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Seek, filter and network

2 June 2017 No Comment

Ketan Deshmukh and Kathan Shukla

“I’m profoundly concerned about my child’s future. Facebook and YouTube eat up his entire academic time at home. I don’t see how we can impose usage restrictions since he is deeply attached to his virtual self. Please help. He was a brilliant student and has a lot of potential. Please do something” – begs Mrs. Shah, a concerned mother of a class 10 student.

tree How should an educator respond to this mother? Assuming that the educator wants to engage with this problem, there are primarily two approaches. The first one can be to devise a plan to reduce social media usage (especially, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube) and supplementing that with other traditional learning activities so that academic time is not lost. This is likely to be a more popular approach and stems from the traditional belief that the usage of social media is a non-academic activity. Thus, to increase the time spent on academic activity, one needs to curtail the time spent on social media. In this article, we would like to challenge this belief. Are social media usage and academic learning mutually exclusive tasks? Or is it possible to use social media for academic learning? In answering these questions, we will explore a different approach to respond to Mrs. Shah’s concern. This second approach includes a proactive usage of social media by the school, teacher and students for learning. We argue that it is much more beneficial to embrace social media usage for student learning than to fight against it for this tech-savvy generation.

First, we must be clear about the direction in which the world is moving technologically and economically. You can pick up any journal or popular magazine covering topics like “Autonomous machines” and “Machine learning algorithms”, and can very well extrapolate the end of mundane, repetitive and unskilled labour intensive jobs. Autonomous driving without human intervention was accomplished in 2005 in the DARPA Grand challenge. IBM Watson proved it was possible for computers to understand human speech and provide appropriate responses when it won Jeopardy in 2011. Computers had already won against humans in chess (Deep Blue: 1997), we can now add Go, a game so complex that the number of possible moves in a single game exceeds the number of atoms in the universe (Google Deep Mind: 2016) and even Poker, a game requiring players to bluff and deal with imperfect information, (Libratus: 2017) to the list of games in which the machines outperformed the human mind. We can assume a surge in automation will creep into jobs that involve repetitive tasks. This means that in order to stay employed one will need to be re-skilled continuously and/or develop creative skills which are immune from automation. Thus, the most important skill that will be needed is, “knowing how to learn”, in other words, meta-cognitive skills. Once a person is self-sufficient in learning, all that s/he needs is access to content. This access is now at the fingertips for anyone with a browsing device and internet connection. But not all content on the Internet is desirable. Teachers can play a major role in enabling students to seek, filter, and establish the sources of knowledge and foster formation of their student’s personal learning network.

Forming knowledge networks is at the heart of Connectivisim: a learning theory for the digital age, proposed by Siemens (2004) and Downes (2006). Using the principles of Connectivism, Siemens (2004) makes a valid argument for this approach being the most suitable for training and educating people in a connected world. He states, “As knowledge continues to grow and evolve, access to what is needed is more important than what the learner currently possesses.”The approach maintains that “how you know” is more import than “what is known” (Downes, 2006; Siemens, 2004). In Connectivism, building a network of knowledge sources is more important than assessment of knowledge. The criteria to determine a knowledge network are apt for future professionals who need to be continuously learning. These criteria are diversity of knowledge sources, autonomy of participants, level of interactivity among network members, and finally openness of the network. The schools of the future will need to shape students to be able to build their own networks of knowledge sources.

Ketan Deshmukh is currently pursuing a Fellow Programme in Management in Innovation and Management in Education from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A). He can be reached at ketand@iima.ac.in

Kathan Shukla is an Assistant Professor at the Ravi Matthai Centre for Educational Innovation at the IIM-A. He can be reached at kathan.shukla@gmail.com.

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