06 MAY 2015
What Does the Digital Future Mean for Knowledge and Knowing?
Curricular content has become unfashionable, based on an old paradigm where students expect teachers to deliver a body of knowledge known as the curriculum. Other students think that the function of their teacher is to help them learn and develop as an individual. The two expectations are not mutually exclusive - students learn best when they are inspired by a teacher who offers an intellectually engaging curriculum. How can students best prepare themselves to acquire the knowledge and skills they will need in the future?
Learning and teaching
Our concept of knowledge has expanded far beyond something that is academic and book-based, to an idea of tacit knowledge, or knowledge as ‘know-how’. Knowing-how today includes knowing how to develop digital skills and to add value to networks. In 1999 Sugata Mitra began an experiment whose results would change the way we think about teaching and learning. He left a computer in a hole, rather like an ATM machine, as he watched via a camera as students in an Indian village with online access taught themselves complicated curricular content. The students taught themselves exclusively with peer support and internet access. And no teacher. The teacher had essentially been replaced by the computer. Mitra has coined the phrase Self Organised Learning Environment (SOLE).
Then there are countless examples of online learning – MOOCS, Khan Academy, itunes university, and Pamoja Education which teaches the International Baccalaureate online. Lynda.com will help you upgrade your digital skills. There’s MIT’s programming resource, Scratch. Twine enables the creation of narratives and scenarios with different outcomes.
So how can schools keep up and make classroom experience relevant and meaningful? One conclusion is to limit digital technology in the classroom. The argument goes along the lines that whilst adults have been introduced to digital technology for work purposes, students use it primarily for entertainment, leisure and fun and are therefore unwilling to use it effectively in the classroom.
On the other hand a classroom that is fully integrated with digital technology makes full use of it and requires teachers to be at the forefront of developments. There’s the flipped classroom which makes the subject content into the homework task before the lesson takes place. This frees up class time for the teacher to answer students’ individual questions, discussion, group activities and extension activities. In this environment schools need to meet the challenge of knowing how to enable students to learn. This RSA Animate clip based on a talk given by Sir Ken Robinson offers an interesting insight.
Governments and Schools know that they need to add value to students, be it in acquisition of knowledge, skills, digital skills or the development of character. So in our digital age - what do students want to be taught and what should they learn? Schools need to help students become creative users of digital technology – so students can add value – rather than be passive consumers of it. For a forward looking view, this is the future of education at Stanford. There’s an interesting focus on real-world problems and finding their solutions. In other words, focusing on ‘missions rather than majors’. This new paradigm takes us far away from the old paradigm of curricular-content. The new content might become the problem being studied. One direction for knowledge might involve knowing how to identify and come up with practical solutions to real-world problems. In the future, the contribution of education might continue to make the world a better place.
Wendy Heydorn is co-author of Decoding TOK for the IB Diploma
Wendy Heydorn is an experienced teacher, Assistant Director of Higher Education and Head of Religious Studies at Sevenoaks School in Kent.
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