misassessing excellence

27 02 2009

in a poorly titled article on academicleadership.org, wolf kozel presents and very interesting summary of literature related to what academic excellence, genius, and the dominant learning paradigm of the past have to say about what makes a quality leader.  in a dynamic systems view of leadership, talent and intelligence, kozel presents a wide range of research finding which indicate that how we evaluate academic success and project intellectual success have little to do with actual life success and the ability to create and lead.

For example, he cites research that shows that dyslexics are over-represented amongst corporate CEO’s:

According to Sally Shaywitz, a neurobiologist at Harvard university, dyslexics are over-represented among the top rank of CEOs and achievers (Morris, Munoz & Neering, 2002). It is presumed by Shaywitz that dyslexics may learn early on coping skills, resilience, risk-taking, humility, as well as people skills. The high achievement of people with dyslexia runs counter to the standard view of dyslexia as a disability.

That perception of elite status impacts the actual ability for students to understand their need for learning:

Taleb (2007) contends that in real-life elites often show an epistemological arrogance by believing that they know more than others while also drastically overpredicting the extent and power of this knowledge.

He even presents research that shows group knowledge out performs particularly selected individual learning on “who wants to be a millionaire?”:

Page’s research (2007) in his book The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies, shows a randomly assigned group will often routinely outperform a group that is especially selected for the task. Page observes that in the popular television quiz show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” the “Ask the Audience” option has a higher percentage of correct answers than the option “Phone a Friend”—a friend who is chosen because they are ostensibly an expert and well-read in many fields.

He concludes with an unsupported claim that a Dynamic Systems Theory framework for learning can help to address these issues that arise out of diverse influences on learning and achievement.  while i happen to agree, the real value in his article is the wonderful array of research that he ties together.

the question that sticks in my mind is whether there is a value in trying to build an assessment using dst to better predict academic success or for that matter life success based upon various criteria.  or is it really best to let time and experience make that judgment through actual achievement?  is assessment, and prediction, of achievement simply part of the old paradigm of learning and teaching?

tinker, teacher, learner, why?

26 02 2009

christopher sessums links to this very interesting video on you tube in which john seeley brown discussed the idea of learners as tinkers and drawing concepts from the old one-room schoolhouse paradigm as a means for “kids learning from kids.”  the video is wonderfully provocative, as brown always is so I’ve linked to it in case you’d find it interesting.

my interest though has to do with sessums’ commentary that if you change “kids” to “teachers” in brown’s video we’ll be closer to the real solution.  while i totally agree that teachers also need to be tinkerers, i am troubled by the demarcation between teachers and learners that is inherent in both brown’s comments and sessums’ reaction.  i firmly believe that as long as we continue to believe that there are those who teach and those who learn from those who teach, we’ll never achieve networked learning that is driven by learner desire.

brown even makes the mistake of tying teaching and learning roles to age.  he argues that he can learn from someone a year older than him and they in turn can learn from someone older than them.  knowledge and learning are not subject to social stratifications of age, race, wealth, gender, etc.  if you know something i’d like to know, i can ask you to share it with me and learn from you whether you have a ph.d. from harvard, an mba from university of phoenix, or are in the 6th grade in thibodaux, louisiana.

in the workplace this becomes more and more evident.  the key is finding who knows what you need to know, learning it to the degree that you need to achieve your goals and then moving on.  how do we get beyond the hierarchies and organizations which may have helped move learning forward 100 years ago but seem more and more a restraint in the 21st century?