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So what does this mean for our students? Shifts in educational systems tend to be driven by beliefs in cost-effectiveness. The printed text supplanted one-on-one oral instruction because it was able to more cheaply provide a larger body of knowledge to more students. Furthermore, the knowledge captured in that text was believed to be more true, justified by its published status, so that even when text was not the primary mode of instruction, it was still the source of the knowledge being taught (for example, a teacher might hold a class discussion or lecture, based on the textbook). But while the cost of a textbook might be much
than the cost of an individual tutor, the tradeoff was that the shared knowledge space was now fixed and read-only, with little possibility of students creating knowledge. New technologies such as wikis lie someone in the middle of this with a
. They can cheaply provide a large amount of knowledge to a large number of students but at the same time maintain the malleability and possibility of contribution by all. This however brings a new tradeoff as the new technologies such as wikis allow the knowledge space to be filled with true (and false) beliefs with justification coming from popular concensus alone. The trick for students is to figure out the truthfullness and justifiableness by questioning rather than depending on the source. This is no small task, given the changes made every minute to the vast networked space that now captures our knowledge. Check out
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Some recent posts (Wikis are flawed information sources, the Allen Levine/Will Thalheimer posts that wikis are inherently flawed, the Wikipedia isn’t appropriate warning) are symptomatic?representational? of a major issue in higher education: elitism versus that of democracy. The U. S. model has been democratic since the twentieth century: every person has a right to be educated, every student can learn, at their own level. Educational models in other countries have been, and often still are, more elitist: only the best students are worthy of university. How does this relate to wikis? Well, for example, in the democratic model, there’s a recognition that not only do all students have the potential to learn, but that they can learn from each other. Examples of this in practice are collaborative work, peer learning, group work, and learning communities. In the elitist model, only a few have the knowledge, the skills, the expertise, to be “keepers of knowledge.” The uneducated or ignorant – or those lacking the appropriate intellectual and educational credentials –cannot be trusted to protect the sanctity of knowledge. (Admittedly, I am dichotomizing and glossing over many shades of difference.) My point is that the “elitist” attitude is one promoted by society, even the American society. This is the attitude I see in the academic who posted that “wikipedia is not an acceptable source.” (Friedman, 12/4/2005/). His opinion is echoed by many I know – including my own students! In a debate on wikis, students were divided. Some strongly supported the use of wikis as a community-moderated source of knowledge. Others vehemently opposed wikis for precisely that reason. [I'll provide examples from student discussion of this issue, as soon as I clear it with the
. Or, better still, I'll see if they're willing to post here]
[[NB: This was also posted under Discussion last week - reposting here to facilitate development of article text]]SPF
One thing to note about the
incident - in a self-correcting wiki-world, the fake biography of this noted journalist would have been corrected immediately if for example,
, or someone who knew the truth about him had been monitoring it. The success of wikipedia involves constant vigilance over a fickle medium - is this something that will be expected of 21st century citizens? Does this mean that we all have to keep an eye on the web for libel about ourselves? Maybe it's not just a continual skeptism that our students have to have but a proactive monitoring/administration? Or is this an issue for this article? (since this could also be true about print (you could be libelled in the printed world, but the range/rate would be much less). If, as Plato says, knowledge is justified believed truth, then in a wiki (or similar technology) any piece of information could be continually slipping in and out of knowledge-hood.
Parallel trends in western education
Note to readers: In our final version of this article, we envision this material as “boxed” content within each of the sections above.
Education in the Age of Orality or Pre-writing
The Ages of Orality comprised the bulk of human history. Prior to writing, the focus of knowledge transfer was skills-based. Learning was by doing, and knowledge, from survival to more specialized skills, was learned through hands-on practice. Much knowledge that was needed was strictly based in the here and now, and aside from a basic religious awareness, there was no need for knowledge outside of that space and no means for acquiring it.
Memorization also played a part in passing knowledge from one generation to the next. While many learned oral history from stories, the skills of the oral historian were specialized and involved learning by long-term apprenticeship. Such oral history is what we, today, would consider knowledge, yet it was limited to a very specialized function. But, because of the focus on knowledge for survival and skills, differences in levels of knowledge were not considered in the same way they are today. As Shutt (n.d) observes, oral societies did not “have an under-educated class.”
