So, in my last post I talked about how I was making some connections on the “assessment” front between many of the things I’ve done in the past (assessing and/or studying others) and what I’m picking up from the lessons of SI 643 (assessing/studying myself and my practice). Now, its clear that assessing others is still an irreplaceable part of our professional practice; if we don’t know how to assess others, how can we know if our lessons are really making any difference? Well, as folks have been finding for many years now (but the folks behind standardized tests still don’t seem to pick), we can’t just assess whether or not people memorize facts in their learning. These memories will not only be extremely contextualized (and thereby stuck in that context), but they will probably fade fairly quickly and won’t be able to stick in the learner’s long-term memory. The readings for this week discussed one thing we do need to assess to get a good picture of what kind of learning has taken place: transfer.
Now, much like my previous post, this issue of transfer connects very well to previous learning I’ve done (look at all that connection building!). Last semester, I took SI 688 – Fundamentals of Human Behavior. In that course, we discussed human behavior and cognition and how they related to user interface and experience design. This issue of transfer also came up in that class – users all have different levels of experience and different cultures and practices they bring to your interface, and therefore they will all interpret and learn your software in different ways based on these different backgrounds. At the same time, the mission for many user experience designers sounds a lot like how Wiggins and McTighe (2008) describe the “mission of high school”: “to help learners become thoughtful about, and productive with, content.” Designers don’t necessarily just want to make a great widget – they want to make a widget that users can connect to, can learn from, and can be more productive with – they want a widget that users will integrate fully into their lives.
Obviously, we want the same for our learners. We want them to become better, more productive, and more thoughtful people through our instruction – and we want that learning to become fully integrated into their lives. We never want to be the person who taught the stuff that was forgotten right after the semester ended. I think this integration into the learner’s life is a good place to stop and think for a bit: designers want to make a product that can be integrated into many facets of a person’s life, even if it starts out by solving a niche need. This pursuit of a useful widget is helped by the fact that humans are just tool-loving creatures – as is pointed out in How People Learn, there is a pretty large emphasis on using tools to solve problems in the real world. There is also, for many people, a tendency to use tools in unique ways (after all, again, we are tool lovers). So if I make a well-designed product that solves niche need but leaves itself open to connect other areas of a user’s life, it is going to get used in those other ways.
When teaching science or math, or even English, there have been a number of methods (some of which are discussed in How People Learn) proposed for how to integrate “real life” and the curriculum teachers are required to teach students. I have seen, however, little on this front when it comes to library learning and information literacy, which are, arguably, far more important to the future success of learners. Too often it seems clear that students are only learning library techniques to be able to pass their class (or even just write a paper sometimes). It is important that these students learn how the library and its resources (whether school, public, academic, or whatever else) can connect to their lives. With so much information at everyone’s fingertips all the time nowadays, it seems that information literacy skills are almost as important as traditional literacy skills – but where is the connection to real life being made? This connection seems obvious, but I still am not hearing about it as much as I should…this will be my thought and my query over the next week.