My wife is a photographer. She really enjoys photographing everything from births to kindergarten graduations to senior pictures. When she began, she had a pretty good camera and stock lens. Over the years she has acquired, among other photography gadgets, different types of lenses. One specializes in wider angles, one allows her to zoom in and photograph tiny newborn fingers and toes, and one is fixed (she calls it her ‘nifty 50’). I have been lucky enough to be privy to her editing of photos. It is quite interesting to see how different lenses provide unique perspectives on the same scene. Zoom in and a family seated on a blanket appear surrounded. Zoom out and you see they are actually in a large field and the focus changes to mountains in the background. An array of lenses allows for the ability to photograph the same information from different perspectives.
I see knowledge the same way. Knowledge gives us the ability to zoom in and out, to see both within a current topic of study and beyond its detached facts and figures.
I see the ability to zoom in during studies as being able to break down a particular bit of information or concept or event. For instance, when studying different battles of the Revolutionary War, possessing knowledge of differing battle techniques and technologies allows students to go beyond ‘the battle of Bunker Hill was won by British forces’. Students can imagine how troops on both sides might prepare and compare a more organized and professional army versus an inexperienced militia.
Zooming out with knowledge enables the ability to see how singular information or events fit into the bigger picture. Zooming out from the Battle of Bunker Hill allows students to understand that the British won, but it was a bit of a Pyrrhic victory. They experienced much heavier casualties and, perhaps more importantly, this early battle changed how the British forces perceived the American militia. They did not expect such resistance and, as a result, the British were more hesitant to attack in future battles and tactics were adapted.
The Fixed Lens
Without knowledge, students are using a fixed lens; no ability to zoom in to really break down a topic or zoom out to see how it fits into the larger story of a subject. They see the current presentation of material as it is, disconnected from past information and inconsequential with future work. This, in turn, can result in a lack of understanding and retention of material. Maybe the student’s picture is out of focus or they miss the shot altogether.
Knowledge is so incredibly powerful. At the heart of the teaching profession is the job of teaching students content; putting them in an environment where they can best sense and perceive new information and then ensuring they’ve retained material through assessment. As obvious as it may sound, I’m not sure there’s anything teachers do that is more impactful on a student’s life than educating them; providing them with more knowledge, a new lens, and the ability to zoom in and out.
Photo by Ailbhe Flynn on Unsplash
I would like to suggest that a fixed lens may be an excellent instrument for comparisons.
Also, I see different lenses as a great analogy for the personal, emotional and social aspects of education – being able to zoom in on a specific student, zooming out to the whole class and more.
That’s kind of the basis for Charles Reigeluth’s elaboration theory. Actually he spoke of it as the difference between zooming (where you understand what the part means in relation to the whole) and cutting (where you lose context). We discuss thin the chapter dedicated to elaboration theory in “How learning happens”.