Curating A New Learning Experience

My local NPR station recently started playing talk radio all day (hallelujah!) and I have been wallowing in all the wonderful shows I used to listen to regularly when I lived in Dallas. Last month, I had Talk of the Nation on and Don Tapscott was talking about higher education. My ears perked up immediately and, though I had to stop listening to feed my toddler (pesky kids), I went back and found the transcript. It was a great interview with some fabulous comments from listeners. If you are at all involved in higher ed or education at all, you should read this interview.

Tapscott, author of, among other things, Wikinomics, Macrowikinomics, and Grown Up Digital said that our current education system is not only not meeting the needs of our students, but its failure to adapt since its creation will be its demise.

Tapscott said, “All these kids that have grown up collaborating and thinking differently walk into a university and they’re asked to sit there and passively listen to someone talking.” He goes on to talk about the new research that is beginning to show that not only do students learn different and multitask, but the very fact that they are multitasking and learning different is changing the way their brains function and grow. The students in our classrooms now learn different because of the world they live in and yet we are still teaching them the same way we taught people when the classroom was invented. We ask students to sit and learn, to be containers for information instead of creators.

It is not just that we are asking them to be passive, but we are also cramping a process that could be broad and more enriching than a lecture. Tapscott gave an example:

I was talking to a youngster at Harvard, and he said: Why would I sit there and listen to a TA talking to 300 of us, a teaching assistant. I can’t even ask a question – the topic is Peter Drucker- when I can go online and interact with a real-time Peter Drucker.

Social media allows us not only to study a topic but to interact with it. The student from Harvard correctly points out one of the major flaws in our education system. We often ignore a resource rich world and force students to learn in a resource desert: the traditional classroom. Tapscott goes on to talk about how the way we do everything has changed and evolved as our understanding of the world has changed and evolved, except the classroom. This is something I also discuss in the second half of Mob Rule Learning. We have a teaching pedagogy that has not changed in hundreds of years.

One of the callers, Mandolin, talked about her experience in college with professors that did or did not understand their students learning styles, but she goes on to talk about her subsequent experience in the work force. The problems with higher education do not stop when our students graduate. Unfortunately, one of the things that students are learning in our colleges and universities is that multitasking is not an acceptable form of hard work, even though the newest generation in our organizations works better as multitaskers.

Multitasking has had some negative connotations lately and arguments abound regarding if increased multitasking is causing the ruination of society or making us better, stronger human beings. For the sake of this argument, I want to define multitasking as a form of multi-learning. What I mean is a learner that pulls in information from many different sources and media at once, reflects on the information, and then creates new content based on that information that is then shared with other learners in an interactive way that often allows those learners to also learn and create. This is the way that true multitasking in learning works. It means using everything at your disposal to create something new in the discipline. This is what students do now and this is what our traditional classrooms are hampering. As Tapscott points out, a student can listen to a lecture on something or they can go interact with that something. They will choose the latter almost every time and so would I.

What kind of student would you rather have in your classroom? A student who comes and listens quietly to your lecture as a passive learner or a student who comes, uses their laptop to look up additional information on the subject, later corrects an error on that subject page in wikipedia, and develops understanding for the topic on their own?

Another caller talked about an interactive textbook that he helped create and Tapscott’s response was this:

…what we just heard was a teacher acting as a curator rather than a content creator. And imagine if we had this global network for higher learning, there was a platform where all university faculty and educators could cooperate together where we could reach out into the public Internet to curate a lot of this content, like some of it obviously won’t be good, but some of it is spectacular, as the caller just alluded to And you know, we can do this. It just requires some leadership.

As teachers, we should be guides and curators. This is also where librarians are essential to the process. Librarians are curators of information already. We pride ourselves on curating information so that is accessible to as many people as possible. In the learning process, librarians should be making themselves indispensable in the curation process. We can help both with the discovery of information and with the curation of the new content being created by students.

Librarians, who have experience in curating (like cataloging), can help colleges, universities, and educators to move into these new roles, roles librarians have been filling in other capacities for some time. If we are going to change the way higher education works, we will all, teachers, librarians, and students, have to work together, in true mob fashion, to make the changes needed to make the education system reflect our new understanding of the world around us.

–Jane, wrote this with a lap full of 5 month old

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