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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Know Where You Can Find Anything

As part of my presentations on Work Literacy and eLearning 2.0 - I discuss how learning and knowledge work are changed by things such as computers, mobile computing, the web, social media, social networks, access to people/experts through the web, and the flood of new tools. To me, this change is still being underestimated - it's so radical that it's pretty hard to comprehend it.

A post by Gina Minks - - where she discusses a quote from an inscription at FSU:
The half of knowledge, is knowing where to find knowledge



Led me through to the King William's College annual General Knowledge Paper (GKP). I guess it's been published in the Guardian since 1951 - 2006 test - but it was new to me. Students sit for the test twice: once on the day before the winter holiday, and again when they return after the holiday (after having researched answers). It is highly difficult. Here are the first two questions from 2006:

1) In the year 1906:

1 which bedstefar was mourned multinationally?

2 which fruity concoction rivalled the first all-big-gun ship?

The test is now voluntary. There's a beautiful quote at the start of the test (and it's translation).

"Scire ubi aliquid invenire possis, ea demum maxima pars eruditionis est"

"To know where you can find anything is, after all, the greatest part of erudition."

And if you run a Google define search on erudition for those of us wanting to make sure we understand the term, you get roughly:
profound scholarly knowledge
So, as opposed to half of education being to know where to find things, the King William's quote puts it at "the greatest part."

But let's go back to the start of my post, impact of the web, social media, etc. on learning and knowledge work. Well let's think about it - if you were an adept student today being asked to do research for the general knowledge paper, well it's a bit unfair right. The questions today are made harder and more obscure because the quiz master checks to make sure that the answers cannot easily be located via Google. For example, the word "bedstefar" doesn't even seem to have a definition - possibly it's an old spelling for the word used in 1906.

But, it's going to be tough for the quiz master to keep up with what's going on out there. Students can essentially farm the questions out - seeking out interested experts in each domain. Or even easier - they can hand it off to the crowd via metafilter. And they get wonderful help including things like a person posting the day it went live:
Bedstefar is Christian IX, king of Denmark, dead in 1906
posted by parmanparman at 5:38 AM on December 21, 2006
Some quick fact checking shows that indeed that's when he died. And then further, I found someone who posted a comment that:
‘Bedstefar’ means grandfather in Danish.
Which makes this highly likely since the King has such international influence through his children.

After looking at this, I first was thinking - the poor quiz master. First, having to fight Google. And now having to contend with social / network solutions. In fact, because the test is well known, I'm sure it's a bit depressing to see things like metafilter come up with answers that makes it somewhat irrelevant for students today. However, if their wasn't broader public interest in the quiz, then I believe there's real value in the test.

So, if the students were forced to take the quiz in today's world and the public was not generally interested in helping them find answers, what skills do the students need?
  • Search skills - Likely this is wonderful fodder for how-to information on using varied search sources to find answers.
  • Network skills - Also very good fodder for engaging others to help find answers.
There's real value here, but, unfortunately for the quiz master, they have a following - so I'm not sure the quiz serves the students as an audience anymore.

12 comments:

V Yonkers said...

Actually, there is more to it than that. You might get the post about Bedmister being grandfather in Danish, receive the information that he was the King of Denmark, who died in 1906, but come to the conclusion that he was known as being a kindly grandfather! Or worse, that you had the wrong information or overlook the postings altogether as irrelevant.

As I mentioned in my blog yesterday, a professor emeritus pointed out that in schools the problem has always been on getting students to focus, discarding information that is irrelevant, and analyzing groups of data to come out with a logical explanation.

I am sure many have experienced a situation where a student looks at data and draws conclusions that make no sense (such as the student who told me that Iraq was a democracy under Saddam Huissan because they had regular elections according to the CIA Handbook. She ignored the fact that he won the vote by gaining 100% of the votes and there was no one running against him--both facts also being in the CIA handbook).

gminks said...

Interesting. So what if the quiz was more about the search (and the use of networks in the search) than about the quiz itself?

Tony Karrer said...

Virginia - isn't there always more information and more clarity available. In fact, truth is almost always somewhat gray.

Gina - you lost me a bit. The quiz used to be about the search. It still could be for people who refuse to "cheat" however you define cheating. So, you can make it about the search. But, what's allowed? Is it okay to talk to others? How about through a large Q&A venue?

Allyn J Radford said...

