Are writing skills transferable?

By Gordon Rugg

The short answer is: “Not really”.

The reasons for this answer take us through the literature on expertise, and through some little-known byways of history, including Caesar shouting “Squirrel!” and the strange case of the mesmerised trees.

Those byways should be a lot better known, because they have deep implications for education policy in theory and practice. This article unpacks the issues involved, and some of the implications.

Caesar, a squirrel, a tree, and Mesmerheader pictureImages from Wikipedia and Wikimedia – details at the end of this article

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The limits to literacy

By Gordon Rugg

There’s widespread agreement that rates of illiteracy are high, and that something should be done about it.

And at that point, the agreement ends.

In this article, I’ll examine some widespread models of literacy and some of the main proposed solutions.

Reading ability shown as a greyscale, based on statistical figures. Darker shading represents greater problems with reading.the twenty percent

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The studied subtexts of academic insults

By Gordon Rugg

The academic insult at its best is a highly sophisticated art form with a long, rich history.

A classic example comes from one of my heroes, Thucydides the Athenian, in his History of the Peloponnesian War. That war between Sparta and Athens took place two and a half thousand years ago. He fought in it, and he wrote its history. He was brilliant by anyone’s standards, and the studied impartiality of his writing is remarkable even by the most rigorous modern standards. Here’s what he had to say about what people’s knowledge of contemporary history.

There are many other unfounded ideas current among the rest of the Hellenes, even on matters of contemporary history, which have not been obscured by time. For instance, there is the notion that the Lacedaemonian kings have two votes each, the fact being that they have only one; and that there is a company of Pitane, there being simply no such thing. So little pains do the vulgar take in the investigation of truth, accepting readily the first story that comes to hand.

It looks like a rant from a grumpy old man just before he yells at some kids to get off his lawn. In fact, it’s an elegant, cutting, multi-level take-down that’s on a par with what the best modern academics can offer.

This article is about the serious, constructive subtexts beneath academic insults, and about what those subtexts say about the nature of research.

Long after the war: Scenes from Sparta and Athens today

header pic3

Images from Wikipedia

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How complex should education theories be?

By Gordon Rugg

There’s an old joke in the physical sciences, often attributed to Einstein, that a model should be as simple as possible but no simpler.

The converse is that a model should be as complex as necessary, but no more complex.

In this article, I’ll discuss what the most useful level of complexity is for education theories.

golden gate fogv1Clarity emerging from the fog: Cropped image from wikimedia

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Compiled skills and education theory

By Gordon Rugg

In a previous article, we described a framework for mapping different types of knowledge (in the broadest sense) onto different methods of teaching, training and learning (also in the broadest sense).

http://hydeandrugg.wordpress.com/2014/04/13/an-education-framework-based-on-knowledge-modelling/

That article was a broad overview. This article shows a worked example of how the framework operates for one category from the framework, namely compiled skills.

verifier educationv2Image copyleft Hyde & Rugg, 2014

Compiled skills are a type of strictly tacit knowledge that have traditionally been viewed in the education world as something of a black box. They are particularly problematic for some views of education because their performance is usually adversely affected, or completely disrupted, by any attempt to verbalise them. For any sport enthusiast, they are a familiar phenomenon, usually under the name of “the flow” or of “muscle memory”.

This article unpacks the nature of compiled skills, and examines the implications for education theory and practice.

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Teaching the facts

By Gordon Rugg & Sue Gerrard

There’s a lot of debate in education about “teaching the facts”.

There’s also a lot of debate about the definition of “facts” and about the nature of teaching.

However, a couple of things tend to be conspicuous by their absence in these debates.

  • There’s a significant absence of numbers relating to facts, such as how many facts a student should know about a particular topic.
  • There’s also a significant absence of categorisation systems that use more than three categories.

These absences are usually indications that a debate is focused on questions that aren’t going to produce useful answers.

So what happens when you plug in some numbers, and some richer categorisation?

In brief, you get this:

  • students need to learn between one thousand and ten thousand facts
  • there’s an upper limit of learning of about ten facts per hour, and
  • you need to distinguish between about ten to twenty different types of “fact”.

These results have far reaching implications for education. They’re the topic of this article.

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