If we are to rely less on machines and more on fellow humans we will have to put more effort into our knowledge filtering. Inside large companies, human filters can be identified, promoted, and supported. The identification of knowledgeable people should be an important management function. The organization can also help people to codify some of their knowledge, especially through stories. I have noted before that stories connect knowledge. Stories can provide the contextual glue, holding information together in some semblance of order for our brains to process into knowledge. Stories also help to develop empathy and in the longer term, trust. Knowledge in trusted networks flows faster.
The big take-away from recent neurobiological research on memory is that the best thing for storing memories is to not memorize absolutely everything, notes Richards. If you’re trying to make a decision it will be impossible to do so if your brain is constantly being bombarded with useless information.
“We always idealize the person who can smash a trivia game, but the point of memory is not being able to remember who won the Stanley Cup in 1972,” he says.
“The point of memory is to make you an intelligent person who can make decisions given the circumstances, and an important aspect in helping you do that is being able to forget some information.”
To understand why, I think Professor David Perkins, from Harvard University, can help. Perkins wrote about the troublesome nature of ‘fragile knowledge’. His analysis offers us a more nuanced language to consider how even carefully sequenced curricula may not be well understood by our novice pupils, despite our best efforts.
He describes this ‘fragility’ in four parts:
- Missing knowledge. Sometimes important pieces of knowledge are just plain missing. E.g. In a Shakespeare essay, Alex may forget that Macbeth was written with the audience of James I in mind.
- Inert knowledge. Sometimes knowledge is present, but inert. It lets the student pass the quiz but does not help otherwise. E.g. Alex doesn’t think to mention the ‘divine right of kings’, which his teacher implicitly wanted him to focus on in his essay.
- Naïve knowledge. Sometimes the knowledge takes the form of naïve theories and stereotypes, even after considerable instruction. E.g. Alex persists with the notion that Lady Macbeth is solely to blame for her husband’s behaviour in his essay.
- Ritual knowledge. The knowledge that students acquire often has a ritual character, useful for certain academic tasks but not much else. E.g. Alex pleases his teacher by mentioning the rare rhetorical device ‘anadiplosis’ in his essay.
Make yourself more interested in the sense that your students are making rather than the sense they aren’t making. Celebrate and build on that sense.
Much of the way education is organized around individual achievement makes inequality almost inevitable. It is in some people’s advantage to be differentiated from others, whether that privilege is earned or automatic because of cultural and social capital of school fitting well with their (dominant) identity and social standing.
Once we had zero, we have negative numbers. Zero helps us understand that we can use math to think about things that have no counterpart in a physical lived experience; imaginary numbers don’t exist but are crucial to understanding electrical systems. Zero also helps us understand its antithesis, infinity, in all of its extreme weirdness.
The first is a just having the simple sensory experience of stimulus going on and off. This is the simple ability to notice a light flickering on and off. Or a noise turning on and off.
The second is behavioral understanding. At this stage, not only can animals recognize a lack of a stimulus, they can react to it. When an individual has run out of food, they know to go and find more.
The third stage is recognizing that zero, or an empty container, is a value less than one. This is tricky, though a surprising number of animals, including honey bees and monkeys, can recognize this fact. It’s understanding “that nothing has a quantitative category,” Nieder says.
The fourth stage is taking the absence of a stimulus and treating as it as a symbol and a logical tool to solve problems. No animal outside of humans, he says, “no matter how smart,” understands that zero can be a symbol.
Whatever our thoughts are on the matter, the conclusions are clear:
when we investigate nothing, we’re bound to find something.
The inconvenient truth is that students don’t need ‘experts’ the way they used to. Knowledge is ubiquitous. Any teacher that thinks that they don’t need to change as a result of this truth is doing their students a disservice. Make no mistake: the real learning revolution has already happened, it just doesn’t involve those of us who teach. Because they real revolution is in the phenomenal growth in informal and social learning — as practised by the Beatles and, now, all of us.
The web allows us to create content that is connected with the rest of the web. Everything we do, especially us writers, is kicked off by something someone else said, and we should embrace that. Make your blog a part of a conversation, not an island that feels like you’re just doing this all on your own. None of us are, and we should be proud of that.
Do I write my article as a brand new post that gives the impression I thought of something in a vacuum? Do I write a normal post and link to the article/tweet that inspired me inline? Do I do a full block quote that shows off what idea got me going and write from there?
I feel I find myself wondering which link to reference. More recently, I have taken to referring to many of my own bookmarks. Although this is useful for my own thinking, I wonder if it impeds readers?
H/T Chris Aldrich