The underlying problem for ourselves in our knowledge gathering and for the various learners sourcing information will continue to be the validity and veracity of what is found. That is not a new problem but with the simplicity of self publishing it is an increasingly important skill for everyone. A vital literacy in the information age. The answer is *not* to make futile attempts to push self publishing 'out of scope' of learners. They should be doing it themselves as part of learning. We all benefit if the global population improves its ability to sort the wheat from the chaff in the information space.

Back in the early days of the Net (as opposed to the Web which was still in the hospital maternity ward) a guy called Rick Gates at the UC Santa Barbara library used to run The Great Internet Treasure Hunt. You can still see a sample at http://lists.webjunction.org/wjlists/publib/1993-May/063053.html I remember that when Gopher came along it pretty much killed off the hunt because it became too easy.

So, I guess we could ask, "What's new?"

Tony Karrer said...

What's new?

Well, just as Gopher/the web killed the search you describe ...

Access to people / expertise radically changes the equation for the test. You could get away with it when someone just had ability to search Google. It's a bit like the change you describe, but it's a new change.

But, it's not as clear that everyone is adapting to this change. Heck, it's not clear that we've all become proficient with the prior set of changes.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Tony!

A good conversation going here.

I'm not a great believer in the computer or the mobile, or even the volumed abstracts to encylopedic knowledge being the essentials to finding what's wanted. I'm equally unsure that learning (all) the skills to use these seemingly sealed fonts of knowledge helps either.

For the learner - and I think that's who we're referring to - there has to be an array of things in order to 'find anything'.


1 an educational grounding (erudition call it what the heck you like),

2 knowledge and experience of how things are,

3 talent - it could be initiative, intelligence (woops, some people don't like that term),

4 curiosity - a desire to find it.

Many educators have used the quote, " education is knowing what to do when you don't know what to do."

This might look like a list to solve the question. It isn't. But what it means to me is that knowing where to find anything is anything but easy to explain how to. Not everyone possesses it.

And I don't believe everyone can, for some of it is that extra (number 5) that is possessed by the innovators, creators and inventors, entrepreneurs - they're all in that group.

Ka kite
from Middle-earth

Kate K said...

This has really got me thinking - how can educators adapt to this? In many cases, their students know more than they do about web 2.0 and how to use it to "find anything". But then, what about the students that are still in the dark? How can we reach them and bring them up-to-speed?

First, we need policy makers and teachers to get on board with realizing that content knowledge is not the ultimate goal. I'm going to borrow from my friend Michael Staton in saying that what we should be focusing on is procedural knowledge.

http://www.edumorphology.com/?p=15

He makes the point that procedural knowledge has, thus far, been a side effect of schooling. We can't just sit back and give thanks for this coincidence, we need to design curriculum so that this is *the* goal.

V Yonkers said...

Yesterday my son told me that wikipedia is now banned in his school because "the librarian said it wasn't reliable". This actually is very relevant to this discussion as how should these kids learn what IS relevant and how to analyze web resources if the answer to the problem is to ban a resource? Regardless of the debate over wikipedia (there has been much research that has data on its reliability with both supports and refutes its reliability) what I see here is that students should only be spoon fed resources rather than learn how to access and evaluate resources. If we close this door at the lower levels of education, how are we to open them in the workplace?

Tony Karrer said...

Ken and Kate - that's some very interesting thoughts. I'm not sure I've wrapped my head around the implications.

Virginia - the Wikipedia and more generally the quality issue is fascinating. I personally think banning Wikipedia is crazy. But, teaching people to use it as a launch point to get into related information makes a lot of sense to me.

gminks said...

I was thinking: make the search the important thing. Whoever has the cleverest, most unique way to find the answer wins.

Sort of like cash cab, except you can use any information source you can dream up, from a "mobile shout out" to asking some random guy on the street.

Because surely allowing access to any information source means lots of people will come back with wrong answers, since they didn't critically evaluate the response the got to their search. Learning where and how to search becomes the point of the quiz.

Tony Karrer said...

Gina - that's a wonderful idea!

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Gina and Tony!

Okay. Wonderful it is.

I'd be wary of slipping into the comfort zone of using a look-easy solution.

When the runners are all rallied, in a row on the starter-line and the gun goes off . . .
it's looking good!

That's the one position, in place and in time, where every participant is on a par.

The truth is we're talking about what to do to assist those who are destined to come in last.

It's what happens before the race that's most important to the performance of individual participants. Similarly when we have a quiz.

I hate to seem negative - I don't think I'm being that - but the competitiveness approach does not always work with the lesser-able, especially when they are up against the able in the same competition.

You may have to devise some handicap system, as in golf, to somehow compensate for that.

Happy putting :-)

Ka kite