iEarth has started a journal club! And the first article to be read is about “Transforming the lowest-performing students: an intervention that worked”. My summary below :-)
I’ve been playing with this figure (inspired by the Reinholz et al. 2021 article) for a while now for the iEarth/BioCeed Leading Educational Change course, where we try to look at our change project through many different lenses in order to find out which ones are most relevant to help us shape and plan the process. In building this figure, I am trying to figure out how the different perspectives overlap and differ. But since there is a huge amount of information in this one figure and it might be slightly overwhelming, here is an animated version (edit: which, apparently, only starts moving if you click on the gif. No idea why, maybe it’s too large?). The gif builds over 25 seconds, and then it shows the still, finished image for 25 seconds. Not sure if this is the best option; I was also considering doing it as narrated slides. But not right now…
Reinholz, D., White, I., & Andrews, T. (2021). Change theory in STEM higher education: a systematic review. International Journal of STEM Education, 8(37), 1 – 22. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1186/s40594-021-00291-2
I’ve spent quite some time thinking about how to apply theories of change to changing learning and teaching culture (initially in the framework of the iEarth/BioCEED course on “leading educational change”, but more and more beyond that, too). Kezar & Holcombe (2019) say we should use several theories of change simultaneously to make things happen, and Reinholz et al. (2021), describe the eight theories of change that are most commonly used in STEM, so the most pragmatic approach for me was to consider those eight. As I’ve been discussing and applying those theories of change in practice, my thinking about them has developed a bit, and so this is how they work in my head for now (also see figure above and below; it’s the same one).
As a general mindset, it is helpful to start out from what is good already (or at least kinda working) and use that to build upon, rather than tearing everything down and starting from scratch: This is the “Appreciative Inquiry” approach in a nutshell, and it makes sense intuitively, especially when the change isn’t coming from within (for myself, I kinda like the “forget everything and start from scratch” approach) but in the form of a boss, or an academic developer, or a teacher. This appreciative inquiry approach should be considered in the planning phase of any change, but also as a general principle throughout, so we keep building on what’s positive.
“Communities of Practice” is the framework feels most natural to me, and about which I’ve read the most, so this is how I naturally think about culture and changing culture. In a community of practice, people have a common interest which they practice together in a community. The community includes different legitimate roles: not everybody needs to participate and contribute equally or in the same way, or even be fully part of the community to be accepted and appreciate (see figure above/below). There are also legitimate trajectories, i.e. ways to increase or decrease involvement as new people enter or other people leave (see the people skiing into and out of the community in the figure). Objects foster exchange within (tuning fork in the figure) and across (book and violin in the figure) community boundaries, because they are manifestations of thoughts and practice that can be transferred, re-negotiated and modified according to whatever is needed.
Communities of practice have different stages from when they first form until they eventually die, and there are design principles that can help when cultivating communtities of practice, for example to make sure participation is voluntary, there is opportunity for dialogue within and across the communities’ boundaries, and the community is nurtured by someone facilitating regular interactions and new input. In this way, I think of communities of practice as a way to co-create learning and teaching situations, making sure everybody can play the role they would like to play — be who they want to become — and take on as much ownership of the community and the change as they want.
Other theories of change address different aspects that I want to integrate in and add to my thinking about communities of practice:
- What is it that motivates individuals to do things in the first place? Generally, people are more likely to act on something if they want it and it is likely they’ll get it (-> Expectancy Value). This is depicted in the figure above/below as the considerations one might have before joining a meeting: How much time will I spend there, and is that time commitment worth the outcome I expect? All other things being the same, coffee might make it more appealing to go.
