Abrahamson, D. (2019, April). Moving perception forward in learning sciences discourse. 

Paper presented at “Mathematical ability,” the annual meeting of the Digital Turn in Epistemology group. Freudenthal Institute, Utrecht University, The Netherlands, April 15 – 17, 2019.

Among educational researchers inspired by the embodied turn in the cognitive sciences, there is much ado about doing. Students’ motor behavior (the dynamic temporal–spatial kinesiological process of “doing”), historically eclipsed by its situated outcomes (the static, material, logical product of “done”), is now in the limelight of methods (innovative instruments generating movement data for multimodal learning analytics) and theorization (coordination-dynamics models of shifts between dynamical equilibria). By this token, while perception may be critical for enacting movement, it plays no more than a supporting role. This theoretical view is liable to engender a kinesiological emphasis in educational practice, where motor techniques are taught directly as a didactical means of improving student performance on manipulation tasks. Drawing on kinesiology (Bernstein, 1996), ecological psychology (Gibson, 1966; Heft, 1989; Turvey, 2019), Gestalt theory of motor control (Mechsner, 2003; Mechsner, Kerzel, Knoblich, & Prinz, 2001), enactivist theory (Hutto, Kirchhoff, & Abrahamson, 2015; Varela, Thompson, & Rosch, 1991), and dance philosophy (Sheets-Johnstone, 1981, 2015, 2018), I interrogate the putative prominence of motor coordination in the phenomenology of enacting movement. Rather, I put forth, improvement to motor performance is epiphenomenal and consequential to the perceptual discovery of affordances in the situated domain of enactment. Once we discover how we should move to get a task done, motor actions self-assemble to enact that movement. As such, learning to move in new ways may take practice, but one’s attention and reflection are essentially on movement forms and feedback sensation, not on the intricacies of kinesiological selections, control, and performance. I offer implications for the design, facilitation, and evaluation of instructional activities, where students learn to enact movement forms that instantiate presymbolic mathematical notions. The good news is that shifting the heft of our field’s discourse from motor action to sensorimotor perception untethers the theorized phenomenology of embodied learning from the corporeal specification of particular situated enactments, opening its horizons to vistas of cross-situational application.

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