Latest update: November 01, 2009

Presidential Panel Session and Working Group Meeting
at the
Annual Convention
of the
Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT)

Louisville, Kentucky, October 27-31, 2009

Dates and times
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This event was spread over two days, October 29 and 30, 2009, of the 2009 AECT convention.
The panel session took place on Friday, October 30, from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. The panel session was open to all attendees of the convention.
The working group meeting was by invitation. It was attended by the panelists only. It took place the day prior to the panel, i.e., Thursday, October 29, from 4:30 to 8:00 p.m. Its purpose was for the panelists to get to know each other's views and to exchange thoughts and experiences on which those views are based.
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The panel and workshop are being organized and facilitated by:
  • Jan Visser, President, Learning Development Institute.
The panel will furthermore be composed of:
  • Michael Hannafin, Director, Learning and Performance Support Laboratory, University of Georgia.
  • Michael Spector, Professor, University of Georgia.
  • Glen Bull, Head, National Technology Leadership Coalition.
  • Brent Wilson, Professor, University of Colorado Denver.
  • Charles Reigeluth, Professor, Indiana University.
A written contribution is expected from:
  • Leon Lederman, Nobel Laureate Physics 1988; Director Emeritus, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and Resident Scholar, Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy.
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On the Web pages for the 2009 AECT convention, the Presidential Panel Session on 'Building the Scientific Mind' is decribed as follows:

This session aims at fostering discussion on the desirability for the design of learning environments to move beyond the primary concern with competencies to mental states defined at a higher level of complexity. Such mental states, or mindsets, are typically defined in terms of a broad mix of interacting competencies, attitudes, values and metacognitive abilities. Taken together, these sets of mental faculties determine, in a holistic manner, our ways of being and acting in the world. Conscious care for the mind is increasingly required as citizens of the twenty-first century are expected to interact with complex problem situations, both professionally and in the day-to-day reality of their lives as contributing members of their societies and communities. The ‘scientific mind’ is one of a variety of mindsets. Over the past years it has been the object of study and debate among the panelists. The panel contributes to the session as panelists take a first cut at presenting their thoughts, concerns, queries and doubts. The audience will be invited to join in doing the same.
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The Scientific Mind (TSM) has been a focus area of inquiry for the Learning Development Institute since its inception in 1999.
A concept paper on The Scientific Mind in Context provides an attempt to capture the essence of the concept of TSM. While no great changes have been proposed to the paper since it was written, it is still considered a draft as it is felt that further elaboration is needed to fully delineate this complex concept. The paper concludes offering the following suggestions as a starting point for the description of the multidimensional character on TSM in terms of 11 dispositions:
  1. The spirit of inquiry.
  2. The spirit of collaboration.
  3. The quest for beauty (harmony, parsimony, wholeness).
  4. The desire to understand and do so profoundly.
  5. The creative spirit.
  6. The urge to be critical.
  7. The spirit to transcend.
  8. The spirit of building on prior knowledge.
  9. The search for unity.
  10. The building of the story of human knowledge and ability.
  11. The spirit of construction.
Since 2005 several international colloquia on Building the Scientific Mind (BtSM) have taken place. They are all documented on the Web pages of the Learning Development Institute. The documentation in question can be accessed via the following links:
  • BtSM2005, held May 17-20, 2005, in The Hague, Netherlands.
  • BtSM2007, held May 28-31, 2007, in Vancouver, BC, Canada.
  • BtSM2009, held May 10-14, 2009, in Cairo, Egypt.
Questions formulated by participating panelists
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As a first step in developing the dialogue, panelists were asked to share with their colleagues initial questions they wished to serve as inspiration for the dialogue. Each question is followed by a brief rationale. Below is the tabulated result of this initial exercise. Contributions appear in the order in which they came in.
Want to contribute to the dialogue? Please go to the Learning Development Institute on Facebook site and use the 'Discussions' area. Your input will be greatly appreciated.

 # Author Question
  Jan Visser 


I am both a theoretical physicist and a learning scientist, having research, teaching, and policy development experience in both areas. I also spent a lifetime thinking about what it means to learn and exploring what is involved in creating knowledge for deep understanding of the world (the essence of science). More recently, my interest turned to trying to figure out what those two things have to do with each other.

As a growing human being and a developing scientist, I have tremendously benefited from circumstances that were unique to me, but I believe we all come across such instances of uniqueness in our lives, if we approach life with an open mind. For me, such unique occurrences, which became of significant influence to my development, included privileged opportunities to interact with

  • the embodied memories of the intellectual, creative, spiritual, and experiential heritage of the past (as for instance laid down in written documents, oral histories, artifacts, performed music, staged representations, and images);
  • dedicated mentors, the living instances of how those senior to me were (and, for some, still are) playing their role in the history of humanity's development, who guided me through their love, teaching, guidance, and critical questioning of my thoughts and actions;
  • students who, in turn, I served as mentor, which allowed them to interact with the memories meanwhile embodied in me, taking advantage of my connections to the past and the present and to ask me questions that often propelled me beyond where I was at the time.

The instances of embodied memory referred to above are what I call 'mind.'

