Tuesday, June 12, 2007

I'm Not Unorganized; I'm Miscellaneous

I bought Weinberger's book Everything is Miscellaneous the other day, though admittedly I've only had time to read the first chapter so far. However I did spend a good part of the morning watching his discussion on Google Video , that I highly recommend. What he has to say relates directly to a lot of my concerns and ideas regarding Library/Web 2.0, with strong implications both for education in general and the LMS in specific.

Technology and the world wide web are fomenting a major paradigm shift in education. Gone are the days of Dewey, Hirsch and Bloom, the idea that knowledge can be categorized and compartmentalized, that the "educated" person knows a core set of facts/ideas carried through time by series of experts charged with enlightening the masses and initiating the unknowing into the heady atmosphere of intellectual elitism. This world is run like the Encylopedia Britannica (or the OED), where a core set of editors decide what is important and significant, then pass that information on to the rest of us. With the WWW and 2.0, our neat, graphically organized flow charts of knowledge became a whole lot messier. Social tagging and wikipedias break down the direct, linear flow of ideas into a far more randomly connected (and interconnected) web of relationships. In fact, Weinberger posits that, in the digital world at least, cataloging, as such, is pretty much dead, as who can actually anticipate all the ways people want to connect and group items/ideas? It's like all those worksheets we did as kids--which item doesn't fit? You have a picture of an apple, an orange, a pear, and a baseball. Well, maybe it's the pear that doesn't fit, if your category is round things, not fruit.

While working to understand more about wikis, blogs, and Education 2.0, I've increasingly realized that as we adopt and adapt these technologies, the earlier movement towards student-centered education is no longer creeping along, but running madly downhill. While the "sage on the stage" vs. "guide on the side" pedagogical controversy has been around for yonks, technology is forcing educators to give up control and allow students to construct their own meaning through collaboration and social interaction. The introverted, Hamlet-like scholar, immersed in learning the Trivium, is a thing of the past. Textbooks, if not obsolete, are merely the jumping off points for students to explore and engage in active learning. For example, WashingtonWatch just started a wiki that "allows public editing of information about the bills pending in Congress." What a great opportunity for Civics classes! Ironically, this comes at a time NCLB puts increasing stress on meeting standards and traditional methods of teaching. I just read that a member of Congress is trying to ban the Wikipedia and other social networking sites from schools. Now, I have problems with Wiki, but it's a great teaching tool and denying complete access to social networking tools seems not only backwards, but draconian.

This increased randomness and student-centered learning makes the LMS more important than ever before as education struggles to catch up with technology. Face it, students (and many adults) are clueless about information problem solving. Thus, as teachers struggle to adapt to changing pedagogical strategies, we need to be ready with ideas, support and enthusiasm. Now, I'm old fashioned enough to believe there are some things an educated, literate individual needs to know. Though I'd be hard-pressed to give reasons the average teenager would accept! I was trying to explain the dichotomy to my fiancee (core knowledge vs. individualized learning) and he wisely asked why I was seeing them as oppositional. Good point. Yet I think that, in the educational field, we DO see them as diametrically opposed. ( I can teach content, or I can be touchy-feely with the kids, but I don't have time for both!) However, we need to MAKE time for both and work out solid strategies for students not merely to learn core curriculum, but to synthesize it, creating their own meaning.

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