Educating the Post-Fact Society

Google on Iphone
Without a doubt, services like Google, Yahoo and Wikipedia have made information readily and rapidly available.

The hunt for information, previously a laborious process involving books, microfiche and card catalogs, has largely been replaced by a search button.  Those too busy (or lazy) to search can lean on more social tools like Twitter, ChaCha, or Aardvark, where merely “asking” is the route to answers.  Looking towards the future, many of the computers depicted in such movies as WALL-E and Eagle Eye may become the reality as artificial intelligence learns to parse (vs. search) humanity’s knowledge.  It’s clear that this is no stretch of the imagination when you think of the ambitious WolframAlpha, the world’s first computational knowledge engine.

What isn’t clear is how society is reacting to the shift of the knowledge paradigm.  What are the implications of Google’s quest to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful?”

As obtaining facts becomes easier, a reevaluation of our educational methods is becoming increasingly necessary.  Ease-of-access is steadily depreciating the value of facts.  And retention, while convenient, is increasingly irrelevant as we develop mobile devices that allow users to tap into the Internet from anywhere. Though most educational institutions already expose children to search tools and Internet resources, building at least a basic proficiency in digital media, children are mostly left to their own devices to develop more advanced skills and, more importantly, techniques to organize, integrate, and implement what they find.  (Good news: They seem to do this with aplomb anyway.)

A New Approach to Teaching

There are however some educators who have taken such initiatives to reevaluate teaching pedagogy to adapt to our new digital world.  One such school, NY-based public school Quest 2 Learn (6-12th grades), believes they’ve found the answer. By developing a curriculum that leverages game-inspired environments and digital media tools, Quest 2 Learn hopes to create a learning environment reflective of today’s digital world in which children grow up.

Principal Aaron Schwartz of Quest 2 Learn says, “Quest balances traditional academic needs with a belief that students today can and do learn in different ways, often through work with digital media, games, online networks, and mobile technologies. Kids today use digital media as part of their everyday interactions—their learning should too.”

The school dispenses with traditional classes in favor of what they deem “domains,” big ideas that require expertise in two or more traditional subjects.  For example, one domain, “The Way Things Work” combines expertise in math and science to deliver theories and concepts from design and engineering.  Another, “Being, Space and Place” integrates ELA (English Language Arts) and social studies to discuss relationships between individuals, community and networks of knowledge.  It is presumed the subject of this blog would be raised there.

The lessons are taught through game-inspired activities.  In their own words, “Games work as rule-based learning systems, creating worlds in which players actively participate, use strategic thinking to make choices, solve complex problems, seek content knowledge, receive constant feedback, and consider the point of view of others.”

The goal is to equip students to work in the modern, digitally-infused workplace, where it’s not a command of facts that fuels a rise up the ladder, but the ability to synthesize, interpret and react to a near infinite supply of raw data.

Until computers can react intelligently to the data they are so apt for storing, that’s a skill that will never become outdated.  (And, judging by the Terminator series, probably never should.)