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Content is King?

Donald G. Perrin

Pursuit of knowledge is the focus of education. Acquisition of knowledge, modified by experience, is the basis of wisdom. Science and technology have led to an explosion of knowledge so great that abstracts, and more recently indexes, cannot keep up with the deluge of information. The “half life” of relevant information is decreasing daily.

Knowledge as we knew it early in the 20th century is drowning in a sea of redundancy, or it was until data processing, storage and retrieval with computers launched us into the information age. Just as the hand calculator replaced human skills in adding and multiplication, Google searches have made even the remotest knowledge accessible to all. Emphasis has changed from storing knowledge in our memory to accessing it from a machine. Computers speed up literature searches and broaden our opportunity to apply this knowledge for profit and pleasure.

Technology has not changed the role of scholars. They continue to research and adapt ideas to our changing world, but with greater speed and depth. For business, industry, government, military, health care, and community organizations, digital technologies have changed the very nature of work. Emphasis moves from acquisition to application of knowledge, and from knowledge for its own sake to critical thinking, analysis, problem solving and creation of new knowledge.

Rapid growth of colleges and universities has opened higher levels of learning to all who qualify. Traditional evaluation tools created by Stanford and Binet a century ago are not adequate to assess intelligence and skills of today’s 6th grader let alone a12th grade student. The problem is compounded by the need to compare test results with previous years in a world that is forever changing. What is the impact of cultural diversity, television, computers, and interactive communication technologies? Do technology skills reduced the need for memorization and move emphasis from regurgitation to application and problem solving in a real world setting?

In times of crisis, people revert to goals and behaviors they considered successful earlier in life. “Back to Basics” and the “McGuffy Reader” continue to emerge in a world changing so rapidly that the solution becomes the problem. Are we preparing students for the world as we knew it or for a world that exists in the future? Is it prudent to prepare students using a curriculum and standards that reflect the past and are not relevant to the future?

Educators must collaborate with each other and colleagues in business, industry and government to explore the needs, goals, and substantive components for education in the future and design a future oriented curriculum to prepare world-class students. We need models of what a graduating student will need to be employable and successful. We must develop awareness to change, ability to adapt, and eagerness to explore, learn and apply new knowledge and skills.

The world into which we are moving demands intelligence and critical thinking skills. It favors teamwork and collaborative activities. Jobs for physical labor and unskilled workers (hands) are decreasing, and there is a growing need for persons who are technically and intellectually proficient (minds). Competition was once based on local standards. Modern transportation, television and the Internet have changed that. Today we live in a global world and preparation for our role in the workforce must be modeled on global standards. We will team with people from different nations and cultures in solving problems that are local and national, and problems that cross international boundaries and are global.

Academics have made an excellent first step to depose content as king by introduction of rubrics and portfolios to measure of performance. Additional research and development is needed.


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