ISA, HASA, and the Inverted LMS

I’ve been out of linguistics for so long that I don’t know if this is still the case, but it used to be there was a distinction in some branches of cognitive linguistics between what programmers might recognize as ISA and HASA relations.

The idea is this: a giraffe “isa” animal. The zoo “hasa” giraffe.

The difference in cognitive linguistics was that “isa” relations are indexed by our brains only from the instance to the category, whereas “hasa” relations are indexed from the category to the instance.

What does this mean?

Well, consider the problem of naming all animals that you know, a standard intelligence test. Want to know what most peoples answers look like? They come in clumps:

Um…dog, cat, mouse, hamster……cow, horse, goat, chickens — no wait, chicken’s a bird right — pig, bull…….giraffe, zebra, gorilla…

So what’s going on there with those groupings? Well, the person realizes there are no downward pointers from the concept “animal” to all animals. So they do the next best thing — they think of locations that contain contain animals (farms, zoos, etc), and then list off the animals they contain. An answer might be in clumps of domestic animals, zoo animals, animals at the circus, farm animals, and animals in the movie Evan Almighty.

Humans like containers. They are visual and reassuringly physical; they run with the grain of our general thought.

So it’s no surprise that the modern LMS developed under what I would call a “container model”. We “upload files to” it. We have discussions “in” it. And if the “outside world” needs to see something “in there”, we give them “access”.

And the students? Well, they’re “in there” too. At least the piece of the student that belongs to that class is. You know, the English major slice. The part of the student that is a science minor is in another box, and the part of a student that is looking for a job or hanging out with friends doesn’t have a box at all.

So here’s one of the paradoxes of HASA-based LMS systems: they follow the grain of of our thought, and at the same time they profoundly fracture our experience. The unintentional message of the HASA LMS is what goes on in class stays in class — that it is seperated zoologically from the personal and the professional aspects of a students character.

Which brings me to my point (a variation on my “student-centered” question of a few weeks ago) — what does an “ISA-based” LMS look like? What if we moved from the container model to the tagging/syndication model, and instead of uploading something into the ENG 331A box, we kept it on the student’s own site and tagged it as being relevant to his ENG 331A class and say, his professional portfolio? And maybe tagged it as a submission to the Academic Excellence Conference as well?

What if we made an “ISA” based system, and inverted the traditional LMS? What would it look like?

The answer is it’s a HASA system where the student is the container, and the different courses are attributes of that student’s output. Can anyone say “student-centered”?

Or “whole person education”? Or “integrative studies”?

Because that’s what this is about, in spades.

Once again, in a student-centered LMS, the student contains part of the class rather than the class containing part of the student.

Too abstract? Luckily you can see what the inverted LMS of the future looks like, because.UMW is putting one together. From free materials and code. On a server that costs $6.95 a month.

I’d file such a thing under both “cheap” and “pedagogically correct”.

But then, I can do that: I’m an ISA sort of guy.

13 thoughts on “ISA, HASA, and the Inverted LMS

  1. HASA, ISA, WOULDA, COULDA, SHOULDA, wait, you did! I love the analogy you’re tracing here. In particular, this notion of inverted our categorical orthodoxies to re-imagine the axis of Learning Management Systems. How about letting students manage their learning with the relevant tools so that they are framing their education for the professors, peers, and anyone else whom may be watching. Your vision frames that here perfectly, and what is even more important is the way in which you understand these programmatic systems, which are linguistic systems, are a reflection of how we tend to think about organizing our world. This is not a technological revolution at all, it is a conceptual shift, perhaps aided by the tools, that helps us to re-imagine the ways in which data can move more freely between people, ideas, and relationship -hey, not unlike people -in fact, the data is a reflection of the people and has been heretofore holed up in the imprisoning system of static delivery, it is time to set the data, and by extension the people, free.

  2. Thanks for the comments Jim — and thanks even more for slugging it out through some of the groundwork. If I can convince the eportfolio committee to go this way, I plan to steal liberally from the ELS Blogs implementation.

  3. Incidentally, I don’t mean to minimize Elgg as a quantum leap forward as far as LMS design goes, Elgg is inverted too in a way. But I’m much more interested in these looser implementations.

    I also reformulated one line in the above, it now reads:

    “Once again, in a student-centered LMS, the student contains part of the class rather than the class containing part of the student.”

    Maybe that’s the clearest way to put it — apart from the ISA’s and HASA’s.

  4. Hi Mike,

    I have been working on a similar blog/elearning implementation for my Masters thesis of a blog-based learning system. My concept has an “ISA” basis: the student ISA blogger and sometimes ISA blogger on the English class blog (basically trackbacking) but everything is compiled as their single blog, as a whole person. Whether that blog is internal / external to being boxed within an institution still needs to be remedied but the idea is to keep things open, portable and belonging to the blog author (whether that be student or teacher).


  5. Kate —

    I’d love to know more about your project — do you have a personal blog… (your name is linking helpfully to the conference paper abstract — but I need to know more!)

  6. Scott — thanks, I actually found this out both thru you comment and from a link in from Stephen Downes. THis is incredibly exciting.

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