A Journal of Second Order Cybernetics, Autopoiesis & Cyber-Semiotics

Volume 7, No.4 2000


Volume 7 No. 4, 2000

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Nadarajah Sriskandarajah and Søren Brier: Foreword  full text

Richard Bawden: Valuing the Epistemic in the Search for Betterment:  The nature and role of critical learning systems  abstract

Robert Woog and Bob Hodge: The Life Cycle of a Postmodern Paradigm: Social Ecology as a case study in second-order cybernetics  abstract

Raymond L. Ison and David B. Russell: Exploring some Distinctions for the Design of Learning Systems  abstract

Hugo Fjelsted Alrøe: Science as Systems Learning: Some reflections on the cognitive and communicational aspects of science  abstract

Michelle Rush: A Journey Through Hawkesbury  full text

ASC Pages
Herbert Brun: … to hold discourse at least with a computer …  full text

Louis H. Kauffman: Virtual Logic — Formal Arithmetic  full text

The artist of this issue is Lene Frederiksen 

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    by Nadarajah Sriskandarajah and Soren Brier

    Special Issue: Reflective Practice in Learning and Research

    The idea of editing a special issue of the journal with contributions from Hawkesbury arose in conversations between Sriskandarajah and Soren Brier at the beginning of this year, following the move by the former to the Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University (KVL) in Denmark. He had been with the Agriculture and Rural Development academic group at University of Western Sydney, Hawkesbury in Australia for fourteen years. We were both new appointees to KVL’s Section for Learning and Interdisciplinary Methods, a small group of faculty dedicated to offering courses in problem-oriented project-based learning and preparing undergraduates for such a pedagogic approach. 

    The curricular initiatives undertaken by this group at KVL over the past ten years were inspired by developments at Hawkesbury over two decades. As the Hawkesbury group was known for its innovative curriculum built on linking a systemic view with experiential learning, and its compatibility with second order cybernetics and autopoiesis theory, to us it seemed appropriate to ask some of the pioneers from there to reflect on the Hawkesbury experience and its possible development and global relevance. Further, we wanted to connect this to research already ongoing at the national level in agriculture in Denmark and in the areas of philosophy of cognition, information and communication science at KVL.
    For this issue we invited three papers from present and past members of the Hawkesbury faculty. Richard Bawden draws from his long experience leading the curricular reform within the School of Agriculture at Hawkesbury Agricultural College (later to become the University of Western Sydney, Hawkesbury). What began as a critique of the limits of the existing techno-scientific paradigm to explore ‘better agricultures’ and a search for more systemic ways of developing natural resources evolved into a suite of undergraduate and graduate systems programs with strong experiential foundations, and a community of critical, experiential learners made up of students and faculty alike. Bawden bases his arguments for Critical Learning Systems and the epistemic development of the people who are part of these systems, on the experience of the Hawkesbury faculty and its insistence on praxis — on the knowing and doing for being. Learning then is not simply to know systemic perspectives or do systemic methodologies as a management practice on ‘matters to hand’ but also learning ‘about and from themselves as the basis for the action they take’, to be and become critical learners.

    To give voice to the experience of the learner, we bring a poetic reflection on the lived experience of being a student at Hawkesbury by Michelle Rush. Michelle’s Masters program required that development of professional praxis came through reflective practice, and projects and experiences emphasised core competencies of learning, inquiring, communicating and developing.

    The beginnings of the reform in agricultural education at Hawkesbury in fact were in 1970 when a post-experience program in Rural Extension was designed for graduates in practice. While the discipline of Agriculture was being redefined in the context of Rural Development within the School, a parallel development that took place was the birth of Social Ecology as a ‘new autopoietic entity’. Robert Woog and Bob Hodge examine the life cycle of Social Ecology as an academic program at Hawkesbury and present it as ‘fluid, self organizing’ and switching between a modernist interdisciplinary project and a post-modern transdisciplinary project, depending on the mindset of the observer. They propose that an understanding of second-order cybernetics would enable the academy to recognize and think of such emerging programs in their ‘full and complex form’ instead of seeing them ‘as a problem of disciplinary imprecision to be eliminated’.

    Ray Ison and David Russell, reflecting on experiences at Hawkesbury and beyond, discuss the act of making a distinction. They further present a concept of enthusiasm as theory and methodology and propose that both have application in the design of purposeful learning systems. They also highlight the limitations of models of learning and communication that are based only on dualistic thinking.

    But how do we connect this approach to learning with our understanding of science? Hugo Alrøe’s paper on science as systems learning deals with two main perspectives on science as a learning process: research as the learning process of a cognitive system, and science as a social, communicational system. A simple model of a cognitive system is suggested, which integrates both semiotic and cybernetic aspects, as well as a model of self-reflective learning in research, which entails moving from an inside ‘actor’ stance to an outside ‘observer’ stance, and back. This leads to a view of scientific knowledge as inherently contextual and to the suggestion of reflexive objectivity and relevance as two related key criteria of good science. As such the systematic reflection on observation and action becomes the link between the scientific process and teaching. This is much in the original spirit of the Humboldt university but now at a new level. It could be said to be at a new turn in a spiral movement now, with an emphasis on the complexity of both science, learning and praxis and on the ongoing self-reflection. This reflective practice is informed by the praxis developed by Donald Schön of reflecting on what we actually do and not only on our established theory of what we ought to do. See the articles on this in Cybernetics & Human Knowing vol. 7 no. 2/3 devoted to Schön’s work.

    The ASC column is in memoriam of Herbert Brunn who died recently. Louis Kauffman’s column is on the development from virtual logic to formal arithmetic through operations on the void. 

     The artist of this issue is Lene Frederiksen.