- No matter how good an idea is, people are not equally likely to jump on an innovation right away. There are distinct stages of adaption, and different “types” of people are likely to adapt in different stages: Knowing about great new ideas does not make everybody want to try them out, so just letting people know is not going to convince everybody; many people might have to see successful ideas implemented by many others before they even consider them for themselves. (-> Diffusion of innovation)
- Teacher thinking about change related to what & how to teach, who to teach and teach with, and education in general, is influenced by different contexts. These contexts include the personal context (demographics, nature & extent of preparation to teach, types & length of teaching experience, types and length of continued learning, subject & general), system context (rules and regulations, traditions, expectations, schedules, available funding and materials, physical space, subject area), and the general context. (-> Teacher-Centered Systemic Reform)
- For a team to learn, the whole system needs to be considered: each individual needs to challenge their prejudices, assumptions, and mental models; and strive for personal growth and mastery, only then can a shared vision be developed and worked towards by a whole team. (-> Systems Theory)
- In addition to people (goals, needs, agency) and symbols (beliefs and ways to communicate them) similarly to what is described above, it is often helpful to consider structures (roles, routines, incentives), and power distribution (hierarchies, coalitions, …) (-> Four Frames)
Lastly, there are three stages a person or community must go through in order to change successfully: “unfreezing” in order to create motivation for change (e.g. by realising dissatisfaction, and by feeling relatively certain that change is possible), “changing” (cognitively redefining based on feedback), and “refreezing” (making sure that the new normal is congruent with how the person wants to see themself and with the community) what should stay. (-> Paulsen & Feldmann)
And here is all of that in one figure! And maybe this figure is not so useful as a boundary object to share ideas from my brain to yours, but at least it really helped me structuring my thinking, and I am more than happy to discuss!
Kezar, A., & Holcombe, E. (2019). Leveraging Multiple Theories of Change to Promote Reform: An Examination of the AAU STEM Initiative. Educational Policy. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1177/0895904819843594
Reinholz, D., White, I., & Andrews, T. (2021). Change theory in STEM higher education: a systematic review. International Journal of STEM Education, 8(37), 1 – 22. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1186/s40594-021-00291-2
I got permission to publish Kjersti Daae‘s iEarth conversation on teaching (with Torgny Roxå and myself in April 2021) on my blog! Thanks, Kjersti :-) Here we go:
I teach in an introductory course in meteorology and oceanography (GEOF105) at the geophysical institute, UiB. The students come from two different study programs:
Most students do the course in their third semester. They have not yet learned all the mathematics necessary to dive into the derivation of equations governing the ocean processes. Therefore, we focus on conceptual knowledge and understand the governing ideas regarding central ocean processes, such as global circulation and the influence of Earth’s rotation and wind on the ocean currents. The students need to learn how to describe the various processes and mechanisms included in the curriculum. I, therefore, use voting cards to promote student discussions during lectures.
I first heard about voting cards from Mirjam’s blog “Adventures in Oceanography and Teaching”. The method is relatively simple. You pose a question with four alternatives A,B,C,D, accompanied by different colours for easy recognition. The students have a printout each with the four letters on it.They spend a few minutes thinking about the question and prepare their answer. Then they fold their paper so that only one letter/colour shows, and hold it up and provide direct feedback to the teacher. The questions can, among others, be used to checking if the students understand a concept or let the students guess the outcome of something they haven’t learned yet.
However, I prefer to use voting cards to promote discussions among peers. This procedure is following the Think-pair-share method developed by Lyman (1981). By carefully selecting alternative answers, I can make it hard for the students to choose the correct answer, or the answers can be formulated so that the students can argue for more than one correct answer. When the students hold up their answers, they can look around at the other students’ responses and find someone with a different response than themselves. Then they can pair up and discuss why they answer differently and see if they can agree on one common answer before sharing their opinion with the rest of the class. During this exercise, the students practice talking about science and arguing for various answers/outcomes based on the voting cards’ questions.The exercises serve at least two purposes:
- The student practice answering/discussing relevant questions for the final exam.
- The students get active instead of listening passively to the lecturer.
Usually, I can see the students becoming very tired after 10-15 minutes of passive listening. These voting questions “wake up” the students, and after one such question, they tend to stay focused for another 10-15 minutes.
I think the voting cards work really well. When I display a question, the students usually move from a relaxed position to sitting more straight and preparing for being active. I can hear them discussing what they are supposed to. I also get very good feedback and responses in whole-class discussions/summaries following the discussions in pairs. Such summaries are especially interesting if multiple answers can be correct, depending on how the students argue. I can select responses from students based on their visible letters and make sure we can hear different solutions to the same question. During a semester, I see a clear development in the way students reflect on the various questions and express critical thinking governing oceanographic processes. The exercises show the students how important argumentation is. An answer with a well-founded argumentation and critical thinking is worth much more than just the answer/letter. My observation is consistent with Kaddoura (2013), who found that the think-pair-share method increased nursing students’ critical thinking.
