Friday, August 14, 2015

Exposing our "expert blind spots" to support student learning

At the Distance Teaching & Learning conference in Madison, WI this week, Sharon Derry and Susan Rundell Singer discussed the role of novices and experts in the classroom. According to Singer, research shows that experts can make visible only 30% of what they do unless a specialist in cognitive task analysis is there to help them unpack it. As learning practitioners, she stated, we need to help experts expose their "expert blind spots" in order to aid novices in their movement along the novice-expert continuum. The two scholars explained how faculty should be aware of their expert blind spots so they can put on the persona of their learners and learn how to solve the problem without this expert knowledge.

They went on to discuss how "worked problems", a concept discussed in earlier research by Derry, might be a potential way for experts to make their expert processes visible. A worked problem is making visible the thinking process one might go through to solve a problem or filling in the gaps that an expert may not be aware they need to show you in order to solve a problem.

But a worked example is very different than just a physics professor solving a problem on the board. There needs to be specifics, unpacking expertise, scaffolding/making the thinking process. She referenced Allen Schoenfeld's work on making thinking visible, which is still critical (and perhaps lacking application) in classrooms today. She also discussed how the novice and expert might work together to expose the problem and developed the worked problem model together.

When it comes to helping students develop their writing, it is critical that we provide similar "worked problems" in the classroom. One way I do this is to walk students through my own writing process and show them my progress on real writing projects throughout our time in the course. I also provide annotated examples of prior students' writing to show my new students what works, what is good evidence, and what are good "moves" in academic writing. I will admit, however, that I could use more time talking with faculty or other specialists about what makes me an expert writer and what my blind spots might be when it comes to teaching writing. With this in mind, I suggest we spend time talking through our process and our methods for solving our discipline's "problems" with others. And since cognitive task analysis experts aren't always hanging around the corner to help us unpack our expertise, perhaps we can gather faculty and experts in other disciplines who may not have the same blind spots as us to help us unpack these blind spots together.

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