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Practical Postdigital Axiology
The term ‘postdigital’ has the advantage of both acknowledging the role of technology in constructing value, and an openness with regard to the possible orientations one might adopt in relation to it. A ‘practical axiology’ can, we suggest, be seen as a specifically postdigital research approach which involves experimentation in technical development, alongside a focus on investigating the dynamics of value and meaning construction in human relations within technologically-transformed environments. Education, we suggest, is the principal crucible for these inquiries. At a deeper level, we argue that a practical postdigital axiology can be seen as a development of second-order cybernetics. This takes a holistic approach to socio-technical systems, understanding value in terms of bio-psychosocial processes. Value emerges through those processes, probably as a result of stabilities in circular loops between perception, communication and action. How such loops are formed in the relationship between technical change, perceptual change, decision and action is the object of scientific study. Learning and teaching sit in the middle of these dynamics. In a postdigital world, technical changes are changes to the communicative and perceptual environment for judgement. In educational environments, as elsewhere, when tools change, the constraints within which intersubjective relations unfold are transformed, and in turn, the conditions for decision and organisation. If we are to practically investigate value and meaning in the context of technology, the scientific challenge is to investigate the constraints we impose through technical change, and how imposed technical constraints are related to the ways meaning is constructed in communication. This presentation discusses some suggested techniques of a postdigital axiology in education. They include quantitative approaches (including ecological analysis, information theory, Bayesian approaches to distinction-making and Natural Language Processing), techniques drawn from psychophysics, phenomenology and aesthetic research, alongside a discussion of the challenges of simulation, modelling and prediction. In contextualising some of these practical approaches in education, we map out the intellectual provenance of these techniques, and their interconnections. This highlights the confluence of ideas from Bayes to Bateson culminating in some specific challenges of postdigital educational research. In conclusion, we argue that a scientific and practical study of value can provide a foundation for addressing the myriad of ethical problems concerning the nature of what is happening to education, and what ought to be done, where confusion of “is” and “ought” can exacerbate already complex and uncertain conditions. A practical postdigital axiology makes possible a scientifically-grounded openness in postdigital research which guards against any totalising appropriation, whether from critical theory or naïve functionalism, and builds a foundation for postdigital education research as a new science of contingency and uncertainty.