Saturday, May 18, 2013

Redefining Teachers in the Internet Age

Is teaching still relevant?

Throughout history, to become educated was to join the collective of human thought. To participate, we needed a pass key. Our very oldest tradition in handing over the key is teaching: One human sharing collected knowledge with another human.

As time moves on humans continue to acquire tools, many aiding this process of teaching -- of passing knowledge to the next generation. Songs, stories, written language, paper, books, an eventually the printing press brought ever wider groups of people into contact with this always-expanding collection of human knowledge.

And so we can read Pliny the Younger's first-hand account of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius at Pompeii and can see the notebooks in which DaVinci captured his inventions. This collection of knowledge is the single most powerful human creation.

Aiding each generation passing along and preserving this living trove of our collective genius, there were teachers. Not always as we think of them now, tethered to school buildings. But individuals able to collect, communicate and pass their knowledge along.

Today the latest development in storing and retrieving human collective thought, the Internet, brings a major disruption to this tradition of human-to-human conference.

Anyone can access this collective -- nearly all of it -- with a handheld device that most of us carry in our pockets. Individuals have available much more information than ever before. Some of it factual and well reasoned, some of it incendiary and one sided. Quite a lot of it is trivial and frankly salacious.

So now, more than any other time in human history, the individual chooses how and what parts of this vast and ever expanding collection are compelling and meaningful to them.

This rise in access to information parallels in this country the decline in regard for teachers. This hardly seems coincidental. Since we no longer need to visit a building and interact with an expert to gain facts and information, what use have we for a teacher?

While the point of access has changed the need for filtering these facts with experience and wisdom has not.  In redefining this role we must analyze what is needed in this new era. Is the acquisition of facts and data enough?

This is the second role of the teacher. Not just a distributor of information, they also provide context. Knowledge is more than just a list of facts. It is also this context and analysis that can change facts into action and expression.

The Internet offers a vast and deep sea of information. In this era of omni-availability of data we must recognize the importance of offering guidance as students interact with information. Self selecting the latest celebrity gossip about Kim Kardashian is simply not the same as participating in a lively debate about the sociological implications of the suffrage movement.

Teachers are not just there to distribute information, but now serve as cartographers of this new ocean. They tell the stories that give our collected knowledge context. They expose us to new ways of combining our experiences and introduce us to subjects we might never have self selected.

As our education becomes ever more personal and individualized there comes an even more pressing need to have an expert guide us at certain points along the way.

Comment below to define the debate - is the Internet fundamentally redefining teaching?  What do you think?

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