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
and the end of this newsletter.
“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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
Kelly, Kevin (12/1/2010). Evolving the Scientific
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.
To subscribe to this twice-a-month free newsletter and to see back
issues, go to http://i-a-e.org/iae-newsletter.html.
To change your address or cancel your subscription, click on the
“Manage your Subscription” link at the bottom of this e-mail message.