Lyman, F. (1981). “The responsive classroom discussion.” In Anderson, A. S. (Ed.), Mainstreaming Digest, College Park, MD: University of Maryland College of Education.
Kaddoura, M. (2013). «Think Pair Share: A Teaching Learning Strategy to Enhance Students’ Critical Thinking», EducationalResearchQuarterly, v36 n4 p3-24
The first lecture I attended as a student wasn’t actually a regular lecture, even though I did not know that at the time. It was an intervention.
Together with about a hundred or so new students, I sat nervously in a lecture theatre in the physics department. I had enrolled in physical oceanography, which was taught together with meteorology, geophysics and physics for the first two years. I didn’t know anyone. Since my dad worked at the same university, I was pretty familiar with how universities work in general (which later turned out to be a huuuge advantage). And I wasn’t nervous about starting university itself, that was just something one did after school. But I was nervous about physics. I had stopped taking physics classes in highschool as soon as that was possible, and I had only taken the minimum required maths (both probably more to do with the teachers than the subjects themselves, but it’s sometimes hard to distinuish). But now, in order to become an oceanographer, I knew I would have to study physics together with people who wanted to become physicists, and who had a much better starting position than I had. Oh well.
The lecture started out with the professor arriving late, and then without any contextualising or welcoming us, or acknowledging that this was our first day at university, just starting going through content that — for all I understood — could have been chinese. He was just standing with the back towards us, scribbling on a blackboard so fast that it was impossible to take notes, mumbling something, and I did not have the faintest clue what was going on. I don’t know for how long it went on, but it felt like forever, and in any case it was long enough for me to feel like I had absolutely no chance to ever succeed there. Then, the professor started making weird and sexist remarks, and I started tuning out. This was not how I was going to spend the next couple of years. Then, at some point, a student asked a question and was rudely dismissed. But then another student spoke up, and another. And at some point — surprise! — we were told that this had not been a real lecture, that the professor was just an older student pranking us, and that also the students speaking up were older students playing a role, and that the whole purpose was to show us that we would have to learn to speak up when things didn’t go the way they were supposed to.
Why am I thinking about this now? In one of the recent iEarth teaching conversations, HC talked about something he had heard about how it was really helping students learn if they were given a really hard exercise right in the beginning. In that case, there wouldn’t be any “smart students” standing out and the not-as-smart students wouldn’t feel dumb, because everybody was equally lost (and the teacher would then help them through it to build confidence and grit and it would be all good, so it’s not the exact same story). But hearing about this triggered that memory of my first ever physics lecture, and I can feel the pit in my stomach now, 20 years later, thinking back to the feeling of definitely not belonging there, in that lecture theatre, in that department. Even though I had not thought about it in at least a decade, I don’t think it’s something I have ever fully gotten over, because even though this was meant as an intervention and the scenario was supposed to be much worse than anything we could ever possibly experience for real, there were many situations later on during my studies that were reminiscent of that experience. Only then, they were not pranks, and there was nobody there to resolve the situation for us, and clearly we hadn’t learned our lesson yet to resolve them ourselves. But each of those new situations seemed to confirm to me that at that very first day, I had been warned, and had ignored it, but that now was the time when I was going to be found out as not belonging. And this personal anecdote makes me feel really reluctant to start out a class with any kind of “intervention”.
