Setting the Scene

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Intersecting Worldviews with which to explore Aboriginal Engineering

Intersecting Worldviews with which to explore Aboriginal Engineering

Wherever there are competing worldviews, there are also competing motivations and agendas. Awareness of this shaped our exploration of how engage with Aboriginal students, and their communities, in regard to developing greater interest in engineering as a career.

In seeking to focus our work we identified three particular worldviews with which to explore aspects of the interactions among engineering activity and community needs and goals. These worldviews were chosen from among the many that are available, and we use them as tools for exploration, without suggesting they are the only ways of seeing the world.

They are, respectively ‘Engineering’, ‘Aboriginal’ and ‘European/Western’. Each shares some features with the other two, and some features with only one other. We use a Venn diagram to represent these worldviews and specifically to focus attention on the Intersection where all three connect and overlap. Exploration of this Intersection is helping conceptualise how to manage relationships among different ways of thinking and identify what needs to be understood in order to achieve mutually acceptable outcomes. The Venn diagram is way of representing all this – it is not a way of quantifying anything.

Engineering worldview

  • Engineers learn to deal with the world, and address human needs, through a uniquely ‘Engineering way of knowing’ that places primary focus on ‘problems’ to be solved. This is coupled with attention to the practicalities of ‘how to’ approach the problem, and develop and implement actual solutions for the problem as it is eventually defined. This mindset is not common to all Western thought nor all Aboriginal thought. It is developed in response to a complex mix of preferences, training, capabilities and interests. An engineer in Western traditions will be doing much the same as an engineer in Aboriginal traditions. They share an interest in solving problems. The principles informing how they do so, differentiates their work.
  • Aboriginal Worldview

Indigenous ways of knowing inform language usage, relationships and connections among the more than 200 Aboriginal (pre contact) Australian nations. However, while Aboriginal culture exhibits all the familiar aspects of human endeavor, its underpinning philosophy and beliefs have an entirely different base to either Western/European or Engineering. The peoples who had successfully inhabited Australian land for between 60,000 and 40,000 years all share core beliefs and traditions, which have, over time, been customized to fit local needs and conditions. The base does not change, but particular features are implemented, and communicated to the young and those from beyond its boundaries, in different ways that are shaped to match the living context of each group. For example relationship with ‘country’ has a very specific meaning and set of core principles for Aboriginal people, as described vividly by Mary Graham

The land is a sacred entity, not property or real estate; it is the great mother of all humanity. The Dreaming is a combination of meaning (about life and all reality), and an action guide to living. The two most important kinds of relationship in life are, firstly, those between land and people and, secondly, those amongst people themselves, the second being always contingent upon the first.

Western/European Worldview

  • Western thinking is frequently characterised as being built on deductive reasoning, the rule of law and monotheism. Logic, objectivity and reason are its touchstones. Also in the mix is what has been called the ‘work ethic’ and a belief that the land and its products are to be possessed. While ‘Western’ is an understood convention to describe the worldview of people whose origins are traceable to the western hemisphere of the world, the ways in which it is enacted are not uniform. Wile sub-groups in this extended geographic area have cultural roots in a Western tradition, details of language usage, social relationships and connection with the physical world, all differ according to political and national norms. Consider, for example, the similarities and differences among English, German and Romanian culture and traditions.

The Intersection

‘Intersection’ is the term commonly used to describe the space in a Venn diagram where related ‘sets’ overlap. In this work we are not implying that there is, or is ever likely to be, easy agreement about how to operate within that space. When a Venn diagram is used to indicate relationships among components in science or maths the intersection includes only those items that are in all subsets. In our use of a three circle Venn diagram the intersection is considered to refer to places, objects and stories about which all three Worldviews have an opinion or claim a stake in its management. We are not suggesting that all three worldviews will – or should – be expressed in the same way, only that they have an interest (of differing strength) in the place, story or object.

