What is this project?

Who cares office workerWe all long to make sense of the world, and we talk about it all the time!

“Wait, this doesn’t make sense…”

“I’m trying to make sense of this…”

“Oh! Now this makes sense!”

But what does “sense making” actually mean? How do you know when you’ve got it? This website is your portal to my new audience-interactive project: Making Sense of Sense Making. Every week, I’ll post a video and blog post about what I’m learning, and you get to learn with me too by adding comments. It’s a form of “cyber performance art.”

The “art” part is that I’ll be shaping and interacting with a tangible object–a styrofoam ball–to help me make sense of sense making. The entire ball represents the concept of “sense making.” I’ll shave off facets of the ball as I discover facets of the concept through my readings, conversations, and comments from readers like you. And as I turn the ball over in my hands, I’ll be making conceptual connections and sharing those in each post. Using a tangible object in this way is a form of “constructionism,” a theory that basically promotes learning-by-making. Conversation about the unfolding, constructed learning is super important, so you are key to making this project a success.

At the end of the project (late summer 2016), I’ll post a summary of my findings, probably in a video and several other formats, including a peer-reviewed journal article. This is part of my dissertation at Michigan State University, where I am learning how to help researchers make better discoveries through discovery-insight (“sense making”) tools. First step: what is sense making? Thus, this project. Here we go!

6 thoughts on “What is this project?

  1. Very cool I want to play along. Here is my question… I call myself a constructivist which to me means I believe knowledge is co-constructed not some “thing” out there that can be apprehended. You use the term constructionism. What is the difference? Are we talking about the same philosophy?

    1. Laurie, great to have your insights :) “Constructionism” is related to “constructivism,” but not the same as. Here’s what I understand from Harel and Papert (1991): constructionism is the theory that using a public, tangible product is effective in learning because it helps the learner construct knowledge (in the constructivist sense), especially (or maybe only if) this construction is done as bricolage and dialogue, not top-down planning.

      I keep playing with this idea, though, that we “make sense” i.e. “construct knowledge” that can nevertheless reflect/correspond to/contact reality. I keep coming back to what the Bible says about epistemology and love: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now [meanwhile] faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor. 13:12-13 ESV) Based partly on these verses, philosopher Esther Meek (2011) says that constructing is not quite the accurate metaphor for how knowing works; she says it more like loving–interpersoned faithful relationship (covenant epistemology). I, the knower, know the known; but the known also knows me. So, if that’s true, then we interact with reality in coming to know it, which probably means that we also co-create reality itself, not just knowledge. For if I interact with the other, I change it; and it changes me. That would explain how social realities are created, but it also explains how even natural history observations change what is observed.

      Harel, I., Papert, S., Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Epistemology & Learning Research Group. (1991). Constructionism: research reports and essays, 1985-1990. Ablex Pub. Corp.

      Meek, E. L. (2011). Loving to Know: Covenant Epistemology. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books.

  2. Great way to start your research. I hope to learn through the process and was wondering if starting with how we make sense of the ball as a ball is a great start. Here, it may be interesting to know how we come to know it isa ball and what reality speaks to us that it is a ball.

    1. Gana, thank you for calling attention to this. The choice of a “ball” is absolutely an assumption. It could have easily been a star, a tree, a blob, or whatever. The choice of a ball reflects my (underlying, pretheoretical) sense of “facets of a concept” and the fact that my hands physically make a spherical shape when I use them to demonstrate an object. I wonder if other people naturally make stars or flat shapes with their hands when talking about generic “objects.” I’m sure that if I tended to make these other shapes, I would have chosen a different shape of object than a ball. Like I can imagine if I made flat shapes with my hands, I might have combined the idea of “facets” with this flat shape and then developed an origami project instead of this sculpting project. So, here are two clues about what sense making is: it is embodied (and it’s one’s own body, not anyone else’s) and it is metaphorical (as in Metaphors We Live By). Thank you for sparking these insights, Gana!

      Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (2008). Metaphors We Live By. University of Chicago Press.

  3. This is an interesting project, Bethany! I am keen to see what you learn from it. One question that stands out for me when I reflect on the term ‘sense-making’ is this: to what extent is sense-making veridical? That is, to what extent must how I make sense out of something agree with things about the world over which I have no control? I put it this way in an attempt to accommodate both a naive realist view, according to which there is a world out there to which my knowledge must correspond, and a more constructivist view like Laurie’s, according to which knowledge is co-constructed. I might say that something “makes sense to me”, even if it sounds crazy to someone else, and even if eventually I come to think of it as wrong — is this a legitimate way to use the term? Or could I be wrong about what makes sense to me?

    1. Good question, Michael. I think when we say, “X makes sense,” we are making a claim about coherence within our own conceptual scheme, not a claim about correspondence to the world. It is a statement about one’s own understanding, or dare I say, about one’s justification for believing X. If I believe in a correspondence theory of truth (and I do, like most realists), then sense making about X is necessary but not sufficient for knowledge about X, because coherence of beliefs does not guarantee correspondence to the external world, aka truth. Troublingly, it may be we can never assess veracity through correspondence, so we may never know that we know, and sense making may be the best we can do in research and in life. Certainly, sense making seems to be the best we can do in cases where X is neither true nor false but better or worse (ethically or coherently). If, however, I am a constructivist, I probably believe in the coherence theory of truth, in which case sense making includes truth and probably amounts to knowledge.

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