It has been said that for first time in human history the value of unique knowledge and expertise is declining significantly due to the proliferation of accessible digital technology. This phenomenon has happened in history before (see the Protestant Reformation and the works of Martin Luther and many others), however not at this pace and not to this scale. Access to information, knowledge, and each other is historically unprecedented.
This was very apparent to me, and its implications to education, last week when my daughter (Ellen-6) and son (Eddie-3) were building a blanket fort in our living room. When
I came home Ellen informed me that they had built the Millennium Falcon. As I toured their creation, I asked her how and why they built it the way they did. My daughter informed me that they “googled it.” (duh dad?!?!?) She continued to describe how they used our iPad to look up pictures and information on the features and look of the Star Wars ship. Amazingly they did a pretty good job – including satellite dishes on its top, a spaghetti strainer for one of the windows, correct shape of the ship, etc.
Her statements, explanations, and process really hit me. Here I am listening to my 6-year old, who is completely comfortable and competent in using devices like our iPad, discuss how she used tools and resources available to her to access knowledge that previously she would not have had access to. (Get ready for it…obligatory parent line coming)…When I was a kid, I never could have done this. Not only did I not have I the internet or devices, but if I needed to learn something, I needed to seek out someone, an expert who could teach me about it.
So what does this experience mean and have to do with a blog about education?…A LOT!!!
– The world has changed.
– The impact of digital technology (i.e. devices, internet, etc.) is significant.
– Our children will learn and experience their world very different that we ever did.
– We, in education, must understand the above and adjust our practices accordingly. And if we fail to, we risk increasing our ineffectiveness and even the potential for total irrelevance.
My kids were demonstrating the skills, abilities, and mindsets that soon (if not now) all of our nation’s schoolchildren will possess. Therefore we, in education, can no longer “hang our hat” on the fact that schools are the only place for knowledge and learning. We cannot place a great deal of value on information, memorization, compliance, and one-directional dissemination – teacher to students. Teachers are no longer the experts, holder of all of the knowledge, while the students are the naive, passive receivers of this process.
Now this is not all bad news for education – it only is bad news if we ignore it and change nothing. I would argue that if we approach this correctly and openly, we can begin a whole new era of American education. An era where we can inspire a whole new generation of thinkers and creators that can compel our nation deep into the 21st century. However to do this, we have to keep in mind the lessons from my blanket fort experience.
Lesson #1 – Re-Evaluate Knowledge – My kids built a Millennium Falcon blanket fort on their own, as learners, using curiosity, accessible knowledge and technology, and their own abilities to find and apply information. We need to re-examine and re-order our views and values related to knowledge. We cannot continue to emphasize learning and knowledge in the traditional sense. Information exposure is not the concern, it is information processing and application that now is more important.
Lesson #2 – Be a Travel Agent – My kids built a Millennium Falcon blanket fort on their own without the direct role of ‘experts’. We, in education, also need to change our view, conception, and primary role of teachers. Shifting from being the keepers and sole knowledge bearers, to guiders and igniters of exploration and application. This doesn’t make the teacher any less significant in the learning process, in fact I would argue it makes the teacher more vital. Teachers can now serve so many more important roles to learning (e.g. facilitator, resource, vision caster, challenger, etc.), in addition to still being an expert on the subject area/material they have taught traditionally. As I have heard it said, “Highly effective teachers are more like travel agents, than tour guides.”
Lesson #3 – Create Empowered Learning Opportunities – My kids now know and will remember more information and features of the Millennium Falcon because of the opportunity they had. This is probably the most critical step in our re-visioning of the learning process and schools. If we only learn lessons #1 & #2, we will be missing the larger point and will actually do more harm than good to our students and their futures. We need to create more applicational learning opportunities for our students. Places/times when they can explore curiosities, develop hypotheses, navigate through the ocean of information, ask questions, share their ideas with others, re-learn from their peers, seek out support and advice from others, and ultimately “create” things. If we do this, not only will we increase student engagement and stronger learners, we will become more effective in teaching the “traditional knowledges” we have always wanted to emphasize.
In building their blanket fort, my children effectively used their technology skills, were disseminators of available information, applied their learning to create something/solve a problem, shared it with others, were highly engaged, AND developed a strong knowledge base of Millennium Falcon. Knowledge, skills, and mindsets that we need to emphasize in schools. Not bad for a Sunday afternoon…