ET differs from other systems. This epistemology requires an open system where the learner and the context are mutually dependent (Maturana, H. and Varela, F. 1998). In this system all actions are possible and the best action is the one that elicits a response best suited for the need of the learner. Through this continual practice-research-action system, a path is formed which is unpredictable but determined (Keiny, S. 2002). This newly introduced way of thinking emphasizes ‘the process,’ while the old way of thinking, Linear Thinking (LT), focuses on the product.
ET better suits the globalization era. Because of the constant flow of information, our world is changing dramatically at the speed of light. Taking this into consideration, ET now seems the most appropriate way of thinking since it takes into account a constantly changing environment, while LT requires an experienced and knowledgeable teacher to forecast results in an isolated system.
ET also bridges the gap between ‘the real world’ with everything else. Learning does not stop when the class bell rings. We learn every minute we live, because we experience, we observe and we evaluate. As Code (2006) put it: “Theories of knowledge are neither self-contained within philosophy nor isolated from people’s lives in the societies where their ideals and standards prevail.” Just because ET does not help you achieve the A grade on the test designed for linear thinking, does not mean that nothing has been learnt, which ET highlights as the goal.
There are favorable conditions for ET to be most effective. ET should take place where diverse practice is possible. Like Darwin’s finches, each bird can find a special niche to thrive in, as long as evolution lets them change to best suit living there. Another requirement is that the subject be highly sensitive to the interactions in a system. Lastly, ET must be a repeatable process. Much like cybernetics, ET is repeated simple actions that follow some inherent goal, however, this goal changes. David and Sumara (206) put it wisely “as the learner learns, the context changes, simple because one of its components changes, and conversely as the context changes, so does the very identity of the learner.” It is such that the previous goal is abandoned, instead, it is no longer valid and a more appropriate goal has taken its place.”
There are shortcomings to ET. Firstly, the subject must be constantly actively evaluating or the process can take a long time. Also, a variety of actions are needed to take advantage of more advantageous results. Finally, this is a new way of thinking that requires abstract thought. Not many people will come to adopt this concept quickly since it is an alternative way of thinking.
I conclude this blog about ET by adding a personal touch to Conley’s quote (1996) that ET offers a better ‘ way of inhabiting the world’. I think that it offers a more natural way of inhabiting the world. And as my grandfather, Peter Pokupa, response to the ET mania, “Darwin would be proud.”
Code, L. (2006) Ecological Thinking: The Politics of Epistemic Location. Oxford University Press, Inc. New York, NY. ISBN10: 0-1951-5944-6.
Conley, V. (1996) Ecopolitics: The Environment in Poststructural Thought. Routledge. ISBN 0-4151-0306-1.
Darwin, C. (1871) The Descent of Man. Appleton and Company, New York, NY.
Davis, B. and Sumara, D. (2006) Complexity and Education: Inquiries Into Learning, Teaching and Research.
Keiny, S. (2002) Ecological Thinking: A New Approach to Educational Change. Lanham, MD: University Press of America. ISBN 0-7618-2401-4.
Maturana, H. and Varela, F. (1998) Tree of Knowledge. Shambala, Boston, MA/London.
Pokrupa, P. 2009. Thoughts on Ecological Thinking.
Resnik, M. 2003. Thinking Like a Tree (And Other Forms of Ecological Thinking). International Journal of Computers for Mathematical Learning, Vol 8: 43-62.