Archive for the ‘affordance’ Category


Meta-design framework for open learning ecosystems at MUP/PLE Lecture Series

June 9, 2011

Here is an advertisement to my lecture at MUP/PLE Lecture series podcast, at Open University of London. The podcast will be soon available.
Mash-UP Personal Learning Environments (MUP/PLE) group on TELeurope:

Lecture text muppletext(should be accompanied by slides):

From last five years, many master courses in Tallinn University, Institute of Informatics have been held as open learning courses using social software. Based on this experience with different learning design experiments, I have generalized the meta-design principles for open learning ecosystems.
My main message is how to overcome the need for the teacher control in self-regulative learning ecosystems by using meta-design principles.
I will start from the analysis of the characteristics of open learning ecosystems, and bring some examples of course designs that follow these characteristics.
As the baseline for the design of the courses in open learning ecosystems I have used the eco-cognitive view of learning. This is based on the ecological psychology foundations defined by Gibson (1977) that focus on the emergent relationships of people with the environment using the affordance concept.
For explaining which affordances each learner perceives and uses when he participates at the open learning courses with his personal learning environment, the activity theory framework developed by Yrjö Engeström (1987) appears useful.
Some central ideas of my approach are borrowed from behavioural ecology, which studies the fitness of individuals to the niches of their species. An eco-cognitive approach explains cognition through distributed representations that are partially offloaded to the ecosystem. I will conceptualize the learning niches and explain how to use them in learning design.
Next, I will introduce some meta-design approaches that involve the end-users to the development of evolving learning designs.
I will explain how the meta-design approach may be used for the course design in open learning ecosystems.
Finally, I will point to some innovative tools that we have used in our open learning master courses, and highlight some existing software limitations for the accumulation and adaptive use of learning niches in meta-design approach.

1. Learning in open learning ecosystem

An open learning ecosystem is a digital (but also a hybrid) learning environment where learners and teachers use personalized social software configurations to organize their learning.
Open learning courses are open to new learners. The learning contents, as well as, the teaching ideas, the design methodologies and infrastructures are jointly developed and openly shared among this community.
This brings variability of tools and approaches to the courses, making the learning environments complex and dynamically changing while learners try to adapt themselves to the course ecosystem.

We use the ecosystem concept, because it allows us to apply the principles of ecology in digital learning environments. If we want to apply the ecology principles in digital systems, we need to find the match between the ecology concepts and the components of digital ecosystems.

Ecology as a discipline deals with different levels of structural elements of ecosystems, both biotic and abiotic.

For example, behavioural ecology focuses on the individuals of the species and their fitness to the niche of their species. Etology studies the interrelations of individuals.
In digital ecosystems we have self-directed individual learners who create personal learning networks with other individuals, using social software, people and artifacts. In order to coexist, they need to monitor each other, navigate across their learning environments, and try to adapt themselves to the other individuals’ useful activity preferences within the shared learning niche.

Population ecology studies the variability, the abundance and the distribution of individuals within one species, and how the species adapt to their niches, create and modify these niches.
In digital ecosystems we have people with similar ideas, software preferences and behaviours for learning, who may be identified as one community or “species”. They contribute to their learning niche by co-designing and sharing learning contents, and by developing new learning behaviours.

The community ecology focuses on the coexisting communities of species, their composition, interactions, organization and succession, as well as, on the food networks among species.
In digital systems we can find similar self-regulative connectivist networks, and communities that co-exist in the same distributed software ecosystems, but using different, partially overlapping niches of it. This makes borrowing and transforming the ideas across community borders possible and creates the learning power in digital ecosystems.

The most important assumption about open learning ecosystems is that the individuals’ self-directed learning behavour, personal learning environment creation, and open publishing causes the ecosystems to be open, dynamic and evolving. At the ecosystem level the accumulation of contents, useful learning behaviours, and ideas causes the changes in the ecosystem and in the community identities, that serves as an evolutionary feedback loop that impacts on individual learners’ perceptions of their learning ecosystem.

Two pedagogical paradigms have been highlighted in open learning ecosystems.
Firstly, the Interpretivist learning principles suggest that students should be guided towards becoming independent, autonomous and self-directed learners. Their learning must rise from their own interests and situations meaningful for them.
It is important that they are not isolated but interact with other learners, acting also as teachers to the others. The learning contents, and software usage behaviours are not created in advance but are emerging and co-created as network-like structures. Every learner can contribute with its prior knowledge and experiences to the creation of open ecosystem knowledge, everyone has the voice and ability to influence the ecosystem.
This guarantees the self-regulative and evolving nature of open learning ecosystems.

One example of such course design was done in the European 6th framework project iCamp for the course eLearning. The learners and teachers from different European universities created the mixed learning teams, to learn about open learning designs and create the course prototypes and associated learning resources about their design solutions. The course backbone was run in the Moodle environment, from where the suggested learning resources and weekly activities could be found. However, all learners and teachers entered to the course with different sets of personal tools, which were to be connected into the open learning system for conducting individual and joint activities. The changes and evolvements of the course ecosystem appeared in different teams. The biggest challenge was to design and coordinate the course as an evolving open learning ecosystem.

Another pedagogical paradigm in open learning ecosystems is Connectivism formulated by George Siemens.
Connectivism assumes that:
Learning is primarily a network-forming process, and the dynamically appearing and changing networks form basis for the learning ecosystems

This approach cultivates the ecosystem view of digital systems. I define open and hybrid digital ecosystems based on Boley and Chang (2007). It is an open, self-organizing environment binding geographical and web based locations, individuals, social software based information services, network interaction and knowledge sharing tools along with resources that help maintain synergy among people, where each subject is proactive and responsive regarding its own benefit/profit.

