Who is preparing us for the Grand Challenges

This post is in response to a post by Cathy Davidson on HASTAC 2010:  Grand Challenges and Global Innovations coming up April 15-17.  She says ‘David and I are thinking ahead to our address on “The Future of Thinking:  Learning Institutions in a Digital Age.”   We will have a bicoastal conversation, and then a live chat, still in the planning stages.   So we’d love you to send us questions that might form the basis of that conversation on any aspect of our educational futures.’

This is a long preamble that ends in a question for Cathy and David in the last paragraph:

On March 5, 2010 the US Dept of Education released the National Educational Technology Plan 2010 (NETP) which says on page 4:

What and How People Need to Learn

Whether the domain is English Language arts, mathematics, sciences, social studies, history, art, or music, 21st century competencies and expertise such as critical thinking, complex problem solving, collaboration, and multimedia communication (emphasis added) should be woven into all content areas. These competencies are necessary to become expert learners, which we all must be if we are to adapt to our rapidly changing world over the course of our lives…

This NETP plan is titled “Learning Powered by Technology” but this list of learning goals does not depend on technology (except perhaps the multimedia) and none of the list depends (or acknowledges) the growing hyperconnectivity of the Internet or the shift from an information scarcity economy to one of information abundance.

Nearly simultaneously, the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) opened to comment its proposal for K-12 standards. The CCSSI standards purport to be getting students ready for college and the workplace.

In the Writing Standards for History/Social Studies and Science grades 11-12, I find, “6.   Demonstrate command of technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update work in response to ongoing feedback, including fresh arguments or new information.”  Which is interesting, especially when taken with this sidebar: “New technologies have broadened and expanded the role that speaking and listening play in acquiring and sharing knowledge and have tightened their link to other forms of communication. The Internet has accelerated the speed at which connections between speaking, listening, reading, and writing can be made, requiring that students be ready to use these modalities nearly simultaneously. (emphasis added) Technology itself is changing quickly, creating a new urgency for students to be adaptable in response to change.”

“Collaboration” is mentioned along with “comprehension,” in terms of social manners (good listening skills) but not in terms of skills in finding collaborators or learning communities on the Internet. “Social” is only mentioned in terms of “social studies,” and “community” does not appear in the document.

While its not surprising that CCSSI does not endorse learning using the Internet, except as mediated by public schools, it does not seem to recognize the wealth of resources, skills, and social capital that  learners potentially are bringing into the school setting.

Its interesting to contrast the NETP list, or the CCSSI with Howard Rhiengold’s 21’st century media literacy skills, or John Seely Brown’s thoughts on Learning 2.0 and communities of practice, or Cathy Davidson’s ideas of ‘collaboration by difference.’ Recently, David Gelernter, in Time to Start Taking the Internet Seriously said:

“Modern search engines combine the functions of libraries and business directories on a global scale, in a flash: a lightning bolt of brilliant engineering. These search engines are indispensable — just like word processors. But they solve an easy problem. It has always been harder to find the right person than the right fact. Human experience and expertise are the most valuable resources on the Internet — if we could find them. Using a search engine to find (or be found by) the right person is a harder, more subtle problem than ordinary Internet search


“The traditional web site is static, but the Internet specializes in flowing, changing information. The ‘velocity of information’ is important — not just the facts but their rate and direction of flow. Today’s typical website is like a stained glass window, many small panels leaded together. There is no good way to change stained glass, and no one expects it to change. So it’s not surprising that the Internet is now being overtaken by a different kind of cyberstructure.


“The structure called a cyberstream or lifestream is better suited to the Internet than a conventional website because it shows information-in-motion, a rushing flow of fresh information instead of a stagnant pool.”

Under “search” CCSSI says: “[Students will be able to] tailor their searches online to acquire useful information efficiently, and they integrate what they learn
using technology with what they learn offline,” which is a far cry from Gelernter’s  “the Internet specializes in flowing, changing information. The ‘velocity of information’ is important — not just the facts but their rate and direction of flow.”

Contemporaneous with the publication of NETP 2010 and the CCSSI, EDGE.org posted responses to its Question 2010: “How Has The Internet Changed The Way You Think?”

David Dalrymple, MIT, says:

“Filtering, not remembering, is the most important skill for those who use the Internet.

“I see today’s Internet as having three primary, broad consequences: 1) information is no longer stored and retrieved by people, but is managed externally, by the Internet, 2) it is increasingly challenging and important for people to maintain their focus in a world where distractions are available anywhere, and 3) the Internet enables us to talk to and hear from people around the world effortlessly.”

What David does not say, that I think is also important, is 4) the self generation of online systems for managing personal knowledge.  As a blogger, wiki contributor, and social bookmarker. I am building a digital footprint and a personal exosomatic memory!  I sometimes refer to the traces I have left to see what I was personally up to. Rarely, now, but as our productivity and capacity expands, we must be becoming more dependent on this exosomatic system. (I keep saying that, exosomatic because I use my website as a auto or personal blog of notes to myself, my memory displaced from my body.)

There seems to be a large disconnect between the NETP & CCSSI and the latter conversations.

Who will lead the transformation from our current institutions, K-20, to institutions that would support 21st century learning implied by a highly networked, information rich and information producing society facing global problems on an unprecedented scale?


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