Friday, September 30, 2016

When do you do cost-benefit and when do you do social obligation?

An answer to the question in my title is meant as a guide to individual decision making, in the world of work and really in all of life.  I wonder if my friends and colleagues can unpack their own decision making apparatus enough to offer up an answer of their own.  It's probably easier to first look at some obvious decisions that are in one category or the other.  Regarding how fast to drive, for me that is determined solely by cost-benefit and I believe most people do likewise.  When a friend is in trouble, you lend a hand.  That is determined purely by social obligation.  That part is pretty easy.  The real question is where the boundary lies between the two.  Determining that is much harder.

My students need an answer to this question, one that is not pure expedient, but also one they can embrace so that when the situation arises they have an inner compass that guides them.  In the little I see of their behavior, too much is driven by cost-benefit.  And in much of that they are myopic, even in regard to their own welfare.  Some of this is immaturity.  And some of this is rudeness, which they may not perceive as such.  Another part is a sense that they are in some kind of Darwinian struggle, so anything goes as long as they are advancing their own agendas.  Most of my students are juniors and seniors and in their early 20s.  By this age their attitudes on these things have somewhat hardened.  It would be good to get at this question earlier, when the students are first on campus.  How to do that is something to consider.  As of late I've been on a kick to encourage the freshman seminar.  Providing a real answer to the question in the title gives one rationale for such an approach.

Ten years ago the CIC Learning Technology Group held a conference at the University of Minnesota, where the featured speaker was Thomas Reeves.  He gave a talk about the Conative Domain, which I thought interesting and challenging.  He subsequently gave a similar talk at the ELI national conference.  The slides for that are available online and are interesting to consider.  Below is a screen shot of slide 38.

The part of this I find most interesting is that ethics is in the conative domain, not the affective domain.  In any event, the bulk of Reeves' talk argues that we have ignored the conative domain in education for quite a long time and we need to restore its importance.

A starting point would be to have a working answer to the question in the title of this post.  For me, I know that inner compass works so that only rarely do I encounter a situation that calls for me to think through an answer to this question.  Mainly the answer presents itself immediately without any deliberation whatsoever.  Once in a while I ask myself how I got this way or if it was always there, even in early childhood.  I wish I knew.   It is evidently not in everyone.    What type of education might bring that about?  I wish I knew the answer to that one as well.

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