Information Age Education
   Issue Number 60
February, 2011   

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. A list of the most popular blog entries is available at http://iae-pedia.org/Popular_IAE_Blog_Entries.

“Before you become too entranced with gorgeous gadgets and mesmerizing video displays, let me remind you that information is not knowledge, knowledge is not wisdom, and wisdom is not foresight. Each grows out of the other, and we need them all.” (Arthur C. Clarke; British science fiction author, inventor, and futurist; 1917–2008.)

"Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it." (Samuel Johnson; British author; 1709–1784.)

Assessing Education in an Increasingly Complex, Information-Overloaded World

Three themes run through this issue of the IAE Newsletter:
  1. There is a considerable lack of agreement as to what constitutes a good education. Steady improvements in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) help give voice to quite diverse views as to appropriate goals for education.

  2. People are faced by the large and rapidly growing collection of data, information, knowledge, wisdom, and foresight that we call an information overload.

  3. Considerable ICT progress is being made to provide humans help in dealing with this information overload.

ICT is a Powerful Change Agent

Think about what led to the destruction of the Berlin Wall and the breakup of the Soviet Union. We (your authors) think of this in terms of the steady improvements in transportation and communication that were leading to the world becoming smaller. Thomas Friedman captures these ideas in his 2005 book: The World is Flat. And, of course, Disney captures it in the song: It’s a Small World. You can get a sense of information overload by trying to decide which of the many renditions of this song most appeals to you. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n0R7wF5oheI&feature=related.

The recent overthrow of Muhammad Hosni Mubarak, President and Dictator of Egypt, shows how education and ICT are bringing increasing power to people who are not satisfied with their status quo. The combination education and communication is, indeed, a very powerful change agent, both abroad and here in this country.

ICT also includes the use of computer technology as an aid to representing and solving problems. The problem-solving usefulness of ICT varies considerably from discipline to discipline. Of course, in all disciplines computer technology is an aid to storing and retrieving information, and it is an aid to communication. But, there is considerable variation among disciplines in the extent to which computer technology can solve or greatly help in solving a significant number of the problems in the discipline.

We routinely accept ICT now in the graphic arts, computer animating, and computerized special effects in video. We routinely use such capabilities that make a GPS system possible. Computerized factory automation and robotics are now routine. Computational thinking and use of computer modeling and simulation are now a major component of each of the science, engineering, and mathematics disciplines.

What is happening is that we are gradually becoming more and more accepting of such use of computer technology—and also more dependent on it.


Information Overload and Information Processing

Examine the following diagram and its definitions.

Knowledge Diagram

We can also think of knowledge as something that tells us how to do something, wisdom as a historical approach that tells us if we should do it, and foresight as a future-oriented study of whether we should do it. Helping students to gain wisdom and foresight is an important aspect of education. Assessment in this area is a challenge that we are not doing well in meeting. It is far easier to assess at the lower end of the scale.

Of course, we have known this for a long time. In 1956, Benjamin Bloom and his co-workers produced Bloom’s Taxonomy, which is a type of scale moving from lower-order to higher-order knowledge and understanding. You can think of this in terms of the arrow in the diagram given above. See http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/hrd/bloom.html for an overview of some current thinking about Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Humans and their machines have made considerable progress in collecting and analyzing lower-order data and information. In recent years, the study of knowledge has led to the development of a new discipline called Knowledge Discovery and Data-mining (KDD, n.d.). Researchers and practitioners in KDD work to computerize various aspects of higher-order cognition.

Our accumulation of information is so large that computers are now indispensible both for the storage and the processing (use of) the information. How much information? Here are some units of measure used to talk about the accumulation. A medium length novel is about 10^6 bytes (that is, a million characters). A petabyte is 10^15 bytes (that is, a billion million). Holdings of the US Library of Congress are less than a petabyte.  This is less than the equivalent of a billion medium length novels.

Quoting from Collett (2010):

In the year 2020, technical expertise will no longer be the sole province of the IT department. Employees throughout the organization will understand how to use technology to do their jobs.

Yet futurists and IT experts say that the most sought-after IT-related skills will be those that involve the ability to mine overwhelming amounts of data, protect systems from security threats, manage the risks of growing complexity in new systems, and communicate how technology can increase productivity.