I posit that mind--embodied memory--is as much worthy of consideration as the collection of competencies we habitually put our focus on when thinking about the education of others from an instructional design perspective. The importance and relevance of the assumptions underlying our field are firmly supported by evidence. However, I believe that it's time we get ready for taking the next step, recognizing that there are reasons to elevate our thinking to considering the implications of learning at higher levels of complexity.

In raising issues about the 'scientific mind,' I wish to acknowledge that the scientific mind is but one of multiple mindsets worthy of consideration. Other mindsets are possible and deserve equal attention. In fact, different mindsets often overlap--and interact significantly--in important areas of concern. Nonetheless, I also believe that the values embodied in the history of the development of the sciences are of particular relevance to our time. Thus, I hold that not only professional scientists, but all human beings, deserve to be given the best chances to develop their scientific mind.
01 Jan Visser As outlined in the description above, the mind is a multifaceted concept. I am proposing making the (scientific) mind, rather than a set of separate competencies, the unit of analysis in pursuing major advances in education and learning. Is this too tall an order from the perspective of the design of learning environments?
In In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind, Eric Kandel situates the mind as a concept that has traditionally been the object of inquiry of philosophy and psychology, but whose study has more recently come within the purview of the neurosciences as well. The mind can not be seen, despite Descartes, as separate from the brain. The biology of the mind makes 'mind' a much more concrete concept, open to inquiry, even though many of the tools of investigation may still have to be invented. It thus seems a good time to change perspective and broaden our vision of learning. Earlier attempts to do so include the chapter I contributed to the International Handbook of Lifelong Learning (2001); a special collaboratively authored issue of Educational Technology Magazine (March-April 2002); and the euqally collaboratively authored 2008 publication on Learners in a Changing Learning Landscape: Reflections from a Dialogue on New Roles and Expectations (Visser & Visser, Eds. - Springer).
02 Jan Visser In general, what conditions in the learning environment condition the emergence and development of the scientific mind? The term 'learning environment' in this question should be interpreted in a very brought sense. It can mean any specific learning environment, weather formal and deliberately created. It can also refer to an informal and spontaneously created environment. Moreover, It could mean the entire learning landscape in which one exists, made up of the collection of dynamically interacting opportunities for learning that one discovers having access to during one's lifelong learning journey.
03 Jan Visser Is science education, as we know it, a primary means towards developing the scientific mind? If not, or if it leaves to be desired, what should change? Might science education as we know it be detrimental to developing the scientific mind? If so, in what ways and why? This question obviously relates to the formal learning environment, particularly the school. In most schools teaching occurs in accordance with set curricula that are highly compartmentalized in disciplines and sub-disciplines and that are often the product of prevailing ideologies. The scientific disciplines are frequently believed to be the major contributors to shaping the scientific mind, usually with a view to laying the basis for preparing the new generation of scientists. Should such belief be taken for granted or rather be challenged? I believe there are good reasons to challenge it.
04 Jan Visser Beyond formal science education, what advice would we have as regards rethinking schooling systems such that mindful learning, and in particular the development of the scientific mind, ensue? The setting for this question is the same as for the previous question: We are clearly looking at what happens in schools. Here we should look at potential opportunities that may be present in the school environment but that so far have remained unexplored. We may, among other possibilities, want to look at the presence of disciplines other than science and their potential contribution to developing the scientific mind. We may also want to look at possibilities to transgress and transcend the boundaries between the traditional disciplines.
05 Jan Visser What informal learning settings could be particularly interesting for the development of the scientific mind? What conditions must be satisfied in such environments? Here again we must think broadly. Science may or may not be explicitly present in the informal learning settings we wish to explore. Yet, things may happen in, say, a conversation around the kitchen table; in an internet chat room; while reading a book; or when listening to a discussion on Science Friday, that profoundly change one's way of looking at and interacting with the world. Many scientists refer to such circumstances as a key motivation to what turned them on. Is this a privilege just for scientists or do we all engage with such opportunities to see the light, in whatever direction it may propel us professionally, in the sciences or in other domains?
Brent G. Wilson


My questions involve interrogating the two main constructs of science and mind. Most people think of science as the objective application of a rigorous method in pursuit of new knowledge about the (material) world. The method (which on examination cannot be explicitly defined) is explicitly materialist and explicitly sidesteps questions of value. Moreover, the construct of mind suggests a dualism with the material/body. So both of the primary terms lead to interesting questions.

