A new education research program examines how we prepare our best and brightest minds to participate in a knowledge-thirsty world.
The question of how individuals move from being knowledge users to being knowledge producers underpins the work of researchers in the Adaptive Knowledge Production (AKP) program, one of three key research areas under the umbrella of the Education Research Institute Newcastle (ERIN).
"We hear a lot of talk about the new innovation society and the knowledge economy, but how are we preparing people to produce the creative solutions required in this challenging environment?" asks Professor Allyson Holbrook, the program leader.
"As we move into this innovation world we need to have a better perspective on how to teach people to fill those roles, to acquire that sort of higher-order thinking that creates new knowledge."
Building on earlier work done by Holbrook and other University of Newcastle researchers on how doctoral research should be benchmarked, the AKP program is concentrating on not only how to foster advanced thinkers in a university environment but also in the workplace.
Holbrook says one of the key attributes of adaptive knowledge producers is their ability to deal with uncertainty.
"We know from the substantial literature on creativity that people who are highly original are people who harness uncertainty," she says.
"They don't let it rule them - it is not a controlling force - they use it and turn it into something productive. Researchers deal well with that because to be a good researcher you have to deal with uncertainty every minute of every day."
AKP researchers have identified four markers that indicate when a learner is making the transition from being a user of knowledge to a producer of new knowledge. These are:
- That they exhibit a need for epistemic community (a nurturing, learning community)
- They engage in mindful uncertainty, which means that they no longer regard uncertainty as a barrier
- They enter into a state of immersion in what they are doing
- They experience what is called "epistemological rift", a feeling of being intellectually wrongfooted and alone that is a phase commonly reported by PhD researchers.
"That last one is really significant; it actually indicates that a person is at that breakthrough point to becoming a higher-order knowledge producer," Holbrook says.
"But it is often misinterpreted by supervisors in academia or industry as being an emotional problem, rather than an important part of the creative process."
While research groups elsewhere have studied aspects of knowledge production in the tertiary environment, the AKP program will break new ground by adapting the research for the workplace.
"What we have done is create diagnostics and tools to detect these higher-level knowledge-producing attributes in novice researchers; our big next step in Adaptive Knowledge Production is to take these into new contexts in industry," Holbrook says.
The potential for application in the professional sphere was recognised following a collaborative study with Dalhousie University in Canada, into the factors associated with decision-making by obstetricians performing cesarean sections.
"We see huge scope for this work to be applied in the professional sphere," Holbrook says. "Not just among people like software designers and scientists who might be considered research staff, but among doctors, teachers and other professionals who need to engage in that higher-order knowledge production."
"It's not just about teaching people to produce knowledge, it is about producing knowledge that is new and enabling them to continue to do this with different problems. Those are the key aspects."