This free Information Age Education Newsletter is written by Dave
Moursund and Bob Sylwester, and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is
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and the end of this newsletter. All back issues
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This is the 19th and
last of a series of IAE Newsletters exploring educational aspects of
the current cognitive neuroscience and technological revolution. Bob
Sylwester (Newsletter # 75) and Dave Moursund (Newsletter # 76)
provided two introductory newsletters. Newsletter # 77 and a number of
subsequent newsletters were written by guests. However, Sylwester and
Moursund also contributed to this emerging collection. The collection
of 19 articles will be organized into a book that will be made
available free on the Web.
For the most part, the guest newsletters focus on cognitive
neuroscience. Dave Moursund is providing Information and Communication
Technology follow-up commentary to the articles. In addition, readers
are invited to send their comments using the Reader Comments directions
near the end of each newsletter.
We encourage you to tell your colleagues and students about the free
IAE Newsletters. Free back issues and subscription information are
available at http://i-a-e.org/iae-newsletter.html.
Summary 2: Educational Game Changers
Emeritus Professor of Education
University of Oregon
“If I have seen
further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” (Isaac Newton;
English mathematician and physicist; 2/5/1675 letter to Robert Hooke;
We humans are blessed with the most capable brains of all
creatures on this planet. Using our creative brains and our
communication skills, we have survived and prospered. We have developed
tools to aid our bodies and minds, and we have become quite dependent
on these tools. As noted in the quote from Isaac Newton, such progress
The articles in Creating an Appropriate 21st Century Education
range over a variety of topics. Within and between articles there is a
continual play of theory versus applications of cognitive neuroscience.
Computer technology is a major topic in the book because it helps
facilitate cognitive neuroscience research and implementations of some
of this research into educational practices.
For most of recorded history, the brain has been a black box. We lacked
today’s sophisticated instrumentation to peer into a brain as it goes
about its various activities. We now have a much better understanding
of the strengths and weaknesses of a human brain. We are at the
beginning of integrating cognitive neuroscience and the capabilities of
computer brains into our everyday school curriculum. We are developing
interventions to help deal with disabilities, and we are learning to
make more effective use of brain capabilities.
A tool such as a spear or a club is an embodiment of information. This
information is passed from generation to generation as elders teach
their children to make and use the tools. Similar comments apply to
hunting and gathering skills, and making and using fire, shelters,
clothing, and medicines.
If we look back many tens of thousands of years, the pace of change was
very slow. A hunter-gatherer would live a lifetime without seeing an
appreciable change in tools and the techniques for using these tools.
The development of agriculture a little over 10,000 years ago was a
major game changer. Permanent settlements and increasing population in
settlements promoted and facilitated sharing and made more
specialization possible. An inventor might spend years developing a
better hoe, animal husbandry method, or pottery-making technique. This
could then be shared with the growing population of the local community
and the growing number of travelers among communities.
I think of reading and writing as human-developed mind tools.
The development of these mind tools a little over 5,000 years ago was
another major game changer because it helped in the preservation and
sharing of collected knowledge and skills. Since that time, over a
hundred million different books have been printed and distributed. This
has helped the accumulated knowledge of the human race to grow at an
increasing pace. Improvements in transportation and communication have
added to this pace of change. Nowadays it is common for research groups
around the world to be actively cooperating and sharing their progress.
I like to think back over the past couple of centuries that have
brought us: the steam engine and industrial revolution; telegraph and
telephone; photography and movies; cars and airplanes; plastics and
synthetic fibers; radio, television, and radar; jet planes and rocket
ships; computers, telecommunication systems, electronic games, and the
Web; huge advances in medicine; CDs and DVDs; nanotechnology; the human
genome project and progress in genetic engineering; portable media
players, cell phones, and social networks; and so on. The recent pace
of change overwhelms me. Perhaps you have heard people say: “Help—stop
the world, I want to get off! The world is passing me by….”
Three Brains are Better Than One
I like to think and write about the idea of three brains working together to solve problems and accomplish tasks:
The unschooled (native, intuitive) human brain
(Gardner, 1991). Think about the learning of language, culture, and
ways of dealing with the world that a typical child has achieved before
starting kindergarten. The unschooled brain is very capable and in many
ways its capabilities put the schooled brain to shame. It prospers in a
rich cultural, language, and intellectual environment. On average,
children growing up in such a rich environment experience considerably
more rapid cognitive growth than less fortunate children.
