Saturday, February 24, 2007

Consciousness of knowledge

A few recent events and exchanges have got me thinking about levels of consciousness associated with knowledge (I've probably misused semantics in some places, so forgive me):

Knowing that you know - conscious knowledge
When you have gone through a specific learning experience to gain knowledge, you know you have that knowledge. I know that the orders of operation associated with algebra can be summarised in the acronym BODMAS (or any of several variations on that theme). I remember learning it. I remember arguing with my son's Year 5 maths teacher when she said "We don't use that system, here" - as if it were an optional extra. I have taught it countless times when reaching the point of formulas in spreadsheet training. I use it myself whenever I create a formula in a spreadsheet package. I know BODMAS. I know that I know it, I know why I know it, and I know when to use it.

Not knowing that you know - unconscious knowledge
I have never had one of those real eye-opening moments like Geena Davis in Long Kiss Goodnight when she discovers to her horror that she knows how to assemble a sniper rifle. But on a smaller scale, there are moments when we put our knowledge into practise, surprising ourselves that we possessed the knowledge in the first place. A friend's Dalmatian bitch recently produced 8 puppies. They were her first litter, yet she ate their faeces (I know, I know) as she would in the wild to hide their existence from predators. Although we are no longer so reliant on our instincts, we have reserves of knowledge we don't even know about until they are needed.

Knowing that you don't know - conscious ignorance, part 1 - the foundation for learning
It is when you know that you don't know that you ask questions - and hopefully pay attention to the answers. Unless of course, you "don't know, don't care" - which is another matter again. I know that I don't know enough about html. I am having vocabulary-expanding trouble trying to use the new Blogger feature to upgrade my blog template while retaining my hard-won widgets. I am pestering everyone who might be able to help with a myriad questions, but have so far made precious little progress! I know that I am still learning about connectivism, so I ask questions of people like George and Stephen and will my brain to understand their responses. I read the exchange on the Connectivism Conference Moodle and form views on the messages posted there, filtering the new information through what (I think) the experts are saying.

Don't know, don't care - conscious ignorance, part 2 - the nursery of bigotry and prejudice
Someone once told me she had won a trip to South Africa. Congratulating her, I asked her where she was going, so that I could recommend a few sights to take in. "Uganda," she replied. When I told her that Uganda was not only not in South Africa, it was a long distance away, she shrugged and said airily, "It's all Africa isn't it?" Don't know, don't care. My husband calls this "I've made up my mind, don't confuse me with facts!"

Don't know that you don't know - unconscious ignorance
I'm probably as guilty of this as anyone I might point a finger at. I don't know what I don't know. Not realising what great holes there are in my knowledge, I might make confident, categorical statements about situations/events/whatever that are patently untrue. I notice this particularly in my teenage sons - they are in that fortunate stage of their lives when they still know everything ;-) When someone points out the flaw in my statement, or draws my attention to some information that contradicts what I think, I have a choice: either I can move into knowing that I don't know, or I can go to don't know, don't care.

I'm sure there are other categories, too, and it's useful to know where your user audience is when you're designing a learning solution, since this will impact the solution on many levels.

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