In my last blog entry I was looking back into my first month in LET studies, and in this post I’m looking even further back in my life in trying to define my field of expertise.
Definition of Expertise
Experts have a rich body of usable knowledge (not just a mere list of facts) that they are able to transfer – that is, they are able to use the information in other contexts and think about possible solutions to problems. The knowledge they have acquired affects what they notice and how they organise, represent and interpret information in their environment. An important characteristics of experts is metacognition, the ability to monitor one’s current level of understanding and decide when it is not adequate. But there are differences to expertise as well, as there can be merely skilled experts who are fairly routinized vs. highly competent experts who are flexible and more adaptable (adaptable experts). This is how expertise is defined in ” How people learn: Brain, mind, and school.” Washington: National Academy Press Bransford et al. (2002). Bransford, J. D., Brown, A.L. & Cocking R. R.
For me the word “expert” still brings into mind some very eminent and a distinguished person.
But perhaps my view of experts has been fixed to those adaptable experts who are almost virtuous in what they do. Perhaps there are a lot more of those skilled experts, in every walk of life and in every age group, from a child to an elderly person.
On our Learning of Expertise -course we were asked to look back at our past, and try to define what is our expertise. I’m still a bit hesitant to say I’m an expert in anything, but I quess, having experience in project management for 13 years, I could say that I’m an expert in that. Project management comprises of many different things, such as planning, scheduling, quality management, risk management, change management, team management, communication, reporting etc. (Don´t get me wrong, I’m not perfect in any of these, but know a good deal about them, the same time also realising that I have still a lot to learn about them.) Project managent also requires basic understanding of the subject the project is about. For example, I have been managing projects in which my team has produced customer documentation for customers that operate on telecommunication business area. So I would say that I’m an expert in customer documentation project management.
I have the knowledge of the basic project phases (planning, execution/production, and delivery/verification phases), and knowledge of what those phases often require from project manager. However, as I said, to be able to be a good project manager, you have to have the basic understanding of the subject the project is about. So if I were to be a project manager on some other domain than customer documentation, it would require a lot of work from my side, so that I could be able to adapt my project management skills to a new area. You have to understand what you know and how to use the relevant parts of the knowledge creatively, but it’s equally important to understand what you don’t know, and try to resolve those issues.
About virtual collaboration
On our Introduction to Learning and Educational Technology -class I read an article from Karpova, Correia & Baran (2009): “Learn to use and use to learn: Technology in virtual collaboration experience.” The article discussed a study which examined how global learning teams utilized technology in a virtual collaboration to solve complex problems. Time difference and lack of nonverbal cues were identified as challenges the global teams faced. The benefits of virtual collaboration were the opportunities to learn how to use technology in a meaningful way, practice using technology to solve problems, and broaden one’s perspective by communicating with people from different cultures.
While reading the article I felt that the results were of no big surprise to me, as I have experienced all this myself while working as a project manager. I had projects where I had team members from different parts of Finland, China and India. We usually had weekly status meetings with the teams where we used different web meeting tools such as Sametime and WebEx. These tools worked pretty well for our purposes of checking the project status and sharing information.
However, at the beginning of the projects when we first started to work with our foreign colleagues,working together was somewhat problematic due to cultural differences, I could summarise it as both ends not completely understanding each others’ working methods as they were so different from eachother. This was something that could not be solved in an virtual environment, so it was decided that a couple of the Finnish team members (a line manager and a project manager ) travelled over for a couple of weeks, so that they could all work face to face and side by side. This was an opportunity to learn how others worked and thought. This proved to be really helpful, and from that point on the virtual collaboration starter working better and better all the time. I think virtual collaboration has many positive sides to it, but it is not yet on the level that it would be as effective as face to face collaboration from the social interaction point of view.
In today’s work life people work in teams a lot, and it’s crucial for them to understand other people and work collaboratively. Experts are not an exeption to this, they also more often need to work in groups of other experts than alone. Learning and also learning of expertise is a social and collaborative phenomena which has both challenges and opportunities. Based on my own experience I find the biggest challenge to be the ability to understand other people as they have different knowledge, background and possibly also different culture to yours. So social skills, communication and negotiation are of the utmost of importance in collaborative work and learning.
References: How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition (2000). Washington, DC: The National Academies Press
Karpova, Correia & Baran (2009) Learn to use and use to learn: Technology in virtual collaboration experience. Internet & Higher Education 12, 45-52