The schooled brain that
is developed through formal schooling and self-education based on both
the formal schooling and on individual interests and needs. Reading,
writing, libraries, and Information and Communication Technology (ICT)
are major aids to—indeed, can be thought of as components of—the
schooled mind. Schooling helps a person draw on the rapidly growing
accumulated knowledge of the human race. In recent years we have made
considerable progress in the use of computer-assisted learning and
distance learning as aids to developing the schooled mind.
Computer “brains” built
into computers, robots, and computerized machinery. Artificial
Intelligence (AI) (in England it is called Machine Intelligence or MI)
is steadily growing in its capabilities. Ray Kurzweil (2005) is a world
leader in analyzing and forecasting when computer intelligence may
exceed human intelligence. (Also see http://iae-pedia.org/Ray_Kurzweil.)
Human Intelligence and Mind
The first two numbered paragraphs are about the human brain. The
careful study of the functioning, capabilities, and limitations of a
human brain has a long history. Quoting Plato:
When you spoke of a nature gifted or not gifted in any respect, did you
mean to say that one man may acquire a thing easily, another with
difficulty; a little learning will lead the one to discover a great
deal; whereas the other, after much study and application no sooner
learns then he forgets… (Plato; Classical Greek philosopher,
mathematician, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the
Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the
western world; 428/427 BC– 348/347 BC.)
The development of intelligence tests in the early 1900s was a major
milestone in the study of human intelligence. Tests were devised that
were relatively good forecasters of a person’s ability to learn to deal
with complex problem-solving tasks. However, these IQ tests do not
provide good information about what is actually going on inside a brain.
Progress in a number of fields has led to the development of
non-invasive and minimally invasive ways to “peer” inside a functioning
human brain. Computer technology plays a major role in collecting and
processing the data from such brain scans. Better instrumentation,
faster computers, and better computer programs have contributed greatly
to the discipline of cognitive neuroscience.
In recent years we also have learned about human (and other) genes and
how some of them relate to cognitive development and disease. We have
developed techniques and drugs that can enhance cognitive functioning.
This type of research is progressing rapidly; however, it is still in
Artificial (Computer) Intelligence
The third of the numbered paragraphs is about computer brains and
robotics. The first electronic digital computers were called “brains”
or “computer brains.” One of the driving forces in the computer field
has been to develop “smarter” computers. This led to the modern
disciplines of artificial intelligence and robotics. Of course, science
fiction authors explored the field of artificial intelligence and
robots long before the development of electronic digital computers.
The discipline of artificial intelligence has taken two approaches to
its problems. One approach is to develop computer models of how a human
brain represents and solves problems. The goal is to develop computer
versions of the neurons and other components of a brain. Slow but
significant progress is occurring in developing computer programs that
can simulate the performance of parts of a human brain. See http://iae-pedia.org/What_the_Future_is_Bringing_Us.
The second approach is to focus specifically on a problem to be solved.
A good example is provided by the quest to develop a computer system
that could play chess better than a human chess expert. This was
achieved in 1997 by use of “brute force” methods. The IBM computer
system that beat the world chess champion Garry Kasporov (Computer
History Museum, n.d.) could analyze 200 million board positions per
second. That is not how a
human player plays chess. The very best of human chess players can only
analyze two or three board position per second. Good (human) chess
players have learned to quickly decide which board positions to
analyze. Their brains have been trained to make such decisions at
The word artificial in AI was
a provocative choice. I grew up in a world that included trains, cars,
trucks, bicycles, airplanes, and automated factory machinery. It never
occurred to me and my peers to think of such tools as “artificial
muscle.” I learned to routinely use artificial muscle and fully
integrated its use into my everyday life.
Contrast this with AI. Many people are greatly concerned about
integrating AI and other computer capabilities into our everyday lives.
This is in spite of the fact that this integration has been gradually
occurring over the years. All of us routinely make use of the progress
that is occurring in AI and in robots that include some AI capabilities.
