Friday, April 3, 2009

Do Content Kings Need to Abdicate?

Content has been King in education for millennia. Education has a long and storied past, going back to the Greek schools of thought of Empedocles, Democitus and many more. These ancient padagouges were the vessels of knowlegde, dispersing thier contents as if it was water to their parched students. They set the model in stone, and it has laid lithified ever since.

Teachers ever since have followed the grand tradition, spending years learning their content from other professors, each being granted scholarship and license by colleges and universities in the great Greek tradition. You've seen these teachers, you know these teachers, you have glimpsed their diplomas hanging on office walls. They are the Content Kings. They fill their classes with notes, power points, handouts and lecture, lecture, lecture. All filled with the countless items of content they learned and now disperse from on high. Their students struggle to transcribe the notes, read the suggested texts and give the teacher's content back to them during exams, papers and oral presentation.

This is how it was always done, but is it how is should continue to be? Information was always been hard to come by. It had to be gleaned from dusty library stacks and countless journal publishings. These Content Kings spent a large part of their lives learning their disciplines and are proud of that fact, one might even say haughty. Content is their realm, and these educators are the Royal Dispersers of Knowledge.

Yet the playing field of information has changed. Content is doubling at rates never conceived of. Information has left the libraries and is now at the fingertips of anyone with a modem. There is so much content that no one can be an expert in their field; only hoping perhaps, to learn one small parcel of knowledge in a vast compendium of exponentially increasing information. The situation upon us now shows that we can lo longer deliver all the content. I daily see teachers who are overwhelmed and now must resort to picking and choosing what they cover in depth and what they simply introduce and move on.

What I learned 30 years ago as biological content may serve well as a base of knowledge. Yet without my constant vigilance to take in the daily discoveries in my own fields, the content that I learned so long ago would be insufficient to teach an AP biology class today. Still, we treat our information as sacrosanct and the classroom where we hold forth. Is this the model for education of today, of the future? I say it is time for Content Kings to abdicate their thrones.

I can bring up on the internet for my students experts in my fields with knowledge that far surpasses mine, and do so regularly. I have my students, individually and as collaborative groups, go out and gather information and present it, rather than simply regurgitate of my own words. It is an old and hackneyed expression to be the "sage on the stage," yet the phrase persists because it ring true. It is time to give up the royal crown of knowledge and to instruct our students in ways that allow them to teach themselves. The world can easily be brought into the classroom, yet these Kings remain isolated in their no longer quite ivory towers. What are we doing to our students when we use an antiquated model that is thousands of years old and has little to do with garnering an education these days?

Teachers must step down from the lectern and turn to the world. It has never been easier to find data, to collaborate with other students and to present in all in media unheard of just 30 years ago. In this brave new world of exploding content the educator's task has changed. We must show our students where the data is, that data must be harrowed into information, that information must be processed to become knowledge and that knowledge must be applied to become wisdom. This is the modern role of educators everywhere. Yes content is assigned to us by boards and by AP and by IB and their likes, but we must search it out together. Students and teachers join in on the content through true teamwork; no longer a feudal system but a system fueled by collaboration. King Content is dead, all hail the new King Collaboration.

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