12— Transitions in Work and Learning

Alan Lesgold

Introduction

The schools that we have today were heavily shaped by the great industrial expansion in the early part of this century. Simultaneously, we asked of our public schools that they teach all children, including a large cadre of newly arrived immigrants, and that they prepare a large proportion of the students for work in our rapidly expanding manufacturing economy. The rise of the assembly line and the emergence of scientific management placed specific requirements on this educational mandate. Students were expected to emerge from the public school system ready to work in jobs carefully designed to minimize further training requirements. A smaller proportion of students were expected to be capable of absorbing a large body of specific factual knowledge and also knowledge of specific procedures. These would become the skilled practitioners of trades in our society: electricians, plumbers, carpenters. Many of the literacy demands on them originated in their social responsibilities to produce safe outcomes from their work, to abide by governmentally established codes. A very small proportion of students were to become generally smart and able to take on positions of leadership and decision making.

Our Schools

Schools evolved to provide capable assembly line workers and other needed talent for industrial society, such as craftspeople and management trainees. Further, because the schooling demands of work remained rather stable and populations did, too, it was easy for information about school successes and failures to



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 264
--> 12— Transitions in Work and Learning Alan Lesgold Introduction The schools that we have today were heavily shaped by the great industrial expansion in the early part of this century. Simultaneously, we asked of our public schools that they teach all children, including a large cadre of newly arrived immigrants, and that they prepare a large proportion of the students for work in our rapidly expanding manufacturing economy. The rise of the assembly line and the emergence of scientific management placed specific requirements on this educational mandate. Students were expected to emerge from the public school system ready to work in jobs carefully designed to minimize further training requirements. A smaller proportion of students were expected to be capable of absorbing a large body of specific factual knowledge and also knowledge of specific procedures. These would become the skilled practitioners of trades in our society: electricians, plumbers, carpenters. Many of the literacy demands on them originated in their social responsibilities to produce safe outcomes from their work, to abide by governmentally established codes. A very small proportion of students were to become generally smart and able to take on positions of leadership and decision making. Our Schools Schools evolved to provide capable assembly line workers and other needed talent for industrial society, such as craftspeople and management trainees. Further, because the schooling demands of work remained rather stable and populations did, too, it was easy for information about school successes and failures to

OCR for page 264
--> filter back to the schools. Also, students often had part-time or summer jobs that reflected the industrial workplace, so some level of speedy feedback from workplaces to schools was possible. And everyone understood the basic work situation. If, as a society, we all know that jobs are designed to be learned quickly and then executed in an environment of close supervision, the needs for schooling for this can be quite clear. Students need to be able to stick to a task; work efficiently; read, write, speak, and listen well enough to receive directions and report outcomes and problems; and do arithmetic well enough to receive and produce basic quality and process management data. Teachers needed to work during the summer to make ends meet, so they experienced the workplace firsthand, and parents also knew what work was about and what it would be about when their children entered the work force. Or so everyone thought. As we gained national resolve to be a fairer and more open society, schools faced new demands, and some of our beliefs about the content of schooling and about where learning happens were called into question. We began to wonder how much of the successful performance of a worker was due to what was learned in school and how much to what was learned in everyday life, especially life in families that were already part of the so-called American dream. We also began to wonder whether we had confused necessary content and necessary teaching process with culture-specific practices that might be barriers to some students' educations. As the workplace evolved away from the form in which most people, including school people, understood it, and as school populations became more culturally diverse, informal relationships between schooling and the workplace needed to be codified into explicit standards. In the short run this led to a variety of degree requirements for jobs, requirements that were not always defensible when challenged. However, in the early stages of the period of diversification of both work and the population, these standards were accepted, and a variety of mechanisms arose to help children "pass" through the ranks of schooling. Especially on the education side of the school-to-work system, either standards that were indefensible were eliminated or else mechanisms arose to assure they were no longer significant barriers to disadvantaged and minority workers. This worked as long as the output of the schools was generally good enough for the adult roles to which we aspired for ourselves or our children. The emergence of the standards movement in recent years is an indication that schooling's output may not have kept up with workplace needs. Our Workplaces Work evolved while schooling was evolving, initially at a relatively slow pace. So the first demands for "smarter" workers were met by establishing more stringent schooling requirements for employment and perhaps adding more focused technical testing as well. This worked for a while, though never all that