P.S.: Looking back, what made me persist throughout all the physics and maths was a) that I REALLY wanted to become an oceanographer, so I just had to do what I had to do (and it turned out to be not as bad as I initially thought), and b) that there were two technicians, Rüdi and Manni, who always ran the experiments for the physics professors. They would be in the lecture theatre before the lectures started, setting up the experiments, and then clearing up after. And they were super friendly and approachable, and me and my friend and this one other guy started hanging out with them, asking them lots of questions, and learning more from them than from all the physics professors combined (or at least that was the case for me). And it’s for the first time today that I am putting together how important Rüdi und Manni were for me to feel like I did belong after all, maybe not to the people who wanted to be theoretical physicists like my friend, and for whom the mathematical derivations were enough (or made that much more sense that they didn’t feel the need for anything else, who knows?); but to a group of people who not only understood the phenomena, but in addition could show that they really existed in real life, could run demonstrations that the professors — despite all their theories — never dared touch. I had found my community, and even though it’s been 20 years and we’ve lost touch, maybe all my #KitchenOceanography goes back to those early experiences with Rüdi and Manni being the teachers the official teachers never were. Thank you! <3
Another iEarth Teaching Conversation with Kjersti Daae and Torgny Roxå, summarized by Mirjam Glessmer
“Transformative experiences” (Pugh et al., 2010) are those experiences that change the way a person looks at the world, so that they henceforth voluntarily engage in a new-to-them practice of sensemaking on this new topic, and perceive it as valuable. There are methods to facilitate transformative experiences for teaching purposes (Pugh et al., 2010), and discovering this felt like the theoretical framework I had been looking for for #WaveWatching just fell into my lap. But then Torgny asked the question in the title above. For many academics, seeing the world through new eyes, being asked questions they haven’t asked themselves before, discovering gaps in their argumentations, surrendering to a situation (Pugh 2011), engaging in sensemaking (Odden and Russ, 2019), being part of a community of practice (Wenger, 2011) is fun. Not in all contexts and on all topics, of course, but at least in many contexts. But can we assume it’s the same for students?
In order to feel that you want to take on a challenge in which you don’t know whether or not you’ll succeed, a crucial condition is that you believe that your intelligence and your skills can be developed (Dweck, 2015). A growth mindset can be cultivated by the kind of feedback we give students (Dweck, 2015). The scaffolding (Wood et al., 1976) we provide, and the opportunities for creating artefacts as tangible proof of learning* can support this. But how do we get students to engage in the first place?
One approach, the success of which I have anecdotal evidence for, could be to use surprising gimmicks like a DIY fortune teller or a paper clip to be shaped into a spinning top to raise intrigue, if not for the topic itself right away, then for something that will later be related to the topic, hoping that the engagement with the object can be transferred to the topic.
Another approach, which also aligns with my personal experience, might be to let students experience the relevance of a situation vicariously, infecting students with the teacher’s enthusiasm for a topic (Hodgson, 2005). However, Torgny raised the point that sometimes the (overly?) enthusiastic teacher themselves could become the subject of student fascination, thus diverting attention from the topic they wanted the students to engage with.
A third way might be to point out alignment of tasks with the students’ own goals & identities. Growth mindset interventions can increase domain-specific desire to learn (Burette et al., 2020), identity interventions increase the likelihood of engagement, for example targeting physics identity (Wulff et al., 2018). Goal-setting intervention can improve academic performance (Morisano et al., 2010).
I want to relate these three ideas to feelings of competence, relatedness and autonomy, which are the three basic requirements for intrinsic motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2017), but I am sadly out of space. But I think that self-determination theory is a useful lens to keep in mind when developing teaching.
- Burnette, J. L., Hoyt, C. L., Russell, V. M., Lawson, B., Dweck, C. S., & Finkel, E. (2020). A growth mind-set intervention improves interest but not academic performance in the field of computer science. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 11(1), 107-116.
- Dweck, C. (2015). Carol Dweck revisits the growth mindset. Education Week, 35(5), 20-24.
- Hodgson, V. 2005. Lectures and the experience or relevance. In Experience of learning: Implications for teaching and studying in higher education, F. Marton, D. Hounsell, and N. Entwistle, vol. 3, 159–71. Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh, Centre for Teaching, Learning and Assessment
- Odden, T. O. B., & Russ, R. S. (2019). Defining sensemaking: Bringing clarity to a fragmented theoretical construct. Science Education, 103(1), 187-205.
- Morisano, D., Hirsh, J. B., Peterson, J. B., Pihl, R. O., & Shore, B. M. (2010). Setting, elaborating, and reflecting on personal goals improves academic performance.Journal of Applied Psychology, 95(2), 255–264. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0018478
- Pugh, K. J., Linnenbrink-Garcia, L., Koskey, K. L., Stewart, V. C., & Manzey, C. (2010). Teaching for transformative experiences and conceptual change: A case study and evaluation of a high school biology teacher’s experience. Cognition and Instruction, 28(3), 273-316.
- Pugh, K. J. (2011). Transformative experience: An integrative construct in the spirit of Deweyan pragmatism. Educational Psychologist, 46(2), 107-121.
- Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2017). Self-determination theory: Basic psychological needs in motivation, development, and wellness. New York: Guilford
- Wenger, E. (2011). Communities of practice: A brief introduction.
- Wood, D., Bruner, J. S., & Ross, G. (1976). The role of tutoring in problem solving. Journal of child psychology and psychiatry, 17(2), 89-100.
- Wulff, P., Hazari, Z., Petersen, S., & Neumann, K. (2018). Engaging young women in physics: An intervention to support young women’s physics identity development. Physical Review Physics Education Research, 14(2), 020113.
*Very nice example by Kjersti: Presenting students (or fathers-in-laws) with a few simple ideas about rotating fluid dynamics enables them to combine the ideas to draw a schematic of the Hadley cell circulation. Which is a lot more engaging and satisfying that being presented with a schematic and someone talking you through it. If you are willing to surrender to the experience in the first place…
I was reading an article on “active learning” by Lombardi et al. (2021), when the sentence “In undergraduate geoscience, Pugh et al. (2019) found that students who made observations of the world and recognized how they might be explained by concepts from their classes were more likely to stay in their major than those who do not report this experience” jumped at me. Something about observing the world and connecting it to ideas from class was so intriguing, that I had to go down that rabbit hole and see where this statement was coming from, and if it might help me as a theoretical framework for thinking about #WaveWatching (which I’ve been thinking about a lot since the recent teaching conversation).
Going into that Pugh et al. (2019) article, I learned about a concept called “transformative experience”, which I followed back to Pugh (2011): A transformative experience happens when students see the world with new eyes, because they start connecting concepts from class with their real everyday lives. There is quote at the beginning of that article which reminds me very much of what people say about wave watching (except that in the quote the person talks about clouds): that once they’ve started seeing pattern because they understood that what they look at isn’t chaotic but can be explained, they cannot go back to just looking at the beauty of it without questioning why it came to be that way. They now feel the urge to make sense of the pattern they see, everytime they come across anything related to the topic.
This is described as the three characteristics of transformative experiences:
- they are done voluntarily out of intrinsic motivation (meaning that the application of class concepts is not required by the teacher or some other authority),
- they expand peception (when the world is now seen through the subject’s lens and looks different than before), and
- they have experiential value (meaning the person experiencing them perceives them as adding value to their lives).
And it turns out that facilitating such transformative experiences might well be what distinguishes schools with higher student retention from those with lower student retention in Pugh et al.’s 2019 study!
But how can we, as teachers, facilitate transformative experiences? Going another article further down the rabbit hole to Pugh et al. (2010), this is how!
The “Teaching for Transformative Experiences” model consists of three methods acting together:
- framing content in a way that the “experiential value” becomes clear, meaning making an effort to explain the value that perceiving the world in such a way adds to our lives. This can be done by expressing the feelings it evokes or usefulness that it adds. For #WaveWatching, I talk about how much I enjoy the process, but also how making sense of an aspect of the world that first seemed chaotic is both satisfying and calming to me. But framing in terms of the value of the experience can also be done by metaphors, for example about the tales that rocks, trees, or coastlines could tell. Similarly, when I speak about “kitchen oceanography”, I hope that it raises curiosity about how we can learn about the ocean in a kitchen.
- scaffolding how students look at the world by helping them change lenses step by step, i.e. “re-seeing”, for example by pointing out specific features, observing them together, talking through observations or providing opportunities to share and discuss observations (so pretty much my #WaveWatching process!).
- modeling transformative experiences, i.e. sharing what and how we perceive our own transformative experiences, in order to show students that it’s both acceptable and desirable to see the world in a certain way, and communicate about it. I do this both in person as well as whenever I post about #WaveWatching online.
So it seems that I have been creating transformative experiences with #WaveWatching all this time without knowing it! Or at least that this framework works really well to describe the main features of #WaveWatching.
Obviously I have only just scratched the literature on transforming experiences, but I have a whole bunch of articles open on my desktop already, about case studies of facilitating transformative experiences in teaching. And I cannot wait to dig in and find out what I can learn from that research and apply it to improve #WaveWatching! :)
Lombardi, D., Shipley, T. F., & Astronomy Team, Biology Team, Chemistry Team, Engineering Team, Geography Team, Geoscience Team, and Physics Team. (2021). The curious construct of active learning. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 22(1), 8-43.
