Gaining Expertise
November 18th, 2008 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I was recently checking things out on Craig’s List, when I saw a Catalina 27 sailboat available at a phenomenal price.  I have enjoyed Long Island Soundsailing for the past 11 years on my Catalina 22, but with the family more regularly joining me, I’ve been thinking about opportunities to upgrade.  Adding 5 feet of boat length translates into an incredible amount of space. 

I asked my friend, Paul, to join me on the excursion and we arrived in Milford to check out the boat, now dry-docked in a boat yard.  Apparently the boat has been abandoned, and they want to get rid of it.

Initial inspections look good.  The boat is very structurally sound.  I think the cushions all need to be replaced – all wet and mildewy.  Mast looks good.  Needs a lot of TLC.  We discuss the boat with the boathouse manager – apparently the motor may have seized.  What does this mean?  I’ve always had an outboard motor on my boat – it comes off; it’s easily serviced.  I’ve never dealt with an inboard before.  I don’t know anything about it.  In fact, I was blissfully ignorant about inboard motors. 

Changing hats . . . sailor-enthusiast to educator

A while back I wrote about expertise and student experiencemaking references to a Disney song from Pocahontas “Colors of the Wind.”  You see, students and teachers can be incompetent (I use the word incompetent, not as a derogatory word, but rather as an objective descriptor) and not even know it.  They can be conscious of their incompetence and want to learn more.  This Consciousness/Competence learning model (similar to Ingham and Luft’s Johari Window) provides an important framework for competency and expertise.

As students begin learning new concepts that they’ve never been exposed to before, first they have to identify that knowledge and skills exist beyond their experiences.  This is not a bad thing – it indicates to us, that there is always more to learn – we need to strive for continuous improvement.  In fact, who would be so boldly ignorant to say that he or she knows everything? 

As I work with my students who are developing independent science research projects, they begin to learn about limitations and need to make deciscions to navigate through those uncharted waters.

They might ask:

  • What do I know? 
  • Am I capable of doing this?
  • Do I have the necessary skills, expertise, access to expertise, money, time, or self-commitment to follow through?

Adult learners also have to make the same considerations.  In addition, they most likely think about how their learning will impact their job. In the case of teachers – how does the new learning impact teaching and learning.  Is it meaningful and helpful for me and students?

Let’s set sail and find out!

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