As things so very often are
intelligence won’t get you far.
So be glad you’ve got more sense
than you’ve got intelligence.
In my 2009 post Gone Missing*, I speculated that many now automated jobs are those that could be described as "Routine Cognitive Work" - jobs answering questions like "What's my checking account balance?" or "May I have a window seat?" or "Would you like fries with that?" The growth in jobs has been in the "Expert Thinking" and "Complex Communication" sectors.
I don't remember either term - "Expert Thinking" or "Complex Communication" - ever being defined. I'm guessing most of us apply the same standards to such terms as we do to "obscenity" or "art" or "creativity" - we can't define it but we know it when we see it.
One way to look at Expert Thinking might be to determine what skills are needed when something of out of the ordinary occurs that makes following the procedures or routines impossible or nonsensical. Or when there are no rules or routines to follow in a situation at all.
For example, the library circulation policy dictates that elementary children can check out three books each week. A teacher tells the librarian that Frieda is a very good, very fast reader and that three books a week do not meet her reading needs. The librarian, using Expert Thinking, quickly sees that there are two possible solutions to the problem: either allow Frieda to check out more books at one time or to allow Frieda to come to the library on a more frequent basis. The librarian will also make a note to query her advisory group at their next meeting about whether three books a week constitutes a sensible circulation policy. Either a machine or a person who operates in the Routine Cognitive mode would simply re-state the current policy and allow Frieda to remain under served.
Creating new procedures, policies or routines brought Expert Thinking into play when Jen Hegna and I worked on our Guidelines for Educators Using Educational and Social Networking Sites. The development of these guidelines required research, synthesis, experience, and confidence. I'd argue that the ability to see relationships between the physical and virtual worlds, working knowledge of professional conduct, and a willingness to concede a degree of uncertainty are all a part of the Expert Thinking that went into creating these guidelines. I would also concede that a sense of humility that values the opinion of others, resulting in the revision of one's original thoughts, is a part of Expert Thinking.
So a couple thoughts about Expert Thinking and schools...
As I remember, most textbook chapters ended with a list of fairly standard comprehension/recall type questions: List three causes of the Spanish-American war. But I also remember the "extra credit" questions that were far more interesting: Is it possible for a newspaper, though its editorials, to start a war? If so, should newspapers be regulated to keep this from happening? Even sets of math problems were often followed by an application question or different angle on the math concept being taught.
It seems to me that it's not the standard questions, but the extra credits that asked us to use our "Expert Thinking" skills.
I am also concerned that there is a concerted effort to turn teaching into 'Routine Cognitive Work" instead of "Expert Thinking" work. Teachers, are you becoming ever more scripted? Are the number of minutes you spend on each content area being dictated to you? Is your performance being measured in only one way - student performance on standardized test scores? Are you more concerned about the rules of grammar that what students are actually saying?
Are the questions you ask your students the pedagogical equivalent of "Would you like fries with that?"
* These study cited in this post has been recently verified. See: Autor, David and Brendan Price. The Changing Task Composition of the US Labor Market: An Update of Autor, Levy, and Murnane (2003). Available at <economics.mit.edu/files/9758>