OCR for page 264
--> well. As the gap1 between knowledge and skills transmitted universally by our culture through schooling and the knowledge and skills transmitted by economically productive communal experiences grew, the business world responded by developing more elaborate screening mechanisms for worker selection. Employers came to believe that certain less tangible capabilities were also important: showing up on time, respecting authority, being a team player, and so forth. Basic Work Skills My own sense is that there are four components that trade off with each other in determining worker competence: Specific job skills—the routines tied directly to a specific job . These are not likely to be central targets of schooling. However, schooling must prepare students to learn these specific skills quickly during job-specific training. The broader "new basic skills." A reasonable list was provided by Murnane and Levy (1996): reading, mathematics, problem solving, working in groups, communications, and simple computer use. Basic skills and strategies for learning. The fundamental source of value in human work has become adaptability. The ability to provide exactly what someone needs quickly is worth a lot. As a function becomes stereotyped, it can be performed either completely or partly by machines, and these machines become commodities. Consequently, a special characteristic of the high-performance job world is that jobs and new job components continually emerge. This gives special value to the ability to quickly learn new processes, heuristics, and ways of viewing the world. Knowledge of the core schemata for the processes of a general line of work. While high-performance jobs require adaptation, one platform for adaptation is the underlying productive culture and basic methodology of a line of work. For example, the materials and tools used by plumbers may change from time to time, but a certain basic understanding of fluid sources, fluid distribution, and waste disposal remains part of the plumbing business, and those with experience in even older ways of plumbing will have some advantage over the newcomer who has never threaded a pipe or cleaned a drain. Significant trade-offs are possible among these categories of competence, especially in the beginning of a new job.2 This has a variety of implications, 1   Drops in test scores have multiple explanations, including changes in the universality of testing. What is important to the discussion is what society believed was happening. 2   Years ago Perfetti and I (Lesgold and Perfetti, 1978) suggested that reading facility comes from various mixtures of facility in word recognition, domain knowledge, and discourse structure knowledge. The argument was basically the same as I make now: that competence is characteristically overdetermined and that having high levels of one of the core ingredients can compensate for some lack of other ingredients.

OCR for page 264
--> including the possibility that job incumbents may focus more attention on the first and fourth categories above and may misinterpret the uses they themselves once made of the second and third categories. We at the Learning Research and Development Center of the University of Pittsburgh have seen a few examples of this in our own workplace efforts. For example, metalworkers will claim that they learned certain mathematics they use in their work from trigonometry courses, even though we have demonstrated that those who teach these courses cannot do the mathematics to which the workers refer (shop teachers can; see Lesgold, 1996). A more important implication is that it is difficult to demonstrate the importance of some of the above components of work readiness. The primary means for demonstrating that some piece of knowledge is necessary to some performance is to show a correlation between the extent to which the knowledge is present in different people and the extent to which they are successful in their work. A stronger test is to show that no one who is successful lacks the knowledge in question. If trade-offs are possible, these demonstrations will fail, since some workers will manage without high levels of the specific piece of knowledge, even if having it is the easiest and most reliable way to become job ready. This leads me to suggest two research problems that need to be addressed in this area of school-to-work transition: How does reusable knowledge accumulate from experience in a progression of work situations, and how can this knowledge be enhanced or facilitated? How do various components of being ready for a job trade off, and what are the implications of this trade-off for worker retraining, equity in worker selection, and the relative roles of classroom and on-the-job training? Work Complexity and Equity Almost simultaneous with changes in the nature of work was a societal decision to make education and employment selection less discriminatory against those outside the culture that dominated higher-status and higher-paying work. This social decision evolved a body of statutes and case law that restricted testing procedures to those with (1) a demonstrated relationship to specific jobs in the case of employment selection and (2) quantitatively indexed nondiscrimination in the case of educational credentialing and selection. So on the one hand, the valuable jobs in our society were rapidly changing, demanding more complex competencies, demanding social skills not yet enculturated into either the classroom or the educational test, and demanding new kinds of "basic skills." On the other hand, we found ourselves in need of mechanisms for allocating learning and job opportunities that did not discriminate against people who might have different cultural backgrounds and different initial learning opportunities. In the absence of a strong base of trust and a widely

