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Monday, November 24, 2014

Tilting the Balance of Information

Traditionally, teachers harbored the authority within the classroom based on the perceived level of their role in the organizational hierarchy with respect to learners, and their expertise of the knowledge that formed the curriculum of the class. Technology has impacted that dynamic, particularly at the secondary level, through the democratization of information in terms of access, storage and application opportunities emerging from the power of the on-going digital revolution. That is, high school learners (and for that matter, nearly all learners) can readily retrieve information at their fingertips via their cell phones, thus reducing the teacher's "power" advantage. I mention high school learners because I believe they are more likely to grasp the change in the classroom dynamic regarding information.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not implying that the learner now knows as much as the teacher. Please note, I have refrained from equating information with knowledge. Effective teachers breathe life into information and convert it into knowledge. I'm merely pointing out that learners can instantly access information (assuming they have sharpened their search techniques) that had been within the firm domain of the instructor. This prompts teachers to maintain a conscientious command of facts since learners can quickly fact-check for accuracy. It should also serve as a reason for teachers to move well beyond rote facts and low level comprehension exercises and promote higher order thinking skills.

Here's a relevant excerpt from best selling author Daniel H. Pink's book, To Sell is Human.

"When buyers can know more than sellers, sellers are no longer protectors and purveyors of information. They’re the curators and clarifiers of it – helping to make sense of the blizzard of facts, data, and options. Today’s educators can no longer depend on the quasi-reverence that information asymmetry often afforded them. When the balance tilts in the opposite direction, what they do and how they do it must change."

Pink used examples in his book that support this change between provider and consumer. think of buying a car, for instance. The buyer can easily obtain price data on a specific model by comparing costs across many dealerships. The buyer can also discover reports on the car from many different websites and social media platforms sharing reviews by owners, consumer report research,... Thus, the buyer enters the negotiation with the salesperson with greater knowledge than they might have in a similar situation twenty years ago. That's what Pink refers to as information asymmetry = when one party in the provider/consumer equation has a disproportionate power through information that places the other party at a disadvantage.

Now, imagine this same relationship in the classroom. There is less imbalance between teacher and learner (and teacher and parent!). The question for educators becomes - what are we doing in response to this decreased information asymmetry? How have we changed our instructional delivery model? Have we successfully exploited the power of technology to increase the extent and complexity of outcomes? 

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