One-Hour Presentation and Discussion Session
at the
International Conference
of the
Association for Educational Communications and Technology
Dallas, Texas, November 12-16, 2002

Below we present the following items:

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Session Proposal to AECT on
Mind over Competency


Jan Visser, Learning Development Institute
Meira Van der Spa, Wageningen University, The Netherlands
Yusra Laila Visser, Learning Development Institute and Florida State University

Short description

Competency is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for humans to contribute to the well being of the world. The Learning Development Institute carries out research to identify key factors for nurturing and developing the 'overall way of being in the world' (or mind) of individuals while they engage in life's pursuits. It focuses specifically on the scientific mind. Results findings will relate to the development of the scientific mind (1) among the less schooled in developing countries; (2) in Internet communities; and (3) among practicing scientists.


The instructional design field puts great emphasis on the development of competencies. It assumes that complex human behavior can be broken down in component behaviors and that the successful autonomous execution of all component behaviors, as well as the composite behavior made up of the various component behaviors, is the desired endpoint of a well-designed instructional intervention. The history of the development of the instructional design field leaves little doubt about the value and effectiveness of the systematic analysis of the conditions that allow people to acquire such specific competencies as referred to above. However, the resounding success of systematic instructional design has also resulted in under attention to aspects of human behavior that can be less well expressed in terms of measurable competencies. Such aspects are nonetheless believed to be crucially important in a world in which it is increasingly necessary for single individuals, not only to be competent, but also to be able to judge the potential consequences of their actions and take responsibility for how they use their competencies.

The scientific mind as focus for research and development

The 'overall way of being in the world' of an individual who engages in one or more of life's pursuits is referred to here as 'mind.' The development of mind includes the development of competencies but is not limited to it. Specific competencies should therefore be developed as part of the wider concern to develop mind. This requires instructional designers to balance specific instructional factors with non-instructional ones. The latter kind of factors can be seen to operate in the larger environment in which a particular instructional system is embedded. Examples of the kinds of mind that could form the overall setting within which particular learning behavior takes shape are the scientific mind, the poetic mind, and the entrepreneurial mind. These different minds are not disjunct. Rather, they overlap. The proposed paper will specifically focus on the scientific mind, which is assumed to be crucially important for our time, reason why it has been selected by the Learning Development Institute (LDI) as one of its four focus areas for research and development. The scientific mind comprises such dimensions as the spirit of inquiry; the power of imagination; the spirit of collaboration; the quest for beauty; the desire to understand and to do so profoundly; the aspiration to create; the courage to be critical (including the preparedness to appreciate other people's critique); the will to transcend existing boundaries; the spirit of building on prior knowledge; the search for unity; and the spirit of construction.

A three-pronged investigation

A three-member research team will report on research and development activities in three different areas. During the proposed one-hour session, an attempt will be made, particularly while discussing the results, to interpret disparate findings within the integrative framework of the concept of scientific mind.

1) The scientific mind among the not so schooled

Human beings are born with many of the dispositions that were above identified as pertaining to the scientific mind. Consequently, the scientific mind is well represented among infants and small children (see e.g. Gopnik, Meltzeff, & Kuhl, 1999). Not surprisingly, the scientific mind is also well represented among members of the scientific community, the best of whom will not have lost the ability to ask the kind of questions many children ask, an ability that gets diminished or lost in the process of growing up in environments that expect young people to conform, rather than to question. The school being one such an environment, many a prominent scientist attributes his or her education to other factors than the school (e.g. Gell-Mann, 1995). Consequently, the scientific mind has a certain likelihood to flourish better among the unschooled and not so schooled, particularly those who face daily circumstances requiring a well developed ability to interact with problems. As large groups of such people can be found in so-called developing countries, this study will retrospectively analyze experience in the development of scientific mind in a variety of African countries over the past 30 years. Conclusions drawn from this analysis will be discussed against the backdrop of the assumptions underlying LDI's current and ongoing The Scientific Mind (TSM) project.

2) The scientific mind and the Internet

Bronowski (1978) underlines the crucial importance of discussion for the advancement of scientific truth. Basically, one is looking at a "self-correcting activity" (p. 122) focused on the constant scrutiny of the processes "by which you get from today's knowledge to tomorrow's knowledge" (p. 126). The growth of scientific community in the seventeenth century, as opposed to the operation of individual genius largely in isolation before that time, can thus be seen as one of the key factors for the explosion of scientific creativity the world has witnessed ever since. The sense of community among scientists is particularly inspired by the strong conviction that one ought to behave in particular ways in order to advance. There is thus a strong ethical agreement among members of the scientific community regarding how truth can be obtained. Considering the critical role of community as a basis for the development of the scientific mind, research is being conducted in one environment that is particularly well suited for individuals to be in touch with each other, the Internet. In addition to exploring how Internet communities emerge and grow, inspired by one or more of the multiple dimensions that characterize the scientific mind, particular emphasis in this research is on identifying instances in which those communities, like the community of scientists, are concerned with their modes of operation, rather than with expectations regarding potential outcomes.

3) The mind of scientists

The scientific mind is not limited to scientists. The disposition and ability to look at the world as "a canvas for change" (Bronowski, 1978, p. 123) and upon oneself as "a divine agent of change" (p. 123) can be nurtured and developed in many people, whether they become professional scientists or not. To the extent that there is value in developing the above disposition and ability, it thus makes sense to identify key factors conditioning such development. Naturally, one of the better ways to do so is by looking at the life histories of the most prominent practitioners of the scientific mind, those who have dedicated their lives to the world of science. Fortunately, much literature exists (e.g. Gell-Mann, 1995; Joliot, 2001; Lederman & Scheppler, 2001; Roe, 1953; Ulam, 1991; and Wolpert & Richards, 1997, to name but a few sources) the systematic study of which can reveal important conditions for the development of the scientific mind.

Session format

Results of the study will be made available on the Web site of the Learning Development Institute (www.learndev.org) prior to the proposed session. Presentations by the research team will be moderated (by the first author) to focus on key issues for discussion so that ample time will be available for the kind of vigorous debate that is essential for the building of scientific community and the development of mind among the attendees of the session.


Bronowski, J. (1978). The origins of knowledge and imagination. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Gell-Mann, M. (1995). The quark and the jaguar: Adventures in the simple and the complex. New York: W. H. Freeman and Company.

Gopnik, A., Meltzeff, A. N. & Kuhl, P. K. (1999). The scientist in the crib: Minds, brains, and how children learn. New York, NY: William Morrow and Company, Inc.

Joliot, P. (2001). La recherche passionnément (Passionate inquiry). Paris, France: Éditions Odile Jacob.

Lederman, L. M., & Scheppler, J. A. (2001). Portraits of great American scientists. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.

Roe, A. (1953). The making of a scientist. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co.

Ulam, S. M. (1991). The adventures of a mathematician. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Wolpert, L., & Richards, A. (1997). Passionate minds: The inner world of scientists. New York: Oxford University Press.

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Mind over Competency

Slide Presentation

The slide show on Mind over Competency, presented at the International Conference of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology, held in Dallas, TX, November 12-16, 2002, consisted of three parts that were presented in the following order:

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Idle talk or inspirational interaction?

Cyber-communities: Idle talk or inspirational interaction? is a paper by LDI collaborator Meira Van der Spa, Wageningen University, The Netherlands. The study reported on in this paper is part of the three-pronged inquiry conducted within the framework of the overall focus on Mind over Competency, which was the theme of a one-hour session, referred to on this page, at the International Conference of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology, held in Dallas, TX, November 12-16, 2002.















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