I’ve spent alot of time thinking and talking about what it means to be an expert recently. I’m going to fire down a few of those ideas here, and see where they lead… Feel free to jump in.
Facts and Truths are IMHO not the solid rocks of security they were even 50 years ago. As what my old phil prof called ‘knowledge producers’ increase, get less cohesive, and as their interests diverge, other narratives of truth continue to make their way into the mainstream. The major text-events of our time don’t last very long, and they are written in increasingly changeable media. I was struck today, for instance, about the defense the american ruling government is making against an accused ‘flip-flop‘, an expression now so reified, that most people don’t need an explanation of its meaning, its political rammifications or the reaction against it as a concept. It really only came into general usage in its current form a little over two years ago.
How, I ask you, does one get to be an expert… or, maybe more importantly REMAIN an expert, in such quickly changing times? In times where ‘authority’ is so hard to quantify?
Authority granted by accomplishmentÂ
The context for this particular issue started during our conversations with Larry Sanger about digital universe. Larry was saying that the difference between du and wikipedia was that du would be validated by ‘experts’. During that conversation, i tried to figure out what Larry meant by expert, but he seemed to take the definition as self-descriptive, “an expert is someone who is recognized as an expert.”
At about the same time, I had a conversation with someÂ faculty at a university about the future possibilities of an e-learning project. About half way through, someone turned to me and said, “but what are your qualifications… oh, you don’t have a Phd, we’ll we should consult an expert.” As you might imagine, (certainly those of you who’ve heard me onÂ the podcasts) i did not react very well to this distinction… Does a Phd make me an expert? Should we trust that as validation?
So, in both cases, we are looking for authority. People are looking for a way to decide if the person who is writing an article are responsibly reporting the ‘facts’ they’ve discovered – are giving good advice for belief. And that, I think, is what it comes down to. Can I believe this person? And in both of these cases, the people involved are throwing they ‘belief’ over to those who have their doctorate in a given field, or who have published extensively in peer reviewed journals… (which leads us to…)
Authority by communityÂ
Here in blogland, we do that by searching through the ‘nodes’ of people’s interaction. (see G. Siemens) We can look through who links to them, and who they link to and get a sense of what kind of a thinker they are. It doesn’t stop us from looking elsewhere for information, but it does give us the vaguest inkling of where people are coming from. This is authority granted by community.
We are, in a sense, the worlds largest peer reviewed journal. And its a journal that includes various rating systems. There have been oodles of links and comments about Stephen Downes’ elearning 2.0 and George Siemens’ connectivism. They have been, by popular acclaim of their peers, designated experts.
But experts at what? I would not, for instance, approach Stephen for driving lessons. I have, also, had significant (and very entertaining) philosophical disagreements with George. Does it make George right? He would probably not say so, nor has he ever suggested that his status as an expert makes him more ‘right’ than anyone else. In their debate on edtechtalk, the two had significant disagreements. Who is to judge which of them is ‘correct’?
My answer is that no one can. It is a clumsy, difficult and dangerous thing to decide who is correct on any given issue. At the moment of choice, someone is marginalized, a path of discovery is closed off, a possibility for exploration is nipped in the bud.
Many people get irritated with me at this point. They say stuff like “some things have to be true.” We have to be able to “make a decision.” And i’m certainly not espousing the lack of decisions. What I’m saying is the decision between several courses of action is rarely a decision that is ‘right’, but more a decision of what is ‘best’. Regardless of what we ‘believe’.
What is an expert?
An expert, then, would be someone who can present the possibilities that exist, and explain how different choices can lead to different kinds of results. As the quantity of information increases, and the diversity of opinions multiply, I don’t see how any one single person can be an expert in the old sense of the world. It would take a community of people, working in concert, in an openly accessible environment, to allow the many truths to present themselves to public view to allow the looker to judge for themselves which of the paths on a given subject will work for their context.
But isn’t that what a reporter does?Â
In a sense, what i’ve described, is what a reporter does when they go out and get different ideas on a subject. Jeff and I were approached by a gentlemen for an interview for this podcast about wikipedia. He tracked various opinions from various experts regarding the use of wikipedia as a ‘trusted source’. But does that make the reporter an expert, or from a different perspective, does it make the podcast the expert?
I don’t think there’s AN answer to any of these questions. I do believe that a discussion on them is warranted. And the more we continue that discussion, the easier it’ll be to talk about solutions to the challanges that keep arising in our practice.
ps. and someone give me a phd please. 🙂