March 25, 2012

Technology and Intellect

This morning, I came across THIS ARTICLE by Christina Yu on how "Technology can make students More Intellectual". There, she wrote:

In Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology, education professors Allan Collins and Richard Halverson tackle the fraught issue of what it means to be an educated person in today’s society: “Deeply embedded in the culture of schooling is the notion that students should read, listen to, and absorb a large body of facts, concepts, procedures, theories, beliefs, and works of art and science that have accumulated over the centuries. An educated person is one who understands and appreciates these great intellectual products of human history.”

Why exactly is this the case? One of the hallmarks of an educated person is the ability to “think independently;” and how can you do this if you don’t have continuous access to a repository of skills and knowledge (which you presumably carry around you in your head)? This is why, when tests are given, students are generally not permitted to use outside resources. We test to make sure students are indeed accumulating and retaining knowledge as they progress from grade to grade.

All this has economic ramifications as well. As a society, we tend to pay people well if they can be trusted to exercise independent judgment derived from a broad perspective and knowledge base. To some extent, one can only do this if he rises “above” his immediate environment and possesses some abstract understanding of the world (a grasp of patterns and structures) that transcends the day-to-day, tangible reality of his life.

Just in case vs. just in time learning. In contrast, the kind of learning that is typically associated with technology is a much more informal, hands-on sort with a more immediate application. Need to learn how to do something on your computer? Look it up on Google or tap into the right social media networks. Need to send an email to several hundred people? Find a service that handles it efficiently and that allows you to do A/B testing on the subject line. In other words, as Collins and Halverson encapsulate it, school foster “just-in-case learning” while technology fosters “just-in-time learning.”

One of the biggest misconceptions today is that the new emphasis on technology in schools and popular culture will erode the traditional liberal arts education and reorient school so that it favors vocational, practical training (“just-in-case” knowledge) instead. In other words, some fear that technology integration will have students learning the latest trends and techniques instead of studying the classics and deep disciplinary knowledge.