Examples of Constructivist Learning Tools
SimCity provides a thoroughly implemented example of the use of simulation as both a game and as education. A city simulator -- SimCity a dynamic model of urban life, complete with simulated citizens (Sims), traffic, commerce, industry, utilities, taxes, and other important aspects of city life. It is created for both children and adults to use. Text from SimCity's Teacher's Guide (13) clearly shows it's constructivist educational viewpoint:
LEGO/Logo and StarLogo by Mitchell Resnick (14)
Mitchell Resnick's recent work has examined the types of learning experiences made possible by new computational tools. Two tools that the author helped develop are LEGO/Logo and StarLogo. LEGO/Logo is a type of creature construction kit. With LEGO/Logo, children can build robotic "creatures" out of LEGO pieces, using not only the LEGO building bricks but also newer LEGO pieces like gears, motors, and sensors. Then, they write computer programs to control the behaviors of the creatures. StarLogo is a massively-parallel programming language, designed especially for nonexpert programmers. With StarLogo, people can write rules for creature-environment interactions.
B. EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING THEORY
In the early 1980's, Mezirow, Freire and others stressed that the heart of all learning lies in the way we process experience, in particular, our critical reflection of experience. They spoke of learning as a cycle that begins with experience, continues with reflection and later leads to action, which itself becomes a concrete experience for reflection. Kolb (7) further refined the concept of reflection by dividing it into two separate learning activities, perceiving and processing. He thus added another stage, called "Abstract Conceptualization." Whereas in the Critical Reflection stage we ask questions about the experience in terms of previous experiences, in the Abstract Conceptualization stage, we try to find the answers. We make generalizations, draw conclusions and form hypotheses about the experience. The Action phase, in light of his interpretation, then becomes a phase of Active Experimentation, where we try the hypotheses out. As Kolb says:
"In this stage, learning involves using logic and ideas, rather than feelings to understand problems or situations. Typically, you would rely on systematic planning and develop theories and ideas to solve problems."
"Learning in this stage takes an active form - experimenting with, influencing or changing situations. You would take a practical approach and be concerned with what really works..." (7)
Where there is dialectic tension and conflict between immediate, concrete experience (i.e., reality) and analytic detachment (i.e., abstraction) constitutes the first dimension called prehension. In fact, contributions from psychoanalysis provide evidence that the left hemisphere of the human brain is concerned with abstract symbolic representation while the right hemisphere is isomorphic with reality. The second dimension involves the actions of the learner which transforms experience into knowledge and ranges from a totally physically active to a totally passive (i.e., reflective) state and constitutes the transformation dimension.
The prehension dimension ranges from concrete experience to abstract conceptualization whereas the transformation dimension ranges from active experimentation to reflective observation. The polarity between concrete experience and abstract conceptualization explains why some learners, young and adult, sometimes favor learning methods which combine work and study, theory and practice resulting in a more familiar and therefore more productive arena for learning.
The ideas for experiential learning and a systematic breakdown of the elements to consider in the development of digital learning environments are well summarized in Juan R. Pimentel's paper, Design of Net-learning Systems Based on Experiential Learning (2). This information is below edited, adapted and summarized for the main applicable points.
One of the most fundamental requirements that facilitates learning is an appropriate environment where learners can have experiences. Within Experiential Learning there are described four learning environments which support four different learning modes. These environments are named affectively complex, perceptually complex, symbolically complex and behaviorally complex. Environments which are primarily affectively and perceptually complex are believed to be the most suitable for the teaching of humanities, and are summarized as following:
Some examples of these, for some concrete examples to aid in the design of an environment.
Table 3. Environmental Features of the Learning Environments Defined by Experiential Learning. (2)
The specifics elements of a learning experience are theorized by Fritz, et al. to be the following:
Pimentel provides a useful set of examples of what these elements might be in the following table:
Table 4. A Sample of Situations, States, Pleasure Levels, Performance Levels and Actions. (2)
Perceiving the Environment
Immediacy in relevance is particularly critical in adult education. Adults are continually bombarded by new information and are quick to discard anything that may appear to be irrelevant. Therefore, including experiential learning as part of class room or Learning Environment provides the learner an opportunity to draw the connection between new information and the real world.
The importance of quick perception is so that the learner/visitor be able to assess the scenario they find themselves in and so decide how to react. It helps for the user to have a clear idea their current "state" - whether it is so literally an assessment of their course-completion or just evidence of their progress within the environment. The ease with which they have a clear idea of where in the system they are, how they are faring, and their impact would seem to complete the circle of optimal learning as summarized by Pimentel:
To optimize learning, learners must perform the following activities:
Interesting Examples and Possibilities
Data Visualization and Navigable Space
The outcomes of these ideas and thinking similar to the above may account for the increasing interest in the use of data visualization as navigable space. In his paper Navigable Space (11), artist and media theorist Lev Manovich analyses the significance, appropriateness and cultural context of the creation of navigable space. Lev argues navigable space to be a key and unique aspect of computer-based media that is currently under-examined and gives an overview of it's wide-ranging uses, including data visualization.
