The New World

This is a story of the information revolution and the power of connectedness. Enjoy it for what it is.

I met a person today online. We met because he gives some of his time and expertise to a community of bloggers that I am occasionally a member of. He’s a PhD candidate in Bio-Informatics, is part of a small team of programmers that put out neat stuff, and so I dug around his company web-site (being a curious fellow and all). Following the links to the CVs of his partners, I came across an amazing story.

In a discussion about learning, the partner wrote this:

Google, now has taken us to the next level and made the internet-memory available to the non-specialist. The replacement of my biological memory with the Internet memory has not been easy. Unlearing old habits seems harder than learning new habits. It has taken me several years to exchange my habit of asking a question to a colleague or friend for asking the question to Google. My young learners at MUSC, the IT Lab, taught me this new skill. Now I am finding that asking the question via the image option of Google is often more useful then a text search.

Said another way, Google and the Internet resources that it indexes are now part of my memory. Having studied use-dependent sodium channel blockade in the laboratory with Gus Grant for 20 years, I fully understand the role of repetition in both learning and forgetting. However when I ask my colleagues about the forgetting curve they are certain that I have lost it. I smile becaue I know that they have lost it. What did they lose? They lost all the information memorized and learned during their university days that was never recalled – thereby refreshing the remembering of that material. With Google and the Internet as my Internet-memory, I have stopped trying to remember things rarely used, but rather, simply key in an appropriate group of words and ask Google to search for me.

So if Gene and I get it – why has our educational establishment been so slow in adapting to an Internet-centric problem-driven learning paradigm? This paradigm is characterized by problem based learning within a framework of scaffolding (core concepts) and the Internet memory. Global connectivity and commodity computing provides us with a new tool permitting us to re-target remembering energy to thinking. There are several excuses for the slow progress toward this new paradigm but no real reasons.

There is more, much more, here.

And, follow the link for the ‘forgetting curve’.

The point here is that, 30 years after my first trip through academe, what I am studying has, for the most part, changed dramatically. How I study has not. The challenge has been to re-acquire the learning skills as much as it is mastering the material. My years in the work place taught me to learn in a non-academic way, much like the problem based learning that Frank is writing about. As he says:

I learn best when I have a core set of main ideas (concepts) about the problem area that I’m working in. These core or main ideas providing scaffolding from which I can add details as I need them. In my experience, most textbooks do not articulate the main ideas in the introductory chapter, but rather present all the material in a way that challenges our memorizing skills while leaving us cold about what is really going on. Problem-based learning addresses this issue.

Can I shout hallelujah from the top of the Computer Science building?

Here I am, trying to earn a degree in a major that attempts to meld the worlds of computers, statistics, and information, in a way that provides the power of the information revolution to the rest of our economy. Living in the 21st Century, learning with early 20th Century methods.

Is the world of academe losing pace with the real world? Which leads to the larger question of whether or not academe, with its traditions, can evolve quickly enough to meet the challenges and opportunities of the 21st Century.

Good stuff, this.

Note: The quotes and links come courtesy of Frank Starmer via his Creative Commons license.


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“Life’s hard, son. It’s harder when you’re stupid.” — The Duke.

Education is a companion which no misfortune can depress, no crime can destroy, no enemy can alienate,no despotism can enslave. At home, a friend, abroad, an introduction, in solitude a solace and in society an ornament.It chastens vice, it guides virtue, it gives at once grace and government to genius. Without it, what is man? A splendid slave, a reasoning savage. - Joseph Addison
The term informavore (also spelled informivore) characterizes an organism that consumes information. It is meant to be a description of human behavior in modern information society, in comparison to omnivore, as a description of humans consuming food. George A. Miller [1] coined the term in 1983 as an analogy to how organisms survive by consuming negative entropy (as suggested by Erwin Schrödinger [2]). Miller states, "Just as the body survives by ingesting negative entropy, so the mind survives by ingesting information. In a very general sense, all higher organisms are informavores." - Wikipedia

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