Two Views from Anthropology
Drawing on her work in Situated Learning (Cambridge University Press, 1991, co-authored with Etienne Wenger), Professor Lave argued that learning should be considered as a complex social phenomenon dependent on context, and that we should radically rethink our approach to the classroom, to students, and to learning. She described teaching as a relationship that develops based on our understanding of learning, rather than a distinctive practice in its own right. Lave encouraged us to think about what priority we give learning with respect to teaching, suggesting that we consider ourselves facilitators of learning, rather than master teachers instructing pupils who are inferior to us in knowledge acquired. In her own classes, she described “being a witness rather than a transmitter” to students who are “changing their identity as knowers.”
In her presentation to the How Students Learn working group, Professor Joyce describes how she has used the work of Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger in Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation (Cambridge University Press, 1991) in the graduate and undergraduate classroom, giving particular attention to the ways in which participation, peripherality, and legitimacy can be used to change how we think about student learning. For purposes of teaching, in Joyce’s view, the most important of the three terms in Lave and Wenger’s subtitle is “legitimate.” Joyce argued that our attempts to give students real-world projects often backfire, creating illegitimate demands on them. For example, she described an assignment that she used to give in a museum exhibit design course: students would be asked to design, build, and install a museum exhibit in a three-month period. This standard assignment, given in similar courses at many universities, is considered a test of their “real-world” skills in implementing what they learn over the course of the semester. However, Joyce explained, the results are often extremely poor — even for the most advanced students — because a task of this nature would take a skilled professional like herself around two years to carry out. In attempting to be “real-world,” the assignment actually asks students to carry out a fake, or “illegitimate,” version of a disciplinary practice. In order to change the assignment and make it “legitimate” in Lave and Wenger’s sense, Joyce asked herself what disciplinary activity could legitimately be carried out within three months. The answer she came up with was writing a grant proposal for a museum exhibit according to National Endowment for the Humanities guidelines. In drafting such a proposal, students conceptualized their exhibits, but they did not have to try to build and install them in such an unrealistic time frame.
Anthropology and education fundamentals:
“Situated cognition” is a theory of apprenticeship learning that emphasizes the contextual nature of the learning experience. Situated cognition theorists argue that the content of knowledge cannot be abstracted from the context in which both learning and practice take place.
Situated cognition theory understands academic disciplines as communities of practice. That is, students learn how to participate in a disciplinary culture in the same way they become conditioned in the norms and practices of other types of communities.
Even if students do not intend to pursue your discipline professionally, situated learning theory suggests that, in order to learn effectively, they need to perceive the discipline as a culture and to participate in that culture as apprentices. If they do not treat the discipline as the culture in which they are participating, then “school” itself, as an artificial community of practice, may displace the discipline. This is what happens when students “just want to know how to get an A”; they are participating in the culture of the schoolroom, but not in the culture of the discipline.
In order to take advantage of situated cognition,learning activities and assignments should be authentic — part of the normal academic and professional culture of the discipline — and legitimate — scaled to students’ immediate skills and capacities.
Lave, Jean and Etienne Wenger. Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1991. Available from the UC Berkeley GSI Teaching & Resource Center library.
Key learning principles:
- Only learners can learn; teachers can’t learn for them.
- Learning is a complex social phenomenon dependent on context.
- Apprenticeship learning takes place through “legitimate peripheral participation.” (See abstract of Rosemary Joyce’s talk above for one interpretation of this term in the context of teaching.)
Inspired by these talks:
Activities for the college classroom designed and implemented by members of the How Students Learn Working Group, Spring 2011. See what’s already under way at UC Berkeley to address the learning principles described in the talks by Professors Lave and Joyce.
|William Heidenfeldt, GSI||Traits of Writing||French 3-4|
|Ellen Rosenfield||Learning Tour of your Building||Language Proficiency Program 100A, 100B, or 150|
Seth Meyer and Eric Savoth, GSIs
|The Learner as Teacher||German 350 and 351|
Activities and approaches to try:
Resources for post-secondary instructors who wish to reinterpret their classroom practices in light of situated cognition theory:
Communities of Practice from the nonprofit Informal Education Homepage (scroll to the bottom for “issues and implications for educators”)
Rosemary Joyce’s Berkeley Blog posts on teaching and learning. Read more about how Prof. Joyce interprets these learning principles in her own classroom:
“Learning is breaking out all around.” Feb. 9, 2010.
“Multitasking makes a classroom.” Mar. 6, 2010.
“Great teaching can happen in many different ways…” April 21, 2010.
These articles elaborate the theory of situated cognition and explore the changes to teaching practice that result from interpreting learning as a situated activity dependent on the apprenticeship model of legitimate peripheral participation. Some articles may require access through the UC Berkeley library or proxy server.
Brown, John Seely, Allan Collins, and Paul Duguid. “Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning.” Educational Researcher 18.1 (Jan.-Feb. 1989): 32–42.
Darvin, Jacqueline. “‘Real-World Cognition Doesn’t End When the Bell Rings’: Literacy Instruction Strategies Derived From Situated Cognition Research.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 49.5 (Feb. 2006): 398–407.
Choi, Jeong-Im and Michael Hannafin. “Situated Cognition and Learning Environments: Roles, Structures, and Implications for Design.” Educational Technology Research and Development 43.2 (1995): 53–69.