Although Beata Staszynka‘s and my workshop didactics is rather reflective over the whole, stimulating learning processes among students through doing and experiencing, it does not exclude confrontational didactics. The project Dynamic Identity is an example of this. In the project students are recorded privately after which their recording is shown for the whole class to see. To make the experience even more intense, an Augmented Reality (AR) app is used to display the recordings which makes it harder for students to distract attention away from their video with wild behaviour, as they could with a regular video display. The app also encourages students to evoke the recording themselves, by means of a marker, thereby making them co-responsible for the showing of their recording. The fact that the AR app reacts to every abrupt movement causes that students do not show their emotions too vehemently, because that would stop the display of the recording which would attract attention to them, but rather reflectively undergo the process.

The confrontation process does not stop here though. Students get a chance to create their own setting to redo the recording. And then, after the second recording, they are invited to view both recordings back to back and evaluate the recordings and themselves.

The motive for the confrontational approach was derived from very many pilot sessions with students in which many young individuals made clear that they preferred online, asynchronous communication to offline, spontaneous communication. According to them online there are far less obstacles to communicate than offline.

Part of the explanation for this phenomenon comes from Sherry Turkle (Alone together, 2011) who claims that young individuals open up far less critically and much more trusting and empathetically to apps and objects like robots that are powered by technology than they would do to living individuals.

A deeper explanation comes from Joseph Walther (Computer-Mediated Communication, 1996). Already in 1996 he researched situation in which contact between individuals takes place online only. He calls this type of communication: “Hyperpersonal Computer-Mediated Communication” (CMC).  One of the effects according to him is that conflict may be “far less severe in asynchronous CMC”. Secondly, it relieves the individuals communicating from time stress: there is time for “editing, composing”. As Walther writes: “in asynchronous interaction one may plan, contemplate, and edit one’s comments more mindfully and deliberatively than one can in more spontaneous, simultaneous talk … Asynchronous communication allows users to control interaction to a greater extend  … asynchronous communication is more inter-subjective and less egocentric than is unplanned (spontaneous) discourse.”

The effect of CMC is not limited to communication. It has also an impact on self-presentation. Wather writes: “CMC provides, in some cases, opportunities for selective self-presentation, idealization and reciprocation. This renders hyperpersonal communication, forms of interaction that exceed what we may accomplish FtF [face-to-face], in terms of our impression-generation and relational goals.”

The confrontational didactics is to challenge the selective, idealized self-presentation by young individuals by letting them focus on their spontaneous self-presentation rather than on their constructed online self-presentation.

The whole set-up is based on the so-called Objective Self-Awareness theory (OSA) that was developed in 1972 by Shelly Duval & Robert Wicklund (A theory of objective self-awareness). OSA theory focuses on the human ability to be aware of their own existence and reflect upon it: “When attention is directed inward and the individual’s consciousness is focused on himself, he is the object of his own consciousness–hence ‘objective’ self awareness” (Duval & Wicklund, 1972).

In the original theory it was claimed that self-awareness always led to a negative state. The reason for this that there was to be a major discrepancy between a “standard” for ourselves that we had in our mind and the actual image of ourselves that we find when focusing on ourselves, for instance by looking attentively in a mirror. The standard here is “defined as a mental representation of correct behavior, attitudes, and traits … All of the standards of correctness taken together define what a ‘correct’ person is” (Duval & Wicklund, 1972).

This negative state, this discrepancy between standard and the real image of ourselves, according to Duval & Wicklund, would inevitably lead to attempts to repair the real image of us, by making it resemble more the standard that was perceived to be dominant for it. In other words, by looking at the mirror we would be driven to change our looks so that we would look more like the norm. A confrontation with one’s self was thus, according to the original theory, to lead to more conformism.

Later OSA studies corrected this black-and-white image. Paul Silvia & Shelly Duval (Objective Self-Awareness theory: recent progress and enduring problems, 2001) write: “Later work found that self-awareness can be a positive state when people are congruent with their standards”. Another correction, according to Silvia & Duval is that it is important to assess how big the discrepancy is between the image of themselves people have in their head and the image as they perceive it when they focus on themselves. In addition, it is important to find out whether they think that this discrepancy can be fixed or not.

If individuals think that the discrepancy is too big to fix or that the fixing will take too much effort, they will rather not try to change themselves but accept the state as a given. If individuals, on the other hand, think that the discrepancy is not too big or that they have the means to fix it with not too much effort, they will fix it. Silvia & Duval conclude: “A more detailed picture of the links between self-awareness, attribution, and action now emerges. When people are discrepant from a standard, they make attributions for the cause of the discrepancy and appraise the likelihood that the discrepancy could be rapidly reduced. If the discrepancy can be reduced, people will attribute failure internally and attempt to change self. If the discrepancy cannot be reduced, people will attribute failure externally to a similar possible cause, such as a standard or another person. This will promote attempts to avoid self-awareness and reminders of the discrepancy between self and standards.”

