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Focusing on What Matters

I recently read a solid piece entitled “Is Google Teaching Us Anything?” (h/t to @gregkulowiec on twitter) that opens by citing both Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows and Sugata Mitra’s SOLE project as competing philosophies of the role of technology in education. More important, though, is the question of self-directed learning and to what extent truly independent learning can happen with adolescents.

The critique of Mitra hits home to me: the simple placement of a computer in a room will more likely result in only surface level interaction with the device and, while even gaming can have dramatic positive impact on the mind of a learner, most of us hope for a more diversified experience for students in which they engage with a number of concepts and problems and cast a wider curiosity net.

However, I worry that many who criticize Mitra’s argument more because it threatens their perception that it is the teacher who should convey content and knowledge upon the student. In doing so, they are attempting to compete with computers in a battle they cannot win and in an area that, frankly, doesn’t matter that much.

Computers can convey content and knowledge more thoroughly and efficiently than any human being can. However, it is teachers, acting as Learning Guides for young people, who can inspire curiosity. It is in the building of relationships and the leveraging of those relationships to promote genuine curious learning that makes human teachers essential to the learning process.

The next generation of schools that matter will first realize that the content battle is lost. But more importantly, it will realize that this loss now frees the school and its teachers to focus more holistically on changing the roles of teachers from inefficient content delivery systems to effective learning guides. The school that builds its foundation on this will be agile enough to adapt to the massive and total change that seems to be unending in this, the world’s second industrial revolution.

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