Semiosphere and affordances, talking with Wilma Clark

January 14, 2009

Yesterday evening I spent three hours with Wilma Clark from London to chat in Tartu University cafe about mutual research interests. Wilma happened to read my blog some time ago and while visiting Tartu she proposed to meet – another great example of how web-based contacts really work!

Wilma is currently in Tartu to write her PhD thesis. She is using Lotman’s semiosphere model to explain how technology changes learning spaces for teachers and learners. Wilma has recently translated in English Lotman’s book Culture and explosion which i referred earlier, it will appear soon. Her other translation is Lotman’s Semiosphere.

Wilma and her associates have in press quite interesting paper of school students’ preferences of technology use in Journal of Computer Assisted Learning (2009), 25, 56–69

Beyond Web 2.0: mapping the technology landscapes of young learners
W. Clark, K. Logan, R. Luckin, A. Mee & M. Oliver

In this paper they have used the boundary idea (similiar to Lotman’s semiosphere model) to analyze learning with technology in formal and informal settings.

From my own research perspective they used similar mapping technology as i have done, only at school level.
Secondly, in the questionnaire they have analyzed the tool use in activities using dimesionality: Can use, Can use, but are not allowed to use, Cannot use. Why this is interesting to me?
This can also be interpreted from the learning affordance aspect: we have often discussed with Mart Laanpere that affordances that some tool can be used for certain activities are same important as affordances (perception) that this tool is hindering (is not useful) for certain activity. So affordance can be described using the two-directional (Lickert?) scale (supportive and hindering).

Another interesting idea triggered from this paper: This perceptional feeling that something is common to certain user group in certain activities and hindering (not useful) or align in other activities enables to start using Lotmans semiosphere model together with affordance conception. Lotman plays in his model with the semiosphere in which always dual structure is created and perceived, and the border line between common to me(my community) and align to me(my community) is flexibly defined in the course of action. I think what concerns culture of the community that is related with similar community-specific activities, the affordances might serve as a useful term in defining this borderline.

It is a pity that in this paper the results of shifting borders between formal and informal learning tools (PLEs) are not presented visually keeping the semiosphere model in mind (or at least it is not so implicit).

From their report
Learners’ use of Web 2.0 technologies in and out of school in Key Stages 3 and 4
http://www.becta.org.uk/ i found a good illustration to formal/informal borders (Figure 12).

Borderline between formal and informal space when using web 2.0 tools for learning

Borderline between formal and informal space when using web 2.0 tools for learning

What might be very interesting is not mapping the boundary for the community or class, but start seeing how the boundary is flexibly shifted in Personal Learning Environments (PLE) in formal and informal settings. I believe that the tasks and activities people do in PLE do not have much overlap in formal and informal settings in our classrooms, and practically the learners’ PLE components that exists in informal settings become align in formal settings from the teachers’ perception perspective. However, the students might feel tension and wish to use their PLE tools in formal settings.

We also briefly discussed with Wilma, is it good or bad if there is some overlap of learning space perception in school and outside the school, which enables translation in the dual parts of the semiosphere model – or alternatively, maybe total lack of overlap between perceived and expected affordances in formal and informal settings would create even better conditions for creation? To understand this idea Lotman’s words are the best:

Lotman wrote (in my free translation) in Culture and explosion:

Normal communication between people and normal communication between languages presumes the non-identity of the sender and the receiver. In this case it is normal that the language-space of the sender A and receiver B are partially intersected. Communication is impossible if A and B do not intersect, the total intersection (A and B are identical) changes communication meaningless. Permitted is, therefore, partial overlap of spaces, while at the same time two tendencies will be in action: while streaming towards mutual understanding, the overlapped area is tried to be increased, in order to raise the merit of the message, the difference between A and B must be increased. Therefore, to describe normal communication in languages, we must bring in the concept of tension, the contradiction between the certain forces between spaces A and B.
The overlapped space of A and B becomes their natural area of communication. At the same time the areas that do not overlap seem to be switched off the dialogue. Here we stumble to one more contraversity: communication at overlapped area is trivial. It occurrs that not the overlapped area is of high meaning for the dialogue, but the exchange of information between the areas of no overlap. We can assume that translation of non-translable becomes the carrier of information with high merits. In the area of overlap, between languages that are similar the translation is easy, between the different languages (e.g. poetry and music) it is difficult and creates ambiguent meanings. Not understanding between languages is same valuable as understanding.

The relationships between the translable and non-translable are so complex that they create possibilities for breakthrough to the space beyond the borders. This function is fulfilled by the explosions, that create windows to the space beyond the language borders.


One comment

  1. Hi Kai

    And a very enjoyable conversation it was too! I’m actually at the Institute of Education, not Kings College – but I’ll forgive you. 🙂

    Just received the happy news today that the translated book has just gone into production and so should be on general release very soon.

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