Saturday, August 30, 2014

Learning to Learn: Can you DIY Socialization

Forum thread on teaching yourself physics with a focus on learning a certain thought mentality and cognitive strength. In Intro to anthropology, we talked about the difference between a formal education and traditional socialization. Here the person wants the values and mentality that comes with the socialization and is pursuing that by DIY-ing the education process.

Reading this, my mind is drawn back to the differences between the majors at MIT. It's a difference not only in the material but also in the mentality of the classes. Be it the length of the lectures or the set up of the recitations, different majors convey to their students the importance of different skills. When you are teaching yourself, you have the ability to self select the methods of learning that work best for you rather than being forced to adapt to the style prefered for the subject.

Additionally in self teaching, you determine the metrics of success. In the post, this person talk about wanting a qualitative skill out of a field that focuses (at least on the undergrad level) on quantitative results. Looking at my experience, I see how important the choice of metrics are in conveying values to a young mentee. When I was taking course 2 classes, the exams were formulaic. Students had access to a decade of past worked exams so students knew precisely which "style" of question was going to be asked and could practice until they attained proficiency. The course 3 exams I have taken have the material vary widely in comparison. There is no standard for the style of question asked so the breadth of understanding for exam prep is much wider. Conversely, course 2 has design/building classes where the entire project is up to the individual student as long as their project completes certain tasks. It's in these design classes that students apply the entirety of their knowledge in a creative hands on way. Course 3 lab classes are very driven by directions, usually involve groups, and are carefully supervised. While students are applying their knowledge in a hands on way, the formulaic aspect of lab classes are pretty high. The type of student and the type of knowledge gained from these two learning experiences is very different.

While I am able to unpack these aspects of my training at MIT, I wonder if I would be able to construct such a paradigm without having gone to MIT. I have my doubts! Certainly high school didn't have the entrenched culture for different classes. An AP chemistry class was not that culturally different from an honors history class nor were the style of teaching very different. The discussion board seems to focus on whether you should tackle tons of problems to achieve proficiency at IDing styles of problems, listen to lectures to understand overarching concepts and qualitative ideas, or utilize formulas to achieve quantitative proficiency. While these are in some ways cultures of methods, I don't know if I would see the same development of culture between them. They all rely on a single student sitting down with a book (or video) and measure based on whether that student can produce an answer found at the back of the book.

I don't know if you can DIY the socialization aspect of learning. I don't just mean that you can't get your hands on the lab materials! I mean that, in teaching yourself, you aren't going to be able to find a group of 3 other people to do presentations with much less a large audience of more experienced and knowledgable professors to review and critique your presentation. No matter how many practice problems you do or blind powerpoints you practice alone, you can't replicate the feedback of someone more knowledgable. Similarly, self teaching may not involve the study groups where you explain concepts to your peers. (Although I suppose you could try to get a tutoring job, but may not be able to if you lack certification.) The immersion in the culture - including the members of different levels of knowledge - is very important to the pressure I feel at MIT to learn and achieve. It's that socialization that ultimately leads to the mentality of thought in addition to technical proficiency.
I suppose this is more open ended because it makes me wonder about students who don't live on campus at a school with an on-campus full time student culture like MIT as well as the strength of culture and efficacy of socialization at night schools for working people.