One example master course, “Ecology of narratives” that used the Connectivism ideas was run in Tallinn University (Pata & Fuksas, 2009). The learning design approach was built on the idea of initiating the emergent narrative collaboration using only the self-regulated storytelling activities. The main element of this design was to provide learners with some design rules, such as determining shared tags, and restricting the behavioural rules from traditional pre-decided group collaboration to emergent co-construction in networks. The co-construction emerged due to highly connected networks created among course participants who were using friend-feeds, place-feeds and mashed tag-feeds in various interconnected social software environments.

2. Challenges for learning design

These two examples highlight the main problem in the learning design for open learning ecosystems.
We need the learning design approaches that enable teachers to regain some co-control in the learner-initiated activities and in the appearing open ecosystems for learning.

In one hand we do want learners to be self-directed in creating learning goals, developing learning activities with personal tools, and choosing and constructing learning contents. We wish to promote the bottom-up emergence of the learning ecosystems.
On the other hand, we need to coordinate our courses to some extent at the universities, if we want to use the distributed learning environments.

The theoretical background for designing open learning ecosystems comes from ecological psychology. It is assumed that for interacting with the environment, we need some cognitive anchors. Humans constantly delegate cognitive functions to the environment. We may leave these anchors by ourselves, anchors may be left by other people who interacted with these surroundings before, these may be for example culturally defined. By doing so we constrain the action potentialities of the environment and help to focus on certain action- or emotion possibilities. But it must be admitted, that such cognitive functions are not stabile design elements in the environment – we cannot assume that everyone would perceive these affordances, or that they would afford the same actions and emotions.

3. An eco-cognitive learning framework

Bardone (2011) emphasizes this ambivalence in developing these cognitive functions. He writes that human cognition is chance-seeking system that is developed within an evolutionary framework based on the notion of cognitive niche construction. We build and manipulate cognitive niches to create additional resources for behavior control. These cognitive niches are determined by affordances.
Cognitive niches are distributed between internal mental spaces and external spaces in the environment. Behavioural/emotional constraints and afforded action/emotion potentialities may appear due to previous action/emotion experiences of the learner in this or in similar environment. Learners’ actual goals may highlight and actualize some affordances. Some affordances may be embedded/highlighted by teacher through instructions or may appear due to the presence of other learners’ activities. Each learner has a different cognitive niche in certain activity, and it may change in the course of action.
This causes high variability of affordances that may be actualized in open learning ecosystem for same learning goals.

Another standing-point to identify, which affordances might be actualized in a personal learning environment, is using the activity system approach (Engeström, 1987).

PLE is distributed ecologically, integrating our minds with the environment. We may assume that at each moment a different configuration of the activity system is active. To reach our learning goals we need to actualize different mediators, such as cognitive concepts, details from artifacts, software, or rely on some community activities. Rules and distribution of labor, common to the certain community, as well as, their personal learning environments, ideas, and the joint ecosystem structural elements may afford different mediators to be available for achieving certain actions or emotions.

Affordances in our cognitive niche form a networked system. They may constrain or actualize each other. Synergy may be arrived from using several affordances simultaneously.
Some affordances may need the presence or the co-activation of other affordances to be used effectively.

An interesting aspect from the learning design perspective is that some of the affordances are offloaded to the ecosystem.
While any individual conceptualizes affordances personally, in a community such perceived and offloaded affordances may accumulate, forming the community’s learning niche.
This niche conceptualization is closer to the niche concept in biology. Hutchinson (1957) defined a niche as a region (n-dimensional hypervolume) in a multi-dimensional space of environmental factors that affect the welfare of a species. Niches have been conceptualized as the environmental gradients with certain ecological amplitude, where the ecological optimum marks the gradient peaks where the organisms are most abundant.
So, niche is not the environment itself, the habitat, but what it affords. For example the range of temperature, the length of daylight, the abundance of certain food form the dimensions for a niche for certain species.
In digital systems these dimensions may associate with the properties of certain activity systems: for example complexity of assembling, accumulating, pulling content; degree of reputation, privacy, security, surveillance, interaction, co-construction in the community etc.
Currently, there are no good tools to monitor these affordances, nevertheless the community members perceive some of the learning niche properties

In one of my open learning ecosystem courses (Pata, 2009) we asked students to associate self-defined affordances with social software. We grouped these affordances under some activity types. As a result we could find what types of affordances were more commonly perceived by everyone, and which appeared to be rare. To make a visualization of the community’s learning niche we plotted the niche as the map of affordance “mountains”. However, this visualization is also a bit misleading – the real niche should be plotted into an abstract multidimensional space. This visualization does not consider the affordances that appear due to the presence of other affordances. For example, some software functionalities (tagging) may make available other affordances only if a community uses them actively (browsing the community members’ resources).
We also found in this study, that at different years the community niche of social software affordances appeared similar. On the other hand, for individual and collaborative assignments the niche dimensions were significantly different.

So I propose that the accumulated community niches for different learning goals may indicate the effective affordances for certain communities. The community’s affordances may be interpreted and used by each learner to best adapt to the community niche for certain goal-based action. Adaptation is the adjustment of an organism to its environment in the process by which it enhances fitness to its niche.
Such interplay in which each individual contributes to the formation of his cognitive niche, but also to the accumulation of the community’s niche, and simultaneously adjusts his affordance perception to his community niche is the central idea in dynamic evolving learning ecosystems.
It is one of the key points in meta-design framework as well.

4. Ecological learning designs as meta-designs

There have been some attempts to use the affordance concept in the learning design principles. This model from Kirchner and associates (2004) determines learners’ perceived affordances from their behaviour in the learning system, develops supportive and constraining affordances for interacting with the system and monitors the effectiveness of such affordance-based cognitive tools. However, learner’s role in this design approach is passive, the design is created by the teacher. Also, the dynamic evolvement of the learning environment is not expected. So, this model has limitations from the open learning ecosystem design perspective.

