: PCT applied to education

[From Richard Thurman (970204.0850)]

Bruce Abbott (970203.2150 EST)

Richard Thurman (970203.1630) --

On the subject of immediate feedback in tests:
(Note -- rereading my story a day later puts an entirely different light
on it. When I wrote it I was laughing at myself for getting all worked up
-for nothing. Perhaps I should have put smiley faces all over it. Anyway
reading it just now it seems so dark and terrible.)

To this day I can't look a statistics book in the eye without mentally
twitching. So much for "immediate feedback."

See what I mean -- there should have been some smileys there. In fact I
went on and actually took more statistics classes than many of the stat
majors.

The problem is that this immediate feedback only informed you of the

current

state of your controlled variable (how well you were doing on the test),

and

what it indicated is that the CV was departing more and more from your
intended reference. Such "feedback" (perception of the state of the CV)
does no good when there is no means at your immediate disposal to correct
the accumulating error. It's like driving down the highway at 65 mph,
hitting ice, and helplessly watching yourself slide into the oncoming
traffic lane.

Yes -- that's the feeling all right!

This is what Rick and Bill used to bring up to Tom Hancock when he was
advocating studying "feedback" in educational settings. They kept telling
him that educational feedback is a misnomer. What teachers usually supply
by way of "feedback" is really an independent disturbance.

In this case I was getting " feedback" about the correctness of my answer
as if I were controlling a variable called "find correct answer." This
information was a disturbance to a higher level controlled variable called
"No errors on this test." And finally it was a huge disturbance to a
system concept type variable called "I'm not a blathering idiot" (that at
the moment must have been wildly oscillating).

That's not the sort of immediate feedback that is beneficial in the
classroom.

Right. But remember I was only referring the effect of "immediate
feedback" on tests. Not classroom instruction.

Compare that to B. F. Skinner's "programmed learning" approach. You are
presented with some information you are to learn and understand, then you
are immediately given a question to answer about the material just
presented. You respond and then you are given immediate feedback of the
type you described -- telling you whether your answer was correct or
incorrect.
...
...
I'm not saying the B. F. saw programmed learning the way I just described

it

(in control system terms), but as I see it his approach couldn't have

been

more PCTish. Fancy that.

Yes, this is what I was getting at in a previous post to Chris Cherpas.
These instructional practices (including what became known as programmed
instruction) have been around for a long time. I'm sure the B.F's
Grandmother put his Grandfather on a course of programmed instruction
early in their courtship (small incremental steps, immediate feedback,
positive reinforcement, remedial branching in the case of incorrect
responses). Otherwise I can guarantee you B. F's parents would have never
arrived on the scene.

What Skinner did was to codify these practices into a scheme that fit the
way he wanted to describe the world. Just as with his pigeons, Skinner
wanted to describe the all to obvious actions we all perform in terms of
the environment. What he missed (I think) was a way to describe "learning
theory" in a way that would show the interactions between internally set
goals (desires) and the externally set environment.

I'm getting off track.... What I wanted to say was that 1)your PCT-based
description of "programmed instruction" is more robust than B.F's, 2)these
instructional practices predate our "modern" explanations of them,
3)explanations for why these practices "work" change with the prevailing
zeit-geist, and 4)PCT is a "new" explanation for old phenomena (at least
in modern western culture).

I was trying to tell Chris the other day that instructional prescriptions
may not change that much when we go from a behavioral/cognitive
explanation to a PCT explanation for why they work. Millennia of practice
have given us a fairly complete set of instructional practices and
prescriptions. Explanations for why they work may change, but the
underlying instructional practices may not.

The reason I am harping on this is that when we do finally come up with a
theory of PCT-based instructional design, the prescriptions for how to
structure the lessons, tests, and other interventions may not differ that
much from Gagne's "Nine Events of Instruction" or Merrill's "ID3." These
instructional practices work because we are trying to control our world.
And the (sometimes unintentional) side effect of our controlling often is
to learn.

I can foresee the day when there is a book called "PCT Principles of
Instructional Design" and people will say, "Its just warmed over
programmed instruction (or component display theory, or algo-heuristic
theory, or elaboration theory, etc..) with a new explanation for why it
works." I would like to hasten the former vision and prevent the latter.

Rich

[From Bruce Gregory (970205.1005 EST)]

Richard Thurman (970204.0850)]

I was trying to tell Chris the other day that instructional prescriptions
may not change that much when we go from a behavioral/cognitive
explanation to a PCT explanation for why they work. Millennia of practice
have given us a fairly complete set of instructional practices and
prescriptions. Explanations for why they work may change, but the
underlying instructional practices may not.

I think PCT tells us that the instructional practices _must_
change. (Unless we want to keep producing the same results.)
Current practices are not built around a model of autonomous
perceptual control systems with very different reference levels.
This flaw is fundamental and perforce leads to very different
instructional schemes.

Bruce Gregory