Academic journal article Higher Education Studies

Deep Reflection on My Pedagogical Transformations

Academic journal article Higher Education Studies

Deep Reflection on My Pedagogical Transformations

Article excerpt


This retrospective essay contains my reflection on the deep concept of ambiguity (uncertainty) and a concomitant epistemological theory that all of our human knowledge is ultimately self-referential in nature. This new epistemological perspective is subsequently utilized as a platform for gaining insights into my experiences in conjunction with the design and teaching practices manifested in an introductory economics course that I taught for more than thirty-five years at an American university. This exposition is in the first person because I believe that is the primary way that we gain a meaningful grasp of the educational (transactional) enterprise that many of us participate in.

Keywords: ambiguity, constructivist paradigm, self-referential knowledge.

1. Introduction

Several years ago I presented a research paper with the title of "Teaching Introductory Economics with Some Ambiguity" at a conference on the teaching of economics (Suzawa, 2000). As I started to make my presentation, someone in the audience impatiently raised the question: "Do we need more ambiguity in the way we teach economics?" As the purpose of my paper was to present a statistical assessment of the efficacy of what I was doing in my course, my response to the question was quite terse. I said that "ambiguity was a central focus in my constructivist's approach to course design and teaching conduct." Only in retrospect did I realize that my answer should have been longer. In most economics instructors' minds at that time, there were no strong association between the term "ambiguity" and the nexus of teaching and learning based on a constructivist paradigm. Thus a clarification of the concept of ambiguity and an elaboration of how this "deep" concept (metaphysical) was influencing my teaching design and practice at the time were clearly warranted.

But as in the case of many active university educators, there was always a scarcity of time to reflect on the epistemological foundations of one's pedagogy. Now that I have retired from teaching, I have some time for undertaking additional philosophical thinking and elaborating on my experiences undergoing pedagogical paradigm shifts during my university teaching career. These are the dual themes of this retrogressive essay (Note 1). Incidentally, writing this essay also enables me to indulge in my love of the subject of philosophy as well as to share some of the wisdom that I may have earned serving as an instructor of introductory microeconomics economics for over thirty-five years.

2. Our Words Have Multiple Layers of Meaning (Vygotsky, 1962)

Do I believe that we need more ambiguity in the way(s) that economics is taught? My answer is yes and no. It clearly depends on the sense, or meaning, in which the term is being understood. Ironically, the word "ambiguity" itself is ambiguous. It has several possible interpretations. For the most part, economics instructors make extensive use of the blackboard and verbal explanations. This has been dubbed "chalk and talk" by (Becker & Watts, 1996). Ambiguity can occur in the language that we use to teach. In semantics, ambiguity refers to a word, phrase, or sentence having more that one literal meaning. Consider the statement: "I'll give you a ring tomorrow." The sentence has more than one literal (lexical) meaning because a particular word in the sentence (i.e. a component) has more than one meaning. The word "ring" could refer to an engagement ring or to a call on the telephone. In this case, semantic over-determination prevails if only one meaning is intended. Some process of disambiguation would have to be undertaken to delineate the intended message (Bach, 1994). In many cases, the context in which the statement is made would serve that purpose. If not, there are some formal techniques for disambiguation that can be applied. Over-determination is not intentional (except in situations were "strategic ambiguity" is advantageous) and needs to be corrected. …

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