My bottom line with these questions: I sense a fundamental tension between science (which is traditionally an effort to subjugate the material through the mental), mind (necessarily dualistic, privileging mind over the material), and the more holistic dispositions that frame the construct in the paper and the website.
06 Brent G. Wilson How can the scientific mind avoid the negative aspects of mind-body dualism - e.g., neglect or oppression of the embodied, the material, and the unnecessary dividing of mind and body, with the privileging of mind over body? How are these issues played out in virtual environments, which are almost by definition disembodied? Studies of the mind by definition are dualistic, positing a mental state that corresponds to the physical (whether neurological or external conditions in the world). While some insights can be gained from studies of mind, they can lead to distorted views of things. We either need to develop models that explicitly acknowledge the material - or be very careful in our use of dualistic models.
07 Brent G. Wilson How does a scientific mind embrace the whole range of human concerns and capacities - for example, spiritual, aesthetic, emotional/affective, conative/self-regulative, etc.? Can the study of learning environments benefit from such broad-based examination and study? Science is usually thought of in terms of intellectual knowledge pursuit, but narrowly framed by materialist assumptions, transcending the personal quirks and interests of researchers. I sense a sympathy to these concerns - but how are they compatible with the practice of science - and the notion of mind? The study of learning environments badly needs a broader perspective (presently dominated by cognitivist assumptions) - so how can we keep this broader perspective as reflected in the eleven dispositions (see above)?
08 Brent G. Wilson Similarly, human questions of ethics, social justice, moral obligation, politics, etc. are usually thought to be outside the scope of science - yet they are definitely relevant to designing and sustaining learning environments. How should these various concerns be organized and prioritized with respect to learning environments - and how does the scientific mind accommodate these concerns? A further broadening of perspective. A 'scientific' approach to social justice is nearly absurd - science isn't meant to answer questions of values and justice and equity - yet these are serious concerns for learning environments, as perusal of AERA journals would demonstrate.
09 Brent G. Wilson Given the rapid rise of neuroscience, challenging the construct of mind - is 'scientific mind' an oxymoron? This is mostly a tease - but does point to this conflict between the two major terms. Is mind real - or is it just a placeholder we're using until neuroscience tells us how things really are?
J. Michael Spector
The concept of a scientific mind is somewhat fuzzy and ill-defined. This creates a challenge for those who wish to create experiences and activities to foster the development of a scientific mind. The challenge is determining whether and to what extent particular experiences and activities have been worthwhile and productive. In any case, I shall say briefly how I understand the notion of the scientific mind and then pose a few questions. In one sense, a scientific mind is one that is inclined to engage in persistent and disciplined inquiry with regard to a particular area of investigation or set of phenomena. In another sense, a scientific mind can be associated with being a skeptical inquirer--a person who
(a) admits to not knowing or understanding something,
(b) is convinced that it would be interesting or important to know and understand, and
(c) is willing to consider alternative approaches and explanations along the way.
In any case, it is worth noting that one cannot be scientific in either sense all of the time about all issues. It then makes sense to think about inclinations, dispositions, habits of the mind and such. Being scientific is not a purely cognitive skill--there are attitudes and feelings and values involved. Before posing questions, I want to remark on the difference between posing questions and having questions. Posing a question, which I shall do shortly, involves a linguistic activity--namely formulating a particular grammatical structure (e.g., using a question word, reversing the normal subject-verb order in English and putting a question mark at the end of the sentence). Posing a question is easily learned and easily accomplished in most situations. What is the difference between posing and having? We all pose questions, and we often do so to indicate a kind of posture or position with regard to an issue. However, such posed questions often lack the admission of not knowing, the subsequent process of inquiry, the willingness to explore alternatives, and so on. Occasionally, someone who poses a question ends up having a question; having a question is indicated by inquiry related activities among other things. The original meaning of 'skeptic' was 'inquirer' - a skeptic is someone who admits to not knowing but who is engaged in trying to find out. I regard that as a marker of a scientific mind.
10 J. Michael Spector What is the role of formulating questions in developing a scientific mind? The motivation for this question should be obvious from my opening remarks. It is clearly important to formulate questions to guide inquiry--at least on many occasions, but posing a question is quite different from having a question. What is the nature of that relationship and is it important in the development of a scientific mind?
11 J. Michael Spector How can one assess progress in developing a scientific mind? This is a central challenge indicated in my opening statement. The notion of the scientific mind is somewhat vague and people cannot be expected to exhibit the qualities of a scientific mind all of the time on every issue or problem. How then can we determine that educational and professional activities are contributing in a meaningful way to the development of a scientific mind?
12 J. Michael Spector To what extent does and should society value the development of scientific minds in its youth? I ask this question because an unstated assumption is often that being more scientific is highly desirable--that is certainly an assumption that I often make. Is this assumption shared widely throughout society and should it be widely shared?
13 J. Michael Spector To what extent have we gotten beyond Bacon's idols on account of scientific progress?
Sir Francis Bacon identified four idols (undesirable ways of thinking) that he thought science could and should address:
(a) idols of the tribe--false conceptions due to human nature,
(b) idols of the cave--false conceptions due to upbringing and individual bias,
(c) idols of the marketplace--the truth they are telling is simply the truth that is selling, and
(d) idols of the theatre--false notions based on sophistry and rhetoric without a foundation in evidence or facts.
Are these idols still bedeviling society some 400 years or so later? What can we then say about the nature of scientific progress and the development of the scientific mind?
  Michael Hannafin
Not provided.