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LMSU Presentation

This is the text of the presentation for LMSU on 15/12/12

I will add the sound file after the session is complete.


This is a long post as it has all the words on the slides

but no images.


Simulations and games include all interactive representations of perceived reality

– past, present, and future –

used for learning purposes.



Simulation is Different

Simulation requires suspension of expectations about traditional teaching

How we were taught influences how we teach

Expectations and assumptions drive habits

Simulation challenges assumptions and expectations


Simulation users need to be aware of TWO key factors

•              We are doing something very different

•              Some people find it hard to accept there is learning when things are different



different is needed
because students,
contexts and content
are also
ALL different



Theories about aDifferent kind of teaching/learning


Zone of Proximal Development


The Learning Preferences Cycle


Radical Constructivism

Harri-Augstein & Thomas

Conversational framework for learning


Gaming: the futures language



Simulation and Kolb’s ‘Learning Cycle’


Activist – needs to do things to be confident of learning

Reflector – needs to read, observe, watch to be confident of learning

Theorist – needs to have time to analyse, comprehend closely, think deeply

Pragmatist – needs to have a reason for learning – needs to connect new knowledge to goals and plans

Simulation and Ernst von Glasersfeld

Radical Constructivism

Those who believe that teaching can or should provide an independent, ‘objective’ reality, are trapped in a traditional theory of knowledge.

2 Principles of Radical Constructivism

Knowledge is actively built by the learner – it is not passively receive

‘How we know the world’ is adaptive and organizes the world we experience, it is not primarily about discovery conceptual reality



Duke – Simulation as “Futures Language”

Gaming [simulation] is a powerful new form of communication particularly suited to conveying gestalt

Today’s problems are more complex than ever before, involving systems and sub-systems that extend human awareness and cannot be explained by conventional terms

Failure to address individual need is a communication problem, that can best be solved in contexts similar to where the needs are created



Time to Reflect

As all these theorists have said that learning is an active process – not a passive one – it is time for a conversation.

Find others to talk to, discuss what I have said and develop some comments and questions you would like to discuss/ask of me.

5 minutes for conversation – THEN please write your comments down and give them to Dara



Human uses of simulation in History

This is an image that I will convert to a table and add separately



Structural Phases in Simulations


•      Sets the scene

•      Introduces the rules

•      Begin an exchange of power


•      Participants in charge

•      Facilitator observes

–    (with reserve powers)


•      Power is shared

•      ‘Learning’ identified

•      Focus – transfer of learning




–     constraints representing the real world which shape general behaviour and relationships


–     factors – also based on the real world – guiding individual/ group actions, sequences, behaviours


–     background information about the setting or context


–     data (thoughts, products, images, reports, etc.) created during the experience and recorded/remembered



Debriefing Questions


What actually happened?

How are you feeling?

How is this like real life?



What forms do games have?


–     Chase, competition


–     Football,, catching

–     ball and stick


–     Skipping, tug-of-war, climbing


–     Crosswords, jenka



Team Work

This is the “dot in the circle exercise”

I will add the image and instructions separately



Find two people near you and share your efforts

Talking is encouraged – play with the impossible

How many solutions are there?

You have 90 seconds



Using an activity to understand Preferences for Learning

People are not all the same

We have our own preferred ways to learn

–    Some people are more  Visual

–    Others are more Auditory

–    Still others are more Kinaesthetic

So teaching is not received in the same way

Matching words to meaning


I see things clearly

I get the picture

Look at this


That sounds like a good idea

I hear what you are saying

Clear as a bell


I can grasp that

Let’s touch on the facts

That was a moving description

Information Processing

How do I put on a coat?

Finally some more Play

Solutions for the dot in a circle

Use your pen and someone else’s

Video it

Fold in a corner of the page -draw outwards

Draw in a graphics program on computer while your pen is on the page

Use a click pen

Put the tip of your pen on the paper, do the dot then lie the pen down and draw it out across the page, then stand it up and draw the circle



The trick of the coat exercise

When anyone begins to think about putting on a coat we assume that the other person knows all the words before we use them

So if you are going to demonstrate their instructions you deliberately ‘mis-understand’ their meaning by thinking of yoruself as if ignorant of the words.

