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Sunday
Oct112009

What defines "expert thinking?"

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.

                                   Piet Hein

In my recent 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 "pornography" or "art" - 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 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 more that once a week. 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?"

Saturday
Oct102009

My ISTE conference proposals

http://center.uoregon.edu/ISTE/2010/

I didn't know that it has become de rigeur, but according to David Warlick, folks now share their ISTE (the conference formerly know as NECC) proposals on their blogs. And I am all about staying up with blogging style, as you know.

My strategy about applying to present at NECC ISTE has always been to throw as much stuff against the wall as possible - and hope something might stick. This year I submitted three proposals -  one in two flavors:


To Friend or Not To Friend: A Guide for Networking [Formal Session : Lecture] I am really excited about this one since my Minnesota colleague and first time NECC ISTE attendee, Jen Hegna, agreed to be a co-presenter. And it's a topic sure to stir up lots of conversation.

Should you friend your students on your Facebook page? Will keeping a blog cost you your job? What expectations should you have of your students who discuss issues on your class Ning? Learn some practical guidelines for using both social and educational networking tools that will both improve your teaching and prevent possible problems with your administration.

Change from the Radical Center of Education [Formal Session : Lecture] This one is just for fun and to tweak the noses of the visionaries a little.

While the Radical Center political movement has been around for thirty years, I suggest that leaders in educational technology and school library media programs adopt a similar view on hot button topics. While polarized views of reading methodologies, filtering, DRM, Open Source, copyright/copyleft, constructivism, e- books, computer labs, fixed schedules, Mac/PC/Linux, and the One Laptop Per Child project all make for entertaining reading and a raised blood pressure, radical stances rarely create educational change or impact educational institutions enough to change kids’ chances of success. This presentation suggests 10 principles to follow from the Radical Center of Education that will actually result in positive change in education.


Improve Your Image! Free and easy image generators [Formal Session : Lecture] OK, this one and its hands-on cousin are just my jealous reaction to those folks who do the 50 Best Gadgets, 25 Best iPhone Apps, Web 2.0 SlapDowns (or whatever they're called) and who look like they are just having way too much fun doing so.

While much of the appeal of digital photography is in being able to edit images, Photoshop is a program that just takes too long for most of us to learn. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with images -- thanks to some easy-to-use online tools. Learn 13 simple program features and websites that allow you and your students to manipulate, change and use digital photographs. Create posters, customized images, and other creative products. Fun even for the beginner. (I also submitted this as a hands-on workshop.)

I've been lucky over the years to have been able to present at least one session at NECC ISTE every time I've attended. But I've also had a lot more proposals rejected than accepted. I just try to remmber the words of that great Canadian philosopher Wayne Gretzky:

You miss 100% of the shots you never take.

Hope to see you next June in Denver. I'll be sitting in the back row.

Friday
Oct092009

Gone missing


A "phantom" tollbooth

There are a number of people I just don't see much of anymore...

  • I don't see the toll booth operator when entering or leaving the airport parking lots anymore. My credit card talks to a machine on the way in and again on the way out. My only interaction is answering whether I want a receipt.
  • I don't talk to check-in people at the airline counters anymore since I rarely check bags. My credit card talks to a terminal that prints out my boarding pass (if I've not already done so at home.)
  • I am seeing fewer bank tellers and grocery clerks. My cash card talks to the ATM and to the cash register at the supermarket after I have scanned my own groceries.
  • My son thinks I am telling tall tales when I tell him that I once had "people" who pumped my gas, washed my car windows, filled my tires and sometimes gave me a free tumbler as a gift when I went to a service station.
  • I don't hear the voice of a human telephone operator, tech support or reservation clerks until I've waded through a half dozen phone menus. "Trends in Tasks Done by the U.S. Workforce 1969-1998 (1969=0)"

Dr. McLeod shared a chart similar to the one above in his keynote last Friday. (This one comes from Levy and Murnane's article "Education and the Changing Job Market" in the October 2004 issue of Educational Leadership.) My tollbooth operator and his kindred that have gone missing fall into the "Routine Cognitive Work" category. The information given and processes performed were all standardized - multiple choice, if you will. Any higher order problem-solving in the interaction usually required finding a supervisor.

So some questions...

  1. Who else in your life encounters has "gone missing?" Who might be next?
  2. Are teachers vulnerable? Can those who are only information dispensers, flash card holders, babysitters and multiple choice quiz givers be automated? One of Scott's possible futures scenarios was one teacher per 90 station computer lab with all students doing programmed instruction.
  3. How do we give our students experience in "Complex Communications" and "Expert Thinking" skills? If we are really paying attention to these skills, why do we still give objective tests over the recall of trivia and only test low level basic skills?

I keep thinking about a prediction made in the mid-90's by a federal DOE official that in the future, economically disadvantaged students will all have computers while the wealthy students will have human teachers.

If all educators don't attended to adding value as expert thinkers and complex communicators, rebelling against  "teacher-proof the classroom" models, this future may be here sooner than one thinks.