14 Michael Hannafin To what extent does (or should) epistemology influence teaching and learning inquiry and practice? Researchers and practitioners espouse varied beliefs as to the nature, role and meaning of epistemology. The debate in both the study and practice of teaching and learning reflects these differences (e.g., relativist v. constructivist), but does it really matter? Why? When? For whom? In some cases, epistemological differences are reflected in research and practice processes and activities; in others, they are not. And, in many cases where differences are explicit, neither research nor teaching practices have demonstrated improvements or benefits over instances where epistemology was not evident. At the end of the day, what has the focus on understanding and examining epistemological differences contributed to research and practice? How can (or should) differences be reflected in inquiry and practice?
15 Michael Hannafin If we know so much about differences between expert and novice reasoning, why have we struggled to apply this in the design of learning environments? A great deal of research has been published on differences between novices and experts. This literature, however, has been more helpful in characterizing differences between experts and novices than in supporting the novice in developing and refining expertise. We need to consider whether expert-novice research can be applied to design, or is more accurately viewed as contributing basic research to our understanding.
16 Michael Hannafin Can scientific understanding of human learning really be advanced through research that lacks a compelling scientific base? The divisions between classical empiricists and relativists are among the most contentious of issues related to inquiry. This is often evident in the strident criticisms of empiricists who contend that relativist inquiry lacks the rigor, grounding and discipline to be considered 'scientific,' and thus does not adhere to or comply with the standards of acceptable research.
Charles Reigeluth


The abstract for this session highlights the construct of mental states or mindsets that are comprised of a broad mix of interacting competencies, attitudes, values, and metacognitive abilities (to which I would add understandings or mental models). They determine, in a holistic manner, our ways of being and acting in the world. I believe this is an extremely important area of inquiry. In my work on paradigm change in public education systems, I find that the key to success is helping people to evolve their mindsets about education, which in my view are related to their broader mindsets about the world.

However, I do not like the focus on 'the scientific mindset.' I would propose that there is no such thing. At best I would say there was an industrial-age scientific mindset, based on the Cartesian or mechanistic view (mindset) of the world. And there is an information-age scientific mindset, based on a systems-thinking, chaos-theory, and sciences-of-complexity view of the world.

I am sure there are many different kinds of mindsets on many different levels of generality or scope. On the broadest level of the continuum, I see mindsets based on Toffler's distinctions among the hunting-and-gathering society, the agrarian society, the industrial society, and the information society (with perhaps the spiritual society to come next?). In particular, I note the mechanistic worldview of the industrial age and the complex-systemic worldview of the information age. On the simpler end of the continuum might be something like a mindset for collaboration as opposed to a mindset of adversarial nature.

My interests are first in developing a better understanding of what a mindset or worldview is and second in developing a better understanding of how to help someone develop or change a given mindset or worldview. Therefore, I offer two groups of questions.

17 Charles Reigeluth
What is the best way to develop an understanding of what a mindset is? Does it entail picking one particular mindset and dissecting it to see what parts it is made of? Does it also entail developing an understanding of how all those parts interact with and influence each other?
How much is it likely to differ from one kind of mindset to another?
Understand what 'mindset' is.
18 Charles Reigeluth
What is the best way to develop an understanding of how to help someone develop (or change) a mindset? Is there possibly a 'high leverage' aspect of the mindset that once changed, makes it relatively easy to change the others? How strong a role does emotion play compared to logic? How much is it likely to differ from one kind of mindset to another? What role might vicarious experience through a movie (re: Bandura's Social Learning Theory) play to help develop or change a particular mindset?
Understand how to develop or change a particular mindset.
Glen Bull


