Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Humans + Technology = Emergent Behaviors, part I

A group of other developmental theorists, however, developed decidedly nonlinear approaches that hold important contrary insights to the approach of Piaget and other linear developmental theorists. The works of these theorists argues that development and identity are inherently dialectical and interactionist joint constructions. An individual interacts with and within a particular social and technological context to generate development in an emergent manner.

Lev Vygotsky, a key figure of contextualist developmental theory and a contemporary of Piaget, introduced the importance of analyzing development in cultural context. The smallest unit of analysis for Vygotsky is the child in a particular social context, an inherently variable construction across milieu and individuals. Learning and development occurs on the person-society border through an individual interacting inside the “zone of proximal development”. The zone of proximal development refers to the gap between the actual developmental level of the child at the time and the higher level of the child’s potential development with help from adults or more advanced peers. Help in development comes not only from humans in the environment, but also from self-help using cultural "tools" such as computers. For Vygotsky, humans master themselves from the outside through psychological and technical tools, which allow individuals to achieve more in the context. Tools also vary from culture to culture and social contexts. In other words, the focus of assessment using a Vygotskian developmental paradigm is less on the static notion of who the child currently is and more on the dynamic question of who the child can become, depending on context and tools.

An elaboration on the evolving, nonlinear nature of contexts that shape development can be found in the work of Urie Bronfenbrenner. Bronfenbrenner presents an ecological model that illustrates the importance of reviewing dynamics across multiple levels of social context. Specifically, he identifies four levels of analysis – (1) macrosystem; (2) mesosystem; (3) exosystem; and (4) microsystem. Macrosystem level analysis requires examination at the level of culture as a whole, along with belief systems and ideologies underlying cultural rules and norms. In other words, the analysis focuses on the mechanisms of social governance and the worldview prevalent in civil society. Mesosystem level analysis focuses attention on interpersonal dynamics and the dynamics between the individual and secondary settings, such as work. Exosystem level analysis contemplates the interactions outside of the primary sphere of analysis but which, nevertheless, affect or are affected by what happens in the primary setting. On the microsystem level, individuals and their psychological development in a particular context is the primary level of analysis. The individual interacts within and across all four levels and consequently develops. Technology impacts each of the levels of social context.


Blogger Kradak said...

Interesting stuff. In addition to developing individuals, this can be applied to technologies themselves. What are social structures and potentials that determine the degree to which a technology can flourish in a society? Can an good idea in the wrong time or place fall flat yet succeed elsewhere? Of course. Arguably, as we become more dependent on technology for individual survival, the border between the two is minimized: the cyborg lives.

12/29/2011 12:10 PM  

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