Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Assessmentalism and Emergent Properties Converse Action with Jeff Holmes

Dear Jeff,

Sticking with the notion with which we began our
co-responding: EMERGENCE--emergent phenomena
which you identify with your discipline —bios or life —
as its best example (not to be collapsed or conflated
with zoe: emergent phenomena of another color?)

The usage of the notion "emergence" may generally be
subdivided into two perspectives, that of "weak emergence"
"strong emergence".

Weak emergence describes new properties arising in systems
as a result of the interactions at an elemental level. Emergence,
in this case, is merely part of the language, or model that is
needed to describe a system's behaviour.

But if, on the other hand, systems can have qualities not
directly traceable to the system's components, but rather
to how those components interact, and one is willing
to accept that a system supervenes
on its components, then it is difficult to
account for [assess, explain, interpret, measure]
an emergent property's cause.

These new qualities are irreducible to the system's constituent
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This view
of emergence
s called strong emergence. Some fields in which
strong emergence is
more widely used include etiology,
epistemology and ontology.

I belief the weak definition of “emergent” is what you
might predict coming out of a system’s workings
(algorithms? deep grammar) based on whatever
model is shared that describes the system. A syllabi
of expectations, the recognized and familiar structure
called Take A Course Inn. State what your are going
to do. Do it. Assess whether you did what you said
you were going to do. (This is called Organization.
You can be measured on it.).

Predictable emergence. We need it. Would go nuts
without it. It constitutes “homeostasis” and
“sustainability” as WE project our understanding
and disciplines and traditions and expectations
on it. Seek & you shall find. Appropriately

The strong definition: phenomena and values
rising up that arenot-directly-traceable to the
parts and parties and participants interacting
because they are “whole-system” educed or

Can you explain & model the Michael Jackson
Memorial suddenly rising into EVENT
(an emergence-y) in terms of the parts,
persons, people? Sure: it’ll be a reduction
and suffice. And not even close.

Put a black box around the whole deal.
In this case, the challenge is to think inside
the box, not outside of it.


1.Emergence and emergent phenomena on the one hand.

2. Assessment (description, representing, modeling)
on the other hand,

3. E-valuing, rating, judging, keeping/tossing on some
hand up, a jump in logical type, say; or better: emerging
as emergent value out of the relationship between our
(shared?) theories of emergence and our (shared?)
theories of assessment. Should be no surprises.

“One of the things I learned this summer: educational
assessment is any process that makes learning visible.
Period.” (JH)

Yes, an what term do we give for the learning-that-is-made- invisible
(occluded) by virtue of the clarity of our “assessment process”
that makes some of it (the stuff we want to see ) visible?

I’m referring to a kind of institutional attention-efficiency whose
efficiency eclipses and ignores the attention “deficiency”
generated out of the acute lucidity of its “emergent”
regulation and assessment procedures: an
unintended consequence, because our
intentions are always good. and
measurable: making learning
visible: Golden Eggs
(liberal arts).

“Being measured can be uncomfortable and
because whatever
we measure is going to be
only an approximation of learning
at best,
it's easy to want to dismiss the whole process.

I understand that.” (JH)

I don’t want to dismiss the whole process.
Just want to put it in play.

“You don't need to fear the reductionism, what you
need to worry
about is the temptation to focus on
the easily measured outcomes that
don't really reflect
the kind of learning we care about. Hence my

admonition about due diligence” (JH).

I embrace reductionism when it’s out-there, continually
acknowledged at least in “school mode”: “Oh what a fool
am I,” I tell my students; “Look I’m a rip-off artist, you
got a problem with that? A moving violator. I sample,
specimen-ize: do severe injustice to the whole and holy:
it’s criminal, may we prey? May we pray?

This doesn’t help my evaluations in educational effectiveness,
course organization, or even empathy/empowerment, which,
of the 3 , is most important as far as Liberal Art is concerned,
if not the arts. Nevertheless: I confess and confess.

“…and maybe it's that our new evaluation form needs
to be changed, which some of you must be itching to do,
but I happen to think that
trying to figure it out
is going to make at least some of us better
even if we never understand what's in the black box.” (JH)

“a major Lake Wobegon effect:
75% of our courses and 82% of our instructors are rated as
either above average or excellent, despite the mathematical
impossibility. “ (JH)

That last paragraph throws the whole calculating-
numbers-and -percentages-and-peer-comparison-
and-bar graphs representation of what’sup and
how’s it going out the window or into the black box,
don’t you agree?. Stick in a thumb, pull out a plumb.
What a good boy am I.

I think we are on the same sheet here, Jeff, both
sides accounted for if not fully assessable and if
we can forestall institutionalizing and sustain
the play (neither side winning or losing) :
emergent values might emerge.

With appreciation (hope it shows)


No comments:

Post a Comment