Both cognitive neuroscience and computer technology are now
emerging from their infancies. Research and development in cognitive
neuroscience, medicine, and genetics will lead to better functioning
brains. Research and development in information and communication
technology will lead to smarter, much more capable computer systems and
In a February, 2011, Jeopardy game contest between an IBM computer
system named Watson and two human expert players of the game, Watson
won. The computer system accepted voice input from the human asking
questions. The computer system did not have a human-like understanding
of the meaning of the questions being asked, but it could quickly draw
upon a huge databank of the types of information being sought in the
questions and then to match questions with the appropriate stored data.
Many of us are awed by student performance in national spelling
contests and by human performance in quick recall memory games. Such
human skills are developed through many years of intense practice. A computer can outperform the best humans in rote memorization and quick retrieval endeavors—and computer
capabilities continue to improve.
Educational Game Changers
There are a steadily increasing number of problems and tasks in which
computers and computerized machinery are now more capable than humans.
A simple digital wristwatch and the now commonplace Global Positioning
Systems provide good examples. The development of automated aids to the
human mind and body continues at an accelerating pace.
Young children readily adapt to the changes that have occurred in the
past. After all, everything is new to a newborn child. All of us adults
have marveled at how children seem to thrive in the world of
computer-based games and tools. However, much of this thriving does not
involve deep learning with understanding. Rather, it provides children
(as well as many adults) with aids to entertainment. It does not help
to develop the knowledge, wisdom, and foresight that are essential to
productive and responsible adulthood in a rapidly changing world.
Our institutions of higher education have made progress in integrating
computational thinking and the tools of Information and Communication
Technology (ICT) into a wide range of disciplines. However, progress at
the precollege level has been slow and remains slow. The National
Education Technology Standards for precollege students developed by the
International Society for Technology in Education more that 20 years
ago have not been widely implemented (ISTE, n.d.). The basic ideas of
computer-aided problem solving have not been integrated into the
precollege curriculum, instruction, and assessment. A great many
college students face challenges of learning computer uses that could
have been met and overcome during their precollege days.
Of course, similar statements apply to students learning about their
brains, progress in cognitive neuroscience, and progress in many other
disciplines. The totality of accumulated and accessible human knowledge
is growing at a stupendous rate. Our current educational system seems
mired in using the new technology and knowledge to continue to
implement curriculum content that is out of date and not designed to
deal with the current and steadily increasing rate of growth of
accumulated human knowledge.
The types of educational game changers that are needed are not easy to
implement. Perhaps the most fundamental challenge is for teachers,
curriculum material developers, and curriculum designers to learn to
think in terms of using three brains instead of two brains. It is not
easy to learn to think in terms of the capabilities (and limitations)
of a computer brain that is steadily growing in capability. It is not
easy to learn to think in terms of how to make effective use of a
computer brain in conjunction with one’s unschooled human brain and
one’s conventionally schooled brain. In recent years, the term
computational thinking has emerged as a description of a human brain
solving problems and accomplishing tasks using a combination of human
and computer brains. My belief is that computational thinking will be a
unifying theme as the future of education unfolds. See http://iae-pedia.org/Computational_Thinking.
Perkins, David (1995). Outsmarting IQ: The science of learnable intelligence. New York: The Free Press.
David Moursund earned his doctorate in mathematics from the
University of Wisconsin-Madison. He taught in the Mathematics
Department and Computing Center at Michigan State University for four
years before joining the faculty at the University of Oregon.
At the University of Oregon he taught in the Mathematics Department,
served six years as the first Head of the Computer Science Department,
and taught in the College of Education for more than 20 years.
A few highlights of his professional career include founding the
International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), serving as
ISTE’s executive officer for 19 years, and establishing ISTE’s flagship
publication, Learning and Leading with Technology.
He was a major professor or co-major professor of 82 doctoral students.
In 2007, he founded Information Age Education (IAE), a non-profit
company dedicated to improving teaching and learning by people of all
ages throughout the world. See http://iae-pedia.org/Main_Page#IAE_in_a_Nutshell.
He has authored or coauthored of more than 60 academic books and
hundreds of articles. Many of these books are available free online.
See http://iae-pedia.org/David_Moursund_Legacy_Fund. He has presented hundreds of professional talks and workshops.
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About Information Age Education, Inc.
Information Age Education is a non-profit organization dedicated to
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