I work in the context of a multidisciplinary unit situated in a teacher education program. A number of the issues posed by Jan Visser (Questions 1-5 above) speak directly to the challenge of preparing science educators. Mike Spector asks whether society values development of scientific minds in its youth (Question 12). For purposes of discussion, I make the assumption that policy makers, at least, place a high value on development of the scientific mind. This leads directly to the question of how progress in development of a scientific mind might best be assessed (Question 11), which, in turn, leads to the issues under consideration.
Glen Bull
To what extent is it possible to understand the methods employed by scientists and apply them to science education?
When experts are asked to describe their work, they often omit as many as 70% of the steps involved. Often they are not able to consciously access the specific processes followed. In some instances, they may reconstruct a story that differs substantially from actual practice. The narrative that results may not be an accurate guide for science education. David Feldon, for example, notes that “research on knowledge elicitation and STEM experts’ cognition indicates that self-reports of problem solving processes are usually incomplete or inaccurate.” (Feldon, in press). Techniques such as cognitive task analysis may offer a lens for identifying the actual methods employed.
20  Glen Bull To what extent do science teachers employ the methods and concepts taught in their pre-service preparation?
Development of the scientific mind in formal education rests on the assumption that teachers will employ the methods and concepts presented in their pre-service preparation. Evidence exists that this is not always the case. The understanding of the scientific mind developed through informal experiences over the course of a lifetime can be resistant to change. Randy Bell notes that future teachers may present the desired answers on formal examinations, but revert to their prior understandings in actual teaching practice after graduation. 
21  Glen Bull  What factors enforce current compartmentalization of disciplines, and to what extent does this impede development of the scientific mind? Jan Visser notes teaching occurs in accordance with set curricula that are highly compartmentalized in disciplines, often as the product of prevailing ideologies (Question 3). This raises the question of potential benefits of integrated learning, as well as barriers to integration. Some of the barriers may be historical, while others may be cultural.
An amalgamated view of initial contributions made (to inform the next round of deliberations)*
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There is apparent consensus regarding the need to consider the implications of learning at higher levels of complexity, particularly to go beyond the level of compartmentalized competencies. None of us seems to deny the value of the competency based approaches as such, but we seem to agree that this is but one important level of consideration and analysis. More is required, particularly considering the increasingly complex problems individuals and humanity at large are facing. Evidence in this regard dates back to the Gagné-Merrill paper in ETR&D on integrative goals. It has started to become addressed in Van Merriënboer's 4C/ID model regarding whole-task approaches to training complex problem solving skills. Invoking the development of mind in a lifelong learning perspective elevates the problem to a level beyond the accomplishment of individual training outcomes and educational program goals. We encounter different levels of complexity in life and develop learning behaviors at different levels of complexity. Thus, from a research and development perspective, one wishes to be pragmatic, choosing perspectives, theoretical models, modes of reasoning as well as devising and exploring alternative interventions based on the level of complexity at hand.
There seems to be diversity of thought regarding the idea of 'mind'. For some it is too reminiscent of Cartesian dualism and notions of mind that do not explicitly acknowledge the material. While the study of mind makes great progress, particularly thanks to the development of the neurosciences, we must cautiously clarify our position(s). Do we agree that 'mind' comprises a broad mix of interacting competencies, attitudes, values, metacognitive abilities, and understandings or mental models (see session abstract and Reigeluth rationale)?
Divergence seems to be even greater regarding the notion of 'scientific mind'. For some, 'science' evokes images of narrow-minded pursuit of knowledge, based on materialist assumptions, devoid of any concern with values and issues such as social justice, a picture still exacerbated by reminders of industrial age mechanistic worldviews. But others might claim the opposite, recognizing that different views of science, such as Bronowski's, have long existed and been espoused by those who represent true scientific development. Besides, new theoretical frameworks, such as advanced in Latour's work on 'reassembling the social', are emerging. Again, there is a need to clarify our position(s) and view(s) regarding what it means to have a scientific mind. Several of the available contributions have started doing so already.
Related to how we define the 'scientific mind', the question must be raised (as Spector does) how its presence in citizens, particularly the younger generation, is valued by society. In other words: What is the relationship between the development of the scientific mind and the realization of a society's aspirations? Looking back, and inspired by concerns expressed in the past (e.g. Francis Bacon [see Q13]), have we made progress? If not, what has gone wrong? If progress was made, what has been particularly helpful? How may answers to the above questions vary across and within cultures and societies?
Related to the above is also the question regarding how our worldviews have changed, and will be changing further, over the ages (Reigeluth rationale). It is probably a fair assumption that the mindsets we develop cannot be seen in isolation of the worldviews we hold. This calls for further exploration. What do we mean by worldview? How is it distinct from mind or mindset? What kind of relationship(s) are there between the two categories?
Another question relating to the definition of the scientific mind regards the extent to which the scientific mind is a function of awareness of or familiarity with the epistemological underpinnings of the scientific enterprise. Is epistemology important at all? What else is crucial? Is the scientific mind simply a complex tool that helps us employ the methods that scientists employ? But then, what about the assertion of many of the (often best) scientists that there is no such thing as 'the scientific method'? What components/dimensions of the scientific mind can be identified? What is the mix of rationality and emotion? What about the 11 dispositions mentioned in the introduction to this page? How distinct is the scientific mindset from other mindsets? What overlap exists between different mindsets? At a more comprehensive level: What does it mean to come to know in today's world and what does that imply for learning and cognition; for the day-to-day life of individual citizens; and for decision making about humanity's destiny at large?
If it is agreed that there is a need to elevate our thinking about education to levels that comprise more explicitly and more predominantly the human ability to act and learn in complex domains, and assuming that the idea of 'mind' can be constructed in ways that allow us to reflect more adequately on the issues at stake, how can we operationalize this construct in the sense that it can be used to measure progress in a human being's development? What observables can be identified that can guide educators, designers of learning conditions and environments, and policy makers?
Questions can be raised as well regarding what of the available research base is relevant to the problems at hand for this conversation. Specifically, does research on the difference between novice and expert behavior and reasoning provide any useful insight?
Finally, considering the potential relevance of the formal educational environment (no doubt in addition to numerous informal settings) for the development of the scientific mind, how should we educate teachers; what attributes of the teaching/learning environment help teachers become better facilitators of the development of the scientific mind; and what kind of curriculum reform is required to overcome the kind of disciplinary compartmentalization that suggests that the development of particular mindsets is the exclusive responsibility of teachers specialized in specific content areas? Notwithstanding the importance of thinking beyond disciplinary boundaries, however, there is also the exceedingly important question about how the proper study of science, with its emphasis on rigorous disciplined inquiry and deep understanding of the workings of nature, can once again be restored as a serious focus area of the formal curriculum.
* Prepared by Jan Visser, with thanks to feedback received from Yusra Laila Visser and Michael Spector.
Reflective statements by participating panelists
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Remarks on Building the Scientific Mind for AECT 2009 - Michael Spector

