Content! Content! Content!… It is all about the Content stupid!

This is the mantra that is played out in thousands of curriculum planning and departmental developmental meetings in HE all across the world. For historical reasons, content is all there is.

So where is this taking us? I had a trawl through the knowledge doubling estimates that are out there, using the year 1CE as a starting place, and the doubling goes something like this:

Doubling Start Date Finish Date
1 1Ce 1500
2 1500 1750
3 1750 1900
4 1900 1950
5 1950 1960
6 1960 1965

After 1965, the estimates kind of mush together ranging from estimates of every five years (indicating another nine doublings), to an increase that has us doubling every 11 months in 2010. If the increase to doubling every 11 months is linear (which it is not), we get a slope of -1.08 that gives us a further 19 doublings since 1965 as the table below shows (in approximations):

Doubling Start Date Finish Date
7 1965 1968
8 1968 1972
9 1972 1976
10 1976 1979
11 1979 1983
12 1983 1986
13 1986 1989
14 1989 1992
15 1992 1994
16 1994 1996
17 1996 1998
18 1998 2000
19 2000 2002
20 2002 2003
21 2003 2005
22 2005 2007
23 2007 2008
24 2008 2010
25 2010 2011

That’s a lot of knowledge. The content for a five minute lecture segment from 1965 expanded to become a 90 minute lecture by 1979, and could fill an entire 15 week course by 1990. To fully explore the 1965 five minutes of content today would fill a lecture lasting five years – non stop.

Not all areas of knowledge have expanded at this rate, but even so, some areas might have.

Given that this information is now (more or less) freely available, why do we insist on trying to cover it in our teaching? How can we hope to find published textbooks that can give us an up to date picture of a field of study?

And yet, content is the heart of everything we do. I was going over some reflective practise for a HE teaching qualification recently, and shook my head as the lecturer lamented the fact that he was having difficulty finding a textbook that he could teach from because the textbooks are all out of date. He also wondered about how he could teach when he knew that in his particular field, the content he was teaching would be out of date before the students graduate. Another colleague was voicing her frustration about questions being asked in a lecture because it meant that she couldn’t get through her planned content. In the same conversation someone else lamented that she was expected to write a single piece of assessment that would cover the content of her entire module – an impossible task given how much content she was teaching.

If we are to keep up with the explosion of information, we need to both double the text on our powerpoint slides (which regularly happens), and speak twice as fast. This will take care of this years information growth. Questions are out, and curriculum planning means we need to offer double the modules in the next academic year, which will take care of next years information growth. After that, we will have to see. I guess I better organise some meetings so we can get this going and not fall behind our sister institutions.


6 thoughts on “Content! Content! Content!… It is all about the Content stupid!

  1. How were these doubling’s calculated? Was it in terms of research papers published or actual information?
    The thing that strikes me is the weighting on all this new information. There has been large milestones such as the working memory model, and then we can simply break that down into the set of component parts that we are taught in our Cognition and Perception module, but then there are (probably) thousands of almost insignificant research papers arguing both for and against these apparently well grounded paradigms. We may have doubling’s of information, but surely with every doubling, does the information not become more useless and specific? And by implication not worth our time in class..?


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