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Rupert Wegerif University of Exeter. Dialogic Education and Technology: expanding the space of learning. Dialogic Education and Technology: Expanding the Space of Learning. Society. Technology. Pedagogical theory. Dialogic. Two metaphors of space.

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Rupert Wegerif

University of Exeter

Dialogic Education and Technology:

expanding the space of learning

Dialogic Education and Technology:

Expanding the Space of Learning




Pedagogical theory

two metaphors of space
Two metaphors of space

For Aristotle everything has one proper place: a thing cannot be in two places and and two things can not occupy one place. Ergo: A=A & A ≠ B.

But into what ‘space’ is the internet expanding?

Where is the ‘proper place’ of my web page?

The expansion of ‘cyberspace’ challenges the principle of identity – so what do we put in its place?
identity or a a a b
Identity (or A=A & A≠ B)






But what is the unthought in this picture?

constitutive difference
Constitutive difference

Meaning starts with the act of drawing a boundary -differentiating Figure from Ground (a relation – 2 perspectives)

abgrund or space of possibility
‘Abgrund’ or space of possibility

The precondition of meaning – a projected ‘infinite potential’ for meaning

ontology of difference
Ontology of difference







Je suis un autre (Rimbaud)

(A ≠ A & A = All )

Identity as always open and overflowing towards the other

philosophical note why this is dialogic and not dialectic
[Philosophical note: Why this is dialogic and not dialectic]

[Hegel’s dialectic begins with Being (the Whole) and moves through differences to a more complex and internally integrated Being (the Absolute Notion). Hence identity is assumed and we are dealing with difference within identity. Dialectical conflicts end in synthesis - teleological

Dialogic begins with difference and never escapes difference. The system is unbounded – there is no Being – not even Abgrund - only difference]

so where are we and where is my avatar
So where are we? And where is my Avatar?

‘The ancient Greeks did not know the most important thing about themselves: that they were “ancient Greeks”’ Bakhtin

‘Situatedness’ is a construction implying its other – all we have is difference within an absent whole





So how can we understand this?


Easy – switch the founding metaphor from space to dialogue

Meaning ‘is like an electric spark that occurs only when two different terminals are hooked together’ (Volosinov).

  • Wertsch ‘when a speaker produces an utterance at least two voices can be heard simultaneously’ (Wertsch, 1991, p13).
  • Dialogic consists of the ‘interanimation’ or ‘inter-illumination’ of voices
  • Bakhtin: ‘The text lives only by coming into contact with another text. Only at the point of this contact between texts does a light flash …’ (SG p 162)
  • Bakhtin: ‘There is neither a first nor a last word and there are no limits to the dialogic context …Even past meanings … can never be stable’ (SG p 170)

The dialogic principle

Dialogic = holding more than one incomensurately different perspective together in tension at once.

monologic versus dialogic
Monologic versus dialogic

Monologic: metaphor of physical space

  • one true representation or perspective
  • thinking as the reduction of apparent difference to identity.

Dialogic: metaphor of dialogue

  • meaning presupposes difference
  • thinking as play of perspectives
  • in place of reduction – unlimited creativity
dialogic space
Dialogic “space”

Dialogos = reason (logos) through and across (dia) difference.

Dialogic space is shared meaning space characterised by lack of certainty and an inescapable multiplicity of perspectives

…. i.e. the space into which the internet expands while at the same tie constructing that space

theses on mediation
Theses on mediation
  • Mediation by an other (and by Otherness in general) is required for meaning
  • Relationship is not similar to mediation by things
  • We learn first and foremost by taking the perspective of the specific other (and through this the general Other)
  • Relationship precedes and excedes the use of tools
  • The quality of the relationship is what counts in education more than the quality of the tools
dialogic and learning to think
Dialogic and learning to think

Hobson argues that an individual sense of self-awareness and an ability to think creatively are intgernalized from the creative interanimation of perspectives that occurs in dialogues between Mother and child (Hobson, 1998). These dialogues, beginning with peek-a-boo games in the cradle, open up what he calls ‘mental space’, a space of possibilities through which things become thinkable for the first time.

phylogenesis of creativity
Phylogenesis of creativity

Through studies of apes and humans Tomasello claims that consciousness originates in:

“a species-unique motivation to share emotions, experience, and activities with other persons”

Which he refers to as ‘dialogic’ and claims is more fundamental than language or tool use.

Tomasello et al 2004

vygotskian theory
Vygotskian theory
  • 'all that is internal in the higher mental functions was at one time external' (Vygotsky, 1991, p36).
  • Words and forms of social interaction are internalised or appropriated as cognitive tools
  • Thinking is a way of using words embedded in a social practice
  • It follows that learning to reason is essentially induction into a social practice involving the internalisation of ‘language as a tool for thinking’

(See Wegerif, Mercer and Dawes, 1999, ‘From Social Interaction to Individual Reasoning’)

talk and reasoning
Talk and reasoning
  • Several studies of teaching Exploratory Talk in the UK and also in Mexico - working with Prof Silvia Rojas Drummond of UNAM - have found various correlations
  • Increased use of explicit reasoning terms around reasoning tests
  • Improved group solving of reasoning test problems
  • Statistically significant gains in individual reasoning test scores

The beauty of the experimental design was that it enabled not only quantitative correlations but also qualitative analysis of the talk of children solving reasoning tests.