OCR for page 264
--> shared knowledge of what makes someone a good worker or a good learner, it was natural to rely on "objective" tests to make the unbiased decisions that were demanded. Our Testing Technology The basic idea was that a well-developed arsenal of test instruments could be tuned to be unbiased. Measures with stable long-term existence could be validated as important predictors of successful functioning in courses and jobs, we believed. Further, with a clearly established process of selection testing, disadvantaged students or workers could be selectively taught to do better on the tests. Classical test theory evolved throughout the post-World War II period in which the social changes discussed above were occurring. Impressive mathematical development yielded a technology of testing that was extremely powerful. Students could take different tests with different items at different times in different places, and results could still be reported for them all on a single scale. Item response theory (Lord, 1980), among other technologies, allowed for great refinement of testing procedures. Soon, student performances could be compared across national boundaries as well as across time and space, or so it seemed. From the beginning, test developers were concerned with the validity of tests as well as with their reliability. (For a good treatment of validity, see Wainer and Braun, 1988.) Initially, validity was seen as a mathematical matter, concerning the correlation of test measures with indices of real competence. However, limitations on feasibility tended to result in rather shallow demonstrations of validity in many cases. For example, many college selection tests were validated against the grades of students in their first year of college, when classes were often large and tests were similar to the selection tests characteristically used. As a result, special abilities related to test taking could, in principle, have been an important part of what the tests measured, rather than general readiness for further learning. The diversification of cultures and curricula further interfered with validity. A common test for students from schools with different curricula must necessarily be grounded in content common to them all, and such content is either the most basic or the most abstract parts of the curriculum, at least when the test consists of short items requiring quick multiple-choice responses. As time passed, discussions of validity began to challenge the very basis of test theory, namely that a test score consists of a person's actual standing on some universal scale of achievement plus some error that has been kept small by the testing technology. In this respect, as Mislevy (in this volume) has pointed out, the technology of testing, while impressive in its development in recent decades, was not really up to the new challenge. In a stable culture it is possible to develop reliable and valid test items. Often, however, these test items do not purely measure the desired worker or learner characteristic. Rather, they measure something that can

OCR for page 264
--> be measured readily and that strongly predicts a less-well-understood capability. When a job is stable, the appropriate criterion for this prediction can be measured quite directly. For example, if a job involves sorting small cards with names and addresses on them, and if this kind of sorting is relatively common in the culture, it is easy to do a task analysis of that job and to develop efficient, reliable, and valid test items that predict this card-sorting skill. However, a number of factors have pushed the criterial capabilities for which we need to test outside the envelope in which extant test theory and testing practice can be counted on to function. A major problem is that much of what we want to assess is the ability to adapt to new situations. Consider the logic of fair testing. I identify some component of a job that needs to be selected for. I publicly validate an instrument that measures that component. Because the necessary job performances are clearly established, it is easy to have a sufficiently public process of validation and it is easy to "teach to the test" in all cultures. Now, when the very skill to be predicted is the ability to adapt to new situations, we no longer have this wonderful stability of criterion and predictor measures. Indeed, it could well be that the best test of suitability for a number of modern jobs is the ability to perform in novel situations. We could, in principle, stay fair by developing tests in which people had to apply their knowledge to situations so novel that they were distant from every possible cultural background from which a testee might come. There is one validity problem with this. The ability to perform in purely abstract situations is different from the ability to adapt "a little bit" to known procedures. So solving the cultural embeddedness problem through excessive abstraction is potentially unfair, since real jobs do not need such extreme adaptability, and it could even be that adaptability grounded in concrete knowledge is more useful than a level of abstraction removed from the real world. But the real world is a pretty big place, parts of which are more real to you and other parts of which are more real to me. This creates a whole new testing problem and may call for an entirely new logic of testing. To assess your ability to handle problem situations that depart modestly from what you have already mastered, I need to know more about you. To handle adaptability in context, I may even need to know more about the environment in which you learned basic skills or in which you live. Except on a high level of abstraction, it is fundamentally impossible to assess adaptability without having some person-specific knowledge. But the whole logic of fair testing has been that we can find some one test that is fair for everyone and remove personal background from the process as much as possible. One "solution" is to set a very high threshold and measure adaptability in very abstract contexts. However, this has two problems. First, there is no guarantee that the ability to think abstractly about adapting is the same as the ability to actually behave adaptively in the real world. Indeed, many humorous reactions to us professors are grounded in societal rejection of this premise.

