Questions -v- Answers

As today is a public holiday, I’ve spent several hours on skype catching up with an old friend of mine from NIST.  The amazing thing about this was that even though she is in a different continent, the hours that we spent talking cost us absolutely nothing.  We can connect across time and space in a way that has never been possible before and these connections bring us up-to-the-minute answers to the questions we are asking.

The ability to find information quickly is what is leading students to demand a change in the way we are teaching.  This was addressed by Bill Sheskey in Chapter 12 of Curriculum21, the current book we are reading in our professional reading group.  Sheskey writes:

It is the greatest time in history to be in a classroom because learning technology is changing at an exponential rate, and our students can thrive with it.

I think for me the most important word that springs to mind when I think about how technology is transforming the learning in many schools is the word empowerment.  Technology now empowers students to be able to find the answers to their own questions – which is actually the opposite of being taught.  It allows learning to be personal.   If knowledge is power, then searching for the information that you need to answer your very specific question is empowering.  Of course, this relies on students knowing how to ask the right questions, being able to communicate and collaborate with others who may have separate pieces of the answer, and being able to synthesis all this information to extract the answers they are looking for.

Intelligence is being redefined:  at one time intelligence was measured by how much knowledge we could recall.  Now that’s not important as we don’t need to recall much – we have instant access to almost anything we want to know.  What we need today is a knowledge of how to find the information and then we need to apply it.  Being able to ask the right questions, being able to apply the answers and problem solving are now the new ways we need to think about intelligence.  Sheskey writes:

As answers become devalued, questions become more valued.

The schools that are leading the way in the 21st century are those that are redefining knowledge in this way.  If a school is concerned with testing, all the students are doing is “learning answers”.  Technology, on the other hand, empowers students to inquire – and as a result transforms the learning.

Photo Credit:  Question mark made of puzzle pieces by Horia Varian Attribution 

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3 Responses to Questions -v- Answers

  1. Love this post Maggie. Thank you! It is great to see and read so many people questioning and redefining education. I’m trying to work out who it was you caught up with at NIST?


    • MaggieSwitz says:

      Hi Marianne, I was skyping with Alyson, who has now left Thailand and is living in Japan! Although we are spread around the whole world, it never ceases to amaze me how “small” the world of international educators is – and how these connections continue to be strengthened through technology!


  2. Tasha Cowdy says:

    I agree whole-heartedly.

    One of the challenges I wonder about is how to guide students and help equip them to deal with all the information -as you mention, ask the right question, evaluate, synthesize and apply the knowledge. Technology is changing at an exponential rate but, for a variety reasons, approaches to teaching are not changing at the same rate. It seems to me that the digital divide will be determined not only by income, as it effects access to technology, but also access to teachers who are in a position to support students as they make sense of this wealth of information and construct their knowledge. We teachers need to learn to ask the right questions. For many of us, this has not been part of our education. We have a lot of catching up to do!


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