How simple should we make things?

There are lot of different concepts on how to best explain something to someone who are not even remotely familiar to that. Different educators have experimented different pedagogical techniques over the years. There is a popular belief that it is best to tell your audience  what you are going to talk about, then talk about that and finally tell them what you just talked about. This seems to help register the contents of the lecture. During the last few classes in our PFP course we were going over how to effectively and  efficiently communicating science to a broader audience. So I was wondering about this and a different train of thoughts came to my mind.

When we talk about communicating science to a broader audience, the question is how different is that role from an educator who wants to transfer knowledge to the student through his/her lecture?

I think, the teacher student scenario is a bit different from a science communicator-broad audience scenario. While it is always helpful to reduce the jargon and use common easily perceived examples to explain something in both scenarios, presenting a too simplistic picture to the student is something I don’t like. This might be OK for a broader audience. They are, at least not all of them, entirely eager in pursuit of the true scientific truth. The idea there is more to get a sense of association of the scientific work in the society: how it fits in. This help them decide its relevance and importance and whether or not to support it. For a student however, half-truth or simplistic versions of complex concepts are dangerous. When we are so engrossed in speaking common man’s language, the science may get lost in translation. It is important for an educator to present an as simple view of the truth as possible, as he knows it,  to the student, but still pointing out the challenges and difficulties that make it interesting! The student should be given the opportunity to judge and appreciate  the complexity of a concept. I don’t know if this is a personal thought and I am sure others have different opinion. So what do you think?

O, by the way, happy thanksgiving to everyone!



2 thoughts on “How simple should we make things?

  1. First, happy (late) thanksgiving to you!

    I have been told to use a “varying depth” approach in lectures and presentations. Start with the basics of a topic and then dive into the details. When you move on to a new topic, you start this process again. For example, say you are giving a talk about different types of renewable energy. You might start with a basic overview solar energy and its advantages. Then move into more technical details about photovoltaic cells and energy storage. When you are done talking about solar energy, you might move on to wind energy and repeat the varying depth technique.

    This technique is useful when you have a mixed audience. The basics will be useful to the novice or the general audience. The details will be appreciated by the experts. However, if the audience is all experts or all novices, then this technique will render some part of your talk irrelevant to everyone. You really have to gauge your audience ahead of time.

    • Hi,

      Thanks for the comment. Yes, I think the idea of varying depth in speech is a very useful technique. The central question is to gauge the type of audience. In a classroom setting however, we can expect all the students to be at-least at a certain minimum level and therefore this could be very useful there.

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