On my way home this afternoon, I happened to catch American RadioWorks on NPR. This particular piece caught my attention when they talked about “expert blind spots”.
Deep expertise in a field is obviously a critical asset that colleges look for in their professors. Koedinger says it can also be an obstacle to teaching. He says experts often have a blind spot that blocks them from perceiving a problem from a student’s point of view. "If you’re a chess expert, the chessboard looks different" than it does to a beginner, he says. Experts grasp patterns and relationships by second nature. In essence, the expert can’t understand what the student can’t understand.
In designing the OLI courseware, Koedinger and the Carnegie Mellon team work with experts to overcome the "blind spots" and break each piece of knowledge into its building blocks. They deconstruct the patterns so students can rehearse putting the pieces back together. And because the OLI software captures every click of every student’s mouse, massive pools of "clickstream" data help the OLI team tease out what kinds of lessons and exercises lead students to master their subjects most effectively.
"One of the big surprises in this data set for me is when you look at the learning process from task to task, it takes a long time for kids to get better at specific content, whether it’s math or science or language," Koedinger says. "The progress we see is steady, but it’s slow. That’s one of those things about learning we often forget — how much repetition and practice is critical to becoming an expert."
It really resonated with me because of the computer classes I teach. It has taken months to develop some of the simplified or layman explanations and examples that I give in class to talk about things that are generally taken for granted in a modern technology skill set. I’ve had to adjust my terminology and approach to bring computer skills down to a level where people feel comfortable and confident. I’ve been using computers for over twenty five years; it’s a good reminder of how recent the development of the personal computer is when you are teaching people who have never used one in their life.
Whether you teach computer classes in the public library like me or in an academic setting from elementary to college, please take the time to listen to this particular episode. It’s pretty damn amazing in looking at a potential of computer assisted education as well as the continued development of online courses.
If you’re someone in the classroom (regardless if that is at a college, high school, grade school, or public library), what kinds of technology assisted instruction have you used or seen?