Another design approach, that considers adaptive and dynamic nature of the ecosystems is a meta-design framework proposed by Gerhard Fisher (2004) and associates. Meta-design is designing the design process for cultures of participation – creating technical and social conditions for broad participation in design activities. The meta-design approach is directed to the formation and evolution of open learning ecosystems through the end-user design.

The meta-design approach is known as a methodology for collaborative co-design of social, technical and economic infrastructures in interdisciplinary teams in order to achieve synergy similarly to the symbiosis phenomena in natural environments. The meta-design, known from End User Design in computer science, extends the traditional notion of system development to include users in an ongoing process as co-designers, not only at design time but throughout the entire existence of the system.

Autonomous and self-organized designers in meta-design framework can increase the diversity of design solutions in the system, allowing diversity and variability to emerge within the ecosystem.
Hagen & Robertson visualize in their paper some meta-design models as open, community-driven, emergent and iterative activity sequences that are based on user contribution.

For example:
Figure 1. The design solution is iterated through the participation in use. For example the e-learning course may be run at different years, the affordances may be collected post-activity, as in Kirchner’s model, and the revisions of the course ecosystem could be made. If letting the accumulated contents and affordances inside the system, the next round of the course may be able to navigate in the ecosystem better than the first participants.

Figure 2. The design emerges into different directions through participation. Such designs in open learning communities may be validated by individuals, and the best, most actively used solutions will become temporally stabile as community niches. This type of design is common in swarming activities.

Figure 3. The initial design may be outsourced to the users, and appears as an assembled collage. This approach is more common in open content creation, for example in wikis.

Figure 4.The design may also be opened to the community participation throughout design, that may gradually shift the perceived niche of affordances. Such design is most common in the stabile open learning communities – some affordances will be discovered, others will be forgotten in time.

Similarly to behavioural ecology principles, in meta-design we can see the interplay between self-directed individual designers (in our case learners), and the niche (the affordances of the design solution) that appears as the result of their activities.
Learning in the cultures of participation may be characterized as the process in which learner and the system (community, culture) detects and corrects errors in order to fit and be responsive.
In this definition, learning and designing process is conceptualized as largely self-organized, adaptive and dynamic.
It may be assumed that such learning and meta-design follows the ecological principles.

Both focuses – the learning ecosystem evolution by end-user design, and nourishing the end-user design process by creating the scaffolds for designing, are equally important aspects of ecological Meta-Design. Such scaffolds may be the visualizations of the emergent community’s learning niche.

To make some generalizations from our master courses in open learning ecosystems, the following aspects might be important in the meta-design framework
Learners should be facilitated to be self-directed. For this they are required to keep personal conversational learning contracts throughout the learning process. For example they could map their goals, and how they will achieve these goals, what affordances appeared useful in action.
Learners need to dynamically integrate their personal learning environments with the other learner’s environments, in order to perform some joint tasks or allow better awareness of each other’s activities. The affordances perceived during the course may change depending of their goals.
In order to better adapt to the digital ecosystem, the learners would need meta-level guidance.
For example, the rules and conditions (shared tags etc.) that facilitate niche accumulation may be determined by the teacher. The nature of activities may be selected such that supports self-regulation-based collaboration (for example swarming activities).
The learners and the teacher should be able to monitor the state of the niche, and can adjust their learning behaviours to the niche.

So, what would the learners do?
In learning ecosystems autonomous learners continuously develop and dynamically change design solutions to support their learning.
They incorporate into their personal learning environments different Web 2.0 tools, networking partners and artifacts, and monitor the state of the whole learning ecosystem to adapt their design solutions and learning objectives to the system and to other learners.

What is the teacher’s role?
The teacher creates rules, scaffolds and incentives for the learners’ design activities that would foster the accumulation of learning niches
These include:
Possibilities for monitoring the affordances of the community
Providing learners with the options that enhance and speed up the self-directed network-formation process (e.g. tags, mashups)
Analyzing the emerging affordances within the learning community, and providing analytical guidance for them aiding to make design decisions and selecting learning activities (e.g. social navigation, semantic navigation)
Seeding learning activities into the open learning ecosystem that are based on self-organization (e.g. swarming)

Some of these designs are well supported with suitable software for open learning ecosystems. However, there is the need for dynamic accumulation and monitoring systems for learning niche formation to be used by each learner for benefiting from particular open learning ecosystem and allowing them to participate in the course design
Two options may be used:
The affordance informations should be accumulated dynamically, and this information, if well visualized, would help navigation of individual learners in the learning niches
The real-time awareness of the other learners‘ perceived affordances may appear in the systems where users are constatntly at present (such as facebook wall or twitter), however this is more time-consuming way to deduce the learning ecosystem affordances

