Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Two approaches to the study of experts' characteristics

(2006) in Charness, N., Feltovich, P, & Hoffman, R. (Eds.) Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Chi, Michelene T.H.
This chapter differentiates two approaches to the study of expertise, which I call the "absolute approach" and the "relative approach," and what each implies for how expertise is assessed. It then summarizes the characteristics ways in which experts excel and the ways that they sometimes seem to fall short of common expectations.

Brief Summary:
Chi defines two approaches to defining expertise. In the "absolute approach" expertise is conceptualized as being a property of exceptional individuals who have some unique or perhaps innate talent. In the "relative approach" expertise is conceptualized in terms of comparing experts to novices. This conceptualization assumes that novices can become experts--that expertise can be learned. It is this latter approach that is particularly useful in educational terms, I think. As Chi states, "the goal [in the relative approach] is to understand how experts became that way so that others can learn to become more skilled and knowledgeable" (p. 23).

Chi goes on to identify ways in which experts excel, and ways in which they "fall short." Experts excel in the following ways: they generate the best solution, they can detect and see features that novices cannot, they spend a great deal of time analyzing problems qualitatively and develop problem representations by adding constraints within their area of expertise, they have more accurate self-monitoring skills, they are more successful at choosing appropriate strategies, they are more opportunistic that novices, and they can retrieve relevant knowledge with minimal cognitive effort. Of these characteristics, the one that is most important in my work is the ability of experts to choose appropriate strategies. I also think that the third feature--analyzing problems and situations qualitatively and applying constraints--is particular important to consider when educating teachers with the aim of helping them develop expertise. This characteristics get at the context dependence and importance of constraints on teaching situations, and their influence on strategic choice. Clearly, these characteristics of experts are not independent.

According to Chi, ways in which experts "fall short" include the fact that their knowledge is domain-limited, they can be overly confident, they sometimes fail to recall surface features and overlook details, their expertise is context-dependent within a domain, they sometimes have trouble adapting, they can be inaccurate in their prediction of novices' performance, and they can exhibit bias. In some ways, this list has more implications for thinking about expertise is teaching. For example, The idea of expert knowledge being domain-limited, and the idea that their expertise is context-dependent within a domain give rise to my dissertation research questions: What is the nature of the interaction between teaching knowledge and content knowledge? Specifically, should surveys of science teacher practice be couched within "science" or within specific scientific domains (e.g. physics, biology, etc)? Another of these characteristics that teacher educators should pay particular attention to is the idea that experts often predict novice performance inaccurately. This idea should be troubling to any teacher. Consider a physics teacher (who may be an expert problem solver) not being able to accurately predict the performance of their students. Given what we know about teaching and learning, and more specifically about formative assessment, this teacher would not be very effective.

Much has been written about expertise or expert/novice differences. This short piece by Chi provides a nice introduction and some good discussion points.

Content Knowledge for Teaching: What makes it special?

(2008) Journal of Teacher Education, v. 59, no. 5, 389-407

Deborah Loewenberg Ball
Mark Hoover Thames
Geoffrey Phelps
University of Michigan
This article reports the authors’ efforts to develop a practice-based theory of content knowledge for teaching built on Shulman’s (1986) notion of pedagogical content knowledge. As the concept of pedagogical content knowledge caught on, it was in need of theoretical development, analytic clarification, and empirical testing. The purpose of the study was to investigate the nature of professionally oriented subject matter knowledge in mathematics by studying actual mathematics teaching and identifying mathematical knowledge for teaching based on analyses of the mathematical problems that arise in teaching. In conjunction, measures of mathematical knowledge for teaching were developed. These lines of research indicate at least two empirically discernible subdomains within pedagogical content knowledge (knowledge of content and students and knowledge of content and teaching) and an important subdomain of “pure” content knowledge unique to the work of teaching, specialized content knowledge, which is distinct from the common content knowledge needed by teachers and nonteachers alike. The article concludes with a discussion of the next steps needed to develop a useful theory of content knowledge for teaching.
Keywords: mathematics; teacher knowledge; pedagogical content knowledge

Brief Summary:
Deborah Ball and her colleagues have been working for some time to further explicate teachers' content knowledge for teaching, and have helped to shed some light on the often invoked but somewhat ethereal notion of pedagogical content knowledge (PCK; Shulman, 1986). In this piece, the authors state what I have come to understand through my work in this area over the past few years: "the filed has made little progress on Shulman's initial charge: to develop a coherent theoretical framework for content knowledge for teaching" (p. 394). Researchers often cite and implicitly agree (without explication) on the idea that teachers must have some "deep understanding" of their subject area that is unique to the teacher and not necessarily understood by the content area expert. But what that understanding looks like and how it relates to teachers' pedagogical knowledge is not well understood. "Instead of taking pedagogical content knowledge as given, however, we argue that there is a need to carefully map it and measure it" (p. 404). This is, in part, the aim of my work with the Flexible Application of Student-Centered Instruction (FASCI) survey.

The research program of Ball and her colleagues is focused on defining the nature of content knowledge for teaching in a methodologically precise manner (e.g. see work on the Mathematical Knowledge for Teaching (MKT) measures and associated validity arguments in the special issue of Measurement: Interdisciplinary Research and Perspectives, vol.5 issue 2-3, 2007). In defining two empirically discernible subdomains within PCK (knowledge of content and students, and knowledge of content and teaching), and the subdomain of content knowledge--common content knowledge--this work helps to map out what PCK is and how it could be more useful.

In the conclusion, a three-fold rationale is presented for this work: helping to discover which aspects of teacher knowledge are predictive of student achievement, how different approaches to teacher development have an effect of these aspects of teacher knowledge, and third, how a better definition of these knowledge constructs and sub-constructs may inform teacher education and professional development. The last of these is a particularly motivating factor for my own work in this area.

Reviving my blog: A new direction

Since my blog has been inactive for quite some time now, I think it's time to define a new focus in order to spur some activity again. Before, I had been blogging about any thoughts and ideas I had about education, education research, teacher education, and technology in education. What I'd like to do now is focus on one of those things: education research.

My idea is to present brief summaries and abstracts for research articles that I'm reading related to my dissertation and other education research work. What I'm envisioning would be quite similar to what Reidar Mosvold does in the field of Mathematics Education Research in his blog. Of course, my focus will be on science education and teacher education, with a smattering of measurement pieces if necessary.

If this all goes to plan, what you'll see over the following months is a sort of annotated bibliography related to my research areas. I'm hoping this will generate some discussion and also help me to make explicit and public my research interests.