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Psychologists tell us that children today have the ability to process information at incredible speeds. Obviously being constantly bombarded with information has created the need for such processing ability. In many cases, the newfound ability has in itself created a craving to be bombarded. The vicious cycle is well known.
The fact that our children are exposed to more stimuli in one day than their grandfathers were in a decade has impacted their lives in both positive and negative ways. Volumes have been written detailing both the gains and losses to our society brought about by such exposure. In addition, much has been written detailing the impact of the information highway on education, specifically regarding our children’s ability to learn and, perhaps most importantly, what exactly it is that we should be teaching them. As one student succinctly summed up this last point, “The need to know the capital of Florida died when my phone learned the answer.”
One could argue that the most significant new frontier focuses not on the aim or content of the net-age curriculum but rather on the methodologies to be employed. Again, much has been written, including a post or two on this blog, regarding the virtual classroom, concerning both the promise it holds for individually tailored education as well as the dangers it presents to socialization and personal development. However, my initial forays into trying my hand at teaching through the net have presented the following challenge:
I have always thought that the most important word I could teach a child was not please or thank you (although I do not minimize their importance). Rather, I believed that I had failed as an educator unless I had communicated to my students the need to ask why. Achievement began as they learned what, but true knowledge could only be attained after they had asked, and we had discussed, why. I would even go so far as to say that we have done a great disservice to both our students and to society as a whole if we teach children to understand but do not challenge them to think.
Those who will design the virtual curriculum of the future must pay heed to the above. The Internet is an amazing tool as regards sharing information, but that is not teaching. Instilling a sense of wonder at the world around us is teaching. Replacing the need to be bombarded with data with a passion to navigate the information highway with a critical eye and with deep thought is the challenge that must be addressed. Computers can process information; people must be taught to think.