Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 19 seconds

Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Continuing Reflections on Discourse and connected learning

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Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 19 seconds

Reading Time: 4 minutes

So I have been reading a little more from the Sidorkin book Beyond Discourse, and it seems I slightly misunderstood what he meant by the “third discourse” (earlier post today), which he considers to be “reconciling discourse; talking nonsense, and having a good laugh about it” (p. 76). Whereas the “second discourse” is a kind of “talking back” to the “first discourse” (which can also be considered centralized discourse, or according to Bakhtin whom he cites, the authoritarian discourse), whether in agreement or (often more likely) in disagreement. In a class, when the teacher calls on students to answer certain questions, this is still the first discourse, where the authority leads it. When students talk out of turn, laugh, disagree, etc., it’s the second discourse. Sidorkin says, on the third discourse:

“For different opinions to coexist, there needs to be a nurturing atmosphere of a carnival, where all things seem to be possible and all becomes laughable. In fact, slipping into nonsense, and breaking logical connections is the only way to end any good conversation.”

I read this and thought YES! Even though I seem to have misunderstood what third discourse was (after all, unconferences are still serious, just not focused on a central authority) – YES, it’s that informal, nonsense, less serious discourse that glues people together and allows community to form despite disagreements that occur at the second discourse level.

It got me thinking about #rhizo14 and how this third discourse is embraced by some people and not others. I think Simon actually once directly called it the “nonsense” and (i think!) he meant it in a positive way, while realizing that for some others it was a waste of their time.

In a side twitter chat or unconference situation, you may end up talking about something that provides intellectual stimulation. But there is a high social part of it, an informal part, that is what keeps a community together. It made me think about my f2f context, and how it was all the nonsense interactions that we have with each other that keep us able to work together despite all kinds of other tensions and all the second discourses that occur during meetings and behind closed doors.

But let me be fair to Sidorkin. He’s not saying that first discourse is necessarily bad (a common frame of reference is needed for dialogue: “in order to communicate, a group needs a subject of conversation, which the common text provides” p. 81), but that second and third are needed for learning to occur. For him, the act of listening together is valuable, and it is never really passive:

“…the first discourse is never completely monological. The very fact of being together while listening adds something to it….
When we get together and prepare to listen, we in fact are saying two things: first, let us hear the same thing, so we can have a common subject for a conversation, and second, let us prepare our different perceptions of the same text…
Indeed we do not get together to listen in order to receive exactly the same, singular impression. For that one may listen alone.”(p. 81, emphasis in original)

The above makes me think about cMOOCs, and how the lowest common denominator needs to be really really low for a large number of participants to be able to have that same conversation from which to branch out into their own second and third discourses.

It seems like the twitter chat taking part alongside a hangout is a second discourse, of sorts, usually commending but sometimes critiquing, sometimes with the people on the hangout itself, sometimes amongst the tweeters themselves (esp. At conferences where presenters can’t see the tweeting live).

“Shared listening multiplies the power of understanding, because the group’s collective experience is larger than any individual one.” (P. 82)

This reminds me of why I love book clubs so much šŸ™‚ but of course am sometimes annoyed by the choice of books I am forced (not really) to read which I don’t enjoy as much šŸ™

The second discourse, although normally as “talking out” and disruptive of the formal situation, should not be considered negative for learning, according to Sidorkin. He suggests that people talking without raising hands as an expression of interest. That people talk when compelled to say something. This means that a good class is probably one where students are so excited they keep interrupting and don’t necessarily stay organized or on topic. Reflecting on this, I think I enjoy such classes more, but admit to sometimes being frustrated if I feel there was something important we did not have time to discuss. It also makes me think of how important it is to create a discussion prompt that encourages such dialogue. I’m thinking now of Dave Cormier’s discussion prompts at the beginning of each week of #rhizo14 – a low barrier to entry, a common topic of conversation, and controversial enough to invite a response from many participants. They created what Sidorkin calls a “fundamental need to speak” (p. 85) for some of us. Whether we were agreeing or not. Not only with Dave but each other. Sidorkin considers this need to share opinions as one not only directed at the authority figure, but with others in the group. It may be related to the text or topic, but the second discourse may relate to process, or may connect it to macro issues. I think it,s always a good thing when these discussions occur in MOOCs. It definitely happened in #rhizo14 and is happening now in #ccourses. Sidorkin calls it “a dialogical challenge, an attempt to enter the dialogical relation” (p. 86).

A couple of quotes that resonated with me (particularly with regards to how blogging affects my learning and engagement) from this same page (86):

“We can only understand when we respond”
“The unspoken word dies inside”

Sidorkin then talks about laughter/humor and its importance as mechanism of sense-making and experiencing the “whole”, citing Bakhtin and Goethe. It reminded me of a facebook status I wrote a long time ago, where I said, “I know it is a good class when there is a lot of laughter”.

He goes on to qualify some disruptions as good or bad (I suspect this is a matter of perspective?)

I will stop here before this post gets too long to be read šŸ™‚ I’ll be back again as I progress.

2 Comments

  1. @Bali_Maha thanks for that – and beware those assumptions <lols>

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