The world of information is in constant evolution and as information technology evolves, so do the ways we consume it, we distribute it, we use it and we create it. With the advent of the internet and modern search engines using advanced algorithms and artificial intelligence, access to information has never been easier. Knowledge is no longer reserved for a privileged subset of society, it can be accessed instantly my almost anyone from anywhere in the world. This shift in information availability and accessibility has pushed the world of education to reflect on its approach in developing its students.
After evaluating the suggested readings related to the debate on the topic of teaching things that can be “Googled”, I am led to believe that as educators, our role as conveyors of knowledge and skills is rapidly being redefined. Although it certainly takes a high level of knowledge to be a competent teacher, our students are depending less on us to be their primary source of information and more on us to help them navigate the panoply of information on the internet.
The phenomena of fake news, misinformation, propaganda and pseudoscience have ravaged the internet in the past few years. Here are but a few examples:
From my experience as a parent and a teacher, kids can easily be influenced by this type of content. Seeing this type of content on the internet leads me to ask the following questions:
- How do I, as an educator, guide my students in navigating these numerous varied sources of information?
- How do I teach students to decipher the good, the mediocre, the bad and the ugly parts of the internet?
- How to I assure my students build strong critical and analytical skills in the hope they don’t get negatively influenced my sources of information that have less than pure intentions?
These questions all point towards key information processing skills. In Challenges to learning and schooling in the digital networked world of the 21st century, it is stated that:
“Across these frameworks it is generally agreed that collaboration, communication, digital literacy, citizenship, problem solving, critical thinking, creativity and productivity are essential for living in and contributing to our present societies.”
Most teachers I know would agree with this affirmation, and I certainly do also, however one must note that, of these attributes, none of them refer to content or knowledge. They all refer to skill building.
As a high school science teacher, building these skills are my priority. Asking questions, seeking answers and asking more questions are at the basis of the scientific method.
Teachers such as Dan Mayer have developed and promoted educational approaches that can be used by teachers to help them develop these analytical skills in students.
Another question remains:
- Is teaching information that can be found on the internet still something that teachers should do?
As I reflected on this question following the debate, my thoughts let me to thinking of the world of assessment. In the current format of the education system in which I teach here in Saskatchewan, assessment is the ultimate goal as it is how we determine the worthiness of a student to proceed to the next step in their education. Unfortunately, assessing students can be quite difficult and rudimentary. In most cases, assessments have a tendency of measuring a students’ knowledge in a particular subject and not necessarily their skills. There seems to be a disconnect when we promote teaching skills to student while evaluating their retention of knowledge. These skills we value so much as educators cannot adequately measure given the structure of our current education system of standardized tests.
When I participated in the writing of the new provincial Physics 30 curriculum a few years ago, our team of writers almost endlessly debated the importance of skills and knowledge that needed to be addressed as part of the curriculum. Ultimately, the outcomes we built into the curriculum were skill based, however, the indicators we created to help demonstrate the achievement of these outcomes were often knowledge based. We were consistently influenced in our curriculum writing by the fact that a departmental exam needed to be issued for the course and we needed to establish indicators that could be measured and assessed with multiple answer questions and numerical calculations. As a non-accredited physics teacher, this situation frustrates me to no end and ultimately restricts what and how I can teach. Let’s not even take into consideration the disadvantage that I teach physics in French and have to deal with subpar teaching resources and tools as compared to my colleagues who teach the same course in English. A disparity that is even the internet cannot eliminate.
In the end, I feel like I am left with no choice. I MUST teach information that can be found on the internet and in textbooks as I MUST assess them in such a way for them gain the skills pass standardized departmental examinations provided by the Ministry of Education of Saskatchewan. These examinations HAVE to count for 40% of their final mark and will determine their suitability for perusing in a subject related to that subject area. As much as it pains me, this practice will continue until there are drastic policy and philosophical changes in the structure of education in Saskatchewan.
Each day, I try to teach the skills that my students will need to be successful productive members of society and HOPE these skills I teach them will translate well in standardized assessments.
Technology might hold the key in solving this dilemma, I guess I have some Googling to do!