Lately, I have been working on what I call the “Secret Knowledge Project”. Basically, Kevin, Neal and I have been trying to help freshmen bridge the gap between “that would be a cool thing to build” and “This is how I would build the cool thing”.
The gap seems to have two main components; there is a confidence gap, and a knowledge gap. The knowledge gap is straightforward to explain; people just don’t know how to make things, or where to start, or what their tools are. The confidence gap is the complex part. Even though most of these people have science/math backgrounds, and were born into the “computer age” there seems to be some sort of confidence barrier that prevents them from thinking “this would be cool” looking it up on google, and then either finding instructions to make what they want or synthesizing their own instructions from what they learn.
I don’t really know why this barrier exists in general, but I certainly know I run into it now and then. Personally, it tends to be that I straight up don’t know where to start, or even what to research, or that I have too many options. The other limiting factor tends to be the uncertainty factor in building something. Uncertainty is the combination of the risk that the project won’t work based on changing something, not being able to find materials, or that the instructions are bad. In the case of synthesizing new procedures, uncertainly is caused by a lack of knowledge in the field.
I think uncertainty is the primary reason that projects don’t get done. Other competing factors are the “cool” to work ratio, and the costs associated with a project. However, at Olin costs can be mitigated by finding funding or using on campus resources, and the there are plenty of cool projects to do, yet I feel like not many get done.
So, the goal is to bridge that gap and to foster personal projects and learning at Olin. We want to bridge the gap between thinking and doing, particularly in projects with a lot of parts and a lot of variables and uncertainty.
I will be doing a lot of catching up on this blog, so expect some posts about Secret Knowledge parts I-IV. Part (or volume) V is tonight!