Friday, October 4, 2013

Knowledgeable vs. Knowledge-able

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After participating in an International Baccalaureate Programme workshop regarding the concept of "knowledge" I began to "rethink" what knowledge is and what it actually means.  I also began to question how we are helping our students to "acquire" knowledge in the digital age.

Background "Knowledge" 
The theory of knowledge (TOK) requirement is central to the educational philosophy of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme.  It offers students and their teachers the opportunity to:
  • reflect critically on diverse ways of knowing and on areas of knowledge
  • consider the role and nature of knowledge in their own culture, in the cultures of others and in the wider world.
In addition, it prompts students to:
  • be aware of themselves as thinkers, encouraging them to become more acquainted with the complexity of knowledge
  • recognize the need to act responsibly in an increasingly interconnected but uncertain world.
The big idea behind TOK revolves around the question, "How do we know?"  The purpose of TOK aims to have students apply their "knowledge" with greater awareness and credibility.  But what exactly is knowledge?  Wikipedia tells us that "Knowledge is a familiarity with someone or something, which can include information, facts, descriptions, or skills acquired through experience or education", although there is not one widely accepted definition of "knowledge".

Application to Education

So my question is, "How are we preparing our students to become knowledgeable in the digital age?" Some argue that the ability to Google just about any question one has is not contributing to one's knowledge.  However, I would argue that Googling answers to questions we have is actually adding to our knowledge.  This thought-provoking video really made me think about Google's role in our knowledge acquisition:




What is the difference between researching an answer to a question using a credible Encyclopedia, or Googling a credible website? I think the difference is that Google's search technology allows us to retrieve reliable answers anytime, anywhere, in the matter of seconds.

More importantly, I think we should be teaching our students not only to be "knowledgable", but to become "knowledge-able".  We should be teaching our students HOW to learn.  To first, ask purposeful and meaningful questions, and then teach them how to find their answers. Whether they can find their answers from a Google search, from experiential learning, or from critical and creative thinking, is irrelevant.  What is relevant, is knowing how to search, where to look, and who to contact to find the answers to their questions.

In a world where information is ubiquitous, I would argue that today's students need to focus on learning how to learn, rather than just focusing on "what" they are learning.  A teacher's role is not to impart his or her knowledge to students anymore.  Instead, it should be to coach students in the learning process.  We need to empower our students to be curious, to inquire, to research, and to reflect on the things that they find meaningful, at the times in which they find them meaningful.  Not only will this instill a love for learning in our students, but it will help to provide them with the foundation to think critically and creatively in order to tackle some of life's most difficult challenges. 

Final Thought

Albert Einstein once said that "Information is not knowledge".  But I would argue that we need information in order to acquire knowledge.  And Google can help us to find the information that we need to construct our knowledge.

Whatever your role is in education, I urge you to ask yourself the following question:  How am I helping my students to become more knowledge-able?

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