Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Know Where You Can Find Anything

As part of my presentations on Work Literacy and eLearning 2.0 - I discuss how learning and knowledge work are changed by things such as computers, mobile computing, the web, social media, social networks, access to people/experts through the web, and the flood of new tools. To me, this change is still being underestimated - it's so radical that it's pretty hard to comprehend it.

A post by Gina Minks - - where she discusses a quote from an inscription at FSU:
The half of knowledge, is knowing where to find knowledge

Led me through to the King William's College annual General Knowledge Paper (GKP). I guess it's been published in the Guardian since 1951 - 2006 test - but it was new to me. Students sit for the test twice: once on the day before the winter holiday, and again when they return after the holiday (after having researched answers). It is highly difficult. Here are the first two questions from 2006:

1) In the year 1906:

1 which bedstefar was mourned multinationally?

2 which fruity concoction rivalled the first all-big-gun ship?

The test is now voluntary. There's a beautiful quote at the start of the test (and it's translation).

"Scire ubi aliquid invenire possis, ea demum maxima pars eruditionis est"

"To know where you can find anything is, after all, the greatest part of erudition."

And if you run a Google define search on erudition for those of us wanting to make sure we understand the term, you get roughly:
profound scholarly knowledge
So, as opposed to half of education being to know where to find things, the King William's quote puts it at "the greatest part."

But let's go back to the start of my post, impact of the web, social media, etc. on learning and knowledge work. Well let's think about it - if you were an adept student today being asked to do research for the general knowledge paper, well it's a bit unfair right. The questions today are made harder and more obscure because the quiz master checks to make sure that the answers cannot easily be located via Google. For example, the word "bedstefar" doesn't even seem to have a definition - possibly it's an old spelling for the word used in 1906.

But, it's going to be tough for the quiz master to keep up with what's going on out there. Students can essentially farm the questions out - seeking out interested experts in each domain. Or even easier - they can hand it off to the crowd via metafilter. And they get wonderful help including things like a person posting the day it went live:
Bedstefar is Christian IX, king of Denmark, dead in 1906
posted by parmanparman at 5:38 AM on December 21, 2006
Some quick fact checking shows that indeed that's when he died. And then further, I found someone who posted a comment that:
‘Bedstefar’ means grandfather in Danish.
Which makes this highly likely since the King has such international influence through his children.

After looking at this, I first was thinking - the poor quiz master. First, having to fight Google. And now having to contend with social / network solutions. In fact, because the test is well known, I'm sure it's a bit depressing to see things like metafilter come up with answers that makes it somewhat irrelevant for students today. However, if their wasn't broader public interest in the quiz, then I believe there's real value in the test.

So, if the students were forced to take the quiz in today's world and the public was not generally interested in helping them find answers, what skills do the students need?
  • Search skills - Likely this is wonderful fodder for how-to information on using varied search sources to find answers.
  • Network skills - Also very good fodder for engaging others to help find answers.
There's real value here, but, unfortunately for the quiz master, they have a following - so I'm not sure the quiz serves the students as an audience anymore.

No comments:

Post a Comment