Due to the increasing use of databases and the interest in having a site that seems "alive" or at least lively, web-site information spaces are often continually changing and growing. This has lead to a growing field of investigating dynamic data visualization. In Martin Wattenberg's and SmartMoney's Map of the Market (http://www.smartmoney.com/ ) a graphic interface takes direct feed from the stock market to create an instant indicator of a stock's current trend. Benjamin Fry investigates this and other dynamically driven visualization tools in his thesis paper Organic Information Design (6). Anemone, an example of his own work in dynamic data visualization, transforms current web-traffic data into an organic ever-evolving form.
As our vision is one of our most immediate and efficient means of perceiving, and information spaces are growing increasingly complex, there are many possible benefits of using such technology to create online spaces which are Benefits as they apply to the fore-going ideas of the experiential learning environment are:
What is also significant of Map of the Market though, is it is an interface that gives access many layers of further information. The 10_dencies database of Christian Hubler and Alexander Tuchacek and others at Knowbotic Research is a project underdevelopment that should also be interesting to watch to see how it deal with these multiple layers of information beyond the visualization, that needs to be accessed.
III. A RELEVANT SAMPLING OF WALKER PROJECTS
An overview and analysis of projects, use of resources and media
Below is a listing of projects that may hold interesting models worth investigating for the new C+R system. Of particular note are the programming of events, commissioning of essays, discussion group invites and other such dialog building initatives. The source of content, is noted as a reference to the style of it's written content.
The Online Activities created several years ago for ArtsConnectEd, was the earliest of the sets of small, highly interactive pieces created in a series. The second was the short-lived series of the Interactive Art Activity where an artwork from the permanent collection was taken as a beginning point for the creation of the interactive. And lastly/most recently, that of Sonicflux. A series inspired by the scores of Fluxus, whose potential for online realization were brought forth by an album by the band Sonic Youth.
Exhibition Content Re-purposed
Collection and Archives Database
Online Exhibition with Discussion
A related series of sites:
VI. ARTISTS AT WORK IN THE SAME MEDIUM
Questioning the commonplace and exploring the extraordinary in cyberspace
As we create in this medium, so along side us are many artists/creators -- often using the very same constructs, yet experimenting, playing, stretching, and in some cases torturing the medium a little further. Their exploration, challenge and critique of this medium and it's various forms are an informative source of thought for our own work. Much of it is interesting in the context of constructive and experiential learning in it's exploration of the medium's communicative and collaborative potential. There is also much use of play, surprise and discovery. Also important is the critique and challenge of the online medium's so newly but already highly established forms.
Much dialogue and support of this work has been created through the Walker's online exhibition space, Gallery 9. Outlined below are many of the projects that have sometimes served as common reference points when in discussion about upcoming site. The categorizations in this use are intended only to be viewed as one conceptual access point into the work and may represent a type VLE element, or a principle of ELT or Constructivism.
(Sites which serve as filtering gateways to the www)
(User-tracking is used to form recommendations to users, e.g. amazon.com)
Databases and Archives
Data and Relationship Visualization
Collaborative Collecting --
Curatorial Theory --
V. PROBLEMS AND UNANSWERED QUESTIONS
Build it and they will come?
It all seems like a great idea, collaboration, discussion, live forums, the social negotiation of ideas. But what happens if they don't come? There are many technically well-executed message boards and chat area and even make your own exhibit areas of sites out there that are going unused. What can be done to ensure it is an environment to which people will return? Is it regular scheduled events such as online discussions? The co-ordination of online exhibitions and the discussions surrounding that (as in Shock of the View, see URL above) exhibition? How can the variety in the audience be accounted for so that they will find their niche somewhere in the space (kids and art professionals alike)?
As we continue to create sites that stay "open" after the show has long closed, there will only be an ever-increasing need for storage and classification of content produced. The only alternative being the adoption of an institutional policy to either throw away or archive older projects. This may become much more necessary as the technologies continue to develop, and older forms are no longer supported.
The System within the Building
Much of the user's experience is determined by the "situations" or media elements that they are presented with. In an automated system data delivery system of so many different media types of different lengths and descriptions, a pre-database system of content selection needs to be defined and implemented with the staff that it involves. This would be for the intention of providing the immediacy and relevance needed for an adult learner -- and would ensure for example, that when following a line of enquiry to Pauline Oliveros, they would be presented with a short, great video clip, if we have one, a quote and/or sound sample of her work. This sort of work to give an initial impression of her work and inspire the visitor to seek further. Details of this system will need to be defined per media and per staff situation, especially as to how to implement this selection loop in a curatorially sensitive and efficient way. Examples of this might be to involve the curator in selecting samples to draw out from the archives around the time of an exhibition on a particular person or movement -- while the archival and other possible resources to draw from are fresh in their mind. This in-building system would also need to apply to the digitizing of ongoing events such as lectures and performances. The difficulty in creating these systems is the multitude of situations and creating the least extra work for people, for the best results.
