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Find That Specific Plant
If you’ve been following along with the chapter for CHOICE: Personalized Learning, Personalized Technology, you may be familiar with this quote from the introduction of the book.
This is one of my favorite quotes about the world we live in today and what impact technology had on it. I’ve used it in almost every talk and presentation I’ve given on technology in education.
The quote comes from a lecture given by Neil Gaiman in 2013. If you have a few minutes, I highly recommend reading the entire lecture. Neal was talking to The Reading Agency on the future of reading and libraries. Here is a short excerpt to put the full quote into some context.
I think it has to do with nature of information. Information has value, and the right information has enormous value. For all of human history, we have lived in a time of information scarcity, and having the needed information was always important, and always worth something: when to plant crops, where to find things, maps and histories and stories – they were always good for a meal and company. Information was a valuable thing, and those who had it or could obtain it could charge for that service.
In the last few years, we’ve moved from an information-scarce economy to one driven by an information glut. According to Eric Schmidt of Google, every two days now the human race creates as much information as we did from the dawn of civilisation until 2003. That’s about five exobytes of data a day, for those of you keeping score. The challenge becomes, not finding that scarce plant growing in the desert, but finding a specific plant growing in a jungle. We are going to need help navigating that information to find the thing we actually need.
The state of information overload has been around for a number of years and has amplified 10x in education. When I was a students you were given a topic to write about. You then went to the school library, grabbed the encyclopedia that contained your topic and maybe you found one other book on the topic. If you could, you asked a few adults about the topic as well, hoping they knew something not in the encyclopedia.
The information available was limited. If you gave every student the same topic to write about, you would receive very similar factual essays. They are all working from the same source material and similar point of view.
Today if a topic is assigned, the first place to look is the Internet. Go to your favorite search engine, type in a vague sentence about your topic, and receive 10,000 possible answers. Instead of a student going through one source and writing their paper, they are now going through thousands of source options (not just collecting information but determining the validity of the information). They aren’t just given an answer, they are given contradicting and varying answers.
Students today have to process information at an amazing level and speed. They have to curate and determine validity as they are learning. It’s a tall order to ask of a young student who you just handed a device with 24/7 access to the Internet.
Technology has changed the way we learn. Or it’s more accurate to say, technology has changed the way we have to learn. To the parents, teachers, administrators, and everyone else educating our students today remember they are living in a world you did not. They have a new set of challenges and adversity to face. Adapt your teaching to the world we are in, not the one we were in.
This post was a small detour in the chapters on CHOICE: Personalized Learning, Personalized Technology. If you want to follow along and support the book, please subscribe below.