Is “The Matter With Things” also what’s the matter with Learning Analytics?

I enjoyed sharing some early reflections yesterday at the LAK22 Workshop on the Philosophy of Learning Analytics

Is “The Matter With Things” also what’s the matter with Learning Analytics?

Abstract: I will share some very preliminary thoughts on the potential implications for learning analytics of “The Matter With Things by Iain McGilchrist (2021). We’re all familiar with the classic differences between on the one hand, a science and technology approach to understanding the world, and on the other, a more poetic, artistic, literary approach. While ultimately McGilchrist seeks to transcend such dichotomies, he argues that it is no accident that these different dispositions have emerged repeatedly through history, but in fact, the brain sciences now trace them back to stark differences in the ways that the left and right hemispheres attend to and hence construct reality. In one sentence, the left hemisphere (LH) is tuned to apprehend the world, seeing “static, isolated, fragmentary elements that can be manipulated easily, are decontextualised, abstracted, detached, disembodied, mechanical […] a bureaucrat’s dream.” In sharp contrast, to the RH tuned to comprehend the world, “all is flowing and changing, provisional, and complexly interconnected.” “Here, wholes are different from the sum of the parts, and beauty and morality, along with empathy and emotional depth, help us to intuit meaning […] a bureaucrat’s nightmare.”

I suggest that we see these two dispositions to the world playing out in LA all the time, with the quantifying, modelling worldview required to develop functioning LA software, in “creative dialogue” (sometimes open conflict) with the more qualitative disciplines, such as education, sociology, learning sciences. While I am far from grasping McGilchrist’s work, I will tentatively glimpse implications for how we think about learning analytics.

For those interested in previewing some of his ideas, see:

Iain McGilchrist (2021), The Matter With Things: Our Brains, Our Delusions, and the Unmaking of the World. Perspectiva Press.

Slides [PDF]

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