As civilization flowered, a final area of education or knowledge transfer was among the elite of
. In Ancient Greece, for example, among the elite citizenry, the focus of education was on moral, ethical, social and political development, facilitated by oral dialog in a social and somewhat conversational mode – the Socratic dialogs facilitated by oral exchanges. This focus (or philosophy) of education continued to influence concepts of education after writing developed. Its influence, in fact, continued for several millenia.
Education in the Age of Writing
The advent of writing promoted the Ancient Greek educational precepts (as scribes reverently transcribed Greek texts) but it also brought about a new focus in education (again, only for the elite). Written texts, in allowing knowledge to be recorded, enabled information to be saved across time and space. Writing thus revolutionized education in allowing cumulative learning – from experts whose knowledge need not be lost with their deaths. Writing also broadened knowledge, as information could now be passed across different cultures, and across the ages.
Yet writing was a skill that had to be learned. And for centuries and millennia, writing was the province of an extremely limited section of the population. This was because, as Shutt (
) observes, reading and writing are “unnatural…in the sense that no one can do it without
, and many people, perhaps most people, do it badly even after training.” For this reason, as well as political, cultural and socio-economic factors, writing was largely limited to serving religious and intellectual knowledge, and for financial transactions.
In the age of writing, then, education largely continued to be skills-based. Survival skills were learned by doing, and specialized skills were learned through long-term apprenticeships. Even the wealthy in society did not routinely learn to read or write. For those few who did learn to read and write, the focus of education was largely on the ability to accurately transcribe text that was destined to be read by a limited few, or to further the preservation of already recorded manuscripts. (Since the medium for writing was expensive and laboriously produced, the use of writing for recording new knowledge was limited.)
Education in the Age of Print
The characteristics of education in the age of writing essentially continued in the first few centuries of the age of print to include the
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. In the fifteenth century the confluence of the printing press and the Protestant Reformation did democratize knowledge-acquisition to some degree. The printing press, in conjunction with the production of paper, allowed for easier recording and dissemination of knowledge. The invention of the Printing Press came at a time of economic prosperity and religious reformation in Europe. Following the Black Death in Europe (in the 14th century), socio-economic systems dramatically changed, in part`due to diminishing of population and the increase in amount of surplus resources. The 15th century also saw notable societal changes, particularly in the area of religion, as the Protestant Reformation spread, and, not coincidentally, as the availability of affordable printed bibles was enabled by Gutenberg.
These changes, combined with socio-economic developments across Europe, facilitated the growth of a literate class, which eventually led to the establishment of institutionalized education. Before this, people's knowledge space was localized to their geographic and socio-economic situations. The Reformation and the availability of printed Bibles created the need and possibility to expand the “required” knowledge space to include the notion of literacy so that everyone/anyone could read the Bible. In the mid-1500s, John Knox proposed a national educational system which would ensure this, and by beginning of the 18th century most citizens in Scotland were able to read and write - far ahead of their neighbors in England (
Scotland was, as noted above, the exception. In most of Europe education was limited to the wealthy or to those sponsored by the Church. As Shutt (n.d) notes, “a culture based upon reading necessarily excludes from full participation a substantial proportion of its members.” Education in the Western world carried with it the burden of a class system, where the educated classes were clearly divided from the uneducated masses. Among the masses, education continued to be survival and skills-based, and learning by doing was the norm. Universal literacy and free institutionalized education was not even a shadow on the horizon until the
Education in the Industrial Age
The technological and socio-economic changes of the Industrial Revolution dramatically spurred the means of creation and dissemination of knowledge, and revolutionized institutionalized education. Specialized texts, such as subject-specific textbooks were now not only economically feasible, they came to define the structure of the educational system. Institutionalized literacy, and concomitantly institutionalized education, came into being, and " gave rise to the technical strategy employed in modern schools: to use inexpensive printed texts as effectively as possible as a foundation for educational efforts, redefining the task of education." (
The model for knowledge dissemination became from one-to-many, rather than one-to-one (as in the apprenticeship system.) Knowledge could now be more easily defined, controlled and distributed from a central location, giving rise to a generalized and standardized shared knowledge space for a nation's citizens. (This was especially true in the new world, where the class system itself was undermined. New immigrants to the United States in the first half of the 20th century found themselves in the unique situation of having the available means of free literacy and education.) Rather than being tied to situated, hands-on, practical learning, the notion of education became identified "with imparting information about remote matters and the conveying of learning through verbal signs: the acquisition of literacy." (
, 1916). (It should be noted that Dewey was later to regret this
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, stressing the importance of active learning, or learning by doing.)
