Stuart Umpleby A Constructivist University: Farewell to the Paukmaschine*

04 Education
Stuart Umpleby

Attached is an abstract for a talk given today in Vienna, Austria, for the Heinz von Foerster Society.  This Society, which has become a leading center for cybernetics research in Europe, celebrates the work of Heinz von Foester, who was born in Vienna and taught for many years at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign.  The abstract is in German and English.

A Constructivist University: Farewell to the Paukmaschine*

Heinz von Foerster Society

Tuesday 13 November 2012, 18:30
Lecture Hall 21, University of Vienna
1010 Vienna, Austria

How can creativity be at home in a perfect imaginary university? How can one conduct seminars and lectures, and in the cafeteria have enthusiastic and joyful play, which is the origin of new knowledge? Bernhard Pörksen, media professor at the University of Tübingen, recalls in his presentation the ideas and approaches to learning of the physicist and philosopher Heinz von Foerster. Its central thesis is that the constructivist insight leads to a variety of worlds and realities that can be used in university teaching to support intellectual curiosity, fascination and cooperative thinking. Constructivism inspires us to reduce blocking hierarchies of knowledge and encourages a dialogue-based learning. However, the aim of the ongoing Bologna reform among European universities, Poerksen says, takes us in a different direction. It relies on standardization of the learning process, not on personalization. It requires ready-made answers, not open questions, and provides no time for diversions for thinking and confrontations with the unknown and uncertain.

Prof. Dr. Bernhard Pörksen, born 1969, is professor of media studies at the University of Tübingen. He analyzes in his research, the production styles in politics and the media and comments on current debates in newspaper columns and on radio and television. Bernhard Pörksen has published numerous articles in scientific journals and popular science books. He is known for amusing and sharp descriptions of the current media landscape. His 1998 book, authored with physicist and philosopher Heinz von Foerster, about the truth of perception and the philosophy of constructivism (“Truth is the invention of a liar”) became a bestseller and is now considered a classic of systemic thinking. In 2008 Bernhard Pörksen was voted “Professor of the Year” and received an award for his teaching.

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*Paukmaschine is not a term normally used in Austria, but in Germany. Maschine is machine, of course. Die Pauke (noun) is a kettledrum used in symphony orchestras. So drumming machine
is not completely wrong but very misleading, since there are additional semantics. There is also a verb “pauken” (besides the genuine meaning of playing the Pauke) which might be used in a transitive or in an intransitive mode. It means to teach somebody (transitively) or to learn something (intransitively) under severe conditions and without making any further sense
than to demonstrate hierarchy between teachers and students.  German and Austrian – and even French – schools and universities have been famous for such attitudes, sometimes until now.

Vienna Farewell to Poerksen