References for slide texts

•Bardone, E. (2011). Seeking Chances. From Biased Rationality to Distributed Cognition. Springer, Heidelberg.
•Boley, H., & Chang, E. (2007). Digital Ecosystems: Principles and Semantics, published at the 2007 Inaugural IEEE International Conference on Digital Ecosystems and Technologies. Cairns, Australia. February 2007. NRC 48813.
•Crabtree, A., & Rodden, T. (2007). Hybrid ecologies: understanding interaction in emerging digital-physical environments. Personal and Ubiquitous Computing, Online First: DOI 10.1007/s00779-007-0142-7.
•Fiedler, S,; Pata, K. (2009). Distributed learning environments and social software: in search for a framework of design. In Stylianos Hatzipanagos and Steven Warburton (Eds.). Handbook of Research on Social Software and Developing Community Ontologies. (145 – 158). Idea Group Reference.
•Engeström, Y. (1987). Learning by Expanding: An Activity-Theoretical Approach to Developmental Research (
•Fischer, G., Giaccardi, E. Ye,Y., Sutcliffe,A.G., Mehandjiev, N. (2004). META-DESIGN: A MANIFESTO FOR END-USER DEVELOPMENT. COMMUNICATIONS OF THE ACM September 2004/Vol. 47, No. 9 (33-37 .
•Gibson, J.J. (1977). The theory of affordances. In R. Shaw & J. Bransford (eds.), Perceiving, Acting and Knowing. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
•Hagen, P. and Robertson, T. (2009Dissolving boundaries: social technologies and participation in design. Proceedings of OZCHI 2009, ISBN: 978-1-60558-854-4
•Kirschner, P., Strijbos, J. W., Kreijns, K., Beers, P. J. (2004). Designing electronic collaborative learning environments. Educational Technology Research and Development 52(3), 47–66.
•Pata, K. (2009). Modeling spaces for self-directed learning at university courses. Educational Technology & Society, 12 (3), 23–43.
•Pata, K., Fuksas, A. P. (2009). Ecology of Embodied Narratives in the Age of Locative Media and Social Networks: a Design Experiment. Cognitive Philology, 2, 1 – 21.
•Pata, K.; Merisalo, S. (2010). SELF-DIRECTION INDICATORS FOR EVALUATING THE DESIGN-BASED ELEARNING COURSE WITH SOCIAL SOFTWARE. Dirk Ifenthaler, Dr. Kinshuk, Pedro Isaias, Demetrios G. Sampson, J. Michael Spector (Eds.). Multiple Perspectives on Problem Solving and Learning in the Digital Age (343 -358).Springer
•Pór, G., & Molloy, J. (2000). Nurturing Systemic Wisdom Through Knowledge Ecology. Systems Thinker, 1 (8), 1–5.
•Põldoja, H., Laanpere, M. (2009). Conceptual Design of EduFeedr – an Educationally Enhanced Mash-up Tool for Agora Courses. In: Mashup Personal Learning Environments: MuPPLE 09, Nizza, 29.September 2009. (Eds.) Fridolin Wild, Marco Kalz, Matthias Palmér, Daniel Müller. Aachen (online):, 2009, (CEUR Workshop Proceedings; 506).
•Siadaty, M., Gasevic, D., Pata, K., Milikic, N., Holocher-Ertl, T. (2011). A Sematic Web-enabled Tool for Self-Regulated Learning in the Workplace. iCALT 2011 proceedings (xxx-xxx). Athens, Georgia, USA: IEEE Computer Society Press [in press]
•Siemens, G. (2006) Knowing knowledge. URL.
•Zhang, J. & Patel, V.L. (2006). Distributed cognition, representation, and affordance. Distributed Cognition: Special issue of Pragmatics & Cognition 14, 333-341.


Ecology of learning with new media tools

November 9, 2010

I was invited by Merja Bauters to do a lecture

“Ecology of learning with new media tools”

at Master of Semiotics program in Helsinki University for the course “Semiotics and media, sciences and technology studies”

Lecture was recorded at Monday, 15th of November, 2010 (16-18)


interrelated affordance dimensions as systems

November 4, 2010

I am preparing the virtual lecture “Ecology of learning with new media tools” for the master of semiotics program in Helsinki University for the course “Semiotics and media, sciences and technology studies”.

I was looking one article that was inspired by the Lakoff’s book “Metaphors we live bye”.
It assumes that we live by metaphors that actually structure our perceptions and understanding

Our conceptual system, thus, plays a central role in defining our everyday realities. If we are right in suggesting that our conceptual system is largely metaphorical, then the way we thinks what we experience, and what we do every day is very much a matter of metaphor.

Interesting in this paper is the assumption that metaphorical concepts that we use form a system.

TIME IS MONEY, TIME IS A LIMITED RESOURCE, and TIME IS A VALUABLE COMMODITY are all metaphorical concepts. They are metaphorical since we are using our everyday experiences with money, limited resources, and valuable commodities to conceptualize time. This isn’t a necessary way for human beings to conceptualize time; it is tied to our culture. There are cultures where time is none of these things.

I started to think if there exists also the personal system within the affordances that we potentially actualize in interaction with the world.

My idea seems not to be exactly the same as affordance network idea conceived by Barab and Roth (2006). Particularly it is elaborating this part where environmental knowledge is used.

Barab and Roth (2006) have noted that connecting learners to ecological networks, where they can learn through engaged participation, activates the affordance networks.
Barab and Roth (2006) assumed that affordance networks are not read onto the world, but instead continually “transact” (are coupled) with the world as part of a perception-action cycle in which each new action potentially expands or contracts one’s affordance network.

Basically i think that:
a) if affordances are our perspectives, the positions that we take in the moment of action/emotion in the multidimensional geo-conceptual hybrid space consisting of conceptual dimensions and geographic dimensions (Pata, 2010; Normak, Pata, Kaipainen, forthcoming), then

b) there exists the personal spatial area within geo-conceptual hybrid space that is frequently defined by these positions
This personal spatial area (a cognitive niche) is simultaneously activated internally and externally as the cognitive distributed space during the cognitive chance-seeking (Bardone, 2010), and people are always “validating” the effectiveness of this space for affording their actions and emotions.

c) and within this personal space WE CAN FIND CONSISTENCY of what dimensions of the space are incorporated into certain affordances as personal perspectives useful for certain action or emotion

d) The accumulation of individual positions within this space (to the geographical and virtual object world and to the interpersonal relational actions) contribute to the formation of the cultural spaces – the niches within geo-conceptual hybrid space.
So some of the affordances are offloaded to the objects which are spatially located, some affordances are run dynamically in the awareness of the persons who are interacting and keeping awareness of bodily and emotional activations of each other and with the object world.

