What you know is becoming less important than what you can do. Is this true? Has it always been true?
Few suggest there isn’t some level of general knowledge required in order to make sense of new information but some argue online information storage relieves people of the ‘burden’ of carrying facts and details. Is it important to know of every provincial capital city in Canada if one has access and skills to search for that information online? I think that question is a conversation worth having particularly in reference to BC’s new draft curriculum and how education efforts are best spent. No doubt knowing and understanding are important, as is being able to do something with that knowledge and understanding. The question is what deserves greater emphasis: Less time spent memorizing capitals, more time learning about where to find that information?
What I hope plays a more central role in the conversation is how so much knowledge and wisdom is not accessible online. Of course, digital literacy is essential for all learners and citizens, but as we encourage the development of skills to search for and make sense of information, it is important that students have the people skills – confidence, modesty, curiousity, respect – to ask others who have knowledge, skills, or wisdom in an area of study. I see these skills reflected in the Communication Competency of the draft curriculum but as skills related to accessing information digitally are newer skills than acquiring information by connecting with people, there is a risk the latter and older “people skills” may receive less emphasis in education.
The importance of searching for understanding from people has been highlighted for me recently at BICS by three events. Recently, as part of the Grandfriends Program organized by BICS Community School Coordinator Sarah Haxby and teacher Tammy Sanhedrai, grandparents came to the school in an effort to foster inter-generational learning. In part, the purpose is for students to learn from the first-hand experience of people older than themselves who may have lived through historical events that students are learning about (More information on Grandfriends can be found here). BICS has also welcomed elders from the Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) Nation who share stories, music, dancing and artefacts, to teach about culture and history. The concept of elder is important in the Squamish and other nations. A person is an elder if they have
knowledge they are willing to share in a particular area and great respect is afforded to the passing on of knowledge and wisdom by elders. Lastly, Delmar Williams has worked with students in outside45 teaching earth-based survival skills such as carving and fire-making. There are online tutorials as to how to make fire with a bow drill but the wisdom of the best materials to use for a particular area and the history of the skills in various cultures is local knowledge shared by people in person more often than online.
At TEDxWestVancouverEd in September 2014, Shannon Ozirny captivated the audience with a wonderful talk on “What is smart?” arguing “the ability to effectively search for, and filter information, take what you need from it, that’s what smart is.” Hearing this statement and listening to her talk, it is hard not to assume search refers to search online though her talk does not suggest where to search.
As we encourage and develop students’ abilities to search for information and make sense of it, I think we will need to be increasingly mindful when working with generations who have always known of the power of the internet, that students have opportunities to search from a plethora of sources including people, places, and print.