Because of the size of many collections, these systems will need to be in place for significant periods of time for the casual online visitor to see any significant increase in meaningfully selected content. Due to time and people resource constraints, to implement a long-term solution seem in the long-run, the best. Careful work has to be done however, to ensure that the requirements set on others are as easy and wherever possible fit in with their existing workload, in order for the scheme to survive.
The Internet is a powerful constructivist environment for learning. It is an organic system which grows and responds to human participation. It allows for generative learning where participants, through interaction, can add value to the resources they exploit.
Many sizeable museums may come to have large databases of disparate elements. Without some means or strategy of making meaning between them that tackles any staffing or other resource difficulties, their value will be greatly lost to all but the experienced researcher. Conscious, possibly curated strategies for digitizing assets and the creation of programming of events or other meaning-generating focuses within the environment may help to create those connections. The ideas of Constructivism and Experiential Learning may serve us well as we endeavor to create these environments, though adapted for the adult life-long learner, not a school curriculum. Ideas of dynamic data visualization and other means of rendering comprehensible large, evolving data sets, might be one of the most efficient ways of creating context for the user in what is at the same time a navigable space.
If we are to treat constructivism as an organically evolving and emerging learning theory, as Mitchell Resnick believes Piaget intended, then there seems to be a beautiful correlation possible between the combination of these ideas with organic-dynamic information design, multiple viewpoints in accessing the information, where visitors' creation of small collections or other participatory actions would add to and alter the information space. Mitchell Resnick talks below of this possible symbiosis and his experiences of constructive learning in the classroom:
We believe that these biologically-inspired concepts and metaphors could be particularly useful in the study of learning and education. In particular, the idea of "emergence" can provide a valuable new framework for thinking about the nature of human learning, the design of learning environments, and even the process of reform in the educational system.
The idea of emergence can also be useful in thinking about the design of learning environments. When we set up The Computer Clubhouse, an after-school learning center for inner-city youth, we wanted to encourage collaborative activities. But we did not want to assign youth to teams, as is often done in classroom-based collaborative activities. Rather, we wanted collaborative groups to emerge as a natural part of ongoing activities. Projects at the Clubhouse are not a fixed entity; they grow and evolve over time. An adult mentor might start with one idea, a few youth will join for a while, then a few others will start working on a related project. Design teams form informally, coalescing around common interests. Communities are dynamic and flexible, evolving to meet the needs of the project and the interests of the participants. A large green table in the middle of the Clubhouse acts as a type of village common, where people come together to share ideas, visions, and information (not to mention food). Often, communities will coalesce suddenly, in a type of phase transition, when the ideas and participants cross some type of critical threshold. (15)
Sounds like fun to me.
(1) David H. Jonassen, Kyle L. Peck, Brent G. Wilson, William S. Pfeiffer. Learning with Technology: A Constructivist Perspective. Paperback - 234 pages 1 edition (August 11, 1998) Prentice Hall; ISBN: 013271891X
(2) Pimental, Juan R. (1999). Design of Net-learning Systems Based on Experiential Learning., JALN Volume 3, Issue 2 - November 1999 . (http://wwwaln.org/alnweb/journal/Vol3_issue2/pimental.htm)
(3) Piaget, J. (1972). The Principles of Genetic Epistemology. New York: Basic Books.
(5) Robert Edgar (1995). PC is to Piaget as WWW is to Vygotsky, Delivered at SIGGRAPH '95, Los Angeles (http://www.iconceptual.com/Siggraph.html )
(6) Fry, Benjamin (2000). Organic Information Design (http://acg.media.mit.edu/people/fry/thesis/)
(7) Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential Learning, Prentice-Hall, 1984
(8) Fritz, W., Martinez, R.G., Banque, J., Rama, A., Adobbati, R.E. and Sarno, M., The Autonomous Intelligent System, Robotics and Autonomous Systems, Vol 5, pp. 109-125, 1989.
(9) Jonasson (1991) Thinking Technology: Toward a Constructivist Design Mode
(10) the social aspects of learning as described by Vygotsky -- some online resources:
Vygotsky Analyzes Piaget's Developmental Theory
(11) Manovich, Lev (1998). Navigable space (http://jupiter.ucsd.edu/~manovich/FLN/docs/navigable_space.doc )
(12) Milekic, Slavko and Moreno, Cynthia and Kazec, Andy (1998). Museums and WWW-based art education. Museums and the Web 1998 (http://www.archimuse.com/mw98/frame_speakers.html)
(13) SimCity's Teacher's Guide. (http://simcity.ea.com/us/buildframes.phtml?guide/tips/teachers)
(14) Resnick, Mitchell. Learning About Life (http://el.www.media.mit.edu/groups/el/Papers/mres/ALife/ALife.html )
Epistemology and Learning Group, The Media Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
(15) Resnick, Mitchell and Rusk, Natalie. The Use of Biological Metaphors in Thinking about Learning: Some Initial Thoughts about "Emergent Learning". (http://el.www.media.mit.edu/groups/el/Papers/mres/emergent-learning/emergent-learning.html)