Sunday, June 19, 2016

Are We Ready for Cyborg Ed?

Knee Replacement Vimeo
 I have been recovering from ACL surgery in the last two weeks. As I move (with difficulty) about, many passers-by notice my condition and share their own experiences. As a result, I am much more aware of the number of people who have had knee replacement surgery. The anecdotal information is informative but I was looking for a sense of the data on a US wide perspectives. Over a million operations of knee and hip replacements are conducted annually according to the CDC. If I add pacemakers, stents, and even selective plastic surgery the trend is clear. We are becoming what science fiction used to call cyborgs, a combination of man and machine. It improves our quality of life and increases our life expectancy.

Prosthesis Legs
I believe that mobile technology in the form of phones and tablets is very similar. We always have it with us and we communicate with it constantly. In fact, we have come to rely on digital tools as a way to store information (phone numbers, email addresses, calendar etc) and provide access to information that in the past needed to be looked up laboriously or just memorized. The fact is that we are becoming cyborgs not just in limbs but in our mind as well. I know some lament this development, hey I am not completely sure I like it at times. But, like it or not, it is happening. The question is, what does it mean and are we ready for it?

In the book we are currently writing, called Mind, Models, and Mentors, my colleagues (Brooks and Sayood) and I had a long discussion about the way the internet changes education. If we are truly becoming cyborgs then education has to adjust. The key is moving away from knowledge accumulation and memorization to problem-solving and searching.

"While memory remains important, it is clear that technologies (language, writing system, printing press, Internet) change the demands on human memory. What was essential a thousand years ago in order to discuss a text effectively (memory of the whole text) is potentially less critical now when we can easily refer back to texts in paper or digitally. This does not mean that students are learning (memorizing) less; instead it means that they need to memorize a different subset of knowledge linked to more complex operations and procedures." (excerpt from Brooks, Sayood, and Trainin, 2016)

I do not believe that there should be no content knowledge. The most needed tasks and information should be available in long-term memory and immediately accessible. The rest... should be accessed through search. This change is guided by three interlocking facts:
1. We have devices that allow us to be constantly connected. They are fast and comprehensive.
2. Modern knowledge is too extensive for anyone to know it all in detail.
3. Knowledge is developing and updating at increasing speeds. It makes what your Dr. learned in med school 10 years ago is now potentially obsolete or even dangerous.

As a result, the skills that our students need are the skills of searching and evaluating the quality of information available, problem-solving and self-regulation of our memory to make sure that we remember is accurate and still relevant.

The term cyborg has always been a negative one. Reality around us shows that we are becoming cyborgs, mechanically, and cognitively. This is our evolution and we must make sure that we adjust our schools to fit reality.

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