Class discussion on Learning Analytics

I was recently invited to have a conversation with some students at Northeastern who are taking a course on Competencies, Assessment and Learning Analytics. They’ve posted the conversation online (below). As always, about 10 minutes later I was thinking of other things I wish I’d had time to add. Still, it was a great discussion! Thanks!

Disentangling Pedagogy from Epistemology

By Bill Jerome and Dr. Benny Johnson
Cross-posted from the original location at

Because Pedagogy

Dating back to my time at the Open Learning Initiative, I had sat in some meetings and felt the percussive impact of pedagogy — or “The P-Bomb” as I thought of it. Not having been trained in cognitive sciences like many of those around me, I simply deferred to those who invoked the word “Pedagogy.” Once deployed in an academic setting, it often served as the final word in many matters. (Dear internet, I would love a sketch of this). On the whole, this was a very good thing indeed because it emphasized the focus of what we were working together to achieve. Sometimes we can reach conclusions or make assumptions we believe to be based on sound pedagogical thinking but when investigated can prove otherwise. (We will get to what I think is a counterintuitive example of this in a moment). Being guided by pedagogy continues to be the driving force of the work I do, though outside of the academy, I’ve learned to be a bit more skeptical (and I am more informed) when the P-Bomb is deployed as if it is a mystic force that cannot be understood; only believed in with solemn nods of agreement. If it were a meme, it would be this:

Because Pedagogy

I think it is important to sometimes stand back and ensure when we are using the word, we are in agreement about what we are all talking about. That is my most critical point I wish to make. As a primary example, however, it frequently seems to have become conflated in general discourse in one critical way we should aim to disentangle so that we can ask meaningful questions about it.

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
– Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

Pedagogy Or Epistemology?

Recently I have had the opportunity to see a number of presentations and discussions around work being done in the adaptive and online learning space, for which I am grateful, but something was nagging at me in the back of my mind. I felt that the room was nodding along with thoughts of good pedagogy but something wasn’t sitting right. The following morning my colleague Dr. Benny Johnson and I met in a café like you do when in Seattle. He was able to capture succinctly the disconnect I was having. Pedagogy was being conflated with epistemology.

Aside from referencing a dictionary (or modern equivalent) and thinking critically when we hear the word pedagogy used, this is one area in particular we can be cognizant of: “Are we conflating pedagogy with epistemology?” More in depth discussion: Epistemology or pedagogy, that is the question by Paul A Kirschner, 2009.

It is naturally intuitive to think about this and come to the conclusion that “real world discovery” is the best way to learn. It simply makes sense when you hear a sentence such as “Doing the real work of a scientist teaches students to become scientists while being motivating and engaging.” In fact for novices, this can be counterproductive by ratcheting up extraneous cognitive load.

In an earlier publication, Kirschner writes:

[…] inherent flaws in considering and using the epistemology of the natural sciences as equivalent to a pedagogic basis for teaching and learning in the natural sciences. It begins with a discussion of the difference between practicing science and learning to practice science. It follows with a discussion and refutation of three commonly held motives for using practicals in science education. It concludes with the presentation of three new, better motives for their use.
Epistemology, practical work and Academic skills in science education
Paul A. Kirschner, 1992.

The practical takeaway for us today is not to confuse immersive (usually quite gorgeous, engaging, and expensive) virtual spaces built for the explorers among us for good pedagogy just because they are attractive and make those of us who are not novice learners excited and motivated. The chief principle of the human-computer interaction discipline is “You are not the user” and it applies directly here: “You are not your student.” Engagement is critical indeed, but for my part, I would not want to sacrifice good pedagogy designed for novice learners. In fact, despite the considerable enthusiasm generated by these environments, research has not shown an advantage commensurate with that enthusiasm, and cognitive load theory cautions that for novice learners such realistic task assignments can easily lead to cognitive overload.

