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supercomplexity

Page history last edited by PBworks 12 years, 5 months ago
‘Higher education is faced with not just preparing students for a complex world, it is faced with preparing students for a supercomplex world. It is a world in which we are conceptually challenged and continually so…. This supercomplexity shows itself discursively in the world of work through terms such as flexibility, adaptability and self-reliance. In such terminology, we find a sense of individuals having to take responsibility for continually reconstituting themselves through their life span….. The curriculum might be understood as a set of more or less intentional strategies to produce – in each student – a set of subjectivities…but the required set of subjectivities (required for this supercomplex world) is unlikely to be made clear to higher education….. What is clear however are the essential features of performance namely - understanding (how do we develop the knowledge to learn?), self-identity (what are the unique set of qualities, abilities, attitudes, behaviours and beliefs that we bring to our engagements with the world?) and action (what repertoire of actions give us control over our own destiny?)’ (Ron Barnett, 2000).
 
That traditional forms of discipline-based higher education curricula do prepare us for this world of supercomplexity is undeniable, in so far as so many people are able to take on and be successful in rolls that are far removed from their initial disciplinary training. As in my case…. being prepared to be a geologist does not stop me from being someone else. Peter Knight (2001) suggests that this is because learning in higher education is itself complex. ‘Amongst other things it is about unending disputes, subtle concepts, large amounts of information to be organised and remembered, and emerging understandings of the nature or structure of the subject area itself’. 
 
Perhaps our ability to change and reinvent our identity for an ever changing world has more to do with the sort of people we are than by the intentional design of a higher education experience. Alternatively, perhaps there is something embodied in the experience of going to university, above and beyond the acquisition of a qualification that does indeed prepare us for a lifetime of working with complex difficult emergent problems! The challenge for universities is framed around a question like - can we do more to prepare and equip learners for the sort of supercomplex world Ron Barnett describes? This challenge requires us firstly to be aware of worlds beyond our own and into the future. Secondly, it requires us to continually evolve our understandings of the knowledges, skills, capabilities, qualities and attitudes to life that learners will need. Thirdly, we need to appreciate the learning and social experiences that will enable learners to develop in these ways. So what else does Ron Barnett have to say on this matter. Here is a lightly edited extract from a speech he made at the SCEPTrE Launch in June 2006..  
 
'What about education? What do we want our students to do about it? Don’t we want them to - and Natacha [Natacha.doc] gave us an example of this – hurl themselves forward into this extraordinary world even when they don’t know how they are going to come out of it at the end of the day …. We want them to jump off like a bungee jumper – jump off the platform – we hope that we can tell them “you are alright” we are not going to let you fall completely. There is a bit of risk here but you are alright – go for it.    We want students to develop will. A capacity to handle risk when I say risk I don’t mean a cognitive risk here -  but a capacity to handle human risk.   We mean them to have courage in all manner of words – courage.   In Natacha's words 
 
'It’s not easy being pulled in a number of different directions at once. It’s a scary, exciting and fascinating world. We need self will to survive and prosper in the world. Exciting, amazing and down right terrifying and lastly working with a complex world is all about attitude. Not giving up when you feel overwhelmed and to know where to go to search for help to answer your problems.   Not dissolving in the face of and being phased at terrifying and overwhelming experience.'   I don’t think anybody could have asked for a better description than what it is to be to engage with the world of supercomplexity. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
But if that’s the case, it surely follows that the two agendas the two agendas [knowledge and skills] that are being hoisted on to Higher Education ……. are inadequate – they are insufficient.   Those two pillars by themselves will topple over.  We need a Tony Blair third way.   We need a third pillar… around the student’s feelings. 
John Forrest (employer guest speaker) – talked about getting up in the morning and it’s funny because I am going to ask precisely that question “ Why the heck do we get up in the morning?    How did it come about in this crazy world that we get up in the morning?   And the answer to that is we don’t get up in the morning because we have lots of knowledge and we don’t get up in the morning because we have got lots of skills,  so lets ditch those two agendas …. chuck them out…  they are useless for helping us to understand how we engage with the world we are in. We get up in the morning because we have a will to do so.  We need a different vocabulary.. in the Vice-Chancellor’s last slide there was a wonderful quotation from a student and a photograph of the student with a quotation on the left hand side. The student was saying that her experience at Surrey had “improved my confidence” it didn’t say it improved my skills, she said it improved my confidence, and this again is testament to the human dimensions that are at work here or can be at work here when and pedagogy and curriculum is working effectively. So handling complexity is partly… an intellectual matter but it is also practical matter. We are going to have to duck and dive in this messy world so ... how we are in the world, our, disposition and our qualities [is important].   
So ...... we ditch knowledge and skills as a background and take on a new focus of disposition and complexity.  I exaggerate of course.  Not only knowledge and skills but we can hang on to some of it this but this can’t be our main consideration.  Our main consideration has to be what I am calling of a ‘being for complexity.’   How about that?  A being for complexity.  The dispositions of enquiry for surviving, for engaging with will, with enthusiasm, in this extraordinary world we are in.  And if that’s right then that has to follow through into curricula, and thereby characterise our approaches to teaching and thereby not just trying to factorise what the students want    But it must characterise our approaches to teaching and thereby  the dispositions we look for, the past  and follow that through and hopefully in curricula and pedagogy. We have barely started on this journey of understanding what transformations are required in our curricula and pedagogy if any of this makes any sense at all.  We have started, but we have a long way to go.    So it’s about, if you like, developing a will in favour of perplexity and even super perplexity.   Do we, might we have that will?
 
Please share your thoughts...   

Complex Networks.  Perhaps we need to ask whether its about super/complexity or about complex networks.  Complex networks have the potential to be self-organising, in other words, they can grow in richness rather than just in volume.  Which would make it a loss less scary, and a take away a lot of the potential desire to get a 'hold' on it.  A self-organising ecology does need some basic parameters to be satisfied : underlying stability and satisfaction of basic needs, good, open communication and interaction, flexibility, and a few, simple rules, but then it is, precisely, self-organising, and the complexity evolves, rather than becoming 'more' complex.  What we need to explore (in HE amongst other places) is what the conditions are for self-organising complexity, in different contexts, and how we can ensure that those conditions are met.  For example, the confusion/ super-complexity of the digital, social-software, networked world could happily be integrated with the requirements for HE quality assurance, and contribute to them, if we see communication and interaction within HE/social software as a single ecology (albeit with different domains).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

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