So how did they do it? We argued that they did it by ‘using language as a tool for thinking’ but in the end I found this unconvincing …

The tools worked by creating a dialogic space in which new perspectives emerged uncaused

to re iterate
To re-iterate

When researching groups of children solving reasoning test problems together it was found that the key to success was the children learning to listen and to change their minds. This suggests a movement into dialogue – towards identification with the space of dialogue or dialogue as an end in itself.

dialogic education
Dialogic education

Takes Vygotsky further by looking not only at the ‘internalisation’ of tools but the ‘internalisation’ of dialogic space.

It is education for dialogue as well as education through dialogue.

Teaching thinking is induction into dialogue as an end in itself.

Dialogue as an end in itself is the primary thinking skill from which other skills follow such as:

  • creativity
  • learning to learning
  • listening to others
  • critical reflection
images and exemplars
Images and exemplars
  • Thinking as computation:

e.g formal logic, cognitive structures

  • Thinking as situated tool use:

e.g abacus use

(Cole and Derry, 2005)

  • Thinking as shared inquiry

e.g Bakhtin, Dewey, Lipman


‘The transactional … It excludes assertions of fixity and attempts to impose them. It installs openness and flexibility in the very process of knowing. It treats knowl- edge as itself inquiry—as a goal within inquiry, not as a terminus outside or beyond inquiry’. Dewey and Bentley 1947, p 97



Unsituated Central Processor

Cutural tools

Situated social practices

Forms of life

Activity systems

the core skill of reflection
The core ‘skill’ of reflection

‘An active persistent and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusion to which it tends’. (Dewey, 1910)

I would augment this with an idea of the creative space of emergence that opens up in a dialogue, a space which can be more or less dialogic, more or less open to the other and to the new (Wegerif, 2005, Reason and Creativity in Classroom Dialogues)

trajectory of identity
+ Trajectory of identity

‘Perhaps the greatest of all pedagogical fallacies is the notion that a person learns only the particular thing he is studying. Collateral learning in the way of formation of enduring attitudes, of likes and dislikes may be and often is much more important than the spelling lesson or lesson in geography or history that is learned. The most important attitude that can be formed is the desire to go on learning’. (Dewey 1938, p29).

habits of thinking
+Habits of thinking

‘careful, alert, and thorough habits of thinking’. (Dewey 1933 p56).

  • In between the ‘skill’ of reflection in the moment and the longer term project of a reflective identity as a learner and thinker there are good intellectual habits, ingrained semi-automatic responses such as questioning and comparing.
re cap on teaching thinking
Re-cap on teaching thinking

Dewey’s focus on the boundary led him to see thinking as transactive inquiry. This stimulates a dialogic theoretical framework for the practical business of teaching thinking: learning to think as a trajectory of identity towards identification with the reflective space of dialogue supported by environments, habits and skills.


Implications for practice

Promote pauses not just explicit reasoning

Augment focus on talking with focus on active listening

Augment construction of knowledge with deconstruction of knowledge

Maintain awareness of context, situatedness limitedness which is the awareness of the unbounded potential

Development into dialogue is a kind of oxymoron – but an illuminating one.

It is learning as a trajectory of identity but also a trajectory away from identification with things (self, group etc) and towards identification with non-identity – ie with the multiple and uncertain space of dialogue.

negative capability
Negative Capability
  • I had not a dispute but a disquisition, with Dilke on various subjects; several things dove-tailed in my mind, and at once it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously - I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason’

(Sunday 21 Dec. 1817 Hampstead.)

role of tools and technology
Role of tools and technology

Not direct mediation of cognition as in the idea of ‘mindtools’ but opening, deepening, widening, resourcing a space

e.g words and ground rules to open space of reflection, also to abstract, consolidate and build on

E.G Ong – face to face dialogue limited in space and time - writing and social practices around reading and writing lead to the development of an inner space of reflection – now with Blogs and Vlogs does this inner space of possibility become a shared space?

Quality of thinking is seen in move from dialogue with specific others to dialogue with the general Other – the Superaddressee or witness

teaching thinking
Teaching thinking
  • Open dialogic spaces
    • build agora in Athens
    • prompt the kids to talk together when engaged in a game
  • Deepen dialogic space
    • give a topic more time for reflection using marker
    • objectify dialogue as provisional artefact
  • Widen dialogic space
    • let women and slaves talk in the agora
    • design for multiple voices
  • Resource dialogic spaces
    • E.g role play and staging
    • E.g role play and staging

[tools as voices – not voices as tools]

what sparks aha moments
What sparks ‘Aha’ moments?
  • Analysis of the ‘argument maps’ suggests that new perspectives are emerging after open questions and/or disagreements
  • This co-occurrence will be investigated using critical event recall interviews in conjunction with the playback facility of the system.



Pedagogical theory


Thank you!

Contains recent papers and draft chapters of Dialogic Education and Technology