Tuesday, February 2, 2010

What Really is Important?

Currently there is a lot of good discussion about assessment of learning in our schools, and I would think it is with very good cause.  One part of this discussion is based on determining what information is truly valuable to assess - that educators should assess what is critical for long term retention and not worry about assessing that information that is more supportive and/or readily available.  It's a conversation that I've had many times and in many different ways, but copied below is one of the most recent I've had regarding the concept of whether a teacher should assess students on remembering the parts of a neuron as was originally posted on Dangerously Irrelevant.  The time and date are noted from Skype, and this is posted with the permission of my colleague.

[1/16/2010 3:30:48 PM] Marshall: I've been thinking on that Neurons one too. I have long said that we attend school through HS for the purpose of learning how we learn much more than the exact information.

[1/16/2010 3:33:29 PM] Colleague: I agree and disagree. I have lots of useless information that I can retain but for some reason labeling neurons and remembering exact dates and stuff were not my thing, but I do get the big picture most of the time and think that is the most important thing. But I do remember a discussion you had with me about calculators versus retained knowledge and see that side also.

[1/16/2010 3:35:36 PM] Marshall: We obviously do learn some things, and that is important. We'll keep what we use and the facts will fade when not used. Once leaving HS, though, the training becomes more geared toward what you will be doing every day and therefore re-enforcing in your own mind. That information will be necessary and applicable over time, unlike neurons will be to the majority of us.
The calculator discussion that was referenced above is basically an application of knowledge vs. technology supported application.  Essentially the question asked is:  Given a set of directions and outcomes necessary, would the individual with much knowledge retention be more or less effective and efficient (better employee, producer, worker, etc.) than a counterpart with less retention but strong technology skills?  I've not personally tried it, but I wonder what the outcome could be...hmmm...but I have digressed from the key questions which are being asked.

So ultimately are we able to say today (as we have said in the past) that knowledge is power?  Does that phrase need to be modified to reflect the fact that so much of what we consider knowledge is available with relative ease and speed?  Does having that knowledge (whether in memory or accessible through a computer) provide "power" for us?  Is knowledge now something that is simply expected to be provided to us for use in whatever manner we see fit?  Is there a minimum level of knowledge needed for all of us to know?  For some of us to know?  Does it depend on our specific culture, our political society, and/or our employment?

So, once again:  What really is important?



Kastendieck said...

Knowledge has always been power. Sometimes for good and sometimes for bad. (Eve was looking for knowledge of good and evil) Without the pursuit of knowledge and the power that it brings where would we be today? Access to knowledge is part of the power but just a part. I think it is important to remember that at all times. Just because I can use a caculator does not mean I can solve word problems,just because I can find step by step directions on how to repair a heart valve does not mean I can do the surgery when something goes wrong, and just because I can read a book on how to teach does not mean I can do it effectively. Knowledge via technology is great and gives power to a larger audience. Similar to the printing press but the printing press was not the knowledge just an avenue that it came through. I like to look back in history for examples that are similar to what we experience today. (yes this is made easier through technology) Remember the library of Alexander the great when he collected all the books and knowledge of the world in one fantastic building. All was good and man progressed until there was a war and the building was burned down. Set mankind back quite a bit. I worry that knowledge based on the ability to gain information and not know information may be going down the same path. Just lately in the news a government hacker found a way to break through the encription codes standard in almost every computer. So I would like to coin a new word from knowledge gained from technology 'instantknow' true knowledge can grow out if 'instantknow' but 'instantknow' is not true knowledge.

Kastendieck said...

So what is important. Time to take it to another plain of thought. What is important in education is also important in all aspects of life. Respect, Honesty, Responsibility, Compassion, and Hard Work. You can have all the knowledge and technology in the world but if you do not have these attributes you can you might as well be a computer. How can you teach without them. Students know when someone does not care for them, does not respect them, is not being honest with them, is not showing responsibility, lacks compassion for them, and slacks off at work. They will not learn anything of significance even if you have more knowledge in a subject area than anyone else in the world. Now this moves up the ladder. Teachers know when administrators do not value the above attributes. Administrators are also aware when superintendents and school boards lack the attributes listed. Lack of caring, compassion, honesty, respect , responsibility, and hard work will tear a school district down faster than poor scores and fiscal problems.

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