Rage against the machine?
22 Oct 2012

Rage against the machine?

Will Richardson laments the “Khanification” of education:

22 Oct 2012

Will Richardson laments the “Khanification” of education:

Which begs the questions, a) what should an education degree or a teaching certificate require when increasingly anyone with a connection can be a teacher of content, and, b) more importantly, what changes when the world begins to accept a definition of “teacher” as someone who knows “how to make and post a video”?

Indeed, if we view teaching as simple information delivery, and teachers as delivery mechanisms, then teachers have something to be worried about: If they can be replaced by machines, they should be (paraphrasing Arthur C. Clarke).

But, most teachers would argue that they give students knowledge. Do they? To be clear, let’s define the differences between data, information, knowledge, and innovation.

  • Data are bits and pieces here and there — from which we combine into information;
  • Knowledge is about taking this information and creating meaning;
  • And, innovation is about taking action with what we know.

I think this is the greatest problem facing teaching: We need to decide if we want to train kids to regurgitate data and information, or if we want them to develop personal knowledge and enable them to act on what they know. We are trying very hard to manage “knowledge,” and, as a result, we confuse it with information. We focus on information delivery and the quality of students’ ability to repeat it (i.e., through standardized tests).

Knowledge isn’t something that is ideally generated through watching a Khan Academy video or sitting through a classroom lecture. Knowledge also is not about being able to Google something.

Knowledge is something that is more personal and has intangible qualities that combine tacit and explicit dimensions. What we know, individually, is not easily measurable through the principles of industrial psychology that we embrace in schools. It is qualitative in nature.

If we continue to treat teachers as content delivery machines, curricula as industrial blueprints, students as future factory workers, and obsess over measurements of industrial quality, the Khan Academy and its contemporaries have a bright future.

If we start to think of teachers as having a real role in knowledge development and its application (innovation!), then the world of teaching and learning will look very different. The Khan Academy in such a context becomes supplemental in an ecology of options, and not a replacement for an outmoded machine.

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  1. Joseph Malgeri December 4th, 2012 12:18PM

    I agree with your definitions of data, information, knowledge and innovation and their relationships as presented. I find the changes in education exhilarating because they afford everyone an opportunity to define for themselves what is important for them individually. From there, virtually all avenues to create their own paths are available.

    I approached some eighth graders with the opportunity to make a movie. Their first question was, “About what?’ When they learned it could be about whatever they wanted, they jumped at the chance. The challenges followed:
    Who decides? A democratic process
    From where does the input come?
    Who writes/organizes/stars/films/edits
    The list grew rapidly. The teens found themselves realizing the complexity and embracing it, some more than others. It is from experiential involvement that we find the need for and develop the appreciation of the Kahn Academies. Someone needs to get the ball rolling, to provide guidance and nurturing. I envision soon thereafter that students will develop personal visions of what they want to know and where to go for the knowledge/innovation. What’s needed is the spark. All that is needed is the spark. Not everyone can provide it, and few can support it. Therein lies the challenge.

  2. Greg Macallister June 6th, 2017 7:03AM

    This is a real dilemna that has been recently awoken in me. I taught in NSW for 9 years before moving to Ballarat in Victoria and doing 27 years in the classroom. As you will be aware both have a strong senior emphasis on external examination that tends to reward students witha greater ATAR score if they have the capability of repeating loads of information and its application. Recently I moved to Queensland to semi retire but am in the classroom where students work through from data to knowledge and many go on to be inovative in their thoughts and use of their knowledge. However, Queensland faces a 2018 deadline to go to external examinations to ensure parity with other states when it comes to rewarding students with ATAR scores and University entrance.
    What worries me is that the system currently in place in Queensland may well be transformed into that of NSW & VIC where educating is about getting the best result in an external test rather than for inovation.


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