Saturday, April 11, 2015

Hawthorne and Pygmalion

Sometimes my 'former' life comes back and gets me thinking - which we ALL know is a dangerous pastime!

Many of you might know that I do possess a PhD in Computer Science and Adult Education.  Yes, I was silly and did two topics.  If you've been paying any attention to what I write here, this piece of information should explain numerous things to you.  In fact, it might give you insight into why I often do things the way I do them.  But, that's not actually the topic of this blog post.

Now - before any of you smart people out there decide you want to pick apart my definitions - remember, this is a blog post where I'm trying to simplify things a bit to make a point or three.  Give a little slack and if you want to discuss it further, let me know and I'll gladly do so! If you want more detail, I found this web page to be dense, but accurate and very interesting.

The Hawthorne Effect
One of the concepts I was introduced to as I learned more about educational research was the idea that persons who were aware that they were being studied will potentially behave differently simply due to that awareness.  On the surface, this sure makes sense.  If you note a person with a camera walking around at a conference, you don't change what you are doing much at all.  However, if that person points that camera at you while you are having a conversation AND you notice it....

You tell me - how many people keep themselves from responding at all to that?

Will our lettuce behave differently if we study it?
In short, educational research has to consider the possibility that any difference found may be partially a result of the subject's knowledge that they were being observed.

So, what happens if, in addition to the knowledge that you are observed, you receive additional clues as to the behavior that would be desired by the observer?  If the person with the camera tries to get your attention, you might immediately turn to face the camera and smile.  Similarly, if subjects in a study think they know what the observers want, they may give it to them, which can then skew research results.  It wasn't the change in teaching that caused the change - it was the fact that the learners knew they were being watched that encouraged it!

Many of you might know that My Fair Lady was an adaptation of Pygmalion.  Or you may know of the Greek myth regarding a person who made a sculpture that came to life.  In education research, the Pygmalion Effect refers, in essence, to the 'self-fulfilling prophesy.'  If you can convince someone to expect certain results of themselves, they are more likely to get them.

As a teacher, I was convinced that a key battle to win with each learner was to convince them that they could succeed and that, with the right effort, they would succeed.  In doing this, it was important to correctly assess what was possible since setting unrealistic goals would do no good in building the confidence for continued success.

Why Think About This on the Farm?
A perfectly good question, don't you think?

Yes, it is.  And you should answer it! I, the Sandman, have spoken.
The scary thing about this post is that I had a clear idea where I wanted to go with it when I started.  Then, I was distracted by thinking about these concepts and education and it was no longer clear to me where I was going.  Happily, it came back to me.

Hawthorne on the Farm?
Well, no, this isn't the Hawthorne Effect, but there is enough relationship to make a connection.  We do perform many experiments on the farm every year.  Some of them are as simple as running two different sorts of lettuce against each other in a trial.  If, for whatever reason, the evaluators (Tammy and I) are predisposed towards one of the varieties, is it possible that we will fail to assess the varieties fairly?  Of course it is.  But, in this case, it is simply more likely that we will give a variety we have a predisposition for many more chances than one we do not already have a liking for.

On the other hand, if we hand customers at the farmers' market slices of one of our favorite tomatoes and ask them to tell us what they think, we could have an issue with a Hawthorne-ish Effect.  The tasters may be responding to non-verbal clues (or verbal clues) that we give them. 

But, if you'd like a situation on the farm that is probably closest to the original Hawthorne Effect.  What if Rob decides to observe workers weeding the squash.  He's taking notes and times to determine how efficiently the field can be weeded.  With that data, he hopes to come up with a schedule that should provide adequate time/labor to complete the job.  And, his estimate is WAY to short.  Why is that?  Could it be because the workers were aware that they were being observed and perhaps, evaluated?

Pygmalion at GFF
Pygmalion was a sculptor who put great effort into creating the most beautiful statue he could.  His dedication eventually results in Athena bringing Galatea (the statue) to life.  While this isn't a perfect analogy for our farm, it is the dedication our CSA members bring, along with our own motivations joined with our workers desires to see good things happen that result in our farm coming to life each year.  While it is only April, it is the time for us to begin focusing on making this a great year. 

If we believe it will be so, then we can make it happen.  The tools are available, the experience is in place and the goals are ambitious but reasonable.  Join us and let's make this a good season!

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