Pugh, K. J., Phillips, M. M., Sexton, J. M., Bergstrom, C. M., & Riggs, E. M. (2019). A quantitative investigation of geoscience departmental factors associated with the recruitment and retention of female students. Journal of Geoscience Education, 67(3), 266-284.
Pugh, K. J. (2011). Transformative experience: An integrative construct in the spirit of Deweyan pragmatism. Educational Psychologist, 46(2), 107-121.
Pugh, K. J., Linnenbrink-Garcia, L., Koskey, K. L., Stewart, V. C., & Manzey, C. (2010). Teaching for transformative experiences and conceptual change: A case study and evaluation of a high school biology teacher’s experience. Cognition and Instruction, 28(3), 273-316.
One question came up after I had written up my one-pager on the iEarth “teaching conversation”: Why “cognitive apprenticeship”?
Over the years, I made a couple of observations across several universities in three countries:
- Students learn a lot of factual, conceptual and formalized procedural knowledge, working mainly on textbook data and problems. They often have difficulties transferring knowledge and skills to messy authentic tasks, and they are not given many opportunities to practice applying them to real-world contexts (at least not before their Bachelor/Master projects).
- There are not many opportunities for students to engage with teachers informally, meaning that there is a perceived artificial distance that creates a threshold for engagement, and students have little access to potential role models.
- Relationships between students and teachers are often confined to the duration of a course, therefore short-lived (unless students work for that specific teacher or write a thesis with them).
- Teachers often don’t share their thought processes explicitly for students to learn from, and similarly in a science communication setting, scientists don’t often make their thought processes transparent to their audience.
- For many people, the threshold to engage in sensemaking of the physics of a system, both by themselves and in conversation with others, seems very high.
- With courses being almost exclusively online since March 2020 where I am at, studying has become a lonely practice and it is difficult to build an identity if communities and role models are not easily available.
Personally, I enjoy deep exchange about what other people observe and how they interpret it, and my own observations and interpretations, leading to the shared construction of a common understanding. When I first started #WaveWatching, I was in a job in a non-oceanography context, and was missing such conversations on ocean topics. Due to the nature of my job, I could not as easily access them in the usual ways (office mates, coffee breaks, seminars, conferences) and thus had to create my own space and community. Now, I want to extend the invitation to join me in this, both to students and in a science outreach context, to share my fascination with water and the fun of a shared sensemaking process.
I retrospectively described the model I chose for #WaveWatching as “cognitive apprenticeship” as defined by Collins et al., 1988, which I summarize here and refer to my points above (in brackets): Cognitive apprenticeship places a strong focus on strategic knowledge, e.g. expert problem-solving and learning strategies (1.). This focus becomes evident in the attempt to give students “the opportunity to observe, engage in, and invent or discover expert strategies in context” (1., 2.), situated in the real world (1.), by using six teaching methods: modelling (4.), coaching (5.), scaffolding (5.), articulating, reflecting, exploring. These methods are used in sequences going towards more complex, more diverse, and from global towards more local skills, with students owning the problems they work on and choosing an appropriate level of difficulty (5.). All of this is embedded in the social context of “a learning environment in which the participants actively communicate about, and engage in, the skills involved in expertise, where expertise is understood as the practice of solving problems and carrying out tasks in a domain.”
The community of practice around #WaveWatching extends far beyond individual classes I teach. Many of it happens online on social media, welcoming everybody to engage with it (2., 3., 6.). Even though I was initially strongly involved in using, and thus gathering a community around, the hashtag, there are now many people engaged in the domain of the physics of surface waves, engaging in the shared practice of trying to understand what is going on, both in situ and on pictures shared within the community: A community of practice has formed. Due to its virtual nature, the threshold for engagement is as low as snapping a picture and pasting it with the hashtag, and people in the community will start discussing about what can and cannot be deduced from the photo.
