There are no prerequisites for The Science of Everyday Thinking, and topics range from hindsight to horoscopes. Students learn how to evaluate claims, how to make sense of evidence, and to understand the mental shortcuts that we often use or misuse, and apply them to everyday situations to help make better decisions.
Our campus-based psychology course, PSYC2371: The Science of Everyday Thinking, also started at The University of Queensland (UQ), the very moment that Think101x went live on the edX platform.
Our goal with Think101x, was not to replace the live experience but to complement and improve it. We worked hard to offer the best of both worlds: to figure out what we could do on the edX platform that would be impossible to do on campus, and what we could do on campus that would be impossible to do online.
The edX Experience
How do you capture and hold the interest of more than 75,000 busy people in a course on thinking? Maintaining interest is particularly difficult when the aim of the course is to convince people to value slow, effortful, deliberate, analytic, and logical thinking.
Of course, we could have simply opted for stand-up routines and plenty of cat photos, and end up with outstanding retention rates, but not much movement on the critical thinking front. Alternatively, we could have opted for a voice recording over Powerpoint slides, which would test the patience of the few ardent thinkers who would be willing to stick around. Where do you draw the line?
There has been a fair bit of research to suggest that people mistake the good feeling they get from watching a beautiful documentary, with having actually learned the concepts and content. We tend to confuse this feeling of fluency—the ease with which the information is processed—with comprehension, as we discuss in Episode 5 – Learning to Learn. The process of struggling to retrieve something from memory and making mistakes is the most effective way to learn and remember. If it feels easy, then you probably haven’t learned it as well as you think.
Our approach was to film unscripted conversations with several interesting people across a variety of topics, and to film our ‘lecture’ content in different, everyday locations, to help prevent people from associating a concept with a particular context.
We travelled the globe to film conversations with some very clever people including Daniel Kahneman, who won the Nobel Prize in economic science, Elizabeth Loftus who pioneered the study of false memories, Ian Frazer who developed a cervical cancer vaccine, and even the MythBusters about testing claims and distinguishing between fact and fiction.
We met 22 leading thinkers from across the world and combined hundreds of hours of conversations, demonstrations, and assessment into short, highly polished episodes on how to evaluate claims, learn and remember information better, and ultimately make smarter decisions.
This all sounds very elaborate, but with a three person team (Jason, Matt, and Emma), the process was anything but elaborate. We purchased a DSLR camera and some basic equipment, and mostly taught ourselves how to film and edit through online courses via lynda.com, and emulated the documentary style of Richard Dawkins.
We made many mistakes along the way. A few of our conversations were barely audible, too dark, or out of focus. We’re enormously thankful for our friends at TheStoryBoxes for covering up our mess. Eventually, we learned from our mistakes and managed to get some outstanding footage.
After we had all 22 interviews ‘in the can,’ we started filming each of the surrounding segments to help unpack and elaborate on the material in these conversations. Given the broad casual appeal of ‘everyday thinking,’ and the fact that we want people to evaluate ideas on their merit, there were no lab coats, no standing in front of bookshelves, and no formalities. We filmed real conversations in our kitchen, in the park, or at the pub.
An incredible amount of work needs to happen behind-the-scenes, and we have a dedicated team at UQ, called UQx, to assist in the course development process.
The On Campus Experience
People are taking this edX course alongside 200 on campus students at The University of Queensland, Australia.
In a weekly ‘On campus’ segment on the edX platform, online students will get a feel for what it’s like to be a student in the live version of The Science of Everyday Thinking at UQ. Each Wednesday, we will post the video highlights of the on campus student experience.
Before coming to class each week, students who are enrolled in the UQ course will watch videos, write quizzes, and contribute to the discussions on edX, alongside tens of thousands of others around the globe. Assigning these online videos and quizzes as homework—before coming to class—allows us to devote our live classes to discussions, demonstrations, debate, peer interactions, and time to think.
We are working to offer the best of both worlds: the best online content featuring international experts, and the best live, interactive, and personal experience where we exchange ideas, debate issues, and where we have the time to provide immediate, directed, and thoughtful feedback.
We want to share as much of this ‘on campus’ experience as we can, online and free to the world. Each week, we will also post instructions and guides to all of the live activities that we run at UQ. We hope this segment will inspire people to become teachers themselves, to run their own version of Think101 in classrooms, offices, and coffee shops.
In Think101, we aim to give the best online experience we can and the best offline experience we can, both at The University of Queensland and across the globe.
Matthew Thompson is a cognitive scientist working on his PhD at The University of Queensland. He researches the nature of expertise and the non-analytic cognition in fingerprint identifitication, toward improving the value of expert testimony to promote rightful convictions and prevent wrongful ones. He recently completed a Fulbright Scholarship at UCLA and UCI. In 2014 he will start a Postdoctoral Fellowship at Harvard Medical School. Follow him on Twitter @Thompsontweets.
Jason Tangen is a Senior Lecturer in cognition at The University of Queensland. His research is broadly based on Expertise & Evidence. That is, the perceptual and cognitive changes that occur as we accumulate experiences. Jason has several projects underway on awareness, forensic reasoning, the perception of banknote features, and the flashed face distortion effect. Follow him on Twitter @ExpEvLab.