A few years back, educational researcher Dr. James Hiebert and colleagues articulated the need for a shared professional knowledge base for pedagogical practice that would integrate insights gained from both traditional research and teachers’ situated experiences. In doing so they acknowledged the difficulty of adapting research output for use in individual circumstances. They further distinguished the value of practitioners’ knowledge for this purpose. To make shared professional knowledge for teaching useful, they argued, it should be represented through theories with examples to lend contextual specificity, particularly those that address specific problems of practice.
Ironically, one enduring problem of practice for educators is how to best help our students use disciplinary theory/concepts to inform their view of select topics or events. For example, one of my colleagues recently observed that her students have had difficulty linking theories of race learned in the classroom to race-related controversies that arise in the news. Gaps in epistemic skills such as this are a concern given the importance we place on students’ critical reasoning and problem-solving abilities.
This past fall, Dr. Amy Stone and Dr. Sarah Beth Kaufman (Associate Professor and Assistant Professor in Sociology and Anthropology at Trinity, respectively) joined our faculty luncheon series to share how they help students connect topics of individual interest to broader sociological concepts in a course on Social Research Design that they co-designed. Their presentation served as an exemplar for sharing practitioner knowledge in that it elaborated on a common problem of practice in a concrete, contextually rich, manner. Continue reading A Problem of Practice: Helping Learners Connect to Disciplinary Theory