Didaskalogenic

File this under word-of-the-day. Didaskalogenic shares a Greek root with didact, which gave me my first real clue how to pronounce it. Like its sister-term, iatrogenic, which describes physician-induced illness, didaskalogenic describes misconceptions, in particular scientific misconceptions, that are instructor-induced, typically a product of inappropriate analogies. The idea is that in the case of many scientific concepts, especially those of a sufficiently abstract nature, the concepts often conflict with daily experience and are often encountered by students as being counter-intuitive. The example from the Wikipedia entry on didaskalogenic is Newton’s Laws of Motion: I am guessing that it must be the idea that an object in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force, because all the rest of Newton’s Laws always struck me as fairly sensible, except for that one. Our sense of the world is that nothing stays in motion, but then we do not actively think about gravity as a force acting on all objects.

Didaskalogenic arises in my thinking this morning because I came across it while looking up concept inventories in Wikipedia, after having read a ProfHacker post on their use in physics and seeking to explore their uses elsewhere. I am interested in their use in the humanities, both within my native field of folkloristics, where I think it would be immensely useful at the undergraduate and graduate level, and more broadly, say, in our English department in terms of concepts we want all our students to know, no matter what their concentration.

As both the PH post and the Wikipedia entry make clear, concept inventories are used not to assess students but programs of instruction. Assessment is all the rage these days, but mostly it takes the wrong shape: number of majors graduated, percentage of majors completing the degree is the kind of thing we are seeing at my university, with the added twist that whatever number you establish, you then have to improve upon in subsequent assessments.

I would love to have had some sort of concept inventory, for example, to use at the beginning and end of the digital humanities seminar I am teaching this semester. I think it might have been possible a few years ago when the domain was still humanities: it’s my sense that there was more consensus then than there is now. With its expansion to the digital humanities, the new landscape has not yet been fully mapped and the expanded number of practitioners in the field mean there are more explorers heading in more directions than there was before.

Finally, didaskalogenic resonates for me this morning because I was struck last week in trying to talk about the infrastructure of the internet, specifically how all information is transported by the TCP/IP protocol and how it goes about doing that, that the consistent use of water as an analogy for bandwidth, taken from the use of water as an analogy for electrical current, is simply not useful. With bits, and with electricity, I think it’s perhaps a bit better to use the analogy of sand. One can still imagine it flowing — “like sand through an hourglass” my grandmother’s soap opera began — but it is easier to imagine it being made up of smaller pieces. Bits or electrons.

There. There is my one step toward undoing the didaskalogenic.