OCR for page 264
--> Second, there is evidence that overly abstract test items discriminate against minority and disadvantaged groups—indeed, this is the basis of many, if not most, court challenges of selection tests. So we need to find new approaches to testing that are demonstrably fair and that, as part of being fair, measure knowledge and skills actually useful for modern productive work and civic participation. The Path From School To Work A central means for specifying what should be taught in school is to examine what capabilities are required to pass valid selection tests for valued adult roles, such as paid jobs. However, as we have seen, there are reasons to doubt whether current criteria for employment selection are fully valid, and there is considerable disagreement about what is needed to succeed in the workplace. Accordingly, while the standards movement—a U.S. effort to reform education by increasing the standards for being deemed educated—rests on the sensible premise that standards can drive the educational process, we do face some hard questions about just what the standards should be. Fundamentally, the problem involves counterevidence for each of the primary contenders for necessary workplace selection standards. These contenders include the following: basic literacy and numeracy skills; strong collaborative skills, including both the social skills of collaboration and the communication skills needed to sustain communication; basic character factors such as diligence, promptness, responsibility, and trustworthiness; the ability to learn quickly under self-direction; the ability to deal with abstractions and formalisms; and the ability to solve a wide range of problems easily. However, when we probe hard, we find evidence that none of these characteristics is always necessary. For example, Lia DiBello (Laboratory for Comparative Human Cognition, University of California at San Diego, personal communication, 1996) trains bus mechanics in the use of modern just-in-time inventory systems. These systems are an aspect of high-performance work that characteristically proves difficult for traditional workers. Hence, we would think that ability to do this kind of work would depend on the special schooling that we seek in response to changes in work. DiBello reports, though, that her group has been able to train the janitors in bus garages just as easily as the mechanics and that there seem to be no special prior requirements for being trained. However, no training group has consisted exclusively or even primarily of nonmechanics, as far as I know, so it could well be that, as a group, trainees with the full range of useful preparation help the less well prepared to learn useful new roles. Even

OCR for page 264
--> without a universal requirement, though, it is still important to understand the knowledge and skill demands of modern work and to focus research on learning and assessment, especially on competencies that have recently become more critical. I return to this issue of universality of prerequisite knowledge below. The Deep Dilemma: Education Is Necessary But No Specific Knowledge Is Needed In the present economy it appears that there is a shortage of people able to fill the high-productivity, high-paying jobs, while people with inadequate skills continue to be laid off (see Levy and Murnane, 1992). The effects of these changes in the demand for cognitive competence often fall hardest on minorities, women, and the poor. Taking the path of preparing more people for the high end of the work world would alleviate the shortage—and thus enable more wealth to be produced for more people—and would also facilitate a fairer approach to selection in many cases. It is easier to diversify a work force when many members of every targeted group are adequately trained for the work. Achieving this higher level of readiness for high-performance work will require that we better understand just what competencies are exercised in high-performance jobs and that we have both a learning path that will get people taught those competencies and some measurement schemes that will provide guidance in navigating that path. What implications can we draw from reflection on the nature of work in the information age? My own thinking is shaped by the following view of modern work: You can't see it. Much of modern work involves thinking about systems that do not exhibit any physical manifestation of their functions. For example, automobile engines are regulated dynamically by computer programs, and credit card transactions are approved by expert systems. It changes fast. The high-value part of modern work is a timely, tailored response to an emergent need. Ubiquitous communications allow companies to sell higher levels of customer-specific adaptations. The trend toward making communications and shipping costs independent of distance allows more competition, more markets, more rapidly emergent markets, and more rapid learning by competitors. Part of the work is figuring out what the work is and how it should be evaluated. When a customer presents a problem, an enterprise must often find an interpretation of the problem that it can address, find a way of solving the problem, and find a way to help the customer decide whether the solution is appropriate. Anything simple or well understood gets done by machines. If I can write a traditional step-by-step training procedure for a process, I may well be able to