This – they may say pick the coat up by the collar – you pick it up – looking puzzled – by one of the bottom corners of the front of the coat. Thus it ends up, upside down, and all their other instructions are then useless.

This activity is very useful for showing teachers how important it is to check your assumptions before beginning. And also how important it is to work with the learner so that you know enough about what they know and do not under or over-estimate that knowledge.



The Sumerian tablet

No one actually knows what it says. So this activity is designed to help think about being creative.

Since there is no known answer everyone should be able to have fun inventing one – but sometimes we feel very shy when we are not able to draw on existing knowledge and teachers especially are often not able to say “I don’t know.” yet the best teachers are always very good at doing just that.

So this activity is simply a creative play activity. Although it can become competitive if the person using it adds one more ingredient by saying “you all will have to vote for the funniest/most creative/ most interesting [etc.] suggestion. And you are not allowed to vote for your own.”


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‘Fitting in’ and ‘parataxic distortion’



It is intriguing to observe how classes of adult learners quickly fall into patterns of sitting and working together. Some individuals do remain outliers, joining in as required but not seeming to feel any need to belong in an intense ‘making friends’ kind of way. More about these learners in another post, for now I want to explore my understanding of the term ‘parataxic distortion’ and the kind of impact it may have on the formation of groups in study settings.

I first met the term years ago and understood it to have a positive and affirming meaning, somewhat like this description provided by Janet K Ruffing in her book “Spiritual Direction: Beyond the beginnings” –

A very common experience of parataxic distortion occurs when we meet someone who initially reminds us in an uncanny way of someone else we have known. Usually, we become aware of such reactions fairly rapidly and can monitor them until we get to know the new person. This awareness can prevent us from acting as if he or she in the other person. As we get more familiar with the individuals’ uniqueness and history, the distortion usually dissolves on its own.

Given this interpretation I have used it to help adult learners explore their own initial behaviours in the setting of formal tertiary classes, where I know they will are highly likely to be experiencing anxiety and concern about their ability to cope with what they have committed to. Once enough time has passed for the class to settle into routines and norms of behaviour I may disrupt the emerging complacency by revealing some of the theories that explain their actions, and then invite them to examine the significance of the theories for their own teaching and learning strategies and contexts.

In one class the information is in the text and specifically designated class members are required to ‘find and explain’ it to everyone else. [XB – Manual for a Learning Organisation]. But that too is a topic for a forthcoming post. and [last item on the list J]

the very oddity of the term ‘parataxic distortion’ makes it memorable and the subject of great curiosity. We do not examine it closely, but the idea that we have this unconscious response to others encourages insights into personal responses to new contexts that are often associated with heightened emotions.

One event in my life, which I attribute to this phenomenon occurred when I arrived somewhat later than intended for the opening dinner of a conference on my first ever visit to England. When I arrived at the dining room door, the maitre d’ politely began to usher me towards one of two small round unoccupied tables, located [it seemed to me at the time] in the centre of a ring of about 150 noisy cheerful people seated at long bench tables all ‘pointing’ at that empty table. Panicking at the idea of being so exposed and alone in the middle of the crowd, I stopped dead, saying “No, not there!” “Where then?” he asked looking around at the crowded tables. I could not see an empty seat, but nonetheless, without conscious thought, pointed at a group and said “There!” Resigned, he collected the table setting and followed me over to where I’d pointed. Everyone cheerfully moved to include me and I felt so much more ‘safe’ than at that exposed lonely table.

