Welcome to the bloggy home of Noah Brier. I'm the co-founder of Percolate and general internet tinkerer. This site is about media, culture, technology, and randomness. It's been around since 2004 (I'm pretty sure). Feel free to get in touch. Get in touch.

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New Education Metaphors

[Editor’s Note: This morning on my walk to work my mother and I discussed some of the ideas in yesterday’s Education 2.0 post. As we were talking she was taking down some notes, which she sent to me after the conversation. I have then taken what she’s written and added some of my own thoughts in italics.]

As you might have suspected, your post struck quite a chord with me. First, let me say how flattering it is to be considered in the same thought as George Siemens, who is my most recent educational hero. I do appreciate your bias on my behalf!

I love what Siemens had to say about visiting virtual museums as ‘visiting content.’ It always grates on me to hear educators talk about ‘integrating technology in the curriculum,’ which is on just about every school improvement plan I’ve ever seen. They definitely don’t grasp that as far as the internet is concerned, it’s the “curriculum” that must be integrated. They are indeed still ” … fixated on the notion of learning content.”

To quote you quoting McLuhan, in terms of the internet, only the early adopters have really even thought about what ‘the medium is the message’ really means. As we discussed this morning, in the traditional educational model, the teacher and textbook were the media – they were the locus of knowledge and authority. Keeping in mind that the word ‘curriculum’ stems from the Latin for ‘current’ (as in a river), the ‘course’ for students was teacher and content-driven. But when the internet is the medium, there is no central authority or locus of control; there is just the current — the flow and movement of information. Which relates back to my idea of idiocentricity, which puts the user at the center of their information universe.

This analogy seems particularly appropriate to your objection to the phrase ‘surfing the net.’ As you’ve said, on a surfboard you’re a passenger on a wave – re the net, on a wave of information. But on the internet, you can’t be a passenger, you have to be a navigator or explorer. When we discussed it this morning, we concluded that before the internet, every medium had navigational control built into it. Television has a finite number of channels and books have pages. But the internet subsumes all of that, it is essentially infinite. We could visit an almost endless number of pages and, thanks to those behind intranets and the like, never reach the end. The only real navigational elements we have are built into the structure of the medium itself in the form of hyperlinks. For additional navigation we must turn to websites like search engines, furthering the idea that the medium is truly the message.

All of these factors act to put the user/learner in the position of having to learn how to control the content – how to use it for the end that suits his/her own purpose. To get back to education, basically, teachers will increasingly have to be learner-driven – they will have to prepare young people for the reality of a world in which information is both limitless and increasingly accessible – if you know what you’re looking for and how to look. The marketing world is feeling the same heat, just look at the number of companies encouraging brand co-creation.

You used the word gateway to describe this new role, contrasting it with broadcast, which is a fascinating way to look at the change in the very concept of how teaching must change. Teachers should be a gateway to the world for their students – helping them explore learning from an access point of their own choice.

I’ve been thinking about this since your last post on Intention, Attention and Metadata vis a vis what motivates kids to learn, and for most kids, I think it’s entering the learning stream from a place of personal interest or curiosity. It’s like the whole video game thing and the intrinsic reward of getting to the next level. The trick is to build metacognitive awareness — not just how to play the game, but understanding what it has taken to get there (a very McLuhanesque concept, actually.) I think that piques curiosity — makes the player want to, say, read and write about game-playing, creating games, etc. When you follow that course, it very naturally integrates reading, writing, science, math, history … all the things we want kids to understand, and in a very interdisciplinary way. That takes you right back to Siemans connectivism theory — and to the internet as a metaphor for how the brain works.

You said that metadata is what leads to metacognition. You need to understand the pieces — the unbundled pieces — that make the whole before you can understand the thinking behind your thinking. And that’s where this needs to go … I think students have to want to understand the pieces, and the only way to do that is to help them find an access point of high interest and then help them become aware of the connections. Then it becomes a facilitated conversation in which both teacher and student are learning. How to get there, however, is a very tough question!

March 16, 2006