Schools are supposed to help students master the dominant information landscape of their time

Our new information landscape is digital bits in the ether instead of ink dots on paper. There is no foreseeable future in which we go back to analog. One of schools’ primary tasks is to help students master the dominant information landscape of their time. Schools are knowledge institutions preparing students to do knowledge work. So let’s be clear about what our new information landscape looks like:

Our new information landscape

The characteristics of our new information landscape listed on the right side have seismic implications for how we communicate, collaborate, connect, and create. These new characteristics are transforming every single information-oriented industry, upending business models, and destroying traditionally-dominant enterprises. Our new information landscape requires citizens and workers who are fluent with technology tools and online environments and is reshaping how we learn, interact, gain the attention of others, and engage in civic togetherness.

The schools that are doing a good job of preparing students for the right side of this chart are few and far between. Many are still arguing whether technology should even be in schools and/or are trying their best to lock down students’ access to digital environments as tightly as possible. We are hobbling our own children’s life success.

What are we waiting for? How many more children will we disadvantage? How many more generations of students are we going to turn out who are primarily prepared for the world of yesterday?

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10 Responses to “Schools are supposed to help students master the dominant information landscape of their time”

  1. Scott! This is elegant and powerful. Best blog post I’ve read in months.

  2. “One of schools’ primary tasks is to help students master the dominant information landscape of their time.” You shall be quoted!

    When I stop to think about it I realize it is true and that we now have even more to do. When it was ink on paper we had to ensure students could read, comprehend, and interact with the thoughts on the paper. We still have to do that, but then we have so much further to go. They have to be able to read and comprehends the bits on the ether, but now the interaction isn’t just about discussing and making more bits on the ether AND how do we know which bits are worth engaging with.

  3. I work at a 1:1 laptop school.

    63% of our students say they prefer to take class notes by hand because they remember and understand information better.

    72% say that when they read for pleasure, they prefer to read in hard copy.

    58% say they prefer to read schoolwork in hard copy.

    Also, e-book sales seem to have leveled off, with consumers deciding that e-versions work for some types of reading, but that they prefer hard copies for other types. So “analog” doesn’t need to make a comeback; it hasn’t gone anywhere.

    Also, “bits in the ether” are… words… words that express ideas within a context and from a particular perspective. How is that different from “ink on paper” ? Access and abundance are greater, certainly, and that’s a good thing, but how does that fundamentally change the nature of knowledge acquired through reading?

    • Thank you for your comment.
      As you said through your numbers many still prefer hard copy and writing. Personally; I prefer reading from a book more than an IPAD. I always thought that this is because I am a Digital Immigrant. But you just showed me that also some Digital Natives still prefer the pen and paper ! I believe that we will all move towards Digital with time. Thank you.

  4. Everything you noted here has to do with the ‘consumption’ component on the left hand side. But of course digital technologies and online environments enable much more than just information consumption. How can we help students master the components of our new information landscape that are on the right side of the chart?

    • @Scott I think that “vs.” is a false dichotomy. We shouldn’t abandon the skills on the left any more than we should ignore those on the right. Work-arounds for limitations are things that should be dropped (e.g. no one teaches how to use a slide rule any more, it’s longhand or calculator, or mathematical software packages) but we need appropriate use of the modern technology (my students do more graphing in using spreadsheets in one month of my course than I did longhand in my entire high school career). I would add that some vital skills, such as evaluating the validity of sources are not even being mentioned in curriculum planning.

    • “But of course digital technologies and online environments enable much more than just information consumption. How can we help students master the components of our new information landscape that are on the right side of the chart?”

      Quite a few things on the right-hand column involve consumption of information as well. One cannot meaningfully share, participate, interact, create, and connect without something of substance to communicate. And having something worthwhile to say comes from consuming and thinking about knowledge.

      You’re creating a false narrative about the pre-digital age (old/bad/slow/boo, full of experts hoarding knowledge) in order to bolster a sense of awe about the “newness” of the world of digital information. It’s 2016; the world of digital knowledge isn’t new, and accessing it doesn’t require any special training. It *does*, though, exacerbate the need to make sure that students take a well-informed and critical approach to the acquisition of knowledge in this world of information abundance.

      And abundant and easily accessible information does not obviate the need for expertise, despite the adoring bear-hug with which our culture has embraced anti-intellectualism. Scholarship is still peer-reviewed; I love that I can access it at home via J-STOR, but I still want my historical scholarship vetted and reviewed by experts in the field so that I know where it stands. I’m glad my students can find engaging information about history in varied formats, but I want them armed with a critical eye for context and authorial perspective as well, otherwise we’re a doomed idiocracy.

  5. It is very difficult for some of us to make this switch, and we spend quite a bit of time discussing whether analog is better for learning than digital. But in denying students the opportunity to become more effective digital learners, we do not prepare them for the future they will encounter as adults.

  6. “Schools are knowledge institutions preparing students to do knowledge work.”

    Scott – well said, my friend. Unfortunately, while we strive for this the non-professional ed reformers, including their newest Secretary of Ed, keep pushing us backwards to rote learning of facts and regurgitation of them on a multiple-choice test. If we solve that problem, think of all we would be able to do for kids and their futures.

  7. “The schools that are doing a good job of preparing students for the right side of this chart are few and far between” This is the discouraging part as a parent and educator. There will ineveitably be a need for printed materials for the foreseeable future, but our kids’ ability to interact and collaborate with others is a critical part of their being prepared for what awaits them. Thanks for sharing your insights.

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