the age of ready information

i like it when i have to make a model for a class project- even though it sometimes feels like extra work, besides the constant weekly and daily planning and grading, i get a glimpse of what it’s like to be one of my students, and sometimes, i get to learn something new. this week, my AP World class is constructing a museum of the fifteenth century, finding authentic artifacts from different geographic regions representing culture, economics, social structure, politics, interaction with the environment, etc., then writing captions for each artifact and an introduction to their ‘exhibit’. after a ‘museum visit’ tomorrow, where the class will peruse each other’s artifacts, captions, and overviews, we’ll be discussing the question of periodization and whether historians are correct in labeling the 1400s a turning point toward modernity. i’ll be asking them to use evidence from the museum as justification for their responses.

my self-assigned region was Oceania, partly because it’s barely represented in the AP World curriculum. so, i spent the last 2 hours reading about Yap stone currency, woomeras (spear-throwers), Aboriginal x-ray art, high-tech canoes, and Nan Madol- which i had never heard of. i had to stop myself from reading multiple accounts of the first encounters between Europeans and native Australians. finding stuff out is cool.

i wish teachers talked about this more: the problem of too much information. i know tech-savvy people are talking about ‘flipped classrooms’ and some teachers and professors are experimenting with asking students to access information online, but in the public school world, and even here in an overseas boarding school, there is still an image of the teacher as the Provider of Information. not only is this outdated, and becoming exponentially moreso with every new available resource posted on the Internet (The Met’s collection, glorious photos of art and artifacts with descriptions and explanations, all free, is one of my recent favorites), but it is culturally and socially detrimental.

my school recently hosted the director of Global Online Academy, a network providing and managing online education for independent schools worldwide.  i’m not involved with online education per se, and most of us at my school are not teaching online (although many do post materials and use online resources)- but as Nachbar explained GOA’s models of strong online courses, the pedagogical shift from teacher-centered to student-centered was emphasized and evident. two articles that he sent out as suggested reading were thrilling to me, and provocative to others: Subverting the System: Student and Teacher as Equals, and a post on Grant Wiggin’s blog, titled ‘beyond teacher egocentrism’.

i had an intense discussion with a colleague about this. he saw the articles as marginalizing the role of the teacher in the classroom, and perhaps presaging technological replacements (robots? maybe only more-efficient online learning). i saw them as empowering students and liberating teachers from the role of Information Provider, rather enabling us to be designers of learning experiences. i’d much rather be the latter, but i think he enjoys being the former. it’s interesting that online education may be the new arena where this old debate plays out. after all… what would John Dewey say?

i think it’s important to remember that we can’t assume kids know HOW to access all the information we know they can access. not only how to find it, but what to do with it once they find it. and any learner needs a framework to hang new understanding on – skills can’t be taught devoid of content. and if content is taught without teaching skills, it sounds too much like indoctrination.

paulo freire would want a free internet.