Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Putting knowledge – and education – to use.

This same principle has fascinating implications in the hiring process and in ethics.

People's ability to bring knowledge to bear on a problem as strongly dependent on the context of the problem. In software engineering I frequently raise an issue only to be countered with “I already know that”. Yes, but you are not employing that knowledge in your work. Knowing something about a topic, and indeed being able to discuss it fluently, is not the same as being able to employ that knowledge in a real world situation. Here, Joe Kraus, the founder of Excite, currently with Google Ventures, describes experts and "the mismatch between what they say is important, and what they actually do". This same phenomenon is commonly referred to in instruction as Transfer of Learning or Generalization. Understanding and addressing this is critical for effective instruction, instruction that can be employed out of the classroom in the real world, or even to disparate problems within the classroom that are manifestations of an underlying principle.

Of course I expect that many of you are saying "I already know that". But are you actively putting your knowledge to work? Are you measuring the effectiveness of your techniques?

What might some of those techniques be? Consider for example priming the pump – setting students into the frame of mind where they can see where the lessons will go, and how the material is relevant to the real world, especially their specific real world interests. Take a few minutes out of the last lesson of the week to give some pointers on what the next week will cover. Include comments guided by the known interests of the students. Yes – this means getting to know what drives your students. They will be thinking about the questions or applications from the preview all throughout your lessons. Also, cast the preview in a form that makes it clear that these goals are achievable by them. When I give a lecture I provide an abstract designed to get your attention and show the value of the talk. At the beginning I will provide an overview and touch on the relevance of the talk to your real world concerns. During the talk I will talk about applications, and if possible engage some of the audience members in a discussion about issues and applications important to them. I can remember when I was teaching and I employed these techniques then to good effect. OK, I admit I didn't generate any abstracts for my students.

More soon...