There is yet another option for individual though. Rather than changing themselves they could also change the standard they think is relevant. Silvia & Duval: “When people are discrepant, focusing on the standard should lead to a negative evaluation of the standard. This in turn should lead to a change in the standard toward self instead of attempts to change self toward the standard.” According to research alternative strategy is used by a part of the individuals who experience discrepancy – individuals who focus on the standard rather than on their own performance.

Douglas Stone & Sheila Heen (Thanks for the feedback, 2014) come up with a theory of why some people think that they can overcome a discrepancy when focusing on their own performance and others think they cannot. According to them there are two ways individuals react to challenges and mistakes: they call these the “fixed mindset” and the “growth mindset”. About half of us possess a fixed mindset the other half a growth mindset. “If you have a fixed mindset, every situation you encounter is a referendum on whether you have the smarts or ability that you thought (or hope) you have.” People with a growth mindset on the other hand believe that nothing is fixed. If they fail they “assume it is a skill that can be developed, and moreover, they see struggling with a tough puzzle as just the challenge they need to improve.” While those with growth mindsets are “amazingly accurate” in assessing their capabilities, those with a fixed mindset are “terrible” at it.

The fixed mindset largely negates reality and is thus incapable of effective learning. Wiliam – see the didactics section in Background to session 2 – agrees: “The best learners consistently attribute both success and failure to internal, unstable causes.” Unstable causes for Wiliam are transient causes (“working hard”) as opposed to long lasting causes (“being smart”).

Like with simple labels the fixed mindset constitutes an undesirable situation. It represents defensiveness and not resilience. To empower resilience we should move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. Wiliam observes this too: “learning in the classrooms will be considerably enhanced if students embrace this idea of “It’s up to me, and I can do something about it.”” Only then feedback has a chance to move learning forward. “Promote the belief that ability is incremental rather than fixed”.

According to Stone and Heen going from a fixed to a growth mindset involves several steps. The first step is to be aware of what kind of mindset one has.

  • I am fixed versus I grow;
  • My capabilities are fixed versus my capabilities always evolve;
  • My goal is success versus my goal is the process of learning itself;
  • I feel smart when I do something perfectly and better than others versus I feel smart when I overcome challenges;
  • I feel threatened by a challenge versus I see an opportunity when I’m challenged;
  • I feel safe within what I can do versus I feel safe if I have to stretch myself a bit.

The second step is that students learn to accept failure as a part of their learning process. Whereas a fixed mindset only has success as a goal, the growth mindset sees failure as a challenge to do better next time. It is an invitation to work harder and tries one’s best harder. According to Jane McGonigal the option to fail is one of the major attractions in gaming. She describes a research outcome on gamers playing the game Super Monkey Ball 2: “They [the researchers] found that players exhibited the most potent combination of positive emotions when they made a mistake …” The reason for this was that in the game players when they failed “hadn’t failed passively. They had failed spectacularly, and entertainingly. The combination of positive feeling and a stronger sense of agency made the players eager to play again. … When we’re reminded of our own agency in such a positive way, it’s almost impossible not to feel optimistic.”

The third step is to create a situation of flow, that is situations in which “individuals [become] completely absorbed in the activities in which they are engaged” (Wiliam, 2011). Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi, the originator of the concept, describes “flow” as: “the satisfying, exhilarating feeling of creative accomplishment and heightened functioning” (quoted in McGonigal, 2011).

Wiliam writes: “This sense of flow can arise from one’s intrinsic interest in a task … but can also arise through a match between one’s capabilities and the challenge of the task. When the level of challenge is low and the level of capacity is high, the result is often boredom. When the level of challenge is high and the level of capability is low, the result is generally anxiety. When both are low, the result is apathy. However, when both capability and challenge are high, the result is “flow”.”

McGonigal tells us that “flow” is what makes playing a game so rewarding: “Czikszentmihalyi’s research showed that flow was most reliably and most efficiently produced by the specific combination of self-chosen goals, personally optimized obstacles, and continuous feedback that make up the essential structure of gameplay. “Games are an obvious source of flow,” he wrote, “and play is the flow experience par excellence.”” McGonigal adds: “During this kind of highly structured, self-motivated hard work … we regularly achieve the greatest form of happiness available to human beings: intense, optimistic engagement with the world around us. We feel fully alive, full of potential and purpose – in other words, we are completely activated as human beings.”

