Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Outsourcing of Knowledge

Our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what
we know today. A real challenge for any learning theory is to actuate known
knowledge at the point of application. When knowledge, however, is needed, but
not known, the ability to plug into sources to meet the requirements becomes a
vital skill. As knowledge continues to grow and evolve, access to what is needed
is more important than what the learner currently possesses.
-- George Siemens, 2004

A couple of years ago my students scoffed when I told them I didn't want a cell phone. Their chins dropped when I pointed out that "there are times when I don't want to be able to be reached."

I guess I am literally "out of touch." Well, not quite. It's been just over a year that I have a cell phone. I use it basically for long-distance calls (that are included in my plan) and for emergency calls (in stores: do we need milk?) I only agreed to get one to have in case of emergency on the highways and for travel. Still, I am not a phone-talker. Never was, probably never will be, brought up in the age of party lines and only using the phone for a dire purpose.

After reading George Siemens article on connectivism, I'm wondering if I'm cutting my phone to spite by future. Maybe my students are just practicing the skill of a lifelong learner. They are preparing themselves for the age when it's not what you know but who you know who knows it. Knowledge is outsourced to their friends in a lifetime of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire--Is that your final answer?

Networking surpasses Boolean searches. In fact, my students, despite all their tech savvy, seem to have no interest in learning how to do advanced Google searches, let alone learn Boolean techniques. Perhaps they are just waiting for the technology to catch up with their incompetence with technology. Futurist Ian Pearson predicts that by 2040 nanotechnology will be providing brain-machine connections. As we will think, we will know--heck, we won't have to think, just know. (As a reader of Orwell, I don't like the sound of that.) At any rate, our students for their ignorance, not despite it, turn out to be more savvy than un- after all.

Surely search engine engineers are going to figure out how to sidestep a researchers misteps. They already know whether we've misspelled a word, rite? But I digress.

In the interim, as a teacher I am muddling about the best ways to teach students ways to use technology that they think they already know but don't. They know some tricks, like how to turn a monitor's display upside down, how to switch between on-task and off-task websites as I circulate through the lab, and shortkeys. (Oh the sighs! as they watch me go step-by-step.) Yet they not nonplussed to find they haven't a clue as to how to save to a flashdrive, surf for websites from university sources, or cite a source. Rather, they can wait till there's an application that can do it for them. The wait may not be long. If they can't wait, they'll just text a friend.

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