We may have several of such taskspaces.
Taskspace is an array of activities related to a certain environment (Ingold, 2000). A taskspace fosters a range of affordances of an environment, delimiting some and enabling others (Edensor, 2004).

e) Cultural niches within geo-conceptual hybrid space are used by individuals for spatial navigation while they select the positions in their own spaces (basically cultural niches can prompt or inhibit some dimensions that the person can use in the geo-conceptual hybrid space for actualizing affordances.

(dataset and image from Pata, 2009)

Image indicates the community perception of affordances for using an aggregator tool.

Part of the problem is how effectiveness of taking action or having emotion is evaluated by each individual in respect to the community niche, and how such effectiveness may be accumulated to the niche.

If the (geo)tags used for defining some conceptual artifacts are interpreted as the dimensions of the geo-conceptual space (for example if we look blog posts, or bookmarks), there exist some dimensions that are the root- or central dimensions, and other dimensions are additional dimensions.

The pictures of tag-networks allow us to see the “hubs” (root-dimensions) in this multidimensional space.

Here is the affordance dimension network based on my dataset (Pata, 2009a,b). I have used the Bayesian networking tool for finding the best fitting causal model for collaborative activity taskspace with social software tools.

From the previous spatial dimension figure we can see that monitoring is the most frequently perceived affordance of the aggregator. The other affordances frequently perceived while using aggregator are: filtering and mashing; collecting; reading; and evaluating.

We may assume that in the collaborative activity taskspace with different types of social software tools, the monitoring affordance in general is related with searching and evaluating and reading.
The arrow to reading indicates causality that actualizing monitoring affordance allows in turn reading affordance.

Following the same idea of spatial re-location while taking action and having emotion, Lackoff said about conceptual metaphors that Another functionality for metaphors is orientation in space.

I’m feeling up. That boosted my spirits. My spirits rose. you’re in high spirits. Thinking about her always gives me a lift. I’m feeling down. I’m depressed. He’s really low these days. I fell into a depression. My spirits sank.

Lakoff and Núñez suggest that conceptual metaphors form network of bodily grounded entities with inferential organization.

In his book “Philosophy in the Flesh : The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought” Lakoff and Johnson (1999) conceptualized living by metaphors using the embodied mind idea.

“our bodies, brains, and interactions with our environment provide the mostly unconscious basis for our everyday metaphysics, that is, our sense of what is real.”

Together with the “father” of embodied simulation Vittorio Gallese George Lakoff wrote and article “The Brain’s Concepts: The Role of the Sensory-Motor System in Conceptual Knowledge.” (2005).

The argue against the cognitive processing

A common philosophical position is that all concepts—even concepts about action and perception—are symbolic and abstract, and therefore must be implemented outside the brain’s sensory-motor system.

and suggest embodied simulation, assuming that

“sensory-motor regions of brain are directly exploited to characterise the so-called “abstract” concepts that constitute the meanings of grammatical constructions and general inference patterns.”

In the recent book “Embodied cognition” Shapiro distinguishes three important themes in embodied cognition (Shapiro, 2010):

Conceptualization – the properties of the organism’s body constrain which concepts an organism can acquire.

Replacement – the organism’s body in interaction with the environment replaces the need for symbolic representational processes. (systems do not include representational states)

Constitution – the body or world plays a constitutive role rather than causal role in cognitive processing.

I am thinking of two interesting aspects:
How is personal cognitive niche/a cultural niche a coherent referential network?

A person can offload some of the affordances to the environment using some artifacts, so the community niche may form and be reused for personal cognitive navigation?

A person interacts with other people directly and the monitored actions and emotions actualize temporarily parts of the community niche as well, which may be used for navigating in personal cognitive niche

How are some dimensions in the geo-cognitive space highlighted among others, and which are in principle these “spaces of flows” within cultural/community spaces and how one person is immersed to these flows.


Interactivity and affordances in digital ecosystems

October 30, 2010

We have just ended with David Lamas the course Introduction to new media.

Part of the course tasks was concept mapping around new media issues to develop a conceptual system for making sense of new media ecosystems.
Yesterday i have reviewed all the maps and wrote out some more general concepts.

When clustering these concepts i have organized them around central questions:

I have placed the clusters who and how close to each other, because the actors who interact with new media are at the same time the mediators and creators of interactivity.

I have placed where? and why? close to each other, since in some ways they are the results of interaction. But it is not the full picture. The spaces, artifacts and knowledge too serve also as mediators of interactivity for me, since they enable activities and applications.

I have placed the cluster why? in the center to connect possible application areas and activities.

While positioning different clusters on the map it became quite clear that according to the embodied cognition viewpoint in digital ecosystems all the presented components would be intertwined and we cannot talk separately of mediators of action.

In the center of the interaction in embodied cognition is the affordance concept.
Current formalizations of affordances (e.g. Sahin et al., 2007; Ugur et al., 2009) originate from robotics and describe affordances through a triple consisting of the initial percept of the object, the behavior applied, and the effect produced (effect, (entity, behavior)).

So the entity / what is used for defining the affordance, but also what is influenced/ can be from the group of users, spaces, artifacts, knowledge and software (and maybe also from culture, i am particularly thinking of cultural interfaces that include behaviour).
The behaviour can be from the group of activities and behaviour (maybe also from the group of applications, because this gives the goals?).
In really we also need to have so called mental behaviour (such as emotions?).

The effect may be then measured for different targets:

This way we can describe always the interaction/coupling between one actor(person) with the entities (embodying) and as a result of affordance perception influencing (having effect) on the entities (disembodying).

One affordance entails always more than one component as entities.