What I did not consider witing all of this is that the term “apprenticeship” might evoke images of strong hierarchies, of “the master being The Master”, even though I totally see it now, after it has been pointed out to me. To me, what the term brings to mind is a community of learners, that have a common interest (waves) engage in a shared practice (wave watching). In that way, the apprenticeship model is about “the master” (or teacher) making sure that new members are welcomed in the community and connected to everybody that can help them thrive, about creating a community of practice than about the apprenticeship model itself. Which is, coincidally, where the idea of a “community of practice” originated (Wenger, 2011).
Super interesting to ponder these questions and the implicit assumptions that come with using terminology and that can really confuse us if we don’t manage to catch them and make them explicit!
iEarth is currently establishing the new-to-me format of “teaching conversations”, where two or more people meet to discuss specific aspects of one person’s teaching in a “critical friend” setting. Obviously I volunteered to be grilled, and despite me trying to suggest other topics, too (like the active lunch break and the “nerd topic” intro in a workshop), we ended up talking about … #WaveWatching. Not that I’m complaining ;-)
After the conversation, I wrote up the main points as a one-pager, which I am sharing below. Thank you, Kjersti and Torgny, for an inspiring conversation!
I use #WaveWatching in introductory courses in oceanography and in science outreach both on social media and in in-person guided tours. #WaveWatching is the practice of looking at water and trying to make sense of why its surface came to look the way it does: What caused the waves (e.g. wind, ships, animals)? How did the coastline influence the waves (e.g. shelter it from wind in some places, or block entrance into a basin from certain directions, or cause reflection)? What processes must be involved that we cannot directly observe (e.g. interactions with a very shallow area or a current)? Kjersti Daae (pers. comm.) suggests an analogy to explain #WaveWatching: Many people enjoy a stir-fry for its taste, like we enjoy looking at water, glittering in the sun, without questioning what makes it special. But once we start focusing on noticing different ingredients and the ways they are prepared, it is a small change in perspective that changes our perception substantially, and leads to a new appreciation and deeper understanding of all future stir-fries (and possibly other dishes) we will encounter.
I teach #WaveWatching using a cognitive apprenticeship leaning (Collins et al., 1988) approach*: By drawing on photos of selected wave fields (in the field using a drawing app on a tablet), I model my own sensemaking (Odden & Russ, 2019). I coach students to engage in the process, and slowly fade myself out. Students then engage in #WaveWatching practice anywhere they find water – in the sink, a puddle in the street, a lake, the ocean. Since waves are universally accessible, this works perfectly as hyper-local “excursions” in virtual teaching: Students work “in the field” right outside their homes.
Waves are not an integral part of the general curriculum in physical oceanography. While some wave processes are relevant for specific research questions, for typical large-scale oceanography they are not. And the concepts used in #WaveWatching are not even new to students, they are just an application of high-school optics to a new context.
Nevertheless, #WaveWatching helps work towards several goals that are important to me:
- Using “authentic data” acts as motivation to engage with theory because the connection with the real world makes it feel more interesting and engaging (Kjelvik & Schultheis, 2019).
- Engaging in sensemaking and gaining experience on what can (and cannot!) be concluded from an observation are highly relevant skills and this is an opportunity for practice.
- Building an identity as oceanographer – seeing the world through a new lens, joining a community of practice (Wenger, 2011), but also being able to demonstrate newfound expertise and identity to friends and family outside of that new community by talking about this new lens – are otherwise rare in socially distant times.
After being exposed to #WaveWatching, people tell me that they can’t look at water in the same way they did before. They are now seeing pattern they never noticed, and they try to explain them or ask themselves what I would see. They often send me photos of their observation years after our last interaction, and ask if I agree with their interpretations. #WaveWatching might thus be a threshold concept, “a portal, opening up a new and previously inaccessible way of thinking about something” and where “the change of perspective […] is unlikely to be forgotten” (Meyer & Land, 2003).
- Collins, A., Brown, J. S., & Newman, S. E. (1988). Cognitive apprenticeship: Teaching the craft of reading, writing and mathematics. Thinking: The Journal of Philosophy for Children, 8(1), 2-10.
- Kjelvik, M. K., & Schultheis, E. H. (2019). Getting messy with authentic data: Exploring the potential of using data from scientific research to support student data literacy. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 18(2), es2.
- Meyer, J. H. F., and Land, R. (2003) “Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge: Linkages to Ways of Thinking and Practising” in Improving Student Learning: Ten Years On. C. Rust (Ed), OCSLD, Oxford.
