P313: How we know what students know: Cognitive and learning science perspectives

Author: David Uttal, Northwestern University, USA


Date: 8/4/14

Time: 2:05 PM2:25 PM

Room: LOH 164

Related Symposium: S25

This presentation will consider the question of “how we know what students know” from two perspectives that sound similar but are actually quite different: cognitive science and learning science. In cognitive science, learning and knowing are usually defined in terms of single individuals; knowledge is something that a person has or does not have, and hence is measured by tests, discourse analysis, drawings, and other methods to measure what an individual “knows”. In contrast, the learning sciences tends to view knowledge as more distributed, either involving multiple individuals or an individual and the many tools (e.g., computer-based or physical models) that might help a chemistry student to solve a problem. To a Learning Scientist, the idea of “static knowledge” is not really relevant to learning; what someone knows depends on what others are available, what tools are available, etc. I will argue that these two perspectives raise very different issues regarding how to assess students ‘knowledge. Whereas traditional tests would generally be acceptable from the perspective of cognitive science, they are often rejected, or at least seen as limited, from the perspective of learning science. I will consider how the broader definition of knowing would lead to different assessments, such as students’ ability to solve problems using various tools and knowing how to ask the right questions of others. I will highlight some examples of successful assessments that follow this newer, Learning Science perspective.