gaining expertise

What? During a workshop about learning goals and assessment at the TAG Institute, we were thinking about what it means to be an expert in a discipline. It occurred to me that expertise comes when a person is aware of what she knows and what she doesn’t know. From there, an expert has enough knowledge of the field to be able to identify what she needs to know to solve a given problem, and is able to locate and evaluate how well that knowledge fits her needs. I thought that this process takes a certain amount of humility to recognize shortcomings. Another participant at the workshop thought this process takes a certain amount of arrogance to seek and evaluate knowledge, and to contribute to the literature when one finds gaps in the knowledge that’s out there. Upon further reflection, I think the process takes a bit of both humility and arrogance.

So What? What this means for me in the classroom is that I would like to convey to my students that it is ok to be wrong, particularly when the educated response was well-reasoned and based on research findings. What is most important, arguably, is the ability to recognize an error and (know how to) seek the truth, however that is defined in a given discipline. 

Now What? I’m starting to realize the implications of one of my overarching course goals: Students will to be able to think like a psychologist. This goal is difficult to evaluate: How will I know when a student can “think” critically using psychological research? Part of addressing this objective will involve the use of ongoing, formative feedback as a source of dialogue in the classroom (rather than solely conducting judgemental evaluations involving grades). Including formative feedback as part of the process of learning will give students the space to be wrong, hopefully without the anxiety of formal evaluation. The trick will be to do this effectively in classes of 200-500 students. With this many students, a peer-based system will be imperative for addressing this course goal seriously.

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