The Best of Creative Computing Volume 2 (published 1977)

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The Art Of Education: Blueprint For A Renaissance (knowledge transmittal techniques)

graphic of page

No knowledge is really transmitted; it must all be created.


Transmittal techniques are those that attempt to pass on ideas, facts, skills,
etc. from person to person. As our experiment suggests, this information can be
both limited and cryptic, and heavily immersed in "noise." But when we add a
human receiver to the system, there now arises the possibility of retrieving,
reconstructing, and even creating content from the original noisy signal,
provided the appropriate experiential and creative faculties of that human
listener have been enabled.

We have been using this model at the Soloworks2 lab to guide our use of
technology as both an art and a craft. In particular, we have been investigating
the potential of computer-based technology for providing invigorating sets of
experiences that will sensitize students as expert "receivers" in a
laboratory-based mathematics curriculum.

We have also used this same technology to support students in creative work, so
that they will not only get maximum benefit from the transmittal elements of the
curriculum, but will themselves eventually contribute to the growing body of
knowledge from which transmittal mode draws.

To extend these ideas from a laboratory level to the difficult arena of public
education, more than "advanced technology" is needed. We must also work at
defining "advanced goals" that stimulate new thinking and new dedication. We
must develop models that clarify the role of technology within the "advanced
art" needed to support such goals. Finally, we must address some very practical
questions, and ask what "advanced crafts" are needed to implement these goals,
what they will cost, and what alternate or redundant branches are needed in our
plan to assure high reliability and success. Let me go into some detail.


Advanced Goals

The question is sometimes asked "how do you decide which things the student is
to invent (or re-invent), and which things are to be accepted on the say-so of
teachers and books-after all, time is limited, and no one can reinvent all
knowledge." One flaw in this rhetorical argument is the assumption that
acquiring knowledge from others is time-efficient, and that therefore the main
job of education is to accelerate and refine the transmittal process.

A more imaginative (and I believe a much more productive) position is that no
knowledge is really transmitted; it must all be created. This view starts with
the assumption that knowledge is a medley of many components and relations, and
that the resultant "whole" is determined by schemata unique to each learner. It
therefore argues that factual data given to a learner through "instruction"
doesn't become knowledge until it has somehow or other been fitted to these
schemata. This means that instruction makes sense only when it recognizes the
existence of an internal representation/transformation system unique to each
person. The example of how instructors of blind students learn to respect the
internalizations of others shows how this theoretical view can translate into
very practical pedagogical methods.3

The revolutionary goal that follows from this stance is to design a school where
the students assume from the beginning that their task is to invent all
knowledge. A good way to clarify what this goal means is to immediately address
two obvious questions:

(1) Does this goal rule out teachers, books, lectures, television, films, or
CAI? Definitely not. What it does is revolutionize the use of these
"transmittal" elements, and give each of them revolutionary goals of their own.
As the main goal suggests, there is a radical difference in the learning of two
students attending the same lecture when one student views his task as ingestion
followed by regurgitation,4 while the other has the goal of appropriating (or
rejecting) ideas for either present or future use in personal invention.3

(2) Does this goal imply abandonment of what is usually called a curriculum
structure? No, but it does imply  very different approach to the design and use
of such a structure. Our successful use of a "top down" approach to curriculum
writing at Soloworks illustrates one way in which the design process can take on
very new dimensions.6

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