My view on that subject is of course just that, but we should at least all be equipped to recognize the difference and make decisions accordingly. And when you hear someone deploying the word pedagogy and you think it might not be, be prepared to raise your hand and say, “You keep using that word…”

I hate the word blog

Ok, it really doesn’t matter anymore, but for a first quick blog post here on this site I thought I’d mention that I really hate the word “blog”. Probably not hate, but certainly dislike. I remember reading an article in a (paper) magazine when I was in college by John C. Dvorak that discussed “web logs” or “blogs” and having a visceral reaction to the word and hoping it wouldn’t catch on. One of many ways the world would be different if I was ruler. I don’t know why, so it’s not even a defensible position. Maybe it sounds too much like “blah” or maybe it’s because at the drop of a hat I get the Ren & Stimpy “it’s log!” song stuck in my head. I still don’t like it. With that, welcome to this blog!

If you’re wondering, the point that marker is pointing at is approximately where I was standing for the Rally To Restore Sanity And/Or Fear.

At the time writing, I really mean it when I say this is “Under Construction” but don’t we always?

You can always start (or end) here:

A primary hobby of mine is listening to music.  In general we “use” music for a background to some other hobby or chore. I like to make sure I set some time aside to sit and give a good listen to music fairly often. It’s like a small vacation for the mind. I do get maybe a bit obsessed with sound quality though…

A great read

Plato was deeply suspicious of music for much the same reason Nietzsche celebrated it: in its direct appeal to the emotions, music seems to reach behind our rational faculties. “When a man abandons himself to music,” Plato declared in the Republic, “he begins to melt and liquefy.” Nietzsche wanted to end inhibition. He denounced Richard Wagner for committing a “crime against what is highest and holiest” by composing such moralistic, anti-emotional operas as Tristan und Isolde (1859) and Parsifal (1882).

From The Atlantic, The Soundtracking of America

Of course, I wouldn’t be a hifi geek without sharing about…

My Rig

Built mostly for music with an emphasis on stereo, then surround, and finally for HD movie watching.


Long story really, but when I was an undergrad I started reading up on hifi and found that B&W speakers were pretty much always near the top of various lists, and there was a retailer right by me.  Someday perhaps I’ll be able to get some full-fledged Nautilus speakers (and the 6 amps I’d need, and the house to put them in…) but I was lucky enough to buy a demo pair of Nautilus-802s from the dealer.

Abbey Road Studios.  I have two of these, not five

Abbey Road Studios. I have two of these, not five

  • Left and Right: Bowers & Wilkins Nautilus 802
  • Center: Bowers & Wilkins Nautilus HTM2
  • Rear left and right: Bowers & Wilkins Nautilus 805

I have to admit that I was skeptical about cable quality at first until I did my own blind listening in my own home.  That said, I don’t think it’s worth going crazy here.  I use balanced XLR connection from the Oppo straight to the stereo Classé to bypass the Marantz, and some nice interconnects from turntable to phono stage and to the Classé as well because of the sensitivity of the signal from the Blue Point Special.  I use bi-wire for the B&W speakers from Kimber Kable, but nothing too crazy.  Lifts to keep speaker cables off the floor?  That’s jumping the shark… But there is one cable I am happy with to handle the fact that I have a very long run for HDMI high bandwidth: an HDMI cable that converts to optical to handle the long run.


Yep, I have a favorite band. They’ve been my favorite band since around 1986, which is either early (I’d have been 8), or late (the band was beyond their 10th studio album at the time). Anyway, I was eight when I was taken to my first Moody Blues concert. Their music has long been part of me. I recently started posting my thoughts, old concert photos, and some even older video of me interviewing Mike Pinder – founding member – while I was in high school.  Thinking is the best way to travel indeed.  I will not brook argument on this one, but, I’m only talking about the music most influential to me.  You can have your own!

Once upon a time, I had the only Ted Knight website on the PLANET!  That’s a fun thing to say, but also easy if you were an early adopter like myself.  I was interviewed about it (really!) and an heir of his called me up once to talk about it (really!).  Life got in front of me and I managed to let the whole site go, which is entirely my fault.  So I’m putting it back where it belongs – at .  I don’t have everything back yet, but please give me three months and I’ll have it fully restored.  But the best stuff (the comedy album) is there for your enjoyment!

In 2003, I took a trip to New Zealand with my father. In 2007 I wrote two essays for the book How We Became Middle Earth. The editors also selected a number of my photos for the trip including the cover! You can find it on amazon. I don’t get anything for it if you buy so this isn’t a pitch!

During the trip, I kept a bit of an online travelogue going to people back home could keep track (without Facebook, etc.) and my father kept a paper journal. Both are still preserved here!