Expertise, objectives and pedagogies

I while back I read Harry Collins’ and Robert Evans’ book Rethinking Expertise. The website blurb says:

What does it mean to be an expert? In Rethinking Expertise, Harry Collins and Robert Evans offer a radical new perspective on the role of expertise in the practice of science and the public evaluation of technology.

Collins and Evans present a Periodic Table of Expertises based on the idea of tacit knowledge—knowledge that we have but cannot explain.

The core of that “Periodic Table” is a range of ways of knowing about things that runs from “beer mat knowledge” to “contributory expertise”:

Text, left to right: Beer mat knowledge, popular understanding, primary source knowledge, interactional expertise, contributory expertise.
Collins’ and Evans’ spectrum of expertise

Beer mat knowledge is the sort of information that may be learnt from a “did you know” snippet on the back of a beer mat, useful for pub quizzes, but disconnected from any other knowledge; popular understanding is what might be gained through reading popular science books or watching documentaries; primary source knowledge requires understanding original papers in a field; interactional expertise is the ability to talk to other experts, requiring a knowledge how the published literature fits with the excepted paradigms and current developments in a field; and contributory expertise is enough expertise to advance the field one self.

Pyramid with text, top to bottom: remembering, understanding, applying, analysing, evaluating, creating
Blooms Taxonomy, revised

It always struck me that there was a congruence between this spectrum and Blooms taxonomy. At least at the extremes, mastery at “Beer mat” level requires no more than remembering, contributory expertise is about creating. In between the match isn’t one-to-one, but there is some overlap.

Reading about pedagogies this week while preparing for teaching, it struck me that there is another mapping that could be made. The first three of Collins’ and Evans’ classes could all be learnt in isolation, that is by reading books or watching films; the other two require, by definition, interaction with other people. So this seems to map to the three perspectives of pedagogy presented by Terry Mayes and Sara De Freitas[1]:
the associationist perspective: learning as an accumulation of skills
the cognitive perspective: learning as a process of building mental models making sense of concepts
the situative perspective: learning in the context of social interactions.

Odd, that it is the situative perspective that I struggle most with understanding, yet the social aspects of interactional can contributory expertises were ones that made immediate sense to me as someone who has worked as a physicist on a subject (polymer science) that showed the differences between physicists and chemists, and who went on to learn the different between physicists and engineers by working with engineers.

1. Terry Mayes and Sarah de Freitas Review of e-learning theories, frameworks and models (pdf). Stage 2 of the JISC e-Learning Models Desk Study. Also see Helen Beetham and Rhona Sharppe (eds.) Rethinking Pedagogy in a Digital Age (1st ed), chapter 2 Learning and e-learning: the role of theory.

1 thought on “Expertise, objectives and pedagogies

  1. The same thought occurred to me when I read Rethinking Expertise about 18 months ago and I feel that this approach merits further consideration.

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