Further reading

  • Douglas Stone & Sheila Heen – Thanks for the feedback (2014)
  • Dylan Wiliam – Embedded formative assessment (2011)
  • Jane McGonigal – Reality is broken (2011)
  • Stephen Covey – The speed of trust (2006)

In line with the Identity label section in this manual, the aim of the confrontation didactics is to get young individuals to embrace a growth mindset more and less tightly defined identity labels. This is achieved by providing students with useful tools to actively construct their self-presentation, such as film grammar and identity theory elements.

As a result students will feel a deeper sense of agency that will help them address the differences between the standard and their perceived self. It will also help them see the discrepancy between standard and their self as smaller since it is no longer an “all-or-nothing” issue).

In line with OSA, the danger now is that young individuals, after the confrontation, will feel empowered to be more conformist, in line with “standard”. This would make them less resilient, rather than more resilient. Therefore, modules are necessary that question the standard itself, so that students get instruments to focus not on their own performances only but also on the standard.

One of the modules questioning the standard concern new technologies. By showing the actual and potential manipulative effects of new technologies the standards become less positive. As one female student commented after the module: “I don’t want my children to grow up in a world like this.”

Optionally a module could be inserted about our current society, inspired by Zygmunt Bauman. Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman (2004, 2005) describes our current society as “liquid” and our lives as “liquid life”: „’Liquid life’ is a kind of life that tends to be lived in a liquid modern society. ‘Liquid modern’ is a society in which the conditions under which its members act change faster than it takes the ways of acting to consolidate into habits and routines. Liquidity of life and that of society feed and reinvigorate each other. Liquid life, just like liquid society, cannot keep its shape or stay on course for long.”

Liquid life is a type of radical consumerism in which everything and everyone is turned into consumable objects. “Liquid life endows the outside world, indeed everything in the world that is not part of the self, with a primarily instrumental value”. Everything needs to be “good for consumption” to be useful.

The changes occurring in liquid times are radical, “modifying many ‘traditional’ concepts that have structured our way of giving the world we live in, and our own lives, meaning”. (EGE, 2012)

Individualism does not exist in these liquid times even though the slogan is that we all should be individuals. “In a society of individuals everyone must be individual; in this respect, at least, members of such a society are anything but individual, different or unique. They are, on the contrary, strikingly like each other in that they must follow the same life strategy and use shared … tokens to convince others that they are doing so. In the question of individuality, there is no individual choice.”

The only choice we have is there is the unique choice of the consumer. “The struggle for uniqueness has now become the main engine of mass production and mass consumption.” Uniqueness is defined by being “up to date”. While slogans of authenticity are propagated and we should all believe in a “pristine self” to listen to, all we do is buy to try and overcome our existential state of anxiety without success.”

Children are not exempt from the liquid times. “As soon as they learn to read, or perhaps well before that, children’s ‘shop dependence’ sets in.” This makes sense because “today’s children are first and foremost tomorrow’s consumers”. They are seen by their parents as “knowledgeable choosers” when it comes to acquiring goods.

Liquid life is a life of “constant uncertainty”. Constantly new commodities need to be acquired to keep up with the requirements of this radical consumerism. “Liquid life means constant self-scrutiny, self-critique and self-censure. Liquid life feeds on the self’s dissatisfaction with itself.”  In the process a lot of waste is produced, both in the form of humans and of resources. Yes, humans are also an “object of consumption”. That is why humans are anxious to become waste themselves. If they cannot keep up with the pace of the change and do not buy the latest consumer goods they will fall down the ladder until they become useless for others – and thereby become human waste. They will then be cut off from society, like asylum seekers are, without any chance of ever climbing up the ladder again. We are all anxious that we will be disposed of.

Further reading:

  • Zygmunt Bauman – Identity (2004)
  • Zygmunt Bauman – Liquid life (2005)
  • Zygmunt Bauman – Liquid times (2007)

What can you and teachers do about this situation? Bauman writes: “The thrust of education … is to challenge the impact of daily experience, to fight back and in the end defy the pressures arising from the social setting in which the learner operates.” But how should this be done?

Programmatic learning of how to cope with liquid life is no option: “Conditions of action and strategies designed to respond … age quickly and become obsolete before the actors have a chance to learn them properly.” The transmission model, therefore, is ruled out by Bauman: “knowledge needs to be constantly refreshed”. Also ruled out is to identify skills that are needed in liquid times and then learn these. “Future twists of market demand are not easily predictable, however artful the forecasters and methodologically refined their prognoses.”

Seymour Papert (quoted in Bauman) agrees that skills education makes no real sense anymore: “So the model that says learn while you’re at school, while you’re young, the skills that you will apply during your lifetime is no longer tenable. The skills that you can learn when you’re at school will not be applicable. They will be obsolete by the time you get into the workplace and need them.”

