In a previous post it was noted that technological innovation is often welcome. Despite the existence of supportive evidence the profession, as a whole, is frequently reluctant to embrace in a meaningful way new ideas; new methods
What sense can be made from this? If understanding is one goal, take some comfort in the fact that it all seems to play out in a manner described, over fifty years ago, by Thomas Kuhn in his small but influential book, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.” Science, it seems, is not really the logical, rational march in search of truth and reality that you may have been led to believe. In the book Kuhn (among a great many others things) describes two sorts of science: Normal Science in which the practitioners flesh out the existing body of knowledge under a well understood set of practices or paradigm and revolutionary science in which a whole-new set of practices and assumptions is adopted.
Kuhn points out that, despite the public image of logic and reason that science tends to have, the process is also home to all of the distinctly human traits that mark most of society’s endeavours. Perhaps, for our purposes here one of the most distinct features to consider is the extreme tenacity with which people hold to their established beliefs and patterns of behavior. In science, during periods of upheaval, the “old guard,” with a lifetime invested in it, tends to stubbornly defend the previous paradigm (a word that is generally taken to mean the accepted way of getting things done) and it is generally only when a sufficient number of younger practitioners—adherents to the new paradigm—become respected and established that widespread acceptance is acknowledged. Of course not everyone buys in. It is often the case that the more vocal disciples of the old paradigm have to die off before the voices of dissent are muted.
As teachers, and in particular teachers of science, we see this too. Students come to us armed with so-called “commonsense,” and generally flawed, world-views. Easily dealt with, you say? Just show them “the truth” and it will be self-evident! Not so! The work of many, including the late Rosalind Driver during the 1980s, made it clear that merely demonstrating and presenting better concepts and world views tends not to effect meaningful change. In fact, even demonstrating the inconsistencies and flaws of the everyday conceptions tends not to work because people merely adopt a “two worlds” attitude. They, in effect, learn to see things through two different “lenses” as the situation warrants. One world view, the one they came to school with, is the one they continue to use interacting with the world outside of the classroom while the one we work so hard to develop in the classroom remains rooted firmly there, never put into play in any meaningful way.
So it is, then, with practitioners of all kinds. It is a small wonder, then, that professionals will willingly attend product demonstrations and workshops but remain unaffected. They will come in, participate, learn, for example the ways in which to use, say Interactive Whiteboards (IWBs) but walk away unfazed; unchanged, secure in the knowledge that their existing methods are effective enough; that the effort required to adopt and adapt is just not worth the extra bother.
And it turns out that, while experience has shown that they are often completely, tragically wrong, they are often right. As surely as extra caution often kept our ancestors from being lunch to some hungry predator on the ancient Savannah, a sense of trepidation often pays off. That’s next.