OCR for page 264
--> write a computer program to do it for me. To the extent that I cannot write the program, the job must involve some thinking that a worker will need to do without complete algorithmic guidance from prior training. The volatility of knowledge value and the extent to which workers construct the knowledge they need when they confront a modern piece of work lead to a serious dilemma. On the one hand, education and experience seem more valuable than ever. The person with a good combination of rich schooling and diverse work experience is likely to do better in most jobs than someone with limited education and a limited range of experience. On the other hand, almost all jobs require some specific job training, and often there is no specific piece of knowledge that is absolutely necessary for success in that training or later on the job. This is simply a second view of the universality issue addressed above. What's Likely To Be New? While much work still needs to be done, it is certainly possible to predict some of the kinds of skills that have emerged as particularly important to modern productive life. I will mention three, commenting briefly on their implications for assessment as well as schooling. ''Everything I Do at Work Is Called Cheating in School"— Collaboration as the Basis of Modern Work Teamwork and quick thinking are often cited as critical parts of modern work. In the modern workplace, great value is placed on being able to quickly put together a team to figure out the solution to a problem and implement that solution. For example, while the steel industry in my hometown died in the 1960s and 1970s, small-batch specialty steel companies thrived and continue to do pretty well today. These companies make the exact kind of steel a customer needs for a specific project, and they do it quickly and efficiently. In fact, the steel industry is about as large in the United States today as it was 20 years ago, but with far fewer employees (Rifkin, 1995). In other manufacturing areas, each item coming down the assembly line requires different assembly activity. In Helsinki last year I visited a plant in which consecutive items reaching a workstation ranged from the size of a breadbox to the size of a small garage. The assembly instructions arrived at the workstation with the item in question, by computer, and training in the details of assembly were also available "just in time." More often than not, it is teams of people that need to quickly learn, quickly solve a problem, and quickly configure to make something happen. A worker told me one day, "Everything I do at work used to be called cheating at school." This highlights a major difference in the demands on schooling in the age of the

OCR for page 264
--> assembly line versus today. Instead of policing to be sure students never collaborate in their schoolwork, teachers today are struggling to find ways to let students work together and develop their collaborative work skills. Numerous problems are raised by this change. If I insist that each student do his or her own work, and I evaluate the products of that work, there is clear accountability on both the teaching side and the learning side. If the products to be evaluated are produced by a group, there is always some lack of clarity about who did what and who knows what. Finding new assessment schemes that handle this problem is critical to making the new collaborative skills part of the school-to-work pipeline. One emerging answer is the use of broader scoring rubrics for bigger projects, perhaps combined with self-appraisals and diary accounts of how a job was done. Mislevy (Chapter 7, this volume) mentions this kind of approach when discussing the Advanced Placement art exam, but it might well stretch to group work, too. More broadly, we need to do more research on the role of collaborative skills in modern work. In recent years, projects have been started that look specifically at the workplace and ask both how the social structure of work supports workers who may lack an important competence (see Hull, 1993; Chapter 5, this volume) and how the possession of certain social and communications skills can support informal on-the-job learning (see Nelson, Chapter 4, this volume). More such work is needed. Dialectical Skills: Mediating Between Worlds That Are Logical Internally but Difficult to Interconnect Logically A second area of change in productive life is that things are just plainly more complicated than they once were. Any thinking job that can be clearly described and taught as an algorithm or even as a set of reliable heuristics can also be embodied in a program and done by a computer. People are valuable because they bridge the gap between one systematic world and another and because they can handle a variety of inconsistencies that remain significant challenges to everyday software tools. This dialectical capability—understanding a complex situation from multiple viewpoints and using divergent schemes to untangle it—is much more valuable today, in both commerce and civic life. A good auto mechanic can not only fix cars but also explain the problem to a customer and get useful diagnostic information from a customer. The customer's view of the car differs from the auto designer's view, and the technician must reconcile these on the fly when talking with a customer. Notice, however, that complexity, multiple viewpoints, and idiosyncratic approaches to bridging between systems are all problems to the traditional designer of fair, objective tests. I am reminded of the problem Escalante, from the film "Stand and Deliver," had when his students took the Advanced Placement calculus test. They all performed in a different manner than most students but all

