Hello Todos – and welcome to the second half of my teaching philosophy which centers on knowledge being constructed, not received.
How do we learn? Learning scientists and developmental psychologists have explored this phenomenon at length asking how or when does learning have a sustained, substantial, and positive influence on the way one thinks, acts, or feels. Developmental psychologists found that knowledge is constructed and this process begins in the crib (Gopnik, Meltzoff, and Kuhl 1999). Babies and children have powerful learning mechanisms that through experience, allow them to spontaneously revise, reshape, and restructure their knowledge. They consider evidence, solve problems, do experiments, and draw conclusions thus creating their theories about the world. Yet, when new evidence arises, these theories are then revised. During the first three years of life, children radically restructure their knowledge as they are continually revising or creating new mental models of the world. A child’s experience interacts with what he or she already knows about the world to produce new knowledge, which enables them to have new experiences and to test new predictions. In sum, this enables them to produce further knowledge perpetuating the continual learning cycle.
Perhaps philosopher Otto Neurath put it best by compared knowledge to Ulysses’ boat. To keep afloat during his thirty years of wondering, Ulysses had to constantly repair and rebuild the boat he lived in. Each new storm or calm meant an alteration in the design. By the end of the journey hardly anything remained of the original vessel. Neurath (1959) suggests this is a suitable metaphor for cognitive development. People begin life by creating many beliefs about the world, and those beliefs guide how one acts, feels, thinks, and most importantly, revises their knowledge.
To summarize, knowledge is constructed, not received and learning process people cycle through is the same for children as it is for college students. Students are not a blank slate when they sit in class the first day of the semester. They have some knowledge and it is the professor’s job to build on their existing knowledge. Experiential teaching activities are a strong way to accomplish this goal. Experiences are central to one’s identity, thus, the more learning experiences a professor can imbue into the classroom, the more conducive the environment is to creating new knowledge.
Bain, Ken. 2004. What the Best Teachers Do. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA.
Gopnik, Alison, Andrew N. Meltzoff, and Patricia K. Kuhl. 1999. The Scientist in the Crib. Perennial: New York, NY.
Neurath, Otto. 1959. “Protocol Sentences,” In Logical Positivism. Ed. A.J. Ayer, Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 199-208
Van Boven, Leaf and Thomas Gilovich. 2003. “To Do or to Have? That is the Question.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 85 (6): 1193-1202.