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The novel act of combining

June 24th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Yesterday, Jenny Hughes and I (well, more Jenny than me) made a presentation on syntax to an seminar organised as part of the Rita Kop and Stephen Downes’ Critical Literacies online course. The idea of Syntax is based on Saussurean linguistics and is difficult stuff (at least to me). But it is also extremely interesting. Syntax is the study of the principles and rules for constructing a sentence. But, of course, it can also be used as a way of studying other areas, including education and training. Much of the presentation focused on the relations between paradigms and syntagms. Syntagms describe the relations between the parts of different paradigms. The sum of the associate elements has a meaning different from the parts and changes the meaning of the parts. As jen said the elements of one paradigmatic set in the presence of another may change into something we don’t know. And, according to Richard Harland, the syntagm is the site of new meaning. Syntagmatic thinking, she went on to say, is called ‘radical transcendence’. And here it gets interesting. Semes are the site of old meaning. The meaning of a single piece of understanding gets left behind – or gets lost on the meaning of the new whole. I am sure that is happening now in our understanding of what comprises or means teaching and learning. As learning becomes ever more embedded in the internet and in escapes from the institution, then both our understanding of the meaning of learning and education and of schooling will change. Schools will become juts a seme – a site of old meaning.

However syntagmatic thinking is also based on the idea focusing not on the novelty of combinations but on the novel act of combining. And I fear that in using technology for teaching and learning up to now we have f9cused on the novelty of combinations of technology and education, rather than look as the novel act of combining technology and learning together.

This post is both a note for myself but also is a trailer. We are working on producing a slidecast of the presentation which I will post here as soon as it is ready.

NB Critical Literacies is a free and open online course. Whilst not as well attended as previous course Stephen has run with George Siemens, it is raising many interesting ideas and is well worth dipping into.


  1. “Schools will become just a seme, a site of old meaning”: The novel act of combining


  1. […] interesting presentation on this by Jen Hughes and Graham Attwell, which Graham makes a blog post about.  Also a very creative presentation – but the content was difficult for someone not […]

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