Entity type (user(s); space; artifacts; knowledge; software; culture) affords behaviour (actions; emotions) and it leads to outcome (application goals).

From every entity type only certain dimensions (characteristics, properties) are actualized in particular moment. These can be both processual (what actions), emotional (what emotions), conceptual (what meanings), locative (what positions/places) and structure properties (what size, shape, force, part, region etc.).

The effect has to be measured using the same characteristics e.g. action was completed (at what effect level), emotion was reached (at what effect level?), meanings were strenghtened, positions where changed, spaces were created, some new configuratons of properties were achieved.

So the figure of clustered concepts shows, what will be the affordances and the combined affordances that allow interactivity in digital ecosystems…

For example the affordances that allow interactivity in digital ecosystems meant for spatial storytelling in hybrid ecosystem using the swarming method may be described using the following entities and behaviours:

Entities and properties
individuals /adaptability; flow experience
networks; communities (friendfeeds) / awareness; participatory surveillance
software types (microblogs) / interoperability; openness
PLEs / user customized
knowledge objects /variability, modularity, user-generated
aggregated artifacts / interconnectivity
personal places / shared intersubjectivity
spatial narratives /ontbrands
niches /dynamic, openness
dynamic liquid space /expandability, openness, dynamic
cultural interface/

personal information management
narrative experiences
social navigation
social accumulation
community browsing

Basically self-directed individuals using PLEs and personal networks (friendfeeds) in hybrid spaces leave write personal spatial (geospatial and spatial in conceptual space) narratives. These will be accumulated as community niches and used for social navigation (basically person adapts to the niche). Spatial swarming appears on top of this activity causing some story prototypes to appear as particular brands. Besides this, individuals also have awareness of each other, which also allows noticing some spatial places and relocate to these places. Such ontobrands allow remediation and remixing of story contents.

So important is interactivity between user-artifact (dimensions that it reveals); user-space ((geo)tags that allow spatial positioning); user-user (perhaps indirectly the flow experience of other users are perceived from their activity frequency, also the focuses of their stories are inferred from artifacts).


Spatial niches of medieval knights

May 19, 2010

Anatole Fuksas, has been explaining the niche ideas in medieval courtly novels.

I find the following points really interesting because for me they are related with tags as space dimensions and how we may create such spaces in course of action, what such spaces might allow us, and how we perceive and interact with the reduced tag-dimensions of the space.

The medieval courtly novel describes a world of adventures which is built around the knights and their much needed achievements.

Topographic descriptions define the right path to adventure, a narrow scenario which stays the same over time so as to preserve untouched the opportunities for adventure it entails and the challenges it potentially offers to the knight who finds it.

Environmental descriptions in medieval courtly novels feature very consistent «taskscapes» instead of proper landscapes.

The protagonists of medieval courtly novels are mostly knights who belong to the same ‘species’ and the same ‘race’, so that their different reactions to the environmental challenges do not define the borders of different ecological niches.

This is a bit confusing in his explanation, i think that the species as such can define a niche, not one knight as the specimen of the species. Actually… The question is, do knights represent one species-specific niche, or do their different goals will represent different niches. What i believe is that in case of adopting ecology terms (specimen, species, community, niche) to humans we need to consider that the different goals/mindsets one human can take might enable a human to simultaneously be part of and develop different niches. What i say is human defined niches are goal-specific taskspaces, and we can adapt ourselves to many taskspaces

Provided that they share a common idea of society and nature, they perceive the very same affordances. Accordingly, the different way they respond to the environmental challenges does not imply that their conflicting options define the borders of different realities, even when their approaches to adventure radically differ.

Different adaptation of protagonists (knights) to the very same environment define the borders of different niches, to the point that multiple autonomous or overlapping niches may either conflict or merge into the very same novel.

Here i would say that individuals knights take perspectives of the niche space – this will determine their trajectories, or positions in the knightly species niche.

Conflicting niches /or perspectives/ typically emerge from the adoption of different character-specific perspectives for describing the very same events.

Conflictual interaction between different character-specific perspectives, which define the borders of different ecological niches, determines both the extent and the complexity of the ecosystem described in a novel.

It is not clearly described how conflict interaction would define the borders of such niches. I think borders of taskspecific niches will create the potential for conflicts – especially if the same person has to choose in the course of adoption which taskspace (niche) he should adapt himself in the current moment.

Basically,  medieval novelists seem to be interested in describing conflictual situations which emerge among conspecific individuals who adopt different positions in the very same ecological niche.

I think knights adopt different positions in the taskspaces (subspaces or niches) that are situated in the bigger knightly species-specific niche.

In novels, time is fragmented in segments so as to subserve the description of various adventures which take place in a deformed space resulting from a subjective emotional play with distance and proximity.

It would be interesting to elaborate the issue of spatial trajectories in the niche and consider what is the role of time and events in this spatial movement in taskspecific niches of the knightly niche.

I believe that the spatial view of courtly novel storytelling, if we take the niche as this tasksspace where people interact, will show few positions in taskspace where certain knight is, and the trajectory of the novel would fluctuate between these spatial attractor points.

The beauty in what Anatole wrote is the idea, that deliberately, to make the novel space perceptible, its dimensions are lessened compared with the reality.

And thus the reader can imagine better the niche as a multidimensional space which has only certain (not too many) dimensions.

So it becomes possible to visualise the adventures as the movement between few spatial areas in this knightly niche.

Anyway, i think this idea is wonderfully well in line and inspiring to my own spatial storytelling experiments in hybrid ecosystem.


Human cognition as a chance-seeking system: comments

March 9, 2010

Last week i finally had the chance to meet in person with Emanuele Bardone from University of Pavia, with whom i have been in contact in concerns of affordance and niche ideas for about a year when i discovered papers about eco-cognitive niche construction he wrote with Lorenzo Magnani.

