Socrates and the fistulated cow

You may be saying “what is a fistulated cow,” or you may be wondering about Socrates and cows.  In class so far, we have been discussing connected learning, and as a side note, testing, and how the culture or education relies so much on the final test grades of students as a feedback for educators.  One fellow student brought up an app, Socrative, that they use in class to find out just what content their students are digesting and what cud they have to chew further to be able to digest.  This app is another way to gauge engagement, and. conceptual and functunional understanding in a classroom, based on the various levels of interfacing between the app and the class.

“So the cow?”

Yes, the fistulated cow.  One tool that farm managers and veterinarians can use to manage a herd of cattle is to create a window into what they are consuming and how they are digesting it.  This window is created by making a tunnel into one of the cow’s stomachs and creating an access point that will not interrupt the digestion of the cow.  Often the plug that seals this tunnel looks like a window on the side of a cow.

Socrates supported a method of teaching that engaged the students in a manner that would inspire critical thinking, this app is an homage to that.  This app also acts like the window into the weird digestion by students, hence an interesting tool of feedback like the fistulated cow.  While educators would likely suffer if they thought of their students as grazers of knowledge and learning, they may be able to see that not all feedback gained from testing is indicative of learned material.  The educator is not there consuming with the students and so the level of digestion is a mystery.  Either system allows the manager a glance into what is actually happening in their respective models of consumption, and maybe a more direct route to analysis than testing is a system of feedback, the likes of which are being explored by systems like Socrative.

9 Responses to “Socrates and the fistulated cow”

  • Ken Black says:


    So you talked about socrative and the ability to measure feedback of students like a fistulated cow. Now, my expertise is in architecture so my overall understand of a cow is limited.

    What I can speak to is the experience of seeing the fistulated cow we have here at Tech and the “porthole” it has. Now you are wondering “where the heck is he going with this?”

    While we can measure our students with feedback tools, we also need to create experiences that are truly unique. I will never forget seeing that cow and coming to understand that essentially adding a viewport into a cow does not kill it. However there are some entire classes i have trouble remembering at times.

    How to we create an emotional attachment to information so that our students are excited to be there and learn from us?

    • James says:

      I find that when given the chance to provide something new and unique as a path to conceptual learning works in two ways. First the student / audience has an identifying moment of “they can do that with cows?” Then the why becomes more clear (more of the point of the lesson) “So that’s how they can tell what forage is good or not. I thought all grass was good.” In my case I work with bugs. So I can shock people with rediculus examples of how insects break every stereotype we can manage. Along the way, I can use these examples to illustrate just what makes them so different. But that’s a whole different story. -Thanks!

  • Turner says:

    James –

    I thought this was a really cool blog – partially because I grew up on a dairy, and know exactly what a fistulated cow is. But even so, it makes for a great analogy. Now my only concern is what about the students that don’t let you see what is going on inside, such as the shy or introverted kids? Or maybe just the stubborn kids (I can relate to this one!)? Maybe more personalized teaching with individual students? Or tutoring? Or maybe just small class sizes could help those students? I’m just curious about what other people’s thoughts are.


    • James says:

      Hey Turner and Emily,

      I have the advantage of being able to use labs to better show and assess student comprehension. I a, usually in a supportive role as a TA, but hands on is where I can really help the most. I like to think of the things I work on, beekeeping for example, as related concepts that can be used to build a better understanding. At some point, I will be able to see if a student knows just what makes a hive of bees work (eggs, queen, worker bees, food, etc.). If the learner is missing one of the basic building block concepts, I try my best to make that concept more approachable for them. In the case of feedback models like Socrative, I think the technology and anonymity buffers may make things more accessible to more introverted students. But that may be more reactionary than real time. As for the caring, I hope to inspire my audience’s curiosity everyday, but some… Just have to get stung to learn.

  • Emily G says:

    Great analogy! Hopefully in the case of shy students, the anonymity and the ability to voice opinions without actually speaking publicly that these tools offer may help to bridge the gap between instructor and student. I think the challenge may be actually engaging the students in these new technologies. How do we motivate students to take the time to examine their own gaps in understanding enough to communicate those gaps to us as instructors?

  • A. Nelson says:

    I grew up around cows too! I also think the fistulated-Socratic cow has something in common with yoga. I started to think about it in a comment on Bailey’s post:
    But would love to discuss it more during class.

  • Interesting blog, like you I had to look up that secretive application. To have that window which allows us to view the progress and level of understanding of our students is imperative. I also liked the fistulated cow analogy. I did this to a goat once and it gave me great insight on the digestive tract.o have that window which allows us to view the progress and level of understanding of our students is imperative.

  • Edwin G says:

    Wao, great analogy! I had heard about the fistulated cow recently, but though the person was joking. Maybe you have heard the saying, “if only I had a magic ball”, tools like socrative could be very helpful to see how students are learning. I think it could help teachers/professors to better design their classes to engage and keep students interested.

  • hi Tnx for you best post Tnx

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