To know, to understand in the no-gatekeeper era

AC Grayling has commented this morning in a radio interview of the significant challenge faced by educators in helping students navigate the dense information terrain brought to us by the www and to evaluate what is found. We know this, but it is timely to consider how we do this, especially when a thinker as notable as AC Grayling considers it to be challenging and important. The old style gatekeepers are gone, so how do our students become their own gatekeepers? How do our students discriminate between knowing stuff and understanding information?

In the first instance we need to acknowledge that generating stuff from an internet search is just that: generating stuff, finding data. In and of itself it has little or no meaning, so we should not be getting too excited and certainly not be spending the majority of our time on finding stuff. How much time do you students spend on this stage of their understanding journeys?

When do the results of our searching take on some meaning? When we organise it is some way. How do your students develop the skills of organising their search results? How do you help them develop a scaffold? How do you provide a template? How do you help them know which sites are valid, biased, prejudiced or just plain bogus? If these are questions that concern you, ask your colleagues how they go about addressing these questions with their students.

After organising data into information, comes understanding. What insights can our students generate concerning the information they have now generated? This is the area that definitely requires multiple colleague input. What do we mean by understanding? How can I design a product that will enable my students to demonstrate their understanding? The best resources available for this sit in the materials from Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe: Understanding by Design. Now there’s a good catalyst for a professional learning conversation! And, of course that is another way of navigating the vast forest: start with an acknowledged source. What are your colleagues’ trusted starting points? How can you share those?

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