By 2020, the amount of data generated each year will reach 35 zettabytes, or about 35 million petabytes, according to market researcher IDC.

The forecast is that by the year 2020 we will be accumulating information at the rate of about 35 million Libraries of Congress per year. Ask yourself: “What should our children be learning now to help prepare them for life in 2020 and beyond, and how should we assess the knowledge and skills they are obtaining in this area?”


Computer Versus Humans in the Game of Jeopardy

IBM has recently invested substantially in developing computer software and hardware that can compete against humans in the game of Jeopardy. (Moursund, 2/8/2011). If you are not familiar with this TV game, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeopardy. A contest has held February 14-16, 2011 with two humans (former winning contestants) and a computer system named Watson. Watson won!

Way back in 1950 Alan Turing developed a test in which a computer program is to carry on a written conversation with a human, the goal being fro the computer to fool the human into believing he/she is talking to a human (http://www.i-a-e.org/newsletters/IAE-Newsletter-2010-34.html). The article (Christian, 2011) provides a nice overview of an annual contest (the Loebner Prize) to see if a computer can pass Turing’s test.
 
We think that it is not overly important that the computer defeated well-qualified humans in the game of Jeopardy. Rather, the importance is that the fields of artificial intelligence, computer accumulation of information, and KDD have reached a stage that they can compete effectively again human experts.

So, once again we ask you to ask yourself: “What should our children be learning now to help prepare them for life in 2020 and beyond?”


Possible Answers, and Assessment

An important aspect of answers to this question lies in the observation that Two brains are better than one (IAE-pedia, n.d.). We need an education system that thoroughly acknowledges and integrates human brains and computer brains into curriculum content, instructional processes, and assessment.

Educators often talk about lower-order versus higher-order knowledge and skills. Benjamin Bloom pointed out the need to teach and to assess higher-order cognition. Now, a little over 50 years later, computers can already far outdo us in terms of rote memory. There are many aspects of higher-order cognition where computers can far outdo us.

However, there are many higher-order areas in which humans are far better than computers. Perhaps most fundamental is having an understanding of the “human condition”—what it is like to be a human being and to deal with the everyday occurrences in one’s life. What is it like to be a responsible, moral, ethical person living in a society with other people? What is it like to pose and then deal with problems relevant to worldwide, regional, and local human conditions?

Other examples are provided by oral and written communication with understanding, and dealing with diversity. Still more examples are found in all of the fine and performing arts, along with the emotions and joy that these entail.

Here is food for thought. Define lower-order to be what machines can do, and higher-order to be what machines cannot do. Recognize that a good education for a person is a personalized balance among lower-order and higher-order knowledge and skills that is designed to help the person achieve and maintain a decent quality of life in our rapidly changing world. Curriculum content, instructional processes, ongoing formative assessment, summative assessment, and long term residual impact assessment should be appropriately balanced among the needs/wants of individuals, societal groups, and our overall world. Such education should be future oriented, because we believe that the capabilities of computers and totality of accumulated information will continue to grow.


References

Christian, Brian (March 2011). Mind vs. machine. Atlantic Magazine. Retrieved 2/20/2011 from http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/03/mind-vs-machine/8386/.

Collett, Stacy (8/23/2010). Five indispensable IT skills of the future. Computerworld. Retrieved 2/13/2011 from http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/350908/5_Indispensable_IT_Skills_of_the_Future.

Friedman, Thomas (2005). The world is flat: a brief history of the twenty-first century. NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

IAE-pedia (n.d.). Computational thinking. Retrieved 2/13/2011 from http://iae-pedia.org/Computational_Thinking.

IAE-pedia (n.d.). Two brains are better than one. Retrieved 2/13/2011 from http://iae-pedia.org/Two_Brains_Are_Better_Than_One.

KDD (n.d.). Knowledge discovery and data-mining. Retrieved 2/13/2011 from http://iae-pedia.org/Knowledge_Discovery_and_Data-mining.

Moursund, David (2/8/2011). Game of Jeopardy: Computer versus humans. Retrieved 2/20/2011 from http://i-a-e.org/myblog-admin/game-of-jeopardy-computer-versus-humans.html.



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. 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, a Blog at http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog.html, and the free newsletter you are now reading.

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