TITLE: Internalization as Investment AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: May 10, 2007 4:04 PM DESC: ----- BODY: Maybe I am making too much of this and this. Reader Chris Turner wrote to comment that not internalizing is natural:
The things that I internalize are things I personally use. ... "Use" != "Have to know for a quiz". The reason I internalize them is because it's faster to remember than to look it up. If I hardly ever use it, though, the time spent learning it is wasted time. YAGNI as applied to knowledge, I suppose. ... [E]specially in the software development field, that this is not only acceptable, but encouraged. I simply don't have enough time to learn all I can about every design pattern out there. I have, however, internalized several that have been useful to me in particular.
I agree that one will -- and needs to -- internalize only what one uses on a regular basis. So as an instructor I need to be sure to give students opportunities to use the ideas that I hope for them to internalize. However, I am often disappointed that, even in the face of these opportunities, students seem to choose other activities (or no programming activities at all) and thus miss the chance to internalize an important idea. I guess I'm relying on the notion that students can trust that the ideas I choose for them are worth learning. People who bothered to master a theoretical construct like call/cc were able to create the idea of a continuation-based web server, rather than having to wait to be a third-generation adopter of a technology created, pre-processed, and commoditized by others. But there's more. As one of my colleagues said yesterday, part of becoming educated is learning how to internalize, through conscious work. Perhaps we need to do a better job helping students to understand that this is one of the goals we have for them. This leads me to think about another human bias documented in Schneier's article psychology article. I think that student behavior is also predicted by time discounting, the practice of valuing a unit of resource today more than the same unit of resource at a future date. In the financial world, this makes great sense, because a dollar today can be invested and earn interest, thus becoming more than $1 at the future date. The choice we face in valuing future resources is in predicting the interest rate. I think that many of us, especially when we are first learning to learn, underestimate the "interest rate", the rate of return on time spent studying and learning-by-programming. Investment in a course early in the semester, especially when learning a new language or programming style, is worth much more than an equivalent amount of time spent later preparing for assignments and exams. And just as in the financial world, investing more time later often cannot make up for the ground lost to the early, patient investor. A particularly self-aware student once told me that he had used what seemed to be the easy first few weeks of my Programming Languages course to dive deep into Scheme and functional programming on his own. Later, when the course material got tougher, he was ready. Other students weren't so lucky, as they were still getting comfortable with syntax and idiom when they had to confront new content such as lexical addressing. I like the prospect of thinking about the choice between internalizing and relying on external cues in terms innate biases on risk and uncertainty. This seems to give me a concrete way to state and respond to the issue -- to make changes in how I present my classes that can help students by recognizing their subconscious tendencies. -----