Thursday, September 10, 2009

National Academy Volume - Experts versus Novices - Transfer

Expert versus Novice

What makes an expert? See if the class can flesh out a definition. Pose the question: expert in what? Does the "what" part matter? Most of the students in the class are in their 15th or 16th year of school. Are the students experts at being students? Is that meaningful or nonsense?

We have various metaphors for thinking. One of those is the brain as a powerful computer. With that as starting point, one might imagine the expert to have a more powerful CPU than the novice. That turns out to be wrong. The expert-novice distinction reflects a different kind of processing rather than different levels of processing.
We know that increasing experience and knowledge in a specific field (chess, for instance) has the effect that things (properties, etc.) which, at earlier stages, had to be abstracted, or even inferred are apt to be immediately perceived at later stages. To a rather large extent, abstraction is replaced by perception, but we do not know much about how this works, nor where the borderline lies. As an effect of this replacement, a so-called 'given' problem situation is not really given since it is seen differently by an expert than it is perceived by an inexperienced person….
What is the difference between abstraction and perception in the above paragraph?

2. the act of considering something as a general quality or characteristic, apart from concrete realities, specific objects, or actual instances.
2. immediate or intuitive recognition or appreciation, as of moral, psychological, or aesthetic qualities; insight; intuition; discernment: an artist of rare perception.
Metaphor - learning a foreign language. Initially the foreign words or sentences get tranlated (mentally) into the native language. Translation takes time. There is awkwardness with the foreign language for that reason. Later on the thinking is directly in the foreign language. There is no mental translation. One comes to understand in a different way.

Different metaphor - A plastic straw is encased in a piece of paper covering it to keep it clean till use. That covering can be folded up into little rectangles back and forth until the entire thing is folded up, giving the appearance of an accordion. The expert in learning about a situation does so like unfolding of that paper with a new perception at each stage. The knowledge doesn't come out all at once. But it is there when needed. Novices have each stage as a separate rectangle that they have to construct at the time, so they don't get nearly as far.

Still different metaphor - A novice sees the idea from one perspective only so has a very "flat" seense of the idea. The expert has many different perspectives and can switch from one to another at will.

Activity. Get students to talk about how they read for courses. How do they know whether they understand what they are reading? What do they do to create confidence in that understanding? Do they have a method? Does it matter whether the stuff is for their major or something outside like this CHP class? Can they recall back to when they were Freshmen and comment on whether their way of reading for understanding has changed?

Ask specifically about reading Gawande. Was there a methodology in making for understanding there? I made a claim when reflecting about our discussion on his Bell Curve chapter that there was really only one way to read that chapter, and I gave a model of that. Did anyone try to come up with a model of their own?

Then switch gears and talk about video games. Are there in gamers in the class? Can they talk about how they become masters at the current game they are playing. Does the novice expert distincton carry we've made carry over to that area?


Ask students about testing. Is there such a thing as a good test? What does that entail? What does it mean to know a subject well? Talk about using the knowledge in a different context. How much does the context need to vary before the student loses sight of the knowledge and that it is relevant? Talk about riding a bicycle. What knowledge is like riding a bicycle and what is use it or lose it? Talk about depth of learning in this sense. Talk about "learning to learn" skills and being able to self-teach. Note that experts constantly learn themselves, so they do a lot of transfer of knowledge.

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