Notes from 10 Jan

The Kolbe Learning Cycle is a theory of learning that suggests four activities are essential for effective learning to take place:

Abstraction is a metaphorical or symbolic representation of some aspect of the real world. For example, a set of mathematical equations is an abstract model of reality that highlight some features and hides other.  In engineering, we create mathematical model to that we can predict the behavior of a design prior to the expensive of building a structure in the real world.  Thus, mathematical models make engineering design more cost effective.

Both artists and engineering scientists create abstract interpretations of reality (typically, in search of truth).  Artists master technique, whereas engineering scientists typically master technology (literally, the study of technique).

The difference between an engineering and a scientist is that the latter is descriptive.  Science is subject to empirical verification (or falsification).  By contrast, engineering is prescriptive.  That is, engineers use knowledge of the workings of the real world to recreate it in accordance with their imaginations.

Engineers that are incapable of formulating their own problems can look forward to steady employment in the service of someone else’s dreams.  By contrast, engineers that can formulate problems can look forward to careers realizing their own dreams.

In this course, learning begins after the correct answer is found, because that’s when we get to ask, “Is this even the correct problem?”

Experimentation is a process of making hypotheses and carrying out investigations without knowing what the results are ahead of time.  This description of experimentation is different than the chemistry or physics labs we were taught in previous course work, where the “correct” answer is already understood and “error” can be calculated to measure the discrepancy between the observed phenomenon and a theoretically perfect outcome.  Real experiments don’t have correct answers, only learning opportunities.

Experience is the knowledge you gain by doing, rather than by study.  Sometimes we call application outside the classroom experience, or informal learning, or cooperative education.  Nevertheless, the knowledge gained thru abstraction and experimentation is incomplete without experience in the imperfect, complex, messy context of application to real problems

Reflection is a process of self-examination of experience.

To facilitate abstraction, Tuesday sessions will be focused on homework problem sets.  These will be led by PhD student Lauren McBurnettThursday.  Thursday sessions will seek to go beyond the Tuesday problem sets to experiment, experience and reflect on questioning and redesign of Tuesday’s problem set.  I will lead the Thursday sessions.


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