According to Bauman education nevertheless is the only way out. “Adverse odds may be overwhelming, and yet a democratic … society … knows of no substitute for education and self-education as a means to influence the turn of events”.  While students might see education as “a gateway to jobs” we need to teach them how to be citizens too – give them “an education in citizenship”.

This education needs to be permanent: “in the liquid modern setting, education and learning, to be of any use, must be continuous and indeed lifelong.”

We need to empower the students’ individuality. “’Individuality’ stands today, first and foremost, for the person’s autonomy, which in turn is perceived as simultaneously the person’s right and duty. Before it means anything else, the statement ‘I am an individual’ means that I am the only one responsible for my merits and my failings, and that it is my task to cultivate the first and to repent and repair the second.”

We need to take that part of identity that is still there in liquid life as a starting point. “”The sole ‘core identity’ which one can be sure will emerge from the continuous change not only unscathed but probably even reinforced is that of homo eligens – the ‘man choosing’ … a permanently impermanent self, completely incomplete, definitely indefinite – and authentically inauthentic.” It’s not much, but it’s a start.

The homo eligens is currently in a bad place. “What separates the present-day agony of choice from the discomforts which have always tormented homo eligens … is the discovery or suspicion that there are no preordained rules or universally approved objectives that can be steadfastly followed whatever happens, thereby relieving the choosers from responsibility for any adverse consequences of their choices.”

Only a lifelong education can empower this homo eligens. “We need lifelong education to give us a choice. But we need it even more to salvage the conditions that make choice available and within our power.”

How does this empowerment look like? “’Empowerment’ requires the building and rebuilding of interhuman bonds, the will and the ability to engage with others in a continuous effort to make human cohabitation into a hospitable and friendly setting for the mutually enriching cooperation of men and women struggling for self-esteem, for the development of their potential and for the proper use of their abilities. In short, one of the decisive stakes of lifelong education aimed at ‘empowerment’ is the rebuilding of the now increasingly deserted public space where men and women may engage in a continuous translation between the individual and the common, the private and the communal interests, rights and duties.” Thus: “strengthening social cohesion and developing a sense of social awareness and responsibility have become important societal and political goals”.

What is needed, therefore, is to strengthen human bonds. “In a liquid, fast-flowing and unpredictable setting we need firm and reliable ties of friendship and mutual trust more than ever before.” While they currently are being replaced by “sanitized contacts” online and brand loyalty in real life, human bonds are vital for a democracy.

How do we strengthen these human bonds? Well, “we mix daily with others who … ‘do not necessarily speak the same language (literally and metaphorically) or share the same memory or history’. Under such circumstances, the skills we need more than any others in order to offer the public sphere a reasonable chance of resuscitation are the skills of interaction with others – of conducting a dialogue, of negotiation, of gaining mutual understanding and of managing or resolving conflicts inevitable in every instance of shared life.”

Bauman concludes: “This is indeed how education should be so that the men and women of the liquid modern world can pursue their life goals with at least a modicum of resourcefulness and self-confidence, and hope to succeed.” A second effect is “making the fast changing world more hospitable to humanity”. It is a way out of our current “landscape of ignorance”. “Ignorance leads to paralysis of the will. One does not know what is in store and has no way to count the risks.”

Papert comes up with an additional skill that is crucial. According to him only one skill really makes sense to teach: “The one really competitive skill is the skill of being able to learn. It is the skill of being able not to give the right answer to questions about what you were taught at school, but to make the right response to situations that are outside the scope of what you were taught at school. We need to produce people who know how to act when they’re faced with situations for which they were not specifically trained. Wiliam (2011) agrees although he does not rule out the use of learning skills at school: “This is why education – as opposed to training – is so important. Not only does education confer skills, but it also produced the ability to develop new skills.”

Further reading:

  • Zygmunt Bauman – Identity (2004)
  • Zygmunt Bauman – Liquid life (2005)
  • Zygmunt Bauman – Liquid times (2007)
  • Shelly Duval & Robert Wicklund – A theory of objective self-awareness (1972)
  • Amy Gonzales & Geoffrey Hancock – Mirror, Mirror on my Facebook Wall: Effects of Exposure to Facebook on Self-Esteem (2011) : http://www.indiana.edu/~telecom/people/faculty/gonzaamy/Gonzales-11-Mirror-FB-%20wall.pdf
  • Paul Silvia & Shelly Duval – Objective Self-Awareness theory: recent progress and enduring problems (2001)
  • Douglas Stone & Sheila Heen – Thanks for the feedback (2014)
  • Joseph Walther – Computer-Mediated Communication (1996)
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