Emanuele has recently defended his PhD with the thesis HUMAN COGNITION AS CHANCE-SEEKING SYSTEM.

Now i could ask the questions that concerned me the most in his theory – why they consider niche as an individual’s space rather than seeing it as an abstract space that exists and is defined by many persons of certain culture.
For me in this part their theory is a bit misleading, the concept eco-cognitive niche as a distributed knowledge representation phenomenon should not indicate the cognitive space of one person. If such distributed cognitive space exists, the relationship how personal cognitive space would be influenced by culturally emergent niche and vice versa needs still to be explained. Bardone tends to use the word smart environment or ambient intelligence instead of traditional (biological) niche conceptualizations.

I interpret niche as a community or species based phenomenon (Pata, 2009).

Ecologies are formed as a result of many individuals taking actions. Thus, people with various perspectives are simultaneously at present in these ecologies and influencing them. Many abstract subspaces can be formed within ecologies.
These groups of individuals have something in common in their identity. They form communities who inhabit the same abstract learning spaces in the ecology – niches.
The formation of learning spaces as niches for specific learning-related activities happens through the social definition of several factors that influence learning.
Hutchinson (1957) defined a niche as a region (n-dimensional hypervolume) in a multi-dimensional space of environmental factors that affect the welfare of a species.
She also made difference of fundamental and realized niche – the former exist as the complex of all necessary environmental characteristics for certain species, the latter is formed under the pressure of all the currently available environmental characteristics in the competitive conditions with other species.
Niches have been conceptualized as the environmental gradients with certain ecological amplitude, where the ecological optimum marks the gradient peaks where the organisms are most abundant. In the gradient concept structural ecosystem properties are comprehended as concentration gradients in space and time (Müller, 1998). Any niche gradient is a peak of the fitness landscape of one environmental characteristic (Wright, 1931), which can be visualized in two-dimensional space as a graph with certain skew and width, determining the ecological amplitude. The shape of the fitness graph for certain characteristic can be plotted through the abundance of certain specimen benefitting of this characteristic. All niche gradients are situated and establish a multi-dimensional hyper-room, which axes are different environmental parameters. Thus, any learning niche in social systems is determined as a set of characteristics that people perceive and actualize as useful for their activities and wellbeing individually or in groups. Each niche gradient defines one dimension of the space. The fundamental niche term applies for all the possibly usable software tools and services, artifacts and people, while the realized niches form under the constrained conditions of resource availability.

In the elaborated framework of ecological learning i support the idea that affordances are the perceived possibilities for both thinking and doing, what learners evoke and signify during their actual interaction with an artifact or tool and with each other. People determine the personal learning affordances when using their personal learning space (personal learning environment). Hence, the learning affordance descriptions involve the learning action verbs, people who are involved in action, and mediators of actions (various tools, services and artifacts). Any individual conceptualizes learning affordances personally, but the range of similar learning affordance conceptualizations may be clustered into more general affordance groups. These collaboratively accumulated affordance clusters may be interpreted and used as the abstract learning niche gradients. The affordances as niche gradients are socially developed. Using the affordance conception for defining learning space dimensions for the communities, we can bring the emergent ecological properties from the individual level to the new structural level that is niches in the ecologies.

Bardone uses niche term from the individual’s viewpoint and for the community level he has applied sometimes ambient intelligence or smart environment.

AmI can be considered a form of cognitive niche enrichment. Ambient Intelligence adds up a new layer to the traditional ways of disembodying the mind: Ambient Intelligence basically puts those sophisticated and smart devices – mimicking our mind – into our environments. In doing so even our familiar objects may embed high-level computing power [Cook & Das, 2007].

Collecting such an amount of data – and aggregating it – allows smart environments to provide us with feedbacks that exhibit a degree of adaptability that cannot be compared with any other traditional environment or cognitive niche.

HOWEVER, CAN we REALLY SAY THIS INDIVIDUAL DISTRIBUTED COGNITIVE SPACE IS A NICHE? (i am a bit worried of the concept use in individual terms).

AND, CAN we EXPLAIN HOW THE DISEMBODIED EXTERNALIZED PART OF individual COGNITIVE SPACE (part of your eco-cognitive niche) WOULD INTERACT WITH THAT WHAT I CALL NICHE (for communities/cultures) AND Brdone CALLs THE SMART ENVIRONMENT OR AMBIENT INTELLIGENCE? It is clear that for adaptability to culture each individual would need another adaptation, fitness to the COMMUNITY culture and its NICHE.


The other aspect that we discussed was his idea how human beings overcome their internal limitations by (1) disembodying thoughts and then (2) re-projecting internally that occurring outside to find new ways of thinking. He explained that the internal representation as a cognitive structure is kind of bounded, fixed (constraints) whereas the external representation allows to bring into internal representations new elements (chances). For me this explanation of fixed internal cognitive structures was not convincing. I tend to believe that in the moment of any action the internal and external representations could be considered as one distributed mediation system.
It seems that humans extend themselves in the moment of action integrating temporally some features that they perceive in the environment to their cognitive perception of their body. For example other people, some “tools”, some language concepts, some artifacts could be perceived as chances. This coupling possibility itself could be memorized and reused as personal or cultural preference the next time people plan actions. If that features would be available culturally and in the environment these may sharpen persons’ attention and trigger them to extend certain cognitive resources similar way as they had already used them as mediators. Maybe the time of our discussion was too limited to be aware of how this cognitive embodying-disembodying takes place in his theory.

The basic principles in Bardone’s theory are:

Human cognition is chance-seeking system that is developed within an evolutionary framework based on the notion of cognitive niche construction.

