Bloom’s taxonomy, endangered species and clinical medicine.

by reestheskin on 02/03/2015

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There is a spirited article in THE (Save field biology skills from extinction risk). It is a demolition of the tyranny of Bloom’s taxonomy in relation to skill acquisition and education. The context is field biology and the acquisition of those skills needed to identify and understand living organisms and their habitats. Not so far from much clinical medicine and dermatology, I suggest: diagnosis and categorisation is the cardinal skill of a physician. It is a familiar trope that dermatologists are butterfly collectors, or bird spotters. Some are, although I have no skills in these domains. But to quote from the article:

“Educationalists have been guilty of formalising a gross undervaluing of the complexities involved in field biology. This has occurred through a naive adherence to an incredibly damaging dogma that has influenced so much of modern educational practice. Ironically, the dogma that has been so detrimental to field taxonomy is known as Bloom’s taxonomy….”

For ‘field biology’, read ‘medicine’

The authors go on:

“In 1956, a committee of educationalists chaired by Benjamin Bloom proposed a classification system for learning outcomes. The objective of the group was to clarify the language used in the design of curricula and exams. They produced a theoretical framework that subsequently has been widely used to classify educational goals. There are now literally hundreds of textbooks, web pages and training courses that provide guidance on writing exam questions based around Bloom’s taxonomy. These documents frequently include lists of approved verbs that are deemed appropriate when writing questions for different levels or years of study. Bloom’s creed tells us that the lowest levels of cognitive skills involve recognising, identifying, naming and memorising. These abilities are considered inferior to the higher levels such as critically analysing, evaluating, criticising and reviewing. This sort of simplistic analysis resulted in field biology skills being excluded from university degrees time and time again as being too “simplistic”. However, ask those responsible for dropping these courses to distinguish Galium saxatile from Galium sterneri and they might just start to appreciate that identification skills are not so simple after all.”

Well, indeed, I do not know my Galium saxatile from my Galium sterneri but the point is well made. Bloom’s taxonomy makes little sense for clinical medicine. Yet again, we see another example of simplistic educational theorising (fads), getting in the way of teaching and learning. (Remember: it is indeed possible for teaching to get worse over time.) The phrase ‘Educationalists have been guilty of formalising..’ is key. Formalisation is attractive, it is what leads to status in fields like physics and mathematics. It is however ‘tricky’, and for many areas of expertise the result is cargo-cult science. All to often people mortgage their honesty in order to purchase that which their colleagues mistake for rigour. Understanding understanding is hard. Understanding competence, less so. [rant over]

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