'How Has The Internet Changed The Way You Think?'

Here are the best answers you are likely to read, compiled by the Edge Foundation at their World Question Centre, to this important question.  

The following passage, from Tim O’Reilly‘s musings on the question, Pattern Recognition, made me reflect about the challenges of staying ‘educated’ and being and ‘educator’ in our ever-shifting culture:  

“It used to be the case that there was a canon, a body of knowledge shared by all educated men and women. Now, we need the skills of a scout, the ability to learn, to follow a trail, to make sense out of faint clues, and to recognize the way forward through confused thickets. We need a sense of direction that carries us onward through the wood despite our twists and turns. We need “soft eyes” that take in everything we see, not just what we are looking for.  

The information river rushes by. Usenet, email, the world wide web, RSS, twitter: each generation carrying us faster than the one before. But patterns remain.  

You can map a river as well as you can map a mountain or a wood. You just need to remember that the sandbars may have moved the next time you come by.”   

This is at the heart of the challenge for schools. We do need to ‘map’ and assist students chart their courses but, it is fundamental to our role, that we keep remembering, the map is not necessarily the territory. *  

I continue to enjoy daily missives from Seth Godin, ostensibly an advertising and business ‘guru’, increasingly the source of some practical, coherent thinking about the impact of the internet on society. His latest blog post, about libraries, illustrates the point made by O’Reilly:  

Once again, the net turns things upside down. The information is free now. No need to pool tax money to buy reference books. What we need to spend the money on are leaders, sherpas and teachers who will push everyone from kids to seniors to get very aggressive in finding and using information and in connecting with and leading others.  

Godin’s notion of a ‘sherpa’ guiding others to the top of a well-known territory works for me. Funnily enough, although it more poignant for me than I care to detail, this made me think of a Michael Leunig cartoon, from many years ago, that really impacted on me significantly at a critical juncture in my life.  

From, 'Everyday Devils and Angels' 1992

Learning is similar. Triumphs have a way of just leading the thoughtful learner to more questing, often with a nagging sense that there’s just nowhere near enough time to explore all that fascinates (or is needed).  

What mountains to climb then? Is that the question a skilful teacher or librarian will be able to help their students understand, as they ascend?  

Enough of the sherpa thing. ;)  

The map has changed. The internet has changed the way we think, as we envision and navigate the unfolding text of our culture. The river will always have new sandbars; it flows rapidly. We need to be mindful that our old maps do not flush students into an ocean that is no longer there.  

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10 Comments

  1. Tony Coleman:

    Hi Darcy

    For me the obvious change that the internet has had is to help facilitate the construction of new knowledge amoung learners of all ages. As educators, it is critical that we guide our students to participate in this learning process.Otherwise we risk becming compulsory irrelevant distractions in our students’ lives. Their real learning will happen without us.

  2. The mountain conceit is a good one, though I wonder if a number of modern students want to climb mountains or just be taken along a river, swept up in its currents. I know that whenever I use ICT in the classroom, to help guide students up that mountain, they seem to be more interested in swimming along in the pool, sipping a drink, reading the latest gossip and discussing it with their friends.

  3. darcymoore:

    Students have always been criticised for losing their focus, slacking off and being more fascinated with social banalities than the task at hand. In fact, not just students!

  4. Ian Gay:

    Enjoyed it Darcy.

    Some thoughts:
    1. mountainmoss relates the difficulties in guiding “students up that mountain”. I have been there and can empathise but just possibly the problem might be that the students don’t see any point in climbing that particular mountain (or perhaps any mountain). Motivation and relevance has a huge role in any education. How many of our students (who go to school because they have to) really know what they want or need?

    2. Tony mentions that ‘their real learning will happen without us”. I’m not sure that this should be de-valued or a bad thing. Much of my learning in the last 20-30 years has been self driven. I am feeling quite pleased with myself because I have just repaired my washing machine that wouldn’t fill properly by replacing a solenoid valve. The whole process was quite easy and involved research on the internet, some basic tools and knowledge and a wilingness to explore. Similarly with my efforts to save my emails from a dead hard disk. All done with the help of Mr Google. Love it.

    I really like the sherpa analogy.

  5. Tony Coleman:

    Is the cost of greater engagement in learning – less control over what is learnt? Getting back to the sherpa – are we guides and facilitors who influence learners ( teachers and students) or dictators who can pretend to determine what is to be learnt.

    Darcy I loved the Leunig cartoon.
    I reckon there is a lot of energy wasted forcing students and teachers up the pre- determined mountain of knowledge.

    Engagement – motivation – control over ones own learning. I think the internet provides this framework.

  6. darcymoore:

    “Is the cost of greater engagement in learning – less control over what is learnt?” I think you’re onto it, Tony. The issue, with the National Curriculum looming, is that we may be about to get onto another content roundabout and one must question how relevant it is all going to be, especially as the HSC is being criticised for having this limitation too (rote).

  7. darcymoore:

    Ian,

    Thanks for those sage points. It gets back to the problem that too much education is of the ‘filling a pail’ kind rather than ‘lighting a fire’. Most students, certainly uder 15, are not sure where they are headed or what they need to know but being enthused and wanting to learn is obviously the key.

    Once again, Godin has it right:, “…we need to spend the money on are leaders, sherpas and teachers who will push everyone from kids to seniors”. I see ‘push’ as ‘enthuse’ with knowledge that high expectations are de rigeur around her

  8. Tony Coleman:

    Well said Darcy.
    The National Curriculum framework is critical. Emphasis needs to be on skills not easily tested content.
    At its worse the HSC is a poor example of chew and spew education.
    Bloom would be horrified!
    How do we best assess skills?

  9. darcymoore:
  10. Tony Coleman:

    Great article Darcy. Good to see McGaw is pushing it however I doubt NSW is going to change the HSC in a hurry. They want the other states to follow them.

    The National Curriculum would be the ideal time to look at how we assess skills.

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