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Expert vs Novice Information Scientists

girl with magnifying glassWhat's the difference between a professional information scientist and a student information scientist? How does a student evolve as an information scientist? How can teachers help students develop as information scientists?

This page addresses the following questions: What's an expert?, What are the characteristics of experts?, and What are learner-centered teaching strategies?.

What's an expert?

An expert has a high degree of proficiency, skill, and knowledge in a particular subject. Experts are able to effectively think about and solve information problems. They see patterns in information and are able to identify solutions. Moving from novice to expert involves much more than simply developing a set of generic skills and strategies. Experts develop extensive knowledge that impacts the way they identify problems, organize and interpret data, and formulate solutions. Their approach to reasoning and solving information problems is different than a novice.

In their report, How People Learning: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School, Bransford, Brown, and Cocking (1999) identified key principles of experts' knowledge and their potential implications for learning and instruction:

  1. Experts notice features and meaningful patterns of information that are not noticed by novices.
  2. Experts have acquired a great deal of content knowledge that is organized in ways that reflect a deep understanding of their subject matter.
  3. Experts' knowledge cannot be reduced to sets of isolated facts or propositions but, instead, reflects contexts of applicability: that is, the knowledge is "conditionalized" on a set of circumstances.
  4. Experts are able to flexibly retrieve important aspects of their knowledge with little attentional effort.
  5. Though experts know their disciplines thoroughly, this does not guarantee that they are able to teach others.
  6. Experts have varying levels of flexibility in their approach to new situations.

What are the characteristics of experts?

chessEarly research by DeGroot (1965) found that experts perceive and understand stimulus differently from novices. He asked chess masters and beginners to think aloud as they played chess games. DeGroot hypothesized that masters would think through all the possible moves (breadth of search) and countermoves (depth of search), while beginners would not. He found that both experts and novices explored the possibilities. However the chess masters considered moves that were higher quality than beginners.

DeGroot concluded that knowledge acquired through experience enabled the masters to recognize meaningful chess configurations and identify the strategic implications. In other words, experts were able to see patterns and connections not evident to novices.

Much research has focused on the characteristics of experts. A few results are highlighted below:

Based on the growing body of research, the following attributes of experts can be identified. Experts:

What are learner-centered teaching strategies?

Although we don't expect our students to become expert information scientists, they can begin developing and applying the strategies used by professionals. According to Thompson, Licklider, and Jungst (2003), "a learner-centered approach to developing expertise requires purposeful and specific instruction that builds student capacity in these arenas". They stress that learner-centered teaching strategies should:

Meaningful learning occurs when students are able to see the relevance of knowledge and skills and can apply these for successful problem solving. According to Mayer and Wittrock (1996) transfer is the ability to use what was learned to solve new problems, answer new questions, or facilitate learning new subject matter.

Based on our knowledge of the differences between novices and experts, how do we help student information scientists develop the necessary repertoire of knowledge and range of skills and strategies? Consider some of the following key areas:


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