Am I an expert?

I heard Allison Littlejohn give the opening keynote at the JISC Using Learning Resources event a couple of days ago. Thank you Allison for such a thought provoking presentation, and especially for allowing time for discussion afterwards. Sheila has written a summary of that meeting, including Allison’s presentation.

One reference that caught my attention was to the book Rethinking Expertise by Harry Collins and Robert Evans, which coincidentally I had just finished reading. The book is centred around a “periodic table of expertise” listing, among other things, a spectrum of levels of expertise from “beer mat” knowledge of disconnected facts up to the level of expertise needed to contribute to research on a topic. The novel idea in the book was that it is possible to have “interactional expertise”, which is the ability to talk sensibly to domain experts about a topic (e.g. gravitational wave physics) without being able to make a contribution. It is implied that this level of expertise would be useful in the management of projects and setting of public policy that have scientific or technical elements (and yes, the idea that “experts” might have more sensible things to say about technical topics is apparently contentious).

I found this interesting because I have always flinched when called an expert on X, but perhaps I can be happier if all that is required is interactional expertise. Certainly, interactional expertise in each others domains is a requirement for making a venture like educational technology truly inter-disciplinary (which it needs to be) rather than a disconnected set of specialisms.

Rethinking Expertise is reviewed more fully in the Times Higher and drafts of the first two chapters are available from Harry Collins’s publications page.

2 thoughts on “Am I an expert?

  1. The value of interactional expertise is relevant to innovation in a “post-scientific” society according to the article at and resonates well with arguments from Stafford Beer (and others) that holism is necessary to manage the complexity of the modern world.

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