Photo by Henrik Dønnestad / Unsplash

In this second of four vodcasts, Brad Haseman, Executive Vice President of Kadenze, Inc. sits down with Sarah Reid, Kadenze, Inc.’s Director of Business Development, to discuss the distinctive effects arts-led learning is having on online learning design. Here he introduces the fictional-reality effect and the reflection effect. You can read Part 1 here.

Plato really did miss the point when it came to art. By defining art as merely an imitation of ‘real’ things, he successfully reduced all discussion about the value and benefit of the arts into one question: “Does the art work fully represent the ideal version of this real thing?” Well, more than two thousand years on no one, apart from Plato, cares about that question anymore!

Indeed, framing art in this thin and impoverished way steers us away from some of the most powerful benefits of the arts, benefits online learning designers are leveraging to great effect.

The Fictional-Reality Effect

What arts educators do care about for their online students are the possibilities for learning, which come from playing in that space between ‘reality’ and art’s fictional version of that reality. For in this space, learners’ feelings can be mobilised to inform their understandings, and their imaginations play with not only with how reality is, but how it might be changed.

All the arts, whether painted, danced, performed in pixels, in sound, or silence, necessarily require learners to hold two worlds in mind at the same time and then bring their powers of critique and reason to see into the aesthetic, economic, and social implications reverberating from this fictional-reality effect. In experiencing the power of fictional-realities, learners come to deal with the effects of a world in change; worlds which are mutable and contingent, rather than fixed, inevitably, for all time.

So when learners have been creating art online, perhaps within the dynamics of a narrative of some kind, the next learning design challenge is to harness the effects generated by the interplay between the real and the fictional, to identify and compare interpretations of the work, all of which depends upon the reflection effect.

The Reflection Effect

Why is reflection so central to learning? Reflection is the core operation of mind which allows us to make informed comparisons between works, interpretations of value, and the ethics of processes and outcomes.

It is mindful, cognitive, and sensuous reflection which allows learners to build their expertise through informed comparison, for in the arts and humanities there is never a metric which can definitively settle disputes over value. Rich reflection online demands learners reflect on and resolve complex and slippery matters knowing that no one can do our thinking or feeling for us. We are all required to adjudicate by drawing on our personal experiences and our ever-growing expertise to make informed comparisons.

In 2017, there was quite some consternation when it was announced that Bob Dylan had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. While many applauded the move, others disagreed. However, they could not sue the Academy, or take them to court, or code an algorithm to prove everyone else wrong. Demonstrable proof and scientific evidence could not carry the day. Each of us was called upon to engage in informed and robust comparative disagreement not so we would eventually all arrive at the correct answer, but because disagreement is necessary and productive. The point of reflection is not to agree about Dylan, but to get better at disagreeing about Dylan’s worth.

Reflection in the arts requires us to realize that human existence is full of messiness, complexity, inconsistency and uncertainty, and reflection in the online space needs to capture that untidiness. But are the popular online tools like quizzes and short answer tests fit for this larger purpose?

Most certainly not. With that in mind, inventive learning designers are reengineering the expectations and means of reflecting online to ensure the fullness and fruitfulness of arts-learning is realized.

Learn more about the fictional-reality effect and reflection effect in the video below.