Novice and Expert Can Be Interchangeable

I would first like to reflect on myself as a learner. As a student in Indigenous Education I always reflect on this concept. What is Indigenous Education? And what does it mean to me in the context of this assignment? I was 8 years old when I received my ancestor name. This name came with specific responsibilities. In order to be honored with an ancestor name, one has to learn where the name comes from and the history of that name. So when my sisters and I were 6, 7, and 8 years old, we started to learn our genealogy. My mother would sit us in a circle in our living room and teach us about our history and people we never knew in our lifetime. This is where education started for me.

As I was reading Benander it reminded me of some experiences at Western Washington University where I received my bachelors degree. She discusses the experience of the novice learner and how the expert may overlook basic knowledge that comes with experience. While I was attending WWU I was not a traditional student. I was older and half way through my studies I became a mother. Traditional students who live on or near campus usually attend orientation and know where computer labs are located. I had to figure these things out on my own which led  to different problem-solving strategies. Today, these strategies allow me to problem-solve at UAF. I am not on campus, in fact, I have been a student at UAF for a year now and haven’t set foot on campus. This experience also contributes to my reflections about novice learning.

As a learner I’ve always focused my studies on the Lummi people. I am sure other students at Western Washington University in the Anthropology department were getting tired of hearing another presentation about Lummi people. But I wanted to ensure that everything I was learning in school reflected  back to the reason I was there, for the betterment of my community. I honestly don’t think that I am an expert about the history and culture of my people. It can take a lifetime of learning to truly understand. But after 10 years of study and years of learning starting when I was 8 years old, I know more than some people. When I stand in front of a new class of students at Northwest Indian College, I always gauge where they are in their learning. I always have a mix of students and we all have to get to the same end.

Benander discusses the importance of reminding one’s self what it means to be a novice learner and that can provide insights to the structure that some need. When I first started teaching, my class structures were lacking. I didn’t always follow the schedule, I forgot to send reminders to students about due dates, and didn’t send out a grading rubric outlining my expectations for student writing. I quickly realized that my lack of structure was the reason students didn’t know when their first drafts were due and the papers they turned in were all over the place. I didn’t set a standard and make my expectations clear to them. So I improved the following quarter and constantly reflected on my experiences as a student. In a way, the novice learners were teaching me, the supposed expert.


4 thoughts on “Novice and Expert Can Be Interchangeable

  1. Hey Lexie, thanks for including background information and stories in your post. It really helps me, for one, to see things through your lenses. First off, and please excuse me if this is outside the realm of substantive feedback, I believe your ancestors would be extremely proud of you for the reverence and passion you have for preserving and sharing the way of life they held so dear. It says a lot about your character and love of learning and teaching.

    The idea of simultaneously being both expert and novice is a theme that has come up repeatedly in writings this week. Is it possible that the classification of expert depends on the context and the company we keep? I have the impression from your post that if I invited you to speak to my elementary class or a group of my peers, it would be the unanimous consensus that you are an expert in your field. When discussing fish care with customers or store staff, my 2 years experience puts me in the position of expert. When discussing fish care with my boss who’s been in the business for 15 years, I’m a novice. So perhaps we are all novices and experts at the same time because our job doesn’t define the entirety of who we are and what inspires passion in us. Or, perhaps we’re all experts and novices depending on our audience. Whatever the reason, I think this is a great mindset because a diverse life forces us to wear many hats. Inevitably, at least one hat will be that of a novice. With reflection, the experiences we have under a novice hat should guide the experiences we create under a expert hat.

  2. Hi Lexie,

    Nice work.

    I like your point about how your novice learners where teaching you when you were a content expert but perhaps a novice teacher. They were, I suppose, training you as to their expectations. They were used to a certain framework and you adapted to their wants.

    It is a great irony that so many of us educators are content experts but relatively novice at teaching.

    You may find, as you build your teaching experience, that you may change your classroom process again. You may push back against your students. You may change the schedule, or not send reminders, or not give them a rubric intentionally. For instance, rubrics have benefits, but they can also constrain creativity. You may decide creativity matters to you more than clearly expressing your expectations, or that putting your students in the awkward position of having to come up with their own standards for evaluation has value. The more you experience about the different outcomes of your choices as an educator, you’ll be more intentional about the choices you make. As others have noted this week, it is hard to be intentional about decisions when you don’t know the consequences of the choices. This is true for me, anyway. I learn from my teaching every semester and modify for each subsequent semester based on those experiences. – Sometimes changing back to the way I did it before… 🙂

    I agree with your assessment that we are often all novice and expert at the same time, and Craig gives a great example of how even in the same subject we can be both at the same time.

    The question is, depending on how we perceive ourselves and how others perceive us, how do we approach learning experiences differently as expert and novice?


  3. Lexie, this semester at UAF I am taking a class called Alaska Native Education, so I can’t help but zero in on the Indigenous expert-novice cultural issue you brought up. I have a long standing interest in the Indigenous peoples of North America (I am part Creek, from Oklahoma, but am very disconnected from it) but sometimes lack the understanding to go about asking the right questions. I’m not exactly sure how to word what I want to say so I might not make a lot of sense here.

    I hear this often from Indigenous students – that the idea of a cultural expert simultaneously kind of exists and also kind of doesn’t. Even the experts can’t possibly know everything, so expertness is shared among a group. I suppose Western knowledge is this way also but we tend to think of it in “disciplines” that are more segregated from each other (literature, history, math, etc.). When you work with your students and talk about the Lummi people, does it sometimes feel ingenuine to assert that you are an expert? Do you ever teach elders? Do you think the expert-novice paradigm is a little more artificial in a learning setting that I would call (feel free to correct me on this) more holistic than Western education?

    To switch topics completely, someone else posted about the expert-novice, and it sounds like you’ve felt like a novice-expert. A novice teacher can be a weirdly precarious position to be in because your students (and their parents, etc.) expect you to be an expert right out of the gate. Last year was my first teaching experience and I also would sometimes forget to get out a writing rubric right away! Or to remind students about upcoming due dates, or to remind them to look at the board to see their homework. It was frustrating all around but, like you, as the year went on I got better at it. The novice-expert can be a strange place when everyone around you expects you to be the latter and you’re stuck feeling like the former!

    1. Hi Nicholas,

      Your post led me to think about Indigenous Studies and Native Education a bit. Is it possible for someone to become an expert in these fields, yet actually have limited understanding from the perspective of one experiencing or raised in the cultures?

      From my own experience, I was raised in a somewhat bucolic setting in Interior Alaska. The outdoors was somewhat second nature to me as were wild ecosystems, wildlife, and all matters of the northern natural world. Studying Wildlife in college, I often found the subject unrewarding as it failed to address some of the deeper understandings I had already acquired. Understanding that I think the faculty were novices about.

      I am reminded of the Whitman poem about the Learned Astronomers.

      If I were to study nerdy western high school culture of the 1980s, I would probably never attain the understanding – or attain entirely different types of understandings – than someone who lived through it. ? One is experiential and the other somewhat meta-experiential?

      This is speaking outside of my expertise – I’m purely a novice-novice here. 🙂

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