OCR for page 264
--> more or less alike. To the seasoned professor, if you take a weird solution path and the person next to you does the same, and it works but doesn't seem to make sense, it looks as if you cheated. Again, though, tying new problems to things you already understand and doing so quickly and powerfully is exactly the skill that is valued today. We just need to learn to measure this ability accurately and fairly. Public Versus Private Argumentation A related competency that is becoming more valued is the ability to jointly handle several coordinated cognitive activities. Recent work that Vimla Patel and I have undertaken (with colleagues A. Kushniruk, S. Katz, J. Arocha, and C. Pierre) with the World Bank have led me to realize that many modern jobs involve a combination of extensive work done privately, by one or a few people, with public accounts of that work that are only loosely coupled to the private argumentation structure. In many "due diligence" situations3 there is a distinction between public, and private work. Some conclusions cannot be stated directly in public and some of the information that supports those conclusions cannot be publicly stated. There has been some indication that part of the problem in training new task managers is getting them to do a sufficient private analysis and to represent the results of that analysis in a form that is both publicly tolerable and fundamentally sound.4 Appraisal and management of projects are ongoing activities in many organizations like the World Bank, though they have great political and social complexity. It is not necessarily easy to either know that there is a problem that must be raised in a report or to know whether the arguments in the report are sufficient. On the one hand, there is complexity of problem formulation or problem finding. On the other hand, a part of the task is to know whether one has done an adequate appraisal. This is especially a problem when one is trying to decide whether to 3   Under U.S. law, there are certain situations in which a person is required to exercise due diligence before obligating someone he or she represents or spending that person's money. For example, if a broker recommends to me that I buy shares in a new business, he or she is, of course, not responsible if the business fails. However, if I can show that the broker did not exercise reasonable diligence in checking out the new company before recommending it, he or she might be liable to make good my losses. The public statements behind a due diligence investigation are usually very short because brokers cannot directly state suspicions they had that proved groundless, for example. However, there must be a reasonable connection between what a broker reasoned and what he or she found out in investigations and what he or she tells me about the company. 4   For the moment I assume that an argument is fundamentally sound if its public conclusions are, for all practical purposes, consistent with the full conclusions of an adequate private analysis. That is, the actions that a prudent person would take after being given the public conclusions match the actions supported in the more complete private analysis.

OCR for page 264
--> use materials from prior analyses or to gather new information and produce a new analysis.5 A project appraisal involves a set of issues, each representing a viewpoint from which the soundness of the project must be considered. There is a large set of generic issues, and therefore one component of the task is to identify which of the generic potential problem areas merit development as analysis problems. The second component of the task is to actually solve each of the identified subproblems, that is, to speak to each of the relevant issues. A third task component is the decision structure for determining that an issue has been adequately addressed, that is, that a subproblem has been solved. Finally, the fourth component is to express the results of the appraisal in a form suitable for public distribution. Any argument involves making some claims and then offering support for those claims. Even this simple activity can be demanding, especially if the task includes careful searching for counterclaims and evidence that might support them. Arguments that must be presented in a socially or politically charged context are especially hard to develop. In essence, there are two arguments, one public and one private, that have a complex and implicit connection between them. The analyst first does the best analysis he or she can do, ignoring political realities. The results of this might be an argument for a politically difficult outcome or an argument that rests on premises that cannot be explicitly stated. In such a case, the analyst, to adequately serve the World Bank, must find a way to state a public conclusion that captures the problem without actually claiming that the project is at risk because the ruler might die. Figure 12-1 provides a schematic example of this complexity. The top half shows a private argument, in which two pieces of evidence support one conclusion and one of them, plus some additional evidence, supports a second conclusion. Related to this private argument is the public argument diagrammed in the bottom half of the figure, which contains a set of public conclusions that, as a group, capture the practically relevant aspects of the private conclusions. In principle, the mapping between public and private conclusions may or may not be one to one. It is possible that the public-versus-private nature of modern work is a fundamental property. It is also possible, though, that the general phenomenon of modern work is the need to loosely coordinate various clusters of problem solving and reasoning. In either case, it is readily apparent that psychology has not really addressed this area of competency and that it is likely to be productive to do so now. 5   I understand, of course, that totally unconsidered use of prior report contents is not common. However, it seems quite possible that substantial expertise is involved in deciding the extent to which a project should be analyzed and reported de novo as opposed to building partly on past reports.

