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On the Horizon

Peter Bachiochi
Eastern Connecticut State University

Youre on a Windjammer cruise and youve just left the marina in San Diego heading west as the morning fog has started to burn off. The sun is just starting to feel warm and youre beginning to realize that the shorts and t-shirt that you decided to wear were the ideal clothing selection. Theres also a perfect breeze, just enough to keep the sailboat cutting through the surf toward your destination. The margarita in your hand has just the right amount of tequila and the hammock that youre lounging in on the deck begins to rock softly back and forth in perfect harmony with the waves and the breeze. Theres nothing on the horizon and it feels like you could rock in your hammock for the rest of your life. One of the others on the boat notices something on the horizon and you roll out of the hammock only to see another boat pulling up along side yours. All the people on that other boat are wearing suits and one of them is speaking in the glow of an overhead projector. You swear that you hear the person in the overheads glow mention your name, and you pay closer attention.

Suddenly you realize that you had drifted off for a few seconds and the person in the overheads glow is actually the discussant at your SIOP symposium. Fortunately, shes saying nice things about your paper but wants to know where your research area is going, what you see on the horizon. All you can think about is your hammock and how youd love to be back there right now. You mention something about the need for replications with broader samples and toss in some acronyms like IRT and HLM and the discussant seems happy with that response. But you leave the symposium wishing you had come up with something a little more insightful, or perhaps even visionary.

Thats where I come in! No, Im not arrogant enough to see myself as visionary; Im merely an assistant professor at a small state school in Connecticut. However, I have had some rewarding experiences working at IBM and teaching at BGSU before coming to ECSU. Still, the vision thing is not necessarily one of my particular strengths. The purpose of this column isnt necessarily to look ahead at the future of I-O, but rather to comment on whats new in our playground, the world of work, as well as more specifically within our little Society. In this issue, though, Im starting simple: I will give you my vision for this column and what I would like it to be.

First, I plan to report/comment upon some of the newest developments in our field. At times I may climb up on something of a soapbox, but thats not a very comfortable spot for me. At other times I will elicit the comments/insights/feelings of others. Most of the time I will try to give you whats hot in I-O psychology. No one person can possibly know whats hot in every area of I-O so I will gladly (and sometimes shamelessly) ask for your help. The areas that are fair game include but are not exclusive of:

  • new developments in technology,
  • research and statistical techniques,
  • employment trends,
  • teaching techniques, and even
  • buzzwords that have become real workplace trends.

At times the cynical side of me wonders if there really is anything new happening in SIOP, but one look at this years Conference program indicates otherwise. A good part of Sundays programming was devoted to technological applications/advances in I-O. During the previous days there were sessions on new trends or innovations in

  • workfamily research and policies,
  • goal orientation,
  • the ASA model,
  • job loss and re-employment,
  • teaching,
  • commitment,
  • personality measurement,
  • selection,
  • leadership theory,
  • sexual harassment research,
  • job search and job choice,
  • cognitive predictors,
  • team performance, and even
  • synthetic validation!

I wasnt able to get to all of those sessions, so I hope the titles werent just a sophisticated marketing ploy to get more people to attend the sessions. From what Ive seen, there clearly appears to be something new afoot at each Conference. I guess the question then becomes whether or not the Conference is staying current with the field. Im not even going to try to address that question here, though.

Second, this column will be the vehicle to comment on those areas I-O should be addressing and perhaps is not. There are some areas that have suffered from some benign neglect from SIOP (e.g., small businesses and the nonprofit sector) and there are others that we simply have chosen, for one reason or another, not to pursue as a field (e.g., labor relations and conflict negotiationto some extent). Although I will avoid any Jerry Springer-style tactics in my column (maybe), I cant guarantee that this column wont at times step into the realm of the sensationalistic. Okay, maybe that was a cheap marketing ploy to get you to continue reading, but if I do slip into Springer mode in the future, I apologize for that in advance. Ultimately, I hope this column will provide the venue for discussion of some overlooked areas.

Finally, Id like this column to be an arena for SIOP members to voice their feelings, thoughts, concerns, or all three about the future of SIOP. Although I realize this may become a hornets nest, I have no intention of this column turning into a Societal gripe session. Every organization can benefit from constructive feedback about where its been and where its going and that can happen in this column too.

As luck would have it, while I was composing this invitation, my discussant, er, editor, sent the accompanying horizon piece by Milt Hakel sailing my way. He discusses a topic near and dear to my heartteaching.

Learning is More Important than Teaching

Milton D. Hakel
Bowling Green State University

In their valedictory column in the previous issue of TIP, Kim Hoffman and Tom King quoted Albert Einstein: imagination is more important than knowledge. Their subject, in part, was the joy of teaching, and they gave good advice. It prompted me to think about Einstein, and Newton and Copernicus before him, and Ptolemy before them. It also prompted me to think about teaching and its objectivelearning. It has taken me a long time to get to the insight conveyed in the title above, and I thank Kim and Tom, and Albert for provoking it.

