It's education this week, risk-taking students to career exploring double majors.
Mad Science Solves...
Here’s a little piece of mine from a few years that I just stumbled across. It remains one of the most important research findings of my career.
I founded my first company with the small goal of killing high-stakes testing, once and for all. Finals? Dead. SAT? Dead. MCAT, GRE, LSAT? All dead. If a student is spending weeks taking adderall and cramming for it, it should be axed.
Instead, the act of learning itself should be the assessment. One of my early start-ups, Augniscient, aimed to end high-stakes testing and replace it with actual learning.
I invented a machine learning approach that could accumulate clues from “student artifacts”–conversations, homeworks, answers in class–and derive insights into the conceptual understanding of each student.
The best part? No exam necessary! By “listening” to their freeform conversations in online discussion forums, my co-authors and I found that we could actually predict students’ final grades starting in the first week of a course.
But who gives a shit about grades! Our most important finding wasn’t the grades themselves, but rather what predicted those grades.
Surprisingly, “rightness” often predicted lower grades. Traditional assessments give full credit to right answers, yet our system learned that these students were hiding their own misconceptions by quoting the rote material they’d learned in the class.
Exploring ideas beyond the course material, even when occasionally wrong, was the strongest predictor of success. Right or wrong, transforming what they had learned and expanding the framework of the curriculum was a better predictor of success than simply following the rules.
Students risking dumb questions learned that trying a new idea and being wrong, rather than reflecting their shortcomings, supported growth and learning. This is exactly what the creative economy is all about: exploring the unknown, pushing boundaries, and translating knowledge into new spaces.
In order to prepare our children for the future, our education system must set aside its obsession with routine skills, however complex, and instead embrace a formal curriculum of exploration. Of course, that’s a lot harder than it seems, and I should know.
Stage & Screen
2024 is here and with engagements already secured in Paris, Stockholm, DC, Toronto, Seoul, New York, Boston and more!
I would love to give a talk just for your organization on any topic: AI, neurotech, education, the Future of Creativity, the Neuroscience of Trust, The Tax on Being Different ...why I'm such a charming weirdo. If you have events, opportunities, or would be interested in hosting a dinner or other event, please reach out to my team below. - Vivienne
As I shared a few weeks ago in “The Uncertainty Experts”, an interdisciplinary education is associated with higher income. Now even more research emerges in support of dilettantes and polymaths. In this case, the powerful protective quality of a double major.
During recession and other major economic shocks, average salaries drop as a function of layoffs and job shortages (sometimes devastatingly so for those early in their careers). Compared to everyone else, however, “double majors experience substantial protection against earnings shocks”, reducing the negative impact of these events by “56%”.
What was most fascinating to me, though, wasn’t simply the economic benefit, but the hints at the mechanism of the protection. The “more distantly related” the majors the bigger the protection. So it wasn’t so much bioengineers but quantum poets that reaped the biggest benefits. This suggests that simply knowing some complimentary hard skills from schools isn’t the driver of this protection.
Instead, the data show that “double majors are more likely to work in jobs that require a diverse set of skills and knowledge and are less likely to work in occupations that are closely related to their majors”. They know how to do 2 completely different things, but are still less likely to be doing either of those later in their careers. It is not the routine skills (however sophisticated) that make their careers; it is their expanded creativity and meta-learning abilities that drive their labor market success. They, not the skillset, are the value.
Cheaters Gonna Cheat
Here's a story of asking the wrong questions. In a lab study, students cheated less when cued about trust and integrity. In a study in actual classrooms, similar prompts still lead to significant cheating in unproctored exams. Can students (or anyone) be trusted? Can nudges make a difference? While interesting, neither of
Students in the unproctored exam took 2 separate tests. One was the intended, explicit test on the subject matter of the course. The other was an implicit, “secret” exam on applied ethics and courage. But while those students spent an entire semester studying the course material, I'm willing to bet they have never in their lives had a class on courage.
Courage is hard. Courage takes practice. How can we "teach" courage?
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