These encouraging developments in education, while hopeful, were not instantaneous or universal. Universal literacy and the accompanying entity of universal education grew significantly in the Industrial Age
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Education in the Information Age
Dramatic leaps in technological innovations accompanied by the economic prosperity promoted by the Industrial revolution saw the broad realization of all-but-universal literacy in the Western world, as well as that of a universal (and required) system of institutionalized education by the later half of the 20th century. For example youtube has become incredibly popular as a way to gather information related to everything from
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As institutionalized education began to be required of all children, shifts in educational systems tended to be driven by economic considerations. The printed text supplanted one-on-one
instruction because it was able to more cheaply provide a larger body of knowledge to a greater number of students. Furthermore, the knowledge captured in that text was increasingly taken as the standard for real learning by its published status, so that even when text was not the primary mode of instruction, www.
bytext.org.uk it was still held as the sacrosanct source of received knowledge. While this model of text-based, one-to-many, instruction was undoubtedly cost-efficient it came at a price. Education became a passive rather than an active process. Shared knowledge space was now fixed and “read-only”, with little possibility of learners creating knowledge.
Computer technologies offer the potential to change this passive and fixed model of education. Computers, by their very nature, require more active participation by users, and facilitate more active learning. As Negroponte (1995) notes, before the computer, teaching methods “simply amplified the activity of teachers and the passivity of children. The computer changed this balance radically…All of a sudden,
learning by doing
became the rule rather than the exception ” (p. 199). Shutt (n.d) feels that this is so because computers are “more in accord with the way we are biologically primed to learn than do books.” He observes that “if computers call, as they do, upon more natural learning channels, and upon a wider array of channels than those called upon by print, called upon by books, then education will very likely be an easier, more enjoyable, and more successful process.”
technologies thus offer a potential solution to one problem created by institutionalized education in the Age of Information.
A related problem in the Age of Information is that it also saw the concretization of a process that began with writing: the assigning of authority to a minority class of highly educated individuals as “keepers of knowledge.” Despite almost universal literacy and education, once again today, as in the
Age of Print
and the Age of writing, an information-based class system exists.
A step towards remedying this problem is provided by some of today’s newer cyber-technologies. New
such as wikis can cheaply provide a large amount of knowledge to a large number of students but at the same time maintain the malleability and possibility of contribution by all. Technologies such as wikis are causing us to re-think assumptions about knowledge (how it is created, how it is distributed) and education. The recent Wikipedia controversy
is representational of a major issue in higher education: elitism versus that of democracy. The U. S. educational model has been democratic since the twentieth century: every person has a right to be educated, every student can learn, at their own level. Educational models in other countries have been, and often still are, more elitist: only the best students are worthy of university. How does this relate to wikis? In the democratic model, there’s a recognition that although some students do not have the potential to learn at as high a level as others, they can still learn from each other. Examples of this in practice are collaborative
, peer learning, group work, and learning communities – much closer to the general educational experiences found in pre-writing, primarily oral cultures. (
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In the elitist model, only a few have the knowledge, the skills and the expertise, to be “
keepers of knowledge
.” The uneducated or ignorant – or those lacking the appropriate intellectual and educational credentials – cannot be trusted to protect the sanctity of knowledge. This “elitist” attitude is being re-examined in light of the recent Wikipedia controversy. (Although it should be noted that students seem to weigh in solidly on Wikipedia's side in the controversy. Many students rely on Wikipedia as the first stop for online research, even on devices like smart phones and tablets like the
, much to the indignation of their instructors (
, 2005).) The trick for citizens in the Information age, students and others alike, is to be able to decide on the validity of authority, just as their counterparts were called to do in the Age of Orality. If, as Plato says, knowledge is justified believed truth, then in a wiki (or similar technology) any piece of information could lose or regain validity as it moves in or out of our shared knowledge space. Thus, with the evolution throughout history of communication technologies which affect our creation, transmission and storage of knowledge, there will continue to be concomitant changes in our conceptualization of knowledge.
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