October 21, 2009

The large issue we are addressing is this: How best to design curricula, courses and learning activities so that they actively and systematically contribute to the progressive development of higher order thinking and reasoning skills required for sustained scientific inquiry. While we have not precisely defined the target, we are calling it the 'scientific mind'. We seem to have accepted a number of assumptions:
  • The scientific mind is a set of mental states or mindsets, cognitive skills, dispositions and probably more that enable a person to confront and work effectively to resolve complex problems (e.g., designing experiments, determining alternative solution approaches, developing productive explanations, and so on);
  • Other mindsets are possible (e.g., the artistic mind, the political mind, the religious mind, etc.) - presumably, other mindsets might share some of the characteristics of the scientific mind;
  • It is highly desirable from the perspective of life in 21st century society to foster the development of the scientific mind - not necessarily to the exclusion of the development of other mindsets;
  • Challenging problems confronted by scientists in the 21st century often cross traditional discipline boundaries and typically require the coordinated efforts of teams of people with various backgrounds and training; and,
  • Holistic approaches to developing the skills and dispositions characteristic of the scientific mind are required.
Not everyone agrees with the terminology or concepts involved in the description of the scientific mind. Some object to the fuzziness of 'mind' and 'mental states', and some object to a narrow or materialistic interpretation of 'science'. Admittedly, both 'mind' and 'science' are broad and somewhat fuzzy concepts. Rather than revisit the conceptual struggles of philosophers in the last couple millennia, it might be possible to take a pragmatic approach and examine what it is that people who are called scientists actually do and how they think about the problems they actually confront.
As an example, consider an astronomer who is investigating the effects of sunspots on weather patterns. The astronomer must be able to identify and analyze weather patterns; this probably requires some communication with a meteorologist, for example - a scientist with a different background and with different training. Of course the astronomer will communicate with other astronomers who have studied solar activity. Eventually, the astronomer might formulate a hypothesis with regard to specific sunspot activity and an effect on the weather. To test the hypothesis, the astronomer must then record sunspot activity. How to do that? Well, one way might be to use the solar observatory in New Mexico and schedule a series of recorded observations of sunspots using the telescope and cameras available there. This now requires some communication and coordination with computer scientists and technicians to prepare and program the telescope and cameras. If new or modified devices are required, various engineers might be involved. Once the data is recorded, it must be analyzed; that analysis might require the assistance of a highly skilled mathematician. Then, data pertaining to the weather must be collected and analyzed. Perhaps a collaborating meteorologist will be enlisted to help with this activity.
In the course of such activity, the astronomer will be engaged in many different kinds of activities and very likely will be working in concert with others. To truly understand what such a scientist does and how he/she thinks, one would have to observe the specific activities and ask many questions. It is not likely that such an investigation into how that astronomer works and thinks would leave a neat and tidy picture of an idealized scientific method, but it might reveal qualities of working and thinking that also occur in the everyday activities of other scientists. Such qualities or patterns based on what scientists do and how they think about the problems with which they are engaged could then be used as the basis for what could be called a 'scientific mind'.
Conducting such investigations into how scientists work and think is not a novel idea. Indeed many papers and books have been written on this topic. Some (e.g., George Johnson's How Scientists Think: Key Experiments in Genetics - 1995, Brown Publishing) focus primarily on the science involved in critical experiments - that focus would be overly narrow for the activity described above. Others focus on the creative problem solving that led to important discoveries (e.g., How Scientists Think: Fostering Creativity in Problem Solving - see Topics in Cognitive Science, 1(4), 730-757 & However, focusing only on the science surrounding important discoveries would also be overly narrow, in my opinion. Not very many scientists make important discoveries, but they do work on meaningful problems and contribute to the progress of science. There are also books and papers on how scientists ought to think, and some of these are based on empirical research and not merely a recasting of the idealized scientific method found in textbooks.
All such works should be considered as we try to develop a clear sense of what a scientific mind is [or is like]. Case histories of important discoveries, interviews with leading scientists, interviews with and observations of scientists working at all levels in a variety of research settings, anecdotes about failed experiments and accidental discoveries, and more could comprise a kind of ethnography of scientific minds at work.
I believe that such investigations into the nature and qualities of scientific activity should continue and could be used to further refine and inform the concept of a scientific mind. This is no small undertaking, however. In a society that is addicted to quick fixes and easy solutions, such an approach is not likely to be highly valued. Still, rather than argue over words and to avoid adopting and advocating positions that might not result in desired outcomes, we might do well to encourage such pragmatic research into the natural epistemology of scientific inquiry. What do everyday scientists do everyday, and how do they think about the problems they encounter?
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Comments on the Scientific Mind - Brent G. Wilson

October 21, 2009

I feel somewhat disoriented approaching the topic of Scientific Mind as it relates to the design of learning environments. The construct may be found relevant at two levels:
  • Creating instruction within K20 programs targeting the scientific mind as learning outcomes for students
  • Encouraging teachers and learning-environment designers to a adopt a scientific-mind stance as they create courses and programs
Science is usually seen as a core subject for K12 curriculum, then as an important foundation and common specialization in higher education - so I see the relevance there.

I struggle, though, privileging the scientific mind above the other kinds of minds Mike Spector refers to. As a thought exercise it's fruitful to explore the construct of scientific mind, but what about the engineering mind? The designer mind? The artistic or craftsman mind? The public-servant mind? Consistent with my pluralistic tendencies, I keep thinking of who's not invited to the table, whose voice is not heard in the conversation. So I do sense a confusion or tension between focusing on one construct, even if we stipulate (as in Mike's assumptions) that a holistic approach is good. The holistic conversation - with everybody participating - will likely yield the best overall results.

This ambivalence seems to be inherent in the Scientific Mind framework. I really resonate to the Eleven Dispositions:
  1. The spirit of inquiry.
  2. The spirit of collaboration.
  3. The quest for beauty (harmony, parsimony, wholeness).
  4. The desire to understand and do so profoundly.
  5. The creative spirit.
  6. The urge to be critical.
  7. The spirit to transcend.
  8. The spirit of building on prior knowledge.
  9. The search for unity.
  10. The building of the story of human knowledge and ability.
  11. The spirit of construction.
They do have an inclusive or holistic quality that is very appealing. But then, what would happen if we put a different label on the same list, say:

Dispositions of the Artistic Mind
  1. The spirit of inquiry.
  2. The spirit of collaboration.
  3. The quest for beauty (harmony, parsimony, wholeness).
  4. The desire to understand and do so profoundly.
  5. The creative spirit.
  6. The urge to be critical.
  7. The spirit to transcend.
  8. The spirit of building on prior knowledge.
  9. The search for unity.
  10. The building of the story of human knowledge and ability.
  11. The spirit of construction.
Which of the dispositions look out of place for the artist? I can't see one. Or the designer? I take this dexterity to be an overall good sign - we are indeed being broad and inclusive in developing the construct.

Now to the question - are these values and dispositions current manifest in practice? If I were to rank them in order of the attention given among educators, it might look something like this:
  1. The spirit of building on prior knowledge.
  2. The building of the story of human knowledge and ability.
  3. The desire to understand and do so profoundly.
  4. The spirit of construction.
  5. The spirit of inquiry.
  6. The search for unity.
  7. The urge to be critical.
  8. The spirit of collaboration.
  9. The quest for beauty (harmony, parsimony, wholeness).
  10. The creative spirit.
  11. The spirit to transcend.
But my personal reaction in doing that exercise is how wonderful each of the dispositions is - and how we need more of all eleven! Perhaps less (proportionally) of other dispositions common in education like:
  • Fitting in and conforming with the group
  • Being and staying cool
  • Playing the game
  • Following directions
  • Respecting authority
  • Working hard
  • Delaying gratification
All of these are valuable too, of course - but they are over-represented in our current learning environments. As are:
  • Finding your passion and pursuing it
  • Relying on yourself
  • Taking responsibility
I hope I am not diluting the conversation by looking at other dispositions and values. Rather I am trying to place the given construct into our familiar contexts of practice. In that context I do find them valuable and worth more attention in both theory and practice. So in spite of my quibbles about the two key terms of Scientific Mind, the framework transcends these terms and rises to a level approaching the holism (and perhaps pluralism) that I so value.
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Some notes in the margin of An amalgamated view of initial contributions made - Jan Visser

October 23, 2009

On learning
In my work over the past ten years, I have increasingly looked at the world of learning through a wide-angle lens, bringing within view not only the traditional concerns that drive human learning, but also the broad issues with which we, as human individuals and as a species, interact. I'm referring here to issues that--at the current juncture in evolutionary history--must be considered of key relevance to the survival of our species and its planetary habitat. They include, but are not limited to, such matters as our ability to live in harmony with our fellow human beings and our natural (biological as well as physical) environment; the shared use of our planet's resources in ways that are responsive to the needs of future generations in an evolutionary perspective; and our responsibilities to safeguard the cultural and intellectual heritage of the past, enriching it with our own contributions, offering it to future generations who can interact with and build upon it. As a concrete example, it is difficult to explore what is involved in, say, 'learning for sustainable futures' if we can only do so in terms of a set of competencies.
In the recent past, problems such as the ones just mentioned could perhaps still be thought of and dealt with at the level of relatively isolated communities and societies. Not so any longer. Over the time span of half a century we have rapidly become a global community of close to 6.7 billion people whose individual lives touch upon the lives of all others. That change in perceived reality has altered my view of human learning. I no longer see learning as a series of predominantly deliberate, time-bound, efforts, distributed along the lifespan, aiming at becoming better at doing things for particular purposes as expressed in neatly defined acquired competencies. Rather, I look at it as a continuous disposition towards uninterrupted dialogue with our human, social, biological and natural environment so as to become better and better at constructively interacting with change--change that we collaboratively create and to which we must at the same time continually adapt as it happens.(1) It's a view of learning that encompasses past, more limited views, while seeking to capture the reality of learning at higher levels of complexity. In the formal context of training and education one will often choose to look at learning in terms of traditional definitions that look for changed behavior expressed in terms of specific competencies. However, such definitions are less adequate when dealing with more holistic ways of being and acting. Hence my desire to identify units of analysis at higher levels of complexity. However, the problem lies in operationalizing such constructs in the sense that they can be used to measure progress in a human being's development? Identifying relevant observables of the presence and growth of the scientific mind is thus a key challenge.
On mind
I use the word 'mind' in a down-to-earth fashion. The term existed before we had neuroscience and before we knew much about the brain. Now that we know a little more it is clear that we must relate the meaning of mind to functions of the brain. Besides, we know that we must conceive of the brain as an organ that is integral to the human body as a whole and to the faculties of that body to sense and interact with the environment. The Anglo-Saxon origin of the word, 'gemynd,' simply means memory. It's perhaps not a bad idea to think of mind as memory, provided we recognize that memory as it pertains to humans is not the same as memory in the context of computer science. We shape our memory--and, as Susan Greenfield (2) asserts, personalize our physical brain--in accordance with what we decide to do with our experience along the lifespan. Thus we develop, consciously and sub-consciously, dispositions, underscored by acquired competencies, to approach the world in particular ways.
Because, as we now know, mind is not separate from brain; brain is both cognition and emotion; brain is integral to body and sensory experience; and sensory experience makes us consciously (cognitively and emotionally) part of the universe, there is no need for Descartes bashing. This eminent scientist and philosopher made great contributions without which we would not have advanced to where we are now. We can look back in gratitude to those, like Ptolemy, Newton, Descartes, and Skinner, who saw the world their way and who, by expressing their views, helped us make the next steps. The study of the history of how we developed intellectually may help us understand better the relative validity and importance of our own insights. It may equally help us not to lose sight of our own ignorance.
On science
I have no problem with science and scientists. I am one myself and feel passionately part of the scientific community. Science is perhaps best described in a recent lecture by Lee Smolin (3) as "a community based process, premised on ethical standards, that leads from shared evidence to shared conclusions."
On the scientific mind
Because of the community-based nature of the scientific undertaking, I value the community spirit present in what I see as 'the scientific mind.' There is no doubt such community spirit also in other areas of human undertaking, such as in religion and the arts, in politics and among poets, but all those communities are different and unique in their own right. None of the alternatives I can think of seems to be defined by Smolin's description above. Hence, I feel it makes sense to identify different broad dimensions of mental development.
I agree with Brent Wilson that there is tremendous overlap between mindsets, just as there is tremendous overlap between all members of the human species. Yet scientists are different from politicians, poets and those who shape religious experience, even though some scientists may adopt roles in such other areas. The biologist Leo Vroman (of Dutch origin, later naturalized in America) is a renowned poet (I count him among the best known to me worldwide); the Jesuit trained geologist and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin made important contributions to paleontology, in addition to experimenting with worldviews that, as he saw it, reconciled evolving scientific insights with religious experience; and some scientists even err into the realm of politics. This would likely not happen if the 11 dispositions were exclusive to the scientific mind. What makes the difference may be determined by how we prepare the dish and by how and in which order we mix in the different ingredients. There will likely not be a single way of preparing a delicious and healthy dish, but there are many subtle ways in which the result of our cuisine may be a disaster or simply fall short of the excellence to which we aspire.
While there is value in the notion of 'scientific method', the notion of 'THE scientific method' is unhelpful. Elements such as those suggested by Mike Spector--skepticism (in the sense of thoughtfulness), disciplined exploration, peer scrutiny and validation, etc.--are more important than following set procedures. In that sense the scientific mind is distinct from the bureaucratic mind and more aligned with the artistic mind and the poetic mind.
Finally, we may not want to equate the idea of scientific mind too narrowly with what we perceive to be the mindset of those who do science for a profession. Most people for whose education we care will not become professional scientists, professional poets, or professional designers. Yet, they may benefit from having developed propensities and abilities of mind aligned with the value systems that underlie science, poetry and design.
My suggestion to investigate what the learning sciences may have to say about the development of the scientific mind is an arbitrary choice, biased by my own passions and interests. There is no doubt equal value in engaging in similar explorations of relevant additional mindsets.
Notes and references:
(1) The formal definition refers to "the disposition of human beings, and of the social entities to which they pertain, to engage in continuous dialogue with the human, social, biological and physical environment, so as to generate intelligent behavior to interact constructively with change" (Visser , J. (2001). Integrity, completeness and comprehensiveness of the learning environment: Meeting the basic learning needs of all throughout life. In D. N. Aspin, J. D. Chapman, M. J. Hatton and Y. Sawano (Eds), International Handbook of Lifelong Learning (pp. 447-472). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer).
(2) Greenfield, S. (2000). The private life of the brain: Emotions, consciousness, and the self. New York: John Wiley & Sons Inc.

(3) Available at
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Panel discussion
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The panel session (see photos above and below) started off with a 15-minute presentation by Jan Visser, supported by a slideshow on Building the Scientific Mind: Learning for a complex world (PDF version). It was followed by brief comments by the other panelists and concluded with a half-hour animated doialogue between and among panelists and members of the audience.
From left to right: Charles Reigeluth, Glen Bull, Brent Wilson, and Michael Spector
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