Information Age Education Blog

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5 minutes reading time (980 words)

Tools Help Us Build on the Work of Self and Others

     "...human brains have become equipped with add-ons, thinking tools by the thousands, that multiply our brains' cognitive powers by many orders of magnitude." (Daniel Clement Dennett III; American philosopher, writer, and cognitive scientist; 1942-.) [Bold added for emphasis.]

     "We must preserve the power of intrinsic motivation, dignity, cooperation, curiosity, joy in learning, that people are born with." (W. Edwards Deming; American international business consultant and statistician; 1900-1993.) [Bold added for emphasis.]

Tools, and Goals of Education

Over a period of several million years, pre-humans and humans have developed tools to enhance their physical and cognitive abilities. I think of a tool as anything that can be used to help solve problems and accomplish tasks. I think of reading and writing as tools that changed the world. Computers are another world-changing tool.

Here are two dictionary definitions of tool:

1. An item or implement used for a specific purpose. A tool can be a physical object such as mechanical tools including saws and hammers or a technical object such as a web authoring tool or software program. Furthermore, a concept can also be considered a tool (Business Dictionary, n.d., link). [Bold added for emphasis.]

2. Anything used as a means of accomplishing a task or purpose: Education is a tool for success. (Dictionary.com, n.d., link.)

I am always looking for simple but useful statements about the goals of informal and formal education. One of my recent approaches is to talk about tools, and the importance of learning to make use of tools. In this IAE Blog I will briefly summarize some of my recent thinking.

To begin, consider the invention of rock knapping. We have evidence that pre-humans developed rock knapping about 3.3 million years ago (Lewis & Harmand, 5/20/2015, link). A sharp-edged rock was certainly a useful tool to the pre-human scavenger, hunter-gatherers of that time. Once being shown the idea, a learner could practice and eventually develop a useful level of skill.

This example is simple enough. Helped by education—in this case, a “show and grunt” approach, since speech would not be developed for at least another 3 million years—a learner was empowered through gaining knowledge and skill in making and using this new tool.

There are four key ideas here:

  1. A person has knowledge and skills that can be shared with a learner.
  2. A learner is empowered through gaining the knowledge and skills.
  3. It may take an extended amount of instruction and practice for the learner to gain a high level of expertise, but in some cases it takes only a little time and effort to gain a useful level of expertise.
  4. The learner is intrinsically motivated to gain and use the knowledge and skills.

A Major Challenge to Today’s Schools

Intrinsic motivation of students—or the lack thereof—is a challenge facing today’s schools. Before starting school, children learn oral communication. Even a small amount of progress is of value to a child. At school, children begin learning reading, writing, and arithmetic. These are sufficiently empowering to most children so they are intrinsically motivated in these learning endeavors.

But, eventually the intrinsic motivation of the topics being taught and the fun of this new learning wears off for a great many students. The teacher is faced by more and more students who are not intrinsically motivated by the required school curriculum. Schools have made some progress in meeting this challenge over the thousands of years of their existence. However, for many students this progress is not adequate.

Moreover, this problem is exacerbated by today’s electronic tools and toys that are so readily available outside of school. Researchers in the areas of social networking and electronic games are designing more and more intrinsically motivating features into their products. Moreover, these products are usually designed so that a worthwhile level of progress occurs quickly, and further progress is regularly rewarded. (Think about “moving up a level” in a game versus learning how to correctly spell a half-dozen new words that one seldom uses in their writing.)

I do not have a simple, foolproof solution to this problem. But, I do strongly suggest we should move more rapidly toward the student-empowerments made possible through students learning to effectively use Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as an aid to solving the problems and accomplishing the tasks that they are studying in school. This empowerment includes using the new knowledge and skills in ways that are more relevant to students’ interests.

This also involves changing the content of the curriculum so students are learning to effectively use computers rather than compete with them. A human brain and a computer brain each have characteristics and abilities that distinguish one from the other. A modern education prepares students to effectively use these two types of brains together to solve problems and accomplish tasks. This represents a large change from most uses of ICT in today’s schools (Moursund, 2018, link).

What You Can Do

Whether or not you are a professional teacher, you are a lifelong teacher of yourself and of the others you interact with. When you work to educate yourself and others, think about intrinsic motivation and learning content that the learner deems relevant. Explore the current potential as well as the limitations of the computer as a tool. Strive to keep up with the ongoing technological improvements that are relevant to your current and planned areas of personal interests.

References and Resources

Business Dictionary (n.d.) Tool. Retrieved 1/3/2019 from http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/tool.html.

Dictionary.com (n.d.). Tool. Retrieved 1/3/2019 from https://www.dictionary.com/browse/tool.

Lewis, J., & Harmand, S. (5/20/2015). Our stone tool discovery pushes back the archaeological record by 700,000 years. The Conversation. Retrieved 1/3/2019 from https://theconversation.com/our-stone-tool-discovery-pushes-back-the-archaeological-record-by-700-000-years-42103.

Moursund, D. (2018). The Fourth R (Second Edition). Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Retrieved 1/3/2019 from http://iae-pedia.org/The_Fourth_R_(Second_Edition). Download the Microsoft Word file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/free-ebooks-by-dave-moursund/307-the-fourth-r-second-edition.html. Download the PDF file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/free-ebooks-by-dave-moursund/308-the-fourth-r-second-edition-1.html. Download the Spanish edition from http://iae-pedia.org/La_Cuarta_R_(Segunda_Edici%C3%B3n).

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Saturday, 20 April 2019
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