Information Scarcity & Information Abundance

In a number of blog entries I have written, I hint at the massive paradigm shift we are experiencing in education. From a world (and an educational philosophy) built on information scarcity, we have suddenly found ourselves in a world of information abundance.

This is the basis for my arguments about Learning Spaces, Lecture Theatres, What do these Walls Say, Teaching Resources, and Teaching with Blogs. However, I don’t think I have articulated very well exactly what I mean. In a broader context, I don’t know that we (as a community) have done very well in embracing this fundamental shift in the ground beneath our feet. The foundations of our institutions are built on the fundamental assumption that information is scarce. There is no real discussion about what this might mean in terms of our educational model, and there is certainly no clear leadership from the top in showing us the way to adjust to the new world.

Close your eyes and carry on!

In John Naughton’s ALT-C 2011 keynote, on of his examples of the internet overwhelming a business model is the newspaper business. In the case of the news business, it wasn’t the fundamental business of journalism that has been swept away by the internet, but the funding of the journalism business through the selling of classified ads that has disappeared. Most of us thought the business model was all about journalism, however, the managers knew that the money came in through classified ads, and journalism was the public face of the advertising business.

In higher education, the business model is all about carrying out research, being supported by teaching and learning and the funding that this attracts. The idea worked out brilliantly well when information was scarce and anyone who seriously wanted to learn needed to pay homage to the vase knowledge repositories that were universities. Students and governments would pay enormous amounts to institutions to access and study the knowledge that was available, and only available, through them.

We no longer live in a world where information is scarce. Information, and all of it (in spite of institutional resistance) is (or soon will be) freely available. Our entire model is based on information being scarce. At the ALT-Conference, John Naughton was asked how the journalism world missed the internet tidal wave that swamped them, and he replied that when you are inside a sinking ship, you really don’t know what is happening around you. I guess that after the Costa Concordia wreck, you could say that we in the Higher Education ship are in the lull before we can really see the water (at which point it will be too late) when the Captain is assuring us that we are experiencing an electrical fault, and that we have nothing to worry about.

Teacher Cognition

Teacher cognition is one of the most powerful concepts in the area of supporting teaching and learning. The part I’m talking about is the part where teachers enter the field knowing what good teaching is. This means that they have no interest in changing what they are doing, because they have patterned their teaching on the model they have for what makes good teaching. Research shows us that the idea of what makes a good teacher is formed as early as secondary school, and is resistant to change, even through teacher training.

What this means is that in HE, lecturers enter the profession already knowing how they want to teach – based on their model of an ideal teacher. I remember hearing a talk about curriculum design wherein the speaker reported that in HE, basic curriculum design (the teaching and assessment strategy) is usually modelled on the teaching and assessment strategy that the lecturer experienced as a student (at least the one they most favoured).

In the mind of the lecturer designing a new course, there is clear and incontrovertible evidence that the method is extremely successful. It is themselves. They are a product of that teaching strategy, and so it is obvious that it worked, and worked well. With a few tweeks, it then becomes the bedrock method adopted for a whole new generation of students.

Given that teaching in HE institutions is a given, with little formal training, and little formal support (just get on with it) – and the emphasis is on producing publishable research (teaching is just a sideline), there is often little or no pressure to improve on the basic lecture.

As a teacher, thanks to teacher cognition, I basically know what good teaching is, and I’m not really interested in doing much more. I know there must be better ways of doing it, but, I’m getting by, and no one else is making a big fuss, so I just keep going the ay I’ve always gone.

Makes the job of improving teaching a difficult one. No real interest in the first place, no rewards for adopting different methods, and too much pressure in other areas means that little changes from year (decade) to year (decade).