- Odden, T. O. B., & Russ, R. S. (2019). Defining sensemaking: Bringing clarity to a fragmented theoretical construct. Science Education, 103(1), 187-205.
- Wenger, E. (2011). Communities of practice: A brief introduction.
*more on that in this post (that comes online on 21.5.2021).
On Thursday, I attended a workshop by Ivar Nordmo, in which he talked about two metaphors of learning: “learning as acquisition” and “learning as participation”. He referred to an article by Sfard (1998), and here is my take-away from the combination of both.
When we talk about new (or new-to-us) concepts, we often describe them with words that have previously been used in other contexts. As we bring the words into a new domain, their meaning might change a little, but the first assumption will be that the new concept we describe by those old words is, indeed, described by those words carrying the same old, familiar meaning.
When concepts are described by metaphors that developed in a different context, or are commonly used in different contexts, an easy assumption is that all their properties are transferrable between contexts. On the one hand that makes it easy to quickly grasp new contexts, on the other hand that easy assumption is most likely not entirely correct, which can lead us to misunderstanding the new concept if we don’t examine our implicit assumptions. And usually we don’t stop to consider whether the words we are using that were borrowed from a different context, are actually leading our thinking on a separate context without us realizing that this might not be appropriate.
The way we think about learning, for example, depends on the language we use to conceptualize it, and there are two metaphores who lead to substantially different ways of understanding learning, with far-reaching consequences.
Learning as acquisition
Learning is commonly defined as “gaining knowledge”. Facts or concepts are building blocks of knowledge that we acquire, accumulate, and construct meaning from. We can test whether people posess knowledge or skills (we might even be able to assess someone’s potential based on their performance). Someone might have a wealth of knowledge. They might be providing teaching and knowledge to someone else, who is receiving instruction and might share it with others. We can transfer knowledge to different applications. We might be academically gifted. In all these cases, we gain posession of something.
We think of knowledge as something we posess, intellectual property rights clearly assign ownership to ideas, and stealing ideas is a serious offence. As any other expression of wealth, knowledge is guarded and passed on from parents to children, or maybe shared as a special favor, making access to those from less knowledge-affluent circles difficult. It is perfectly fine to admit to wanting to accumulate knowledge just for the fun of it, without intending to use it for anything, same as it is socially accepted to get rich without considering what that money could and maybe should be used for.
Learning as participation
Changing the language we use to talk about things might also change how we think about the things themselves.
An alternative metaphor to “learning as aquisition” is “learning as participation”. In that metaphor, learning is described as a process that happens in specific contexts and without a clear end point. The focus then is on communicating in the language that a community communicates in, in taking part in the community’s rituals, but simultaneously influencing the community’s language and rituals in a shared negotiation with the goal of building community.
When learning is about participation, it is not a private property but a shared activity. This means that the status that, in the acquisition metaphor, comes with being knowledge-rich, is now gone. Actions can be successful or failures, but that does not make the actors inherently smart or stupid. They can act one way in one context on a given day, and could act differently at any time.
While the participation metaphor brings up all the positive associations of a growth mindsets on the individual level and equal access to learning in society, it is hard to imagine it without preserving parts of the acquisition metaphor. If knowledge is not something we possess within us, how can we even bring it from one situation into the next? How do individual learning biographies contribute to the shared activities? Can someone still be a teacher and someone else a learner?
I find considering these two metaphors really eye-opening as to how much the language we use shapes how we think about the world. Which I was aware of for example in the debate on how to use gender-neutral language, but which I never applied to learning before.
The recommendation by Sfard (1998) is not to choose one metaphor, but to carefully consider what is inadvertently implied by the language we use. Meaning transported in metaphors between domains might be buried so deeply that we are unaware of it, yet it can lead us to think about one domain wrongly and unknowingly assuming properties or causalities from a completely different domain, and to making sense in that second domain based on a faulty, assumed understanding. So awareness of the metaphors we use, and reflexion on what that does to our thinking, is not only useful but neccessary.
I don’t claim to have gotten far with these thoughts yet, but it was definitely eye-opening!
Sfard, A. (1998). On two metaphors for learning and the dangers of choosing just one. Educational researcher, 27(2), 4-13.