Apr 05

The story of the Textbook as a Foucauldian Genealogy

This is a recording of a presentation I recently gave at the Katholieke University of Leuven in Belgium, thanks to an invitation by Jan Masschelein.

Apr 02

Klaus Mollenhauer and Forgotten Connections – for AERA

Klaus Mollenhauer & Forgotten Connections from Norm Friesen on Vimeo.

I put together this video to introduce Mollenhauer and his book: Forgotten Connections: On Culture and Upbringing.

I’m presenting this together with presentations on Mollenhauer by Stefan Hopmann and Gert Biesta at AERA 2014

Here’s the handout and text for my presentation.

Feb 13

Waldenfels’ Responsive Phenomenology

091118_Waldenfels_03Bernhard Waldenfels has been taking phenomenology in a new direction –one that has implications for phenomenologies of technology. Instead of focusing on intentionality and the relationship between self and other, he has, over more than a dozen books, articulated a philosophy of the “alien” and its relationship to “ownness.” Unlike the other, the alien is not simply opposed to or the obverse of the “self;” the alien is instead that which is excluded in the very constitution of the order of the self. However, the alien never simply “goes away.” Instead, its periodic “sting” and its general resistance is felt in a variety of ways, perhaps most evidently in our own bodies, which resist any reduction to functionalist, aesthetic, objectivist or other terms. Technical forms of reproduction and representation do not fully reflect this irreducibility. Or as Waldenfels says (and as I’ve noted here earlier), the question is not so much one of telepresence, but rather, of tele-absence.

In this introductory article, I use all the three short books currently available from Waldenfels in English to piece together an overview of the main themes of his responsive phenomenology.

Feb 08

The eTextbook: A Paradigm Shift?

The e-Textbook: A Paradigm Shift for Learning? from Norm Friesen on Vimeo.

Will the e-textbook, with its multimedia potential and flexibility, bring a paradigm shift to education?

In this video presentation, prepared for a keynote in Montreal in March, I try to answer this question by looking specifically at what the inventor of the “paradigm shift” has to say.

In describing paradigms and their shift, Kuhn had a very specific idea about the role of the textbook in the circulation and stabilization of knowledge, and I explore this view here.

Also, because it’s on video, it features a couple of clips –one with the incomparable Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall– talking about (of all things) textbooks!

Dec 09

Learning theory & MOOCs

Just got back from East China Normal University in Shanghai, where I gave this presentation. It frames the possible success of MOOCs (their demise is not yet a fait accompli) in terms of what I describe as “institutional learning.” In developing this notion, I refer to “pedagogical” or “school knowledge” that occurs in educational institutions, and which is articulated by the early Jerome Bruner, by the late Klaus Mollenhauer, and currently, also by Daniel Troehler.

Nov 18

Paradigm shifts and Educational Forms: A Textbook Case

paradigm-shift2This article just appeared in “Online First” for AERA’s Educational Researcher.

It is intended as a kind of ‘sequel” to my study of the “transmedial history”of the lecture, which was published in the same journal in 2011.

Both articles look at these familiar and often disregarded educational forms, not from the perspective of their inevitable obsolescence, but of their remarkable longevity, persistence and adaptability.

Here’s formal title and abstract:

The Past and Likely Future of an Educational Form: A Textbook Case

At a time when it is seen as increasingly “obsolete,” this article analyzes the textbook as an evolving pedagogical form, as a changing medium comprised of smaller media components. These components include images, diagrams and also oral prompts, which have changed not so much through technical innovation as in synchrony with larger cultural and epistemological developments. This article investigates the increasingly sophisticated structuring of this textual and visual content, and the gradually sublimated “oral” interaction simulated through cues and interrogatives. These components have become highly conventionalized and elaborate, characteristics generally ignored to the detriment of publically-funded “open” e-textbook projects. Following Thomas Kuhn’s famous analyses of knowledge “paradigms,” this article concludes that the textbook’s features provide an indispensable animating didactic function.

This version should be publicly available (as a .pdf).

Nov 11

“Note to Self:” A Genealogy of the internal dialogue from Aurelius to Vygotsky

mac1Referencing Foucault’s notion of “technologies of the self,” this paper/chapter traces the notion of the self-reflective, self-directed dialogue from the practices of the late Ancients (e.g. Aurelius) through Vygotsky to today’s digital tools of self-management and self examination.

Here’s a link to the full text:
Note to Self

Here’s the abstract:

This paper provides an overview of the history of the “internal dialog” as a pedagogical technique whose variations can be traced through material media forms over a number of centuries. Two important precursors for this specific “technology of the self,” as Foucault suggests, go back to the Middle Ages and antiquity, particularly with the emergence of writing and the Christian confessional as means of self-reflection and -examination. Similar technologies of the self are enacted and studied today under rubrics such as “self-regulation” and “self-explanation,” which are seen as being supported and tracked through online media or technology. However, between ancient and modern practices, many variations intervene: They occur through reading rather than writing, or in the form of group recitation rather than individual extemporization. The chapter plots the oscillation of this “technology” between a fully ritualized external performance and fully internalized examination, from the catechism of Luther to the internal speech of Vygotsky and today’s cognitive science –concluding with a brief discussion of new possibilities offered by many-to-many Internet communication.

