Monday, 28 July 2008

Brain 2.0

I had a nice six hour drive today with my wife, Margaret, who is an ex high school counselor and teacher along with all the normal credentials and masters degrees, etc. Part of our conversation was in my changing belief about the importance of learning a bunch of facts that someone can look up at a later time. Does a student really need to know all the state capitals? I argued that it was more important for my kids to know:

a. when they might care about a capital in their life (when they might want to know about a capital) and how to look up a capital (and possibly how to check the accuracy if they are just using google).

than it was for them to know

b. the 50 capitals, states and the locations of the states.

Granted, I am sometimes amazed that people have no clue where a state is and I'm certainly happy that my kids have done well on the capitals/states tests in their lives, but I'm still pretty adamant that we should be looking at aiming at creativity, synthesis, composition, etc. more than memorization. We need to create students who are knowledge-able rather than knowledgeable.

I also had to vent on my poor wife about a question asked by a history professor in college. The class cost me my 4.0 GPA (and I only had to take it because of a weird rule that I couldn't count my AP US History Units against college world history so those AP Units did me no good ... the horror of the situation). In any case, the question was two parts multiple choice. (1) "What was the population in England in 1800?" (2) "What percentage worked in agriculture?". I actually knew the first part, because I believe that fully 10% of the population had moved to London which had grown to 1M people. (Now these facts could be completely wrong some 25 years later, but that's besides the point.) I got part 1 correct. The second part I had to guess between 25% and 35% or some such thing and still don't remember.

I could have told the professor about the move towards more urban and away from agriculture, but he didn't ask that. He didn't know if I knew the important concepts that he stressed in the class. No he had to ask a ridiculous memorization question. I vowed never to ask such a thing or at least to have all open book tests so that such questions were useless. And, I'm pretty sure I stuck to that pledge. But the rest of the world still asks these questions all the time.

And my wife certainly would. She feels it's still important to teach memorization and I don't disagree. You still need memory to be able to pull up how to look up the capitals and when it might apply. But my guess is that your brain would be organized significantly different if you were taught around concepts, and were taught when and how to look-up as opposed to all the little bits.

I get back from the trip and I see a post from Brent - There is no why Learning2.0? and I have to jump in and say that I'm not so sure that there's not something along the lines of a Brain 2.0 emerging. I'm not claiming that the brain itself has changed, but instead what's changing is:
  • metacognition
  • metamemory
  • access to information
  • access to other people
  • access to smart systems
all of this changes what the brain needs to do. A look inside the processing of problems by the brain of someone born today when they reach 40 vs. the brain of someone who is 40 today, I would guess is going to be quite different.

No comments:

Post a Comment