Information Age Education
   Issue Number 56
December, 2010   

This free Information Age Education Newsletter is written by David Moursund and Bob Sylwester, and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is one component of the Information Age Education project. See http://iae-pedia.org/ and the end of this newsletter.

The Information Age Education web site now includes a blog. Access the blog and comment on blog entries at http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog.html.

You may find the entry about brain science mythologies (http://i-a-e.org/myblog-admin/neuromythologies-brain-science-mythologies-in-education.html) to be particularly interesting.

“Every two days now we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003. That’s something like five exabytes [5 billion billion bytes] of data.” (Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, as reported by TechCrunch 8/4/2010.)

Science is Repeatable and Accurate Measurements

Notice the quote. We can make a rough estimate of the number of bytes of information that are being collected and stored. But such a number tells us nothing about the quality, usefulness, or meaning of the data. Our biological human brains need help in dealing with such a massive amount of information.

We routinely suffer from information overload (Moursund, 2010). This overload often leads us to make poor decisions because our brains cannot comprehend and digest the multitude of variables inherent to a particular problem situation. As an example, we measure the quality of a school or teacher on the basis of how well students score on a specific state or national test. Such tests provide useful information, but this is only one aspect of measuring a school or a teacher.
 
We need help in deciding which parts of this information are useful in solving the problems and accomplishing the tasks we face. Fortunately, a discipline named Computer and Information Science how exists.

The essence of a science is repeatability (predictability) of results. In science, one strives to provide clearly described, accurate, precise, and repeatable findings. Other researchers can repeat the experiments and verify similar findings or cast doubt on the findings. Findings that survive the close scrutiny of others over time are sometimes stated as theories or laws. Thoroughly scrutinized research results, theories, and laws can continue to be tested. At the same time, the results can be used in carrying out research to further advance the frontiers and to help solve problems that face us.

The previous issue of this IAE Newsletter provided some history of growing complexity of measurements relevant to technology, science, business, and day-to-day life of people as we moved from the hunter-gatherer era into the agricultural age and toward the industrial revolution. This issue of the IAE Newsletter continues discussion started in the previous newsletter.


Science and Technology

Science and technology are major change agents and have a very long history. A nice timeline going back to 280 B.C.E. is available in Kelly (2010). The first entry is about the development of a catalogued library with an index (at Alexandria) that provided a way to search for recorded information. Other entries in the timeline include:
  • 1592: Controlled experiments by Francis Bacon wherein one changes a single variable in a test.
  • 1665: Robert Boyle’s idea that results of an experiment must be repeatable to be valid.
  • 1752: Peer reviewed journals.
  • 1885: Blinded, randomized design as a way to reduce human bias.
  • 1946: Computer simulations.
  • 1950: Double blind experiments.
  • 1974: Meta-analysis, a second level of analysis of a large collection of published research in a particular area.
It is important to notice that over time we have expanded use of the scientific method to areas outside of science. We are making significant progress in developing a science and technology of certain aspects of education. For instance, computer-assisted learning provides a vehicle for repeatability in instruction, and thus supports certain types of research and then applications of the findings.

We have also developed computerized instrumentation to facilitate brain research and educational use of some of the findings. For example, we now understand dyslexia well enough to develop a highly computerized intervention to help dyslexic students learn to read. Such an individualized educational intervention is a far cry from Industrial Age mass production of interchangeable parts in a factory.


More About Measurement and Research

We have the knowledge and skills to precisely measure factory-produced parts. Our science and technology in this area is sufficiently advanced that the various parts of a final product can be manufactured at different locations and then transported to a central location for final assembly. In addition, we can measure the defect level in the parts and final product being produced and we know ways to decrease the level of defects. We know how to carry out applied research to produce higher quality aids to producing high quality final products.

The automated mass production of interchangeable parts and other activities going on in a modern factory often lead people to say: “Why can’t we take similar ideas and use them to substantially improve our educational system?” This is a typical apples and oranges type of question. See our 7-issue series about apples and oranges types of explorations that began in July 2010 and is available at http://iae-pedia.org/IAE_Newsletter.