As the evening wore on we exchanged the usual information about our work and interests bringing us to a conference on action learning. And then something strange began to unfold. Conversation at the table began to gravitate towards personal interests – and I found I had joined the one group in that large crowd who shared a passion for military history – something I had in common with them, despite being female and committed to non-violent solutions to conflict. We had a great time, that evening, sharing knowledge, ideas, and pleased surprise that – all strangers before we had met at the table – we had ‘by chance’ arrived at the one corner of the room where our passion could get an airing within a context neither devoted to ‘military’ or ‘history’!

More recently, when I researched the psychiatric origins of the term it turns out to have – as so common in psychiatry – to have strong negative overtones –

Parataxic distortion is a psychiatric term first used by Harry S. Sullivan to explain the inclination to skew perceptions of others based on fantasy. The “distortion” is in the way we perceive others, based not on actual experience with the individual but from a projected fantasy personality.

[The word] Parataxic is from the Greek παράταξις, “placement side by side”) distortion …

Parataxic distortion is very difficult to avoid completely, because of the nature of human learning and interaction.

This sort of stereotyping and classification of people in groups has a distorting effect on the clear perception of an individual.

The term was created by Harry S. Sullivan to describe inaccuracies in judgment and perception, and psychiatric literature refers the reader to literature on transference.

To my mind the neat distinction Sullivan made was to use a term that describes the experience/process as occurring within the individual, without also asserting that something will be ‘transferred’ or re-located and will then need to be withdrawn or re-adjusted before the individual can be re-stabilised.

For those working with adult learners the term can be helpful in assessing the ebb and flow of movement in a class or group, without needing to make judgments about hidden intentions.


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Isn’t “Deadwood Dick” a wonderful name – and a great teacher.

… at least according to the renowned British/Scottish educator AS A Neil.

He wrote a wonderful record of his time as a “Dominie” [Scottish teacher] in three volumes (“The Dominie Books”) setting out the experiences and thinking that helped form his work at “Summerhill” as a revolutionary approach to creating positive learning environments for children.

“Deadwood Dick” (Wheeler, Edward Lytton) was the hero of a series stories, published between 1877 and 1897 that were considered to be ‘pulp fiction’ and not ‘worthy’ of notice by teachers. But AS Neil saw them as a wonderful resource to draw his students into reading, along the way to developing their skills and interest in a broader range of writing.

In this extract Neil is both formulating his ideas and trying to demonstrate the ‘wrong headed’ thinking of his friend.

‘. . . . suppose you have a school of your own. I presume you’d teach the English yourself?’

I nodded

How would you do it?

I thought for a while.

‘I’d reverse the usual process, Mac,’ I said. ‘Usually the teacher begins with Chaucer and works forward to Dickens; I would begin with Comic Cuts and Deadwood Dick and work back to Chaucer.’

‘Oh, do be serious for one,’ he said impatiently.

‘I am quite serious, Mac,’ I said. ‘the only thing that matters in school work is interest and I know from experience that the child is interested in Comic Cuts but not in the Canterbury Tales. My job is to encourage the boy’s interest in Comic Cuts.

You see, Mac, what you do in this: you see a boy reading Deadwood Dick, and you take his paper away from him and possibly whack the little chap for wasting his time. But you don’t kill his interest in penny dreadfuls, and the result is that in later years he reads to Sunday paper that supplies the most lurid details of murders and outrages. My way is to encourage the lad to devour tales of blood and thunder so that in a short time blood and thunder haven o more interest for him. The reason why most of the literature published to-day is tripe is that the public likes tripe, and it likes tripe because its infantile interest in tripe was suppressed in favour of Chaucer and Shakespeare.”

‘But ,” cried Mac, ‘isn’t Shakespeare better for him that tripe?’

‘Yes and no. If every poet were a Shakespeare the world would be a dull place; you need the tripe to form a contrast…”

when this argument is not working Neil takes a different tack, and invites his friend to reflect on the gap between his espoused position as an educator, and his enacted reading habits.

‘Mac, have you read Boswell’s Life of Johnson?’

‘Extracts,’ he admitted awkwardly.

