Today's post, Teaching the Unteachable was originally published on 03 March 2009. A summary (taken from the LW wiki):


There are many things we do that we can't easily understand how we do them. Teaching them is therefore a challenge.

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The Moore Method seems relevant.

Vague thought, drawing on (!) Betty Edwards' approach to drawing: it seems that communication between people is verbal by default. Betty Edwards has some anecdotes suggesting that groups can learn some things from communicating to each other visually (drawing representations of their thoughts) that they can't easily learn from communicating to each other verbally. Have people followed up on this idea? It seems like potentially valuable lowish-hanging fruit in improving interpersonal communication, especially for people who don't think primarily verbally.

(I asked Val if CFAR had done anything along these lines. Apparently the 2011 megacamp had a drawing portion and then it was never tried again. He didn't know more about why though.)

Drawing can be also used to teach a skill of "being specific".

Divide students in pairs. The students sit with their backs to each other, no one can look at what the other one is doing. Prepare a picture and give it to one student. The student is supposed to describe it and the other student is supposed to draw the same picture based on the description. At the end, compare the two pictures. Then look at the pictures produced by other pairs, and discuss why sometimes things went right or wrong.

(An example of a typical mistake: One student says "there is a monster with a big oval head". But he did not specify how big, so the other student draws a head large 80% of the paper size. But the first student simply meant "big in proportion to the body size", not even "greater than the body". Or the first student says the monster has a shirt with stripes, but does not mention the direction, number, or thickness of the stripes. Etc. By the way, various monsters are typically used to reduce the shared knowledge among participants, so you need to transfer more bits of information.)

There are also two variants of the game, depending on whether the second student is allowed to ask questions, or just has to draw silently. This explains the usefulness of feedback.

Some of the expert elicitation stuff I've read recommends having experts draw distributions for some uncertain variable, then show each other their distributions, and then talk about why they did what they did- this'll often reveal where they have different information quickly and easily, and this works much better than having them compare point estimates or verbal descriptions.

Similarly, drawing causal models and Bayes nets of situations seems like an easy visual representation of things that may be difficult to quickly convey verbally.

What sort of things are you imagining communicating?

I'm imagining something less precise. Betty Edwards describes running corporate training seminars where she helped groups in corporations address their work problems, starting with drawing exercises and then using drawing to describe the problems they're working on. She reports:

The results of the seminars have been sometimes startling, sometimes almost amusing in terms of the obviousness of engendered solutions. An example of a startling result was a surprising revelation experienced by the group working on the chemical problem. It turned out that the group had so enjoyed their special status and favored position and they were so intrigued by the fascinating problem that they were in no hurry to solve it. Also, solving the problem would mean breaking up the group and returning to more humdrum work. All this showed up clearly in their drawings. ...

Another surprising result came in response to the question about customer relations. Participants' drawings in that seminar were consistently complex and detailed. Nearly every drawing represented customers as small objects floating in large empty spaces. Areas of great complexity excluded these small objects. The ensuing discussion clarified the group's (unconscious) indifference toward and inattention to customers. ...

I'm not sure exactly what's happening in these examples, but I think this might fall under "communicating with the emotional brain" or something like it.