Knowledge Dynamics and Codification in Education

This is essentially a summary of chapter two of OECD’s “Pedagogical Knowledge and the Changing Nature of the Teaching Profession.” It is incredibly interesting and enlightening. It gives a very readable overview of what is known about teacher knowledge. I recommend checking out the free book from OECD.

Definition:

  • Knowledge Dynamics: characteristics of knowledge that transform, change and evolve as a result of various processes and influences

Many professions are expected to stay up to date with current research in order to improve their practice. Doctors are a profession where this is expected and it leads to results. For example, doctors are able to treat cancer more effectively by DNA sequencing (a recent technology) to figure out the most effective treatment. However, for teachers, conversations around professional development will often center around Vygotsky or Piaget both of whom did most of their work in the 1st half of the 20th century.

Now, this is not to say that current research has totally invalidated the theories of Vygotsky or Piaget, but that teachers should be aware of more current research that adds to and develops older theories so teachers can incorporate this information into their practice to improve student outcomes (similar to how doctors have incorporated advances in medicine into their practices, improving patient outcomes).

There are many dimensions of knowledge. For teachers, some relevant dimensions are as follows. (From OECD Pedagogical Knowledge, 2017)

  • “general pedagogical knowledge (principles and strategies of classroom management and organisation that are cross-curricular)
  • content knowledge (knowledge of subject matter and its organising structures)  
  • pedagogical content knowledge (knowledge of content and pedagogy)
  • curriculum knowledge (subject and grade-specific knowledge of materials and programs)
  • knowledge of learners and their characteristics
  • knowledge of educational contexts (knowledge of classrooms, governance, and financing of school districts, the culture of the school community)
  • knowledge of educational ends, purposes, values, and their philosophical and historical grounds.”

 

In general, there are two types of knowledge, tacit and explicit. Tacit knowledge is knowledge someone has but has difficulty explaining. Explicit knowledge has been codified and is, therefore, easier to communicate. Teacher pedagogical knowledge is thought to be largely tacit, and as a result, the teaching profession lacks a scientific knowledge base. Work is currently being done to try and codify teacher knowledge, make it explicit, and improve the education future teachers receive.

There is some debate over what knowledge to codify, and how to do it. Many procedure based processes are not fully codifiable. For example, a 16-year-old cannot fully learn how to drive simply by observation. Classroom management procedures are also not fully codifiable. It takes experience along with knowledge to be able to effectively manage a class. Both drivers and teachers need practice because much of the knowledge involved in these processes are inherently tacit and cannot be fully codified.

However, that is not an argument against codification. It is important to make the classroom portion of drivers ed programs as explicit as possible in order to reduce the risk to the young driver and everyone else. Similarly, it is important to make as much teacher pedagogical knowledge explicit as possible. This will improve the efficacy of teachers and improve the quality of education children receive.

As we are working towards codifying teacher knowledge, we must be aware of codification’s drawbacks. Some codification does not transfer or can transfer negatively. As with anything, context matters. Codification can create barriers when it becomes bogged down with local jargon that does not easily transfer to a new location. The effectiveness of codification seems to be dependent on the receivers tacit knowledge, beliefs, and motivation. When we codify, we should seek to do so in a way that will be clear and applicable for others who teach outside of our context.