(previously Fifty...): PCT & education: where's the beef?

[From Chris Cherpas (970130.1155 PT)]
  [re Bruce Gregory (970130.1045 EST)]


I am working fairly assiduously (Bill, check that spelling
please) to base a course I teach on the Nature of Science on PCT

Anything you would be willing to share (topic outline, a list
of objectives, sources, etc.) would be greatly appreciated:


What I had to first confront is the fact that I am
dealing with twenty autonomous control systems with very
different reference levels and very different histories. I
concluded therefore that there was little chance that I would
stumble on an approach that would reduce my error signals and
all of their error signals at the same time. (Particularly since
I have no direct access to their error signals. A classroom is
not a good example of HPCT!) I have tried to make my reference
levels clear to them, but I have not always been successful.

Computer-based instruction, which can be individualized on
the basis of each student's history of interaction with the
system would seem to be an easier way to approach PCT-based


Since each student has access to his or her error signals, each
student is the only person in a position to know whether that
signal is being minimized. (If I were teaching tennis, it would
be simpler because the errors would be a lot easier to
recognize.) I am still wrestling with this problem.

The first consideration is still what perceptions you -- the course
developer -- are seeking to control. In other words, you have
standards for what is competence in a student of "the nature of
science," stated in terms of what variables they should be
controlling. Can you provide a list of eduational objectives
that are translated into PCT terms? Then you use a version of the
Test for controlled variables to see that students are controlling well,
poorly, or not at all.


I've come up with a few rules of thumb. First, any goal must be
such that each student can tell whether he or she is getting
closer to it. Second, students must act in some way. Third, each
student must be able to perceive the results of those actions.
The hardest part is identifying the goal (reference level) in a
way that is compatible with the reference levels of each

I agree totally, but the whole enterprise of education is predicated
on someone being able to improve _somebody else's_ ability to
control. Therefore, the ball comes back to your court before anything
else: have to spelled out in detail what _you_ want them to be controlling for?

Bill Powers (970129.2030 MST)

How are there ever going to be any educational applications if nobody who is
professional competent in education develops them? Why does everybody want
me to do their work for them?

Dude, you said yourself recently (I hope I don't have to find
the specific post) that an engineer first pulls whatever s/he can off
the shelf while gearing up to design something. That's all I'm asking
for. The present state of PCT's shelf of academic applications
(no, "responsible thinking" does NOT count) is a pile of IOUs.

I've seen lots on the "promise" of improving education and zero
actual sets of exercises students could run to learn some math.
(Is there a problem with the theory itself?)

I sense that these exercises could in many cases share properties
of the control demos that abound, but the specific tasks would be
different than keeping a cursor near a line on the screen.

I have been searching for theories and technologies to improve
learning for a long time. At least Skinner's legacy of teaching
machines allows one to collect _some_ kind of data. Artificial Intelligence
has made many promises too. I say a system that is claimed for decades to
be good for education, but has produced not a single strand of
exercises can legitimately have its claims seriously doubted.
You disagree?

Bruce's implied answer is also relevant:

You know the answer to that question perfectly well...

To spell it out (my version): if the core group of expert PCTers
can't do it, why would the newcomers be able to? Your reply mentions
the phrase "...professional[ly] competent in education..." I would have
thought that one can't really be professionally competent in education
_without_ doing it from a PCT orientation from all I've heard.

Bill, since you have written many books (both published and in posts!) which
are intended to teach something, I would have thought this would be
a natural extension. In addition, I have (even recently -- see one
of Mary's posts a few back) heard claims that if kids were taught PCT,
we'd be better off; while I intuitively think this is correct, what
is the referent for the term "teaching" in these claims? Are we saying
that kids taught PCT via conventional means would do just fine, but
it's "not our job" to teach them using PCT as a pedagogical basis?

Mr. PCT: It _is_ your job to provide some examples if you want the
rest of us lazy bums to do the right thing. I've seen lots of
examples on this list where non-PCT-experts are called on the carpet
(did I get that metaphor right?) for not really understanding control,
not getting it, etc. OK, do you trust me to go ahead and write
instruction "from a PCT perspective" (can I use your name in
referencing what is a PCT perspective?)?

I am rarely bored :wink:

Bruce, unlike you, I'm frequently bored. The present friendly/hostile kind
of rant really helps to reduce it. Boredom for me is mostly frustration.

But always, best regards,

[From Bill Powers (970130.1645 MST)]

Chris Cherpas (970130.1155 PT)--

Mr. PCT: It _is_ your job to provide some examples if you want the
rest of us lazy bums to do the right thing. I've seen lots of
examples on this list where non-PCT-experts are called on the carpet
(did I get that metaphor right?) for not really understanding control,
not getting it, etc. OK, do you trust me to go ahead and write
instruction "from a PCT perspective" (can I use your name in
referencing what is a PCT perspective?)?

Provide some examples of what, Chris? All my experience with teaching
classes (zero)? All my research projects in which I tested possible
applications of PCT to teaching (zero)? Or basic concepts of PCT and simple
experiments that illustrate and teach them? There I can help you.

I have tried, from time to time, to show how PCT might be applied in fields
where I can at least get a toehold, like motor control models, crowd
behavior, biochemical control systems, tracking and control of visual
displays, rat behavior, and a couple of other things. I could learn enough
(especially with help from people like Bruce Abbott), and the problem to be
solved could be programmed easily enough, to be within my capabilities. But
how can I do experiments with education? I don't even know what the problems

When you speak of the "core group of expert PCTers," I wonder what picture
goes through your mind. A little group of people in white coats doing
mysterious things in a laboratory bristling with equipment? The only one of
us who ever had a laboratory was Tom Bourbon at Stephen F. Austin State
University in Naucogdoches, Texas (where?), and he was the ONLY ONE in his
department of psychology (after David Goldstein left) who had any interest
in PCT and taught it to his undergraduate students. Most of us have earned a
living doing something unrelated to PCT -- my last job was in Technical
Services at the Chicago Sun-Times, developing a microcomputer system that
received the stock market quotes from a satellite and translated them into
typesetter commands in real time. As in my previous jobs, I worked on PCT in
my spare time, buying my own computers and teaching myself how to program
them. And the "core group" meets face to face perhaps twice a year, in good
years. We don't wear white coats.

What's needed, of course, are people who DO have laboratories, or
institutional support, and the means of conducting research into the
application of PCT to real-world problems like education. You can't just sit
down and invent a valid application, with no data. You have to get
experience with how things work in a classroom, and get to the point where
you can say what needs to be known. That kind of work hasn't been done. And
I can't do it, sitting here in my living room, 13 miles outside of Durango, CO.

Certainly, I would trust you to write instructions from a PCT perspective.
Who else is there to do it, but people on CSGnet who have experience in
education? At this very second, I wouldn't trust anyone to write them
correctly, especially myself, but you have to try out ideas before you can
see where they need fixing. That's the bootstrap process called basic
research, and there's no substitute for it.


Bill P.