‘Bunyan’s Life and Death of Mr. Badman?’


Milton’s Areopagitica?’

‘Er – no.’

Swift’s Tale of a Tub?’


I sighed.

‘Would you like to read them?’ I asked.

‘I don’t think they would interest me,’ he admitted.

‘Then in heaven’s name, why expect children to have any interest in them? If these classics weren’t shoved down children’s throats the adult population of this country would be sitting of an evening reading and enjoying Milton instead of John Bull.’

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Rewarding behaviour that you least want enacted

This post pays homage to Steven Kerr for his article titled “On the folly of rewarding A, while hoping for B” [reprinted in Academy of Management Executive, 1995 Vol. 9 No. I]  and available online via a search for “On the Folly”.

Kerr write eloquently bout the amazing number of examples where the types of behaviour being rewarded by those in authority are exactly those which the authorities would clearly wish to discourage.

Re-reading a 1993 book on the causes of IBM’s fall from power [Paul Carroll, Big Blues – the unmaking of IBM] I found a perfect example of such behaviour.

At that time IBM researchers were rewarded as follows “work deemed good enough to have a patent application filed received three points. “Work deemed good enough to be published warranted one point. work that couldn’t be published merited no points.” [p341]

Then the Chairman announced IBM would be using a ‘bell curve’ to reward employees. At IBM getting a patent filed mean far more effort and riskiness of success, that doing work sufficient to merit an article. Carroll charts the way in which this ‘reward’ system led to IBM losing some vital patents and reducing effort on patent oriented activity.

“It was much easier to be moderately clever thee times and publish three papers [6 points] than it was to be really innovative once and get a patent [3 points].” p342

While IBM survived this period of turmoil, this example of rewarding behaviour you least want to encourage continues as one where [apparently] really smart people were unable to see the consequences of their decisions.

One of the great strengths of simulations and games is their capacity to create contexts that are ‘safe and sufficiently insulated from the real’ to allow participants [intentionally or otherwise] to make exactly the kinds of mistakes applied by IBM to their researchers and then examine the impact of such actions in a timely and reflective manner.

The outcomes of such analysis have the potential to enable participants to capture the best and worst results of their actions, and prepare themselves to be more capable of seeing into the future beyond the kind of ‘knee jerk’ reactions to crises as applied at IBM [and many other businesses in crisis].

One of the great strengths of simulations is their ability to create ‘possible futures’ – they do not ‘predict’ with great certainty – for exploration and analysis. They enable participants to consider both actions/decisions and consequences/outcomes within the one timeframe.

They can help improve decision making and  the quality of long terms actions.

However as Paul Van Ripper found – if they are used badly – they can be worse than counter productive –

As with all forms of educational technology/tools/ processes games and simulations are only as strong and effective as the quality of their best users. And such quality is gained from practice, experience, research and analysis and having fun in the process of learning.

So – when you are running or taking part in a simulation – have fun! enjoy the process! watch what you do! and learn from everything that happens.

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Three tips for beginning ‘gamers’ and simulation users

Three things I tell my students in courses where they are learning about ‘how to’ use and design simulations and games –

  1. prepare yourself to manage failures – if you expect to be ‘perfect’ with no glitches you will be disappointed and even deterred – just when you are actually at your ‘learning best potential’
  2. start small – and don’t expect miracles at once. After 30 years of practice I know that learners who are unused to active participation in creating their own learning are reluctant to ‘get involved’ especially when they are occupying a formal teaching/ learning space. Smaller activities with explanation of what they are aiming to achieve, opens up their awareness and interest and help them to adjust their expectations about ‘how to learn’
  3. share with your participants that this is a new process for you and invite them to be part of the whole learning process. This is sometimes hard for a teacher to do – it may mean admitting ‘less than perfect’ knowledge bout what might happen next. However when the participants are aware of this they are likely to be more sympathetic and open to exploring reasons for unexpected results.
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