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.
“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
Assessing Education in
an Increasingly Complex, Information-Overloaded World
Three themes run through this issue of the IAE Newsletter:
ICT is a Powerful Change Agent
- 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.
- People are faced by the large and rapidly growing collection of
data, information, knowledge, wisdom, and foresight that we call an
- Considerable ICT progress is being made to provide humans help in
dealing with this information overload.
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
Information Overload and Information Processing
Examine the following diagram and its definitions.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.