Sunday, January 6, 2013

Scarcity at the Table of Abundance

Thanks to the Internet and the technologies we use to access it, we've move from a world where all of these (information, knowledge, teachers, learning, getting an education) were relatively scarce to one where they're absolutely abundant....
if we have an Internet connection, we have fingertip, on-demand access to an amazing library that holds close to the sum of human knowledge and, equally important, to more than two billion people with whom we can potentially learn.....
Will Richardson, Why School

I like what Will Richardson has to say about the future of schools, teaching and learning.  We are living in a time of abundance in terms of information availability  The information we seek is potentially at our our fingertips at anytime at any place.Yet despite this "abundance" and its revolutionary impact on schooling, teaching and learning, I am noticing a continuing and ongoing scarcity of skills that our students need to access this table of information abundance.

I can't help but think about the allegory of long spoons to make my point.  The parable goes something like this:

A man was presented with an opportunity to see Hell and Heaven.  First he went to see Hell. The sight was horrifying. Row after row of tables were laden with platters of sumptuous food, yet the people seated around the tables were pale and emaciated, moaning in hunger. As he looked closer he understood their predicament - each person held an extremely long spoon full of food.  The spoon, which was strapped to their hands, was longer than their arms and as such they could not get the food from the spoon to their mouth.
These poor people had an abundance of food at their fingertips but could not consume it.
Next he went to visit Heaven. The setting was same as in Hell – row after row of long tables laden with food. But in contrast to Hell, the people in Heaven were sitting contentedly talking with each other, their stomachs full from their sumptuous meal. Upon further examination it became clear that these people also had the same long spoons attached to their hands.
The difference was that the people in Heaven were feeding each other.....
This parable has many powerful meanings (for example, it is a great metaphor for the connected learner).  In context of this post, it tells me that despite the abundant table of information that our students have at their fingertips, many are still starving for good and appropriate information.  Many do not have the skills required to feed themselves the "food" they need or require!

Case in point.  If you were to walk into classroom today and asked students research any topic, most students would run to Google and do a search.  Depending on the word or words they use and the order they place the words, that search will yield somewhere between 10 million and 100 million results.  At this point, being overwhelmed, most students might click on the first five results - not distinguishing the type of site they are accessing, who wrote it and why  - and conclude that they have conducted the necessary research.  I realize that this is an extreme oversimplification - but one, that I would argue, is not too far from the truth for many students (and grown adults) today.

I would argue that this is a dangerous situation for any educated society - and a direct result of an acute  scarcity of the required literacy skills necessary in our time of abundance.

It is a great irony, that the more abundant our "table of information" becomes, the more we must educate our students to be highly selective and prudent consumers of this information.

To address this scarcity I think we must do a few things:

We must change our definition of literacy to include New Literacies (including media and information literacy).  With this is mind, literacy, in its broadest sense, must be the business of every teacher at all levels of the system - from K to tertiary education, every day. Creating skillful readers, unpacking key vocabulary, demystifying the data smog that exits, writing with voice, clarity, purpose and conviction, creating a digital footprint that you can be proud of, doubling down on proper research skills are but a few skills our students require.

Over the past several years we have tried to make literacy a priority.  We have created a cross-curricular team of teachers to determine what specific literacy skills individual students were lacking and implemented appropriate strategies to build those deficiencies.  During this time, our team discovered that as a whole, students are struggling with identifying the "main idea" when reading a passage. This year we have taken a slightly different approach.  We have asked each department in the school to identify a literacy specific goal that addresses a specific need for students.  This effort has been greatly aided by the hiring of a new "tech- brarian" to assist teachers and students in acquiring these key literacy skills.   Check out our new and evolving Media Resource Centre website that has just gone live. 

Redefining Libraries and librarians in school.  This year we have embarked on the process of re visioning our school library.  Here are some fabulous posts and sites on how libraries and librarian are playing a critical role in this time of abundance:

Gino Bondi on learning commons

Chris Kennedy's take on school librarians

Cale Birk and how his school has created a learning commons

Read how the Vancouver Public Libraries are thriving in a digital age

Liberating teachers with curriculum that emphasizes skill acquisition.  I have written about how curriculum documents need to reflect the time of abundance we are living in.  Reform of these documents, I would argue, will create the needed spark and momentum required to have teachers focus on the scarcity of skills mentioned above.

We live in a time of information abundance - maybe even excess.  Despite the excess, many of our students are starving for good and appropriate information.

Let's teach our students how to thrive at the table of abundance.....

1 comment:

  1. Scarcity is the most common problem of the society now a days due to poor government, graft and corruption. In able to supress this kind of problem we should do a move and help hand in hand .Also, we should always be open-minded in any situations.