Its hard to tell where we are in the history of applied behavioral science relative to the conceptual advances in cosmology made by the scientists named in the first paragraph. I suspect, however, that something close to Ptolemys system characterizes a lot of what goes on in universities and other learning organizations. Ptolemy placed Earth at the center of the universe. Likewise, current practice puts professors at the center of the university. What we do there is teach and do research. And let there be no doubt about itwe are the center!

The first time I was assigned to teach a course, I was elated to receive the assignment, and started planning immediately: What book should I adopt? What kinds of exams should I give, on what schedule? Will I require a paper, and how long should it be? Will I grade on a curve? It was a completely self-centered, teaching-centric approach. The next time I taught, I was less elated, but my questions were the same. Chances are youve entertained those same questions.

The trouble with these questions is that they are Ptolemaic, that is, ego-centric. They put the focus on teaching and what the teacher does. They deflect attention from learning and what the learner does.

There is a learning-centered set of questions that enlarges the frame of reference, moving us in the direction of a Copernican/Newtonian model: How will students learn this? How can students integrate this course content into their current knowledge and skills? What performances show mastery? These questions are much more difficult to answer, and they have the power to transform what we do as teachers to foster learning.

Since before Ptolemys time and continuing to today, there has been a mismatch between how we teach and how we learn. Based on what cognitive, behavioral, and psychological research tells us about how people process, retain, and use information, as well as what we know about the role of emotion, culture, peer relations, and other individual and social factors in learning, it has become increasingly clear that some of the current mainstay educational formats and approachessuch as classroom lectures, rote learning, multiple-choice tests, and so onare not the most effective practices to foster learning. Kim and Toms advice, thinking about the best classroom teachers youve observed and becoming the teacher you always wanted to have, is good strategy for a beginning, but the key challenge is to improve on the status quo.

While research to support a learning-centered conceptualization of educational practices has been accumulating over the past century, only recently have researchers and practitioners begun to improve educational methods and outcomes. We now have a considerable body of knowledge that can be applied to improve learning, problem solving, long-term retention, and transfer of training, and to monitor and guide the way learners build cognitive models of complex phenomena. This growing body of research is beginning to evolve into a science of learning, and it is nicely summarized in How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 1999). Another excellent resource is Learning That Lasts: Integrating Learning, Development, and Performance in College and Beyond (Mentkowski & Associates, 2000). What comes from this work is at least a Copernican model for education, one with learning at its center.

Although centuries separated Newton and Einstein, the next revolution for learning is already on the horizon, or more accessibly, on the Internet. Distance education raises many interesting questions, and it certainly is changing the economics of instruction. Much research shows that distance learning is at least as good as face-to-face classroom instruction. The unfortunate presumption in such comparisons is that performance in face-to-face classroom instruction is a worthy criterion for learning.

What is Einsteinian and can become transformative about distance education is the pressure it exerts on us to specify what is to be learned and then to assess it. What can one do with ones knowledge? What performances show mastery? Declarative knowledge, whether it is downloaded from the Internet, read from a book, or transcribed from a lecture, is not enough. While it is necessary for effective performance, it is not sufficient. Nor is procedural knowledge or effort sufficient. Rather, we are forced to be much more clear and specific about what we mean by effective performance. Spitting back correct answers on multiple-choice tests may be an adequate measure of declarative knowledge, but it is ridiculously deficient as a proxy for performance. As Kim and Tom pointed out, your job is to teach your students to think and not to simply regurgitate information to them from a textbook. Here, here! But easier said than done. How does one learn to think?

Learning goes beyond knowing to being able to do what one knows. And this is where I-O psychologists are especially well prepared to make the needed breakthroughs, by supplying the conceptual frameworks and operational means for making learning central to education.

Figuring out how to define, assess, and shape students performances as critical and constructive thinkers, literate writers and speakers, and responsible citizens and leaders is a huge challenge. It is a challenge that is drawing unprecedented public and political attention. But I-O psychologists have the declarative and procedural knowledge needed to meet it. Now is the time for research, development, and action.

References

    Bransford, John D., Brown, Ann L., and Cocking, Rodney R. (Eds.), (1999). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington: National Academy Press.
    Mentkowski, Marcia and Associates. (2000). Learning that lasts: Integrating learning, development, and performance in college and beyond. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Future Horizons

Before I finish, I need to make my first (shameless?) request for help. If you have topics that you would like to see covered in On the Horizon, or you would like to make a contribution to the column, please contact me with your ideas. The best way to reach me is via e-mail at bachiochip@easternct.edu. You can also reach me via phone at (860) 465-4551 or fax me at (860) 465-4541. As a last resort, you can also mail things to me at Psychology Department, Eastern Connecticut State University, 83 Windham Street, Willimantic, CT 06226.

I look forward to providing you with some things to think about and if I can generate some discussion at the I-O water cooler (or at least over your bottles of spring water), then Ive done my job.

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