What happens as we try to take industrial production ideas and apply them to education? We immediately encounter all kinds of difficulties. Even identical twins raised in the same home are not identical. Think of the teaching of a particular topic as an “educational treatment” or an “educate-a-person manufacturing process.” However, each student who is to be subjected to this educational treatment is different—and the differences are sufficiently large that a “one size fits all” educational treatment often works poorly. Students are not interchangeable parts.

So, how does one measure an individual student, the students in a teacher’s class, the students in a school or school district, and so on in a manner that can lead to effective interventions to improve their education and our overall educational system?

One approach to preparing educational researchers is illustrated by what the College of Education at the University of Oregon is doing. The College of Education has been revising its doctoral program. It has developed four qualitative research courses, four quantitative research courses, and four single subject design research courses. Doctoral students must take at least four of these courses focusing on one methodology and at least two focusing on a different methodology. Notice that single subject design is a research methodology focusing on a single individual. The other two methodologies are now standardly used in doing research on groups.

It seems likely that as highly individualized computer-assisted learning grows in power and availability, single subject design research will grow in importance.


The Information Age

The Information Age officially began in 1956 in the United States. It was in that year that the number of people holding "white collar" jobs had first exceeded the number of people holding "blue collar" jobs (Moursund, 2008). Most people tend to think of the Information Age in terms of computers and computerized devices. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has certainly changed the world we live in. Students are growing up in a world that is being made smaller through improvements in communication and transportation. They routinely use cell phones, text messaging, computerized games and music, social networking systems, and information retrieval systems such as the Web.

From an education point of view, ICT is changing our students, changing the knowledge and skills we want students to gain, changing education research, and changing methods for implementing the research findings. Distance education and computer-assisted learning are powerful change agents in delivery of instruction.

ICT makes it possible for worldwide competition for a steadily increasing number of jobs. The work to be done can be described accurately enough so that results produced in one part of the world are essentially interchangeable with results produced in another part of the world. If the results can be transported electronically or at a reasonable cost via various types of transportation, then the associated jobs can be carried out at many different places. Such jobs require some combination of physical and mental capabilities, along with access to physical and mental aids such as education, computers, and production machinery.

Think of this situation in terms of how interchangeable parts changed manufacturing. In some sense, we now have an increasing level of mental interchangeability. At the same time, we are developing computer systems and computerized tools that have a type of intelligence that we call artificial intelligence or machine intelligence.

The situation being created for workers throughout the world is that increasingly they have to compete with each other as well as with artificially intelligent computing systems and computerized tools. As we attempt to measure the quality of a school or individual teacher, we certainly need to take into consideration how well each is doing in preparing students for adult life in the rapidly changing future.


Final Remarks

Educational research can require paying attention to a very large number of different variables that are highly interdependent. One does not adequately measure a human’s physical and cognitive “self” by measuring just a few variables. Moreover, the things we try to measure in educational research are often quite complex. Sure, we can accurately measure simple things such as a child’s age, height, weight, and how long it takes the child to run a hundred meters. But, how about inquisitiveness, creativity, persistence, speed of learning and long term retention rate in various disciplines, abilities to integrate new learning with previous learning, abilities to do transfer of learning, and social skills? How does one accurately measure previous and ongoing effects of home and community environments?

Good educational research is difficult! The next several articles will focus on such issues as the assessment of social skills, the arts, and problem solving.


References

Kelly, Kevin (12/1/2010). Evolving the Scientific Method: Technology is changing the way we conduct science. The Scientist. Retrieved 12/9/2010 from http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/57831/.

Moursund, D.G. (2008). Information Age. Retrieved 12/26/2010 from http://iae-pedia.org/Information_Age.

Moursund, D.G. (2010). Information underload and overload. Retrieved 12/26/2010 from http://iae-pedia.org/Information_Underload_and_Overload.



About Information Age Education, Inc.

Information Age Education is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving education for learners of all ages throughout the world. IAE is a project of the Science Factory, a 501(c)(3) science and technology museum located in Eugene, Oregon. Current IAE activities include a Wiki with address http://IAE-pedia.org, a Website containing free books and articles at http://I-A-E.org, and the free newsletter you are now reading.

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