OCR for page 264
--> FIGURE 12-1 Public and private arguments and their relations. Systems Understanding: A Goal for Mathematics and Science One last candidate on my list of the new work skills is the ability to understand systems—the physical and information systems of modern work and especially the work organization's social systems. Part of the complexity of modern productive life comes from the many systems that interact with each other and with ourselves. Consider, for example, the public decisions being made about freon compounds. Certain of these compounds have been implicated in the destruction of the ozone layer. To make a good decision about whether, for example, cars with old air conditioners that use the "bad" freon should be eliminated, we need to understand the hypothesized systemic mechanisms whereby freon has this bad effect, the level of evidence to support the hypotheses defining that system, the costs and benefits to our economy, and a variety of ethical issues having to do with what sorts of costs should be paid by whom to benefit whom—a lot of complexity to deal with.

OCR for page 264
--> Traditional instructional design has handled complexity by breaking complex things down into simple things and then teaching each simple tidbit separately. This can be a useful learning strategy, but sometimes systems need to be broken down in different ways to reveal different aspects of their function. For example, the lungs are part of the circulatory system when one is trying to understand general cardiovascular function but closer to the pleural sac than the aorta when one is trying to understand an infection like pleurisy. Teaching by giving students different views for different purposes seems like a strong way to proceed, and some work is starting to be done in this direction (see Spiro et al., 1989). In addition, work on computer-generated explanations is starting to provide a systematic basis for developing different decompositions of a complex system to explain its aspects (see Liu, 1991). Like teaching, testing will need to be adapted to handle assessment of understanding of complexity. For purposes of guiding students toward career goals, testing systems may need to engage the student in conversations that include extensive self-analysis and self-report. This idea, that the student is an integral part of assessment of his or her own knowledge, is likely to become more important for assessments that steer the course of learning (Lesgold, 1988). Estimation: Quickly Getting to the Right Ballpark A known characteristic of experts is that when confronted with a problem they spend more of their time representing the problem adequately and proportionately less on the mechanics of solution. While expertise is domain specific (Chi et al., 1988), certain aspects of this expert disposition seem to be widely prevalent, and I advance the hypothesis that multiple experiences in a situation with which one has expertise may have effects that go outside the specific domain of expertise. Specifically, the ability to quickly categorize a situation as fitting approximately to a rough model may come with practice in exercising expertise. Given enough practice in quickly applying expertise in various settings, people may become able to approximate a good response very quickly even if identifying the perfect response takes quite a while. The ability to estimate is usually considered only a practice capability with numbers. However, the world of mathematics education (see National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 1989) is becoming more convinced that estimation requires a mixture of number sense (presumably derived from extensive experience using numbers in various ways (as counts, measurements, proportions, etc.), practice in representing situations using mathematics, and perhaps practice in computation as well. An example may help clarify this. Consider two people discussing how fast they would have to travel around the earth (presumably at the equator) to track the sun exactly. One person says he would have to go 5,000 miles per hour to match the sun. The other says that this might be about five times too fast. The second person's thinking has probably gone like this. First,

OCR for page 264
--> we know that to match the sun we have to circle the earth once a day. Second, we know that the circumference of the earth is about 25,000 miles. There are 24 hours in a day, so that means one would have to cover a bit over 1,000 miles per hour, since 25/24 is about 1. To do such an estimation this way requires knowing how to think about the problem (covering the circumference of the earth in one 24-hour period). Some facts (the circumference of the earth and the length of a day) are needed. The arithmetic fact 25/24 ≈ 1 is only a tiny piece of the process. So the special human capability of estimation involves system modeling, approximations, and number sense, among other capabilities. I suggest that we need to better understand which components of estimation performances are critical and how those components are acquired by ordinary folk in school, in other life experiences, and at work. Knowledge Distribution And Redundancy As A Fundamental Characteristic Of Modern Work I conclude by returning to the DiBello work discussed earlier. DiBello was able to train even janitors to do complex high-performance management of just-in-time inventory. But, as I noted, no one has tried to operate such a work system using only workers who had no prior domain knowledge and minimal basic communications and problem-solving preparation. In fact, a central feature of a learning organization is that it has distributed and redundant knowledge. It is not necessary for any one worker to have every useful competency, and most critical knowledge is shared by multiple people and partly embodied in the socially shared knowledge of the workplace culture. This state of affairs is important to organizational success, since it limits the cost of losing any one team member. However, it conflicts with the basic logic that psychology often brings to job analysis. We want to be able to make broad, general statements, like "every bus garage worker needs to understand enough arithmetic to be able to quickly master the operation of just-in-time inventory management." The problem is that the standard empirical test of such a statement is to seek counterexamples. X ⊃ Y cannot be true if we find any cases of X & ¬ Y. The input requirements for adaptive, distributed, redundant systems need to be stated differently and confirmed differently. We might, for example, say that "in any bus garage using just-in-time inventory systems, almost all workers need to understand enough arithmetic to be able to master the operations quickly." The empirical test of such a claim would be that when the proportion of workers without the identified arithmetic skills exceeds some threshold, the work is not done very well. We would expect a pattern something like that shown in Figure 12-2. On the school side of preparation for work, such a relationship is pretty easy to handle. Clearly, one's usefulness for work will rise as one has more of the skills that show this kind of relationship to workplace success. Further, over time

OCR for page 264
--> FIGURE 12-2 Example relation of job skill to group work performance. the value of various of these skills may become more evident, with employers bidding for whichever knowledge/skill clusters are not yet being acquired almost universally. Schools, in turn, can adjust to these market signals—once the critical capabilities are better defined and measured. On the employee-selection side, we will need to develop new standards of fairness. If I lack a skill that is needed by 75 percent of the workers in a company, the company could well afford to hire me so long as it does not make a similar concession in each hire that it makes. This creates a new view of how fairness might be assessed. Instead of asking whether jobs are distributed proportionally to the representation of different minority groups in the work-seeking population, we can start to ask whether the concessions—the hiring of an employee who lacks important skills but who can be accommodated if other workers have those skills—are distributed reasonably. A simple rule would be that minority workers not be denied their proportionate share of these concessions. An "affirmative-action" view might be that the concessionary positions should be reserved for minority applicants whenever these applicants are underrepresented in the overall workplace. Which approach to choose is not a scientific decision. References Chi, M.T.H., R. Glaser, and M.J. Farr, eds. 1988 The Nature of Expertise. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

OCR for page 264
--> Hull, G. 1993 Hearing other voices: A critical assessment of popular views on literacy and work. Harvard Education Review 63(1):20-49. Lesgold, A. 1988 The integration of instruction and assessment in business/military settings. In Proceedings of the 1987 ETS Invitational Conference. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service. 1996 Quality control for educating a smart work force. Pp. 147-191 in Linking School and Work: Roles for Standards and Assessment, L.B. Resnick and J. Wirt, eds. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Lesgold, A., and C.A. Perfetti 1978 Interactive process in reading comprehension. Discourse Processes 1:323-336. Levy, F., and R. Murnane 1992 U.S. earnings levels and earnings inequality: A review of recent trends and proposed explanations. Journal of Economic Literature 30:1333-1381. Liu, Z-Y 1991 Tailoring tutorial explanations via model switching. Pp. 383-403 in Proceedings of the Contributed Sessions, 1991 Conference on Intelligent Computer-Aided Training. NASA Conference Publication 10100, vol. II. Houston, TX: National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Lord, F.M. 1980 Application of Item Response Theory to Practical Testing Problems . Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Murname, R.J., and F. Levy 1996 Teaching the New Basic Skills: Principles for Educating Children to Thrive in a Changing Economy. New York: Free Press. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics 1989 Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics. Washington, DC: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Commission on Standards for School Mathematics. Rifkin, J. 1995 The End of Work: The Decline of the Global Labor Force and the Dawn of the Post-Market Era. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam. Spiro, R.J., P.J. Feltovich, R.L. Coulson, and D. Anderson 1989 Multiple analogies for complex concepts: Antidotes for analogy-induced misconception in advanced knowledge acquisition. Pp. 498-531 in Similarity and Analogical Reasoning, S. Vosniadou and A. Ortony, eds. New York: Cambridge University Press. Wainer, H., and H.I. Braun, eds. 1988 Test Validity. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.