DOK: Another Piece of Educational Theory/Practice I Know Nothing About

Depth of Knowledge ChartRe: Bloom’s Taxonomy & DOK (Depth of Knowledge)

When I worked in a writing across the curriculum (WAC) program, just after finishing grad school in American Literature, I began learning about Bloom’s taxonomy (see this site for a rundown). I even wrote a webpage on learning outcomes for our site (I can’t believe it’s still up), which, like so much of what I was reading then, used Bloom’s hierarchy in a practical way to articulate learning outcomes, that list of behaviors you would like to observe in your students after the interventions of your teaching and assignments. I was completely enamored of Bloom’s scheme–many of us are: it just makes such sense; kinds of cognition seem to stack on top of each other so well; the lower-level thinking provides the solid base for increasingly more complex cognition. There’s a completeness and elegance to it, and I evangelized it.

But even while I was just learning about Bloom, I was beginning to hear that the taxonomy was being refined and modified and, on the other side, questioned by people that study that kind of thing.  Not being a person who studies that kind of thing, I sort of said to myself, “OK, that’s something I’ll want to look into, and soon, if I end up doing this WAC job longer than planned.” But I didn’t end up doing the WAC job for much longer.  It was a wonderful learning experience, but I landed a tenure-track job in American Literature, and while I still sought to employ Bloom’s insights, I kind of left off the project of understanding what lies beyond Bloom.

I’m not taking it up again full time, mind you, but I’m back to thinking about it.  In general, that’s because I was doing a lot of reading over the summer on pedagogy and student learning, anyway.  But something that made me really think about it was our adoption of Desire 2 Learn (D2L) as a Learning Management System to replace WebCT (Yay!, btw).  D2L seems to be a really great system, with scalability that allows teachers and organizations to adopt as little or as much of the technology as needed.  I’ll be doing just a little, serving as a beta tester for D2L’s implementation at our school.  For those who want to go whole hog, though, D2L provides  instructional design tools that make use of Bloom’s taxonomy, and I’ve been following a D2L company dude on Twitter, who has posted numerous links to pages, posters, and what have you that articulate Bloom’s taxonomy. I have been saving his links, along with ones of my own, here (check out the Blooming Orange–very nice). I get the feeling that Bloom’s taxonomy is alive and well, stronger than it ever was, and with a big company like D2L adopting it, and probably other companies, too, I am wondering if people won’t be signing onto it uncritically, perpetuating it, when maybe, at a minimum, it needs refining but may need an entire overhaul or replacement.

I don’t know if what I have said  just now is true — like I said, I’m somewhat of a novice in this — but I wonder what the alternatives to Bloom might be and what the experts are saying.  I put this question to my sister a few months back.  She works in primary education administration, and she hipped me to something called “Depth of Knowledge’ or DOK for short.  DOK, on which I am collecting links here, was originated by a mathematics teacher and researcher.  Here are a couple paragraphs from one of these sources that might give some indication of what DOK is:

To someone who is unfamiliar with DOK, it seems at first glance to be not much different than Bloom’s. And in some aspects they are similar. But DOK measures rigor, or complexity, written as a hierarchy but not as a taxonomy. Unlike Bloom’s, the verb is not the distinguishing factor.  Rather, the context of the verb is how one delineates between the different DOK levels, each of which basically describe and show the progression of the rigor of what is being taught and learned.

There are four DOK levels, created by Norman Webb, a Wisconsin research scientist and mathematics educator (http://www.wcer.wisc.edu/people/staff.php?sid=1342). Webb’s four levels of depth-of-knowledge are level 1 (recall), level 2 (skill/concept), level 3 (strategic thinking), and level 4 (extended thinking), and they are applicable to all subject areas and at all grade levels, including college.

I will not be looking at DOK in any depth in the next couple of months, but I do think it would be a good thing to explore some alternatives to Bloom’s over-fifty-year-old model.

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