Humans are powerful eco-cognitive engineers.

Humans do not hold a complete internal representation of the environment; but they use the environment itself as a model insofar as they can immediately access it in terms of those action capabilities, which emerge in the interplay between humans and their environment.

Humans use the environment itself as a representation by manipulating and even creating it so as to find room for new cognitive chances not immediately available.

Humans turn environmental constraints into ecological chances when facing the challenges posed by the environment itself.

Decision making activities (and the way to obtain successful results) derive from the way individuals interact with the environment;
This interaction involves internal and external resources, and the way they are represented;
This process is dynamic, in the sense that cognitive capabilities depend on the exploitation of external resources and on their representation (time and way of modifying the interaction);
Interaction and dynamics imply uncertainty and complexity, in terms of difficulties deciphering between internal and external influences;
The “smart interplay” between the two is not limited to computational capabilities and, even if we narrowly focus on them, they are not only internal, but depend from the “smart interplay” itself;
Thus, our computational capabilities (or rationality la Simon) are not limited, since bounds depend on the “smart interplay” between internal and external resources and, moreover, the result of the decisionmaking process is embedded in the way the broad cognitive system employs, represents, and acknowledges external resources.

Humans constantly delegate cognitive functions to the environment: (Zhang, 1997; Gatti and Magnani, 2005; Knuuttila and Honkela, 2005) argue that the traditional notion of representation as a kind of abstract mental structure is misleading.

Internal representation does not mirror the entire representational task, because it is only a part of it.

External representations can be considered as “tacit procedures” (Polanyi, 1966) that emerge from, and are prompted by, the interaction (coupling) between humans and the environment.

If some cognitive performances can be viewed as the result of a smart interplay between humans and the environment, the representation of a problem is partly internal but it also depends on the smart interplay between the individual and the environment.

Human cognitive behavior consists in acting upon those anchors which we have secured a cognitive function to via cognitive niche construction. And those anchors are basically affordances.
Affordances can be related to the variable (degree of) abductivity of a configuration of signs.

Humans have at their disposal a standard or pre-wired endowment of affordances, but at the same time they can extend and modify the range of what can afford them through the development of appropriate cognitive abductive skills.

For making plasticity work is to turn environmental constraints into ecological chances.

We build and manipulate cognitive niches so as to unearth additional resources for behavior control. This activity of eco-cognitive engineering is basically what describes the most our idea of learning as an ecological task.

Basically, human beings overcome their internal limitations by (1) disembodying thoughts and then (2) re-projecting internally that occurring outside to find new ways of thinking.

Ecological approach aims at understanding cognitive systems in terms of their environmental situatedness (Clancey, 1997; Magnani, 2005). Within this framework, chances are that “information” which is not stored internally in memory or already available in an external reserve but that has to be “extracted” and then picked up upon occasion. This process of environmental selection (Odling-Smee, 1988) allows living creatures to build and shape the “ecological niches”.

Based on his thesis, Emanuele Bardone is currently writing the book:
Seeking Chances: From Biased Rationality to Distributed Cognition

External structures, which ultimately are meshed into our cognitive niches, exhibit what we may call a cognitive (semiotic) agency. That is, once externalized and secured to external supports, ideas, thoughts, and even intentions, cease to be what they originally meant to be. They acquire a public status; that means they go under a process of negotiation, which eventually leads to conventionalization and/or entrenchment [Tyl´en, 2007]. This can be viewed also as an hybridization process, which not only regards human beings and their surroundings, but also those objects and artefacts that enter the cognitive niche. Secondly, human externalizations become part of the so-called eco-cognitive inheritance and, therefore, being subjected to further modifications and exploitations insofar as they can be also the basis for the creation and development of additional eco-cognitive capabilities.

The neurological counterpart of this process is a process of brain re-configuration and re-organization – a rehearsed recapitulation – which allows our brain to disentangle itself from the perception-action cycle typical of the on-line thinking [Magnani, 2009].

We will discuss the case of Ambient Intelligence as a case of cognitive niche enrichment. We
will claim AmI can be considered a form of cognitive niche enrichment. Ambient Intelligence adds up a new layer to the traditional ways of disembodying the mind: Ambient Intelligence basically puts those sophisticated and smart devices – mimicking our mind – into our environments. In doing so even our familiar objects may embed high-level computing power. More generally, we argue that Ambient intelligence deals not only with reproducing some kinds of sophisticated human cognitive performances, but also with paying attention on an eco-cognitive dimension of computing – what is called context-aware computing [Cook & Das, 2007].

Collecting such an amount of data – and aggregating it – allows smart environments to provide us with feedbacks that exhibit a degree of adaptability that cannot be compared with any other traditional environment or cognitive niche.

Ambient Intelligence can be surely considered one of the most sophisticated ways humans have invented to distribute cognitive functions to external objects. In this case, the massive cognitive delegation contributes to a radical re-distribution of the cognitive load humans have subjected to. Basically, Ambient Intelligence improves people’s experience in their environments [Cook & Das, 2007].

Adapting affordances are those affordances that help the agent exploit latent environmental possibilities providing additional clues.

Simon’s statement can be fruitfully interpreted that way: humans overcame the limits of their bounded cognitive system by delegating cognitive functions to the environment. Suggestions, recommendations, and the like are all external resources that are socially available, and that indeed contribute to lessening various limitations.


Systemic concepts in hybrid ecosystem

January 4, 2010

Previously, i have described what hybrid ecosystem is and how it functions in one book chapter.

Knowledge ecologies framework

In the next version i have combined the approach better with the ontospace ideas.

Hybrid ecosystem should be described at least three systemic levels.
I have tried to map the concepts related to each level.

Hybrid ecosystem level concepts

Hybrid ecosystem level concepts