Knowledge Organisation

01.12.1996

Kim H. Veltman

Content Ordering or Ordered Content? Active versus Passive Knowledge

Toronto 1996. Unpublished

1. Introduction
2. Outside, Systematic Order
3. Personal Ordering
4. Collaborative Efforts
5. New Approaches to Teaching and Learning
6. Limitations
7. Conclusions

1. Introduction

There are some curious parallels between our approaches to computers and approaches to teaching and learning. In the world of computers there are two contending paradigms for how they should be organized. A first approach, which derives from the original arrangement of a centralized mainframe connected with a series of dumb terminals, extends that idea on a global scale such that there are centralized servers from which individual clients gather the software and contents which they need. A second approach is decentralized, sees each machine as a "personal" computer, an island unto itself, with its own supposedly unique configuration of "standard" software which allows each individual to enter their own unique contents. Between these two extremes is a third model whereby a series of networked machines work together in a local area network, sharing resources for the common good of the group.

In teaching and learning there are also two contending views. One, centralized, assumes that the teacher and the textbook will impose order unto the mind of the individual student. According to this view, the teacher is the server, the student is the client. The teacher is the intelligent hub, the student is the dumb terminal. The teacher is the active master, the student is the passive slave. A second approach is decentralized. It assumes that each individual is a personal learner, the emphasis is on learning not teaching. The teacher is a facilitator. The intelligence is in the individual student and the central aim is in organizing, structuring, constructing one's personal world view which, the rhetoric goes, is more important than any external world view. Between these two extremes there is again a third model whereby it is assumed that the efforts of an individual are more relevant and useful if they are shared with others. In this model collaboration becomes a central concept and networking as a metaphor becomes a buzzword.

Mechanistic metaphors from the world of computing now pervade the worlds of teaching and learning. Teachers interface with students. Students process information. Teachers download ideas and students upload them. Computer experts accept all this as if it were completely natural. We need to remind ourselves, however, that computers were only introduced a century ago: teaching and learning have been around from the beginnings of time. It is important, therefore, to look more closely at the problems underlying these three approaches and then explore how the latest technologies can help deal with these problems.


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