Lessons from the world of sports: #7 The rule of Specialisation

In this mini-series I’m looking at lessons we in the educational ICT community might learn from sports. In today’s article we consider the role of the specialist, and its relevance for peer assessment.

I live a 12 minute train ride from the Olympic Park stadium, so every time I made a journey into town I was able to note its development. As in all building projects, its fascination lay primarily in the fact that from the train you could never see any actual work going on, but it still emerged bit by bit.

But the thing is, I never thought of it as anything other than a stadium. Even when I visited the Olympic Park the day before the opening of the Olympics, the stadium to me looked like, well, a stadium.

But to Danny Boyle, the mastermind behind the opening ceremony, it was a film set. He was able to see potential in that space that would probably never have occurred to me in a hundred years. It’s not that I lack imagination (far from it), but that my background, training and experiences have led to my having imagination in a completely different area. I bet, for example, I could work wonders in a classroom or a school that would amaze and astonish Mr Boyle!

What we’re talking about here is the difference between a specialist and a non-specialist in a particular field. Danny Boyle is a film director; I am not. That’s why he was able to come up with ideas that I and people like me probably never could.

Each player a specialist! Photo by Trevor http://www.flickr.com/photos/27888428@N00/

There are clearly links here with the idea of expert guidance, although I think it’s possible to specialise but not be an expert – for instance, a trainee teacher would come into that category. But the main thrust of this article isn’t so much about expertise or specialisation per se, but how it relates to that old favourite, peer assessment.

Many teachers, especially ICT teachers, put great store by the use of peer assessment. Students are asked to comment on other students’ presentations, or their video productions. That’s a good thing to do, but there is a limit to its usefulness. You can ask me what I think of your video, and I can tell you whether I like it, and whether I think it does what it set out to do, but that#s pretty much it. Really, what you ought to is ask a specialist in that field to comment on it too.

For example, let’s say you’ve had the kids make video advertisements. One thing you might consider doing is using peer assessment to come up with a list of the top ten videos, and then invite someone in to comment on them. That someone might be a film director or video producer if you’re very lucky, or a local business person who buys the product or service being ‘advertised’, or the head of marketing from a local organisation.

Peer assessment can be useful, but it can only go so far. To really extend students’ learning and achievement, I think you have to get the opinions of, and feedback from, a specialist in the field.