This is my first post for SI 643, Professional Practice in Libraries and Information Centers. For the rest of the semester, I’ll be keeping a weekly record of my thoughts, questions, feelings and more as they relate to the readings and exercises in this class.
The first week’s readings were the first two chapters of How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School (Committee on Developments in the Science of Learning [CDSL], 2000). These chapters gave a building-block overview of recent research on learning, especially as this research relates to the development of professional competencies and expertise, and how experts differ from novices in both their knowledge and learning styles. Having done a good bit of reading in developmental psychology already, I was already familiar with many of the core constructivist concepts. However, it is always interesting to me to reflect on these concepts in a a new setting. My experience so far here at SI is a very good “new setting” for reflecting on these issues, as I have been taking a number of classes here at SI on technology, especially programming and web-design classes. These topics were all very new to me as I entered SI, and, while I still would consider myself a novice with regard to most of these technologies, I feel that I am moving towards expertise in some of them, and can thereby judge how my knowledge is changing, as well as how the instruction I’ve received has helped (or hindered) this growth.
Last semester (Fall 2011), I took the “Drupal” classes here at SI (SI634 and 635, which are technically on Content Management Systems in general, but in practice focus on Drupal). This was a totally unfamiliar technology to me, though I had done a bit of work in WordPress previously. More unfamiliar, though, was the second class (635), which was on the “customization” of Drupal sites, and required a good deal of programming in PHP, which was very new to me at the time. The earlier tech classes I took at SI seemed to emphasize the “rote learning” idea and include a lot of mimicry (euphemism for “copy and past what I do”). This seemed odd to me, as I didn’t feel that I was “learning to think like a programmer” but that I was learning to take what programmers had done and modify slightly for my purposes. However, in this most recent tech class, I felt like the teaching style was moving more towards a style which was attempting to develop expertise in the students. Students were expected, for the most part, to find answers (or sources to answer) their own questions, and projects/assignments were more open. Instead of “Follow these steps that you’ve followed all year to design your final site” the attitude was more of a “You’ve learned all the steps, you have an idea for a creation, now put the two together.”
This process is interesting to look at from the perspective offered in these first two chapters, because I feel myself moving from an intellectual space, where, like the novice physics students, I am just trying to apply rules and formulas and templates I have memorized to problems where they might not fit, and into a space where I understand the shape and needs of the problem at hand, and, even if I don’t know the template/etc. that fits the problem, I understand the concept enough to find an answer or a path to answer in the resources/community available to me.
All of this reminds me, too, of my earlier education. I went to elementary/middle/high school at places that most definitely emphasized the “don’t get caught not knowing something” norm (CDSL, 2000). Mistakes were not encouraged, and achievement (but not necessarily innovation) was celebrated. After recently reading Made by Hand (Frauenfelder, 2011), I found myself lamenting this lack of “mistake acceptance” in my past education. As Frauenfelder points out, it is this fear of mistakes that keeps most people from achieving a truly deep and intimate knowledge of the subject they are engaged with. “Don’t get caught not knowing something” needs to be changed to a more socratic “only by admitting you don’t know something can you gain real knowledge.” With this in mind, I have made it my goal for this final semester at SI to make as many mistakes as I reasonably can.