Oct 10

Faculty ProD Keynote: Simulation, Stimulation & Silence – Learning Online and Off

I gave this keynote at an excellent professional development event at my alma mater, the University of Alberta in August.


Here’s the abstract: Almost 20 years after the popular adoption of the Internet, we are still finding out about the nature of online places and spaces. Whether these locations are used for interpersonal communication or naturalistic simulation, they offer characteristics which may be ideally suited to some types of pedagogical activities and less appropriate for others. This often depends on a deeper understanding of the nature of these activities and experiences. In this presentation Norm Friesen of Boise State University will undertake a careful examination of a couple of practical examples. He will use these examples explore the nature of both pedagogy and the technology, in terms of their suitability for online, face-to-face and also blended contexts.

I also received some wonderful feedback from those in attendance:

The final keynote is very interesting.  I enjoy phenomenological work.

The keynote speaker was interesting and insightful.


I found the keynote speaker’s topic to be very interesting. It really got me thinking about the experiential aspect of learning with technology,  especially as it relates to simulations. It brought that needed theoretical and philosophical basis for the work that underlies pedagogy and instructional design/techniques using technology. It was a fantastic talk. – Faculty Member, Rehabilitation Medicine

Oct 09

“On beyond Ong:” the bases of a revised theory of orality and literacy

51XKNF2K9JL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_J. Coleman’s Public reading and the reading public is excellent book that goes way beyond its ostensible medieval specialization, and offers a comprehensive critique of the antiquated ethnocentrism of the Ong / Goody approach to orality and literacy. This approach, which has been called the thesis of the “great divide” [Finnegan] and the “literalist civilization-theory” [Boehme]), is also reproduced in McLuhan at various points. (But McLuhan was careful not to have his thinking bifurcated so overtly.)

Coleman’s book also provides and operationalizes a set of terms and taxonomies that can be used in the place of the grand Ong/Goody theory or meta-narrative. All of this is discussed in the context of Coleman’s introduction of an “ethnography” of media practices which has broad (and yet untapped) potential.

Here’s a bit of Coleman’s critique of Ong:

There is no question that, over the course of Western history, literacy rose and its technologies improved, nor is there any question that these events had many important consequences or that excellent histories can be and have been written tracing these developments. There are, however, serious problems with histories that adopt the distorting premises of “strong” orality/literacy theory. With primary value and focus always on the end-product – what Kenneth George calls the “inscribed modern” (1990: 19) – such histories become a teleological progression from less to ever more desirable intellectual states.

For more of this critique, see:

For more on new terminology/methodology, see (for example) the glossary:

Sep 06

Bernhard Waldenfels: Responsivity and Tele-absence

Two things regarding the contemporary German phenomenologist, Bernhard Waldenfels (pictured, right, with his wife Christine on his way to a Merleau-Ponty seminar in 1961):

  1. I’ve tracked down a hard-to-find piece by Waldenfels in which he explains one of the main points of his phenomenology, a change in focus “from Intentionality to responsivity” (also the title of the article):  http://learningspaces.org/files/Waldenfels_1999.pdf
  2. A wonderful paragraph discussing “tele-absence” from Waldenfels’ 2009 book, Displacements of place and time: Modes of embodied experience (Ortsverscheibungen, Zeitverscheibungen: Modi leibhafter Erfahrung). I recently came across this passage and felt I had to translate it:

What would a medium capable of mediating the immediate look like? …The problem, actually, does not lie in telepresence, which elevates our own possibilities to the level where distance is abolished; but in tele-absence, which withdraws from its own access. The withdrawal of the alien, which is also entrenched in our perception, strikes me with more force than the resistance of the alien, which is something I can defend myself against. With the latter, it is only a question of possessing greater or lesser force. But this is not the case for withdrawal, which is like a shadow that cannot be grasped. Every attempt at access dispels it rather than bringing it closer, just as Orpheus forces Eurydice into renewed death and absence through the power of his glance. Resistance can awaken its own energies, but withdrawal exceeds my own possibilities in that it transforms them into lived impossibilities… All technical artifice runs up against an inner border: If the alien were there, it would not be what it is. Even a video camera, which not only registers our voice and breathing, but even the lifting of the eyelids or the creasing in one’s  brow, would fail when it comes to the glance that is more than something that is seen [or recorded], or to the voice that is more than something that is heard [or taped] –because voice and glance disrupt, incite, interrupt. Here technical media run up against the limit of representability, without being able to represent this limit themselves … (pp. 110-111)


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