Who is the expert?

Photo by Ituzaingo

Photo by Ituzaingo

What’s the point in having experts if you don’t consult them? Let’s take the field of health as an example. It’s all too easy to self-diagnose. Think of the person in Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome. He made the mistake of consulting a medical dictionary, and came to the conclusion that he had every malady apart from housemaid’s knee.

The web has made that even worse, but guesswork and supposition are worse still. A few years ago someone told me that he had a protein deficiency. I asked him how he knew, to which he replied that he just thought he must have.

But sometimes one does know. I had been going to my doctor for several months, telling her I was sure I had a chest infection. Each time we went through the same scenario:

“Deep breath in, deep breath out”, so fast that I thought I was going to hyperventilate. But then on the last occasion she said, “No, you don’t have an infection, but I’ll send you for a chest x-ray”.

Lo and behold, the x-ray showed that I did have an infection. She prescribed antibiotics, which were so powerful that I can only assume they were a by-product of a biological weapons programme. And then, a week later, I felt better than I had in months. So who was the real expert in this case?

I mention all this not because I want sympathy or flowers, though such things are always appreciated, but because in education teachers too often demur when it comes to asserting their own expertise.

“I’m just a teacher” they say, to which I say there is no such thing as ‘just’ a teacher.

Some years ago, when the ICT Programme of Study was being revised, I was chatting to the person in charge of it all, in a bar. (Where else?)

“I hope your new Programme of Study is as good as my own ICT and Computing curriculum” I said. “Because if it isn’t, I’m going to continue to use my own.”

He looked shocked.

“Sorry”, I said, “But I’m a subject expert and the curriculum I’m following covers everything, including ethical issues, programming, hardware etc etc. Why would I swap that for something less good?”

Now, anyone who has met me will know that I am not given to singing my own praises. But I do know what I know.

I experience the same feeling when I attend conferences. When some new-to-the-field person, or someone who has never taught in their lives, announces some new way of teaching, or which methods should or shouldn’t be used, it brings out my inner self-assuredness.

It's not arrogance; it's self-assuredness.

So, my view is, always seek expert advice, but do not denigrate your own expertise and experience in the process.

This article is a slightly modified version of an article first published in my newsletter, Digital Education, in February 2017. The same issue also featured an interview with Sir Bob Geldof and teacher Seth Reichelson. If you'd like to read great content, including interviews, views, reviews and news (when I've had time to digest it), plus various freebies, sign up below. It's free. Also, by way of validation, it's now in its 17th year.