I really like Marco Torres. I first saw Marco at any event that Apple put on an 2005 for El Paso educators.
Marco made a name for himself by teaching, while incorporating technology, to students that most other teachers would give up on, in a school that could best be described as a 5000 student, low income, first-generation American school with 400 teachers, that had chewed through seven lead administrators in span of four years.
At the conference I attended, Marco was the closing keynote speaker and he gave a great talk that I think everyone who stuck around for the last day was glad to hear. I will generalize here, not quote verbatim, but essentially he asked the gathered educators what an expert was and why they thought they were experts.
