After working on a recent EdTech502 assignment in my studies at Boise State and reviewing an assessment rubric in a committee I serve on at Messiah College, I reflected upon the evolving role and appreciation of “experts” in our society.
The recent assignment was simply creating a table in CSS code. We were to create an activity and divide a hypothetical class into groups based on the table we created. The students would do research on websites found through the table, and then present their activity to the rest of the class. The assignment stated that we were to call the students “experts” as they went through this process of learning and presenting. In online forum discussions, I objected to calling students “experts” so lightly, and did not do so in my assignment.
My reflection on the assignment in my learning log post also discussed this issue:
“I deliberately did not use the word “expert” in this activity. I feel it misleading to students to imply that they will become an “expert” in an advanced academic database in a small amount of time; this takes deliberate honing of skills over many years! Instead, I think it is appropriate to help them scaffold their current knowledge to more advanced practice, without using terms such as “expert”.”
About a week after this assignment, an assessment rubric was brought for review to a committee on which I serve. I found it very interesting and timely that one aspect of the rubric was to evaluate students’ critical thinking skills and their analysis of expert/peer-reviewed research. The rubric indicated that accepting expert opinion was lower on the scale than questioning expert opinion.
I agree with this rubric overall; developing critical thinking skills as students evaluate information is a much needed skill. In the meeting, however, I questioned whether the particular scale for critical thinking should be applied as it appeared to First Year Students. First Year Students come to higher education with little to no understanding or appreciation of the scholarly review process and what makes an expert more reliable than a non-expert. Therefore, I believe that we first need to educate students about expertise and increase their appreciation and trust of expert opinion. Only after they understand and appreciate the scholarly process should they be assessed in ways that encourage critiquing of those same experts.
There is a substantive difference between an individual questioning an expert while they themselves have no firm understanding of what they are critiquing, and an individual questioning an expert after they have a solid appreciation for the scholarly process that created the knowledge that they are analyzing. The internet is awash in uneducated opinions that question even widely-accepted research. We should aim to develop student scholars who appreciate expert opinion and question it responsibly.