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Posts Tagged ‘inductive

According to this BBC report, Northumbria University ‘life-threatening’ caffeine test fine, two sports science students were supposed to be given 300mg of caffeine in a study. Instead, they received 30,000mg (over one-and-a-half times the lethal dose) due to a miscalculation.

The two human subjects recovered after dialysis and intensive care. The university was fined £400,000 (almost SGD717,000 at the current exchange rate).

The numbers obviously matter in this case. The insufficient attention to the calculation to the dose ultimately led to a hefty fine. The university was fortunate not to add two to the number deaths on campus.

Then there are cases where numbers should matter less, or even not at all.

This WaPo article, Trump pressured Park Service to find proof for his claims about inauguration crowd, reported how Trump sought numbers to confirm his perception that his inauguration crowd was not as small as reported by the press.

The article provides insights into how some people, not just Trump, play the numbers game. They take a perspective built on bias or limited information, and then seek data to back it up.

The article was a reminder what NOT to do because this is like coming to a conclusion first, then conducting a study, collecting data, and massaging the results and discussion to fit the conclusion.

If we jump on schooling tangent, this is similar to the conventional and deductive way of teaching: Present a basic concept and then build it up with examples and practice. While this approach might work from a content expert’s point of view, it ignores another method.

A less oft used method is that of induction. Here phenomena, data, and noise are collected and processed first before arriving at generalisations or conclusions.

The deductive method generally goes from general to specific while the inductive one goes from specific to general. Instruction can consist of both, of course, but we tend to practice and experience more deductive methods because that is how most textbooks are written and how experts try to simplify for novices.

There is nothing wrong with the deductive method in itself. It is the over-reliance on that strategy and the imbalance that is the problem.

Likewise, playing the numbers game like Trump and worrying about how they indicate reputation or bruised ego can make you focus on what is relatively unimportant. It can tip the balance the wrong way.

This tweet from author John Green highlights one major problem with university textbooks.

Like the prices of the other good and services, the cost of book production has gone down over the last 20 years. However, the cost of textbooks has steadily risen.

I did a bit of digging and found the source of the graph. The same site also had a feature a month later that focused solely on the rising cost of textbooks.

Rising cost of college textbooks (1998-2016).

Textbook publishers have a virtual monopoly and they will fend off alternatives and threats like open educational resources (OER), and paperless or e-resources. Where they also control electronic versions of textbooks, content management systems, or question banks, these publishers might also have a nasty way of holding students’ assignments for ransom.

We might not have as serious a textbook price crisis here in Singapore, but there is a far more insidious cost of textbooks — teaching to the text, the text as truth, and pedagogy based on textbooks.

Most teachers I know today do not teach solely by the textbook nor do they regard what is published as absolutely accurate. However, practically every teacher has been taught the textbook way: From general to specific, from easy to difficult. That is, they have been taught to teach in a deductive manner.

A good example of this internalisation is how teachers mistake the descriptive model of Bloom’s Taxonomy as a prescriptive one.

This is the expert’s view of how to teach. The expert thinks that this is how best to teach a novice because the expert wants to remove as much difficulty and struggle in a bid to be more efficient. However, efficiency does not make for effectiveness; it often removes context, struggle, and thinking skills.

One reason why schooling is accused of not being real-world or authentic is because content is removed from context. The what and official how to solve a problem might persist, but the why is often stripped away. Alternative tools and methods like Googling or using mobile apps to solve the problem are not encouraged, and neither are critical and independent thinking.

The oft cited reasons for the textbook approach to teaching are that the content is complex and that the learner is not mature or experienced enough to handle the problem. My response to this is that life rarely presents textbook problems and solutions. The processes we engage in are more inductive. We are presented with complexity, disorder, and specific scenarios in context. Our human response is the reduce, categorise, and conceptualise.

Teaching requires both deductive and inductive methods. However, textbooks tend to encourage the former because there is no human teacher to discuss with or consult. Teachers, and even teacher educators, unconsciously internalise this insidious method and we do this to the detriment of our learners, perhaps more so than the financial cost of textbooks.


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