A few months ago I wrote of the growing belief among young people that Google removes the need to know anything. However, it seems that the pursuit of knowledge seems to be on the rise in two very different quarters.
Micheal Gove, the UK Education Secretary, in his recently announced review of the National Curriculum, has reiterated his long-standing commitment to “essential knowledge,” that is names, facts and figures that create a “connected narrative” in traditional subjects such as History.
In the technology world, two high profile recent initiatives make access to contextualised knowledge even easier. Qwiki is still in alpha but already it is a remarkable new way of presenting content. It describes itself as “working to deliver information in a format that’s quintessentially human – via storytelling instead of search” – it turns information into an experience. Of course it is something that good teachers have always done but what makes Qwiki so interesting and exciting is that it integrates and packages disparate web content on fly. Look up “Sheffield” as I did for example and it returns a narrated slideshow that outlines the history and culture of the city. Every scene offers more depth and related material. It is pretty impressive stuff.
Quora is a social network for questions rather than an aggregator. It creates an organic conversation between community members in response to posted queries. It is a great way to gather opinion (although credibility and trustworthiness are entirely dependent on community votes). It is fascinating to see the expertise the dialogue draws in and the access it offers to contemporary thinkers and personalities (I saw interesting response by Dustin Moskovitz to the film Social Network). Both of these sites make information more accessible.
simply knowing stuff doesn’t make us better thinkers
However, simply knowing stuff doesn’t make us better thinkers, more creative or able to solve new problems. But I am intrigued by the possibilities offered by the unparalleled access to information we now enjoy. I sympathise with idea that we should be armed with core knowledge because I believe it makes it easier to progress to and develop the higher order thinking skills of analysis, synthesis and evaluation. Without an initimate grasp of the Fundamentals, it is harder to make unlooked for connections. At the same time, it would be a real mistake if we confused knowledge of facts and figures with creativity or initative.
I hope we don’t see this renewed interest in information as the Be All and End All – it could be the start of something much much more interesting.