January 16, 2006

"An animal is a teacher if it modifies behavior in the presence of another, at cost to itself, so another individual can learn more quickly."

That's a quote from a scientist in an article about how ants are teachers. That reminds me: the Spring semester starts tomorrow. Today will be a day of furious -- but not antlike -- activity. I've got some exams to finish grading and two syllabi to polish off. But there's still time to wonder if those ants are really teachers:
[Nigel R. Franks, professor of animal behavior and ecology] said careful analysis, and a great many hours of videotape, proved that the ants were teaching one another. For example, if the leaders were to race to the food on their own, he said, they would reach it four times as fast than if they had a follower tagging along. Even grabbing a follower by the mouth and physically lugging it to the food, as the ants are sometimes prone to do, was three times as fast as the teaching exercise. But the ants persisted with the tutorial, Franks said, presumably because followers that were carried were trucked with their heads turned upside down facing backward -- hardly the best vantage point from which to master a new route.

The ants appeared to follow pedagogical techniques that good human teachers have used for centuries. The lesson was highly interactive and proceeded at a pace set by the followers. If the gap between leader and follower increased too much, the leader slowed down. If it was too close, the leader accelerated....

No sooner was the paper published, of course, than another educator ... pooh-poohed it. Marc D. Hauser, a psychologist and biologist and one of the scientists who came up with the definition of teaching, said it was unclear whether the ants had learned a new skill or merely acquired new information. Mere communication of information is commonplace in the animal world, Hauser noted.
We lawprofs are always going for the skills, not the mere passing on of information, one hopes.

8 comments:

HaloJonesFan said...

Skills are information.

Ron said...

Ah, but would Ant Althouse also blog as well as teach? Doubtful.

Smilin' Jack said...

What you do has no cost to you--in fact, you get paid to do it--so you aren't a teacher by Hauser's definition.

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
vbspurs said...

Ah, but would Ant Althouse also blog as well as teach? Doubtful.

Yes, but her colony would be too busy to read it.

Dig, people, dig!

Cheers,
Victoria

PatCA said...

Is this ant study softening us up for the proposition that "ants are people, too" and we therefore shouldnt kill them?

Reminds me of the Althouse Theorem: its all right to study women (or insects) as long as the conclusion drawn is that they are superior in some way.

HaloJonesFan said...

(CRACK!) YOW! Oh Ann, you're such a harsh mistress!

Slac said...

How about letting students use the skills they already have?