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Curious Minds - WCATY's Rebecca Vonesh on "Expertise" and "Learning Goals"

WCATY's Rebecca Vonesh on "Expertise" and "Learning Goals"

As WCATY students worked through Week 2 of their fall online Academy classes, WCATY Co-Director Rebecca Vonesh sat down with Curious Minds to discuss two of the concepts at the heart of the courses they are taking: “expertise” and “learning goals.”


Curious Minds: WCATY online classes place a lot of emphasis on helping students develop “expertise.” What exactly does that mean and why is it important?


RV: We know that motivation is key to developing talent, and so to help motivate our students WCATY’s curriculum is based on a model that helps them develop the kind of high-level “expertise,” or competency and proficiency, that typically is exemplified by professionals in various fields. To do that, our courses include activities that ask students to confront the same philosophical questions and authentic problems faced by, say, professional historians or designers or engineers. We’ve found students love this kind of genuine, context-specific learning—which gives them a chance to interact with their environment—much more than rote learning.


Curious Minds: And how is a student’s level of expertise measured in an online Academy class?

RV: At WACATY, it’s all about “growth.” I love this quote, and wish I knew the source: “Whatever the new beginning is for you right now, allow yourself to be swept away by the sweet freedom that comes with it. Growth is around the corner.” 

Curious Minds: And how does WCATY measure growth?


RV: Through our leveled learning goals, which help students move from “novice” to “professional” levels of expertise. Students working at the “novice” level, for example, work on completion and basic mechanics; those at the “apprentice” level are asked to concentrate on learning to organize and provide support for their ideas; those at the “artisan” level are encouraged to begin enhancing their work product with the kind of style and depth typically not seen at their grade level. Again, all this happens within the context of concrete, authentic problem solving experiences. The ultimate goal is for students reach the point where they are tackling “professional” level goals akin to those encountered by a practitioner in a particular discipline.

Curious Minds: So, different students are working at different levels?

RV: Yes. Assignments are aligned to sets of learning goals that suggest a range of specific, differentiated “next steps” students can take to achieve growth. Ideally, students move over time along the path to achieving expertise, receiving increasingly challenging learning goals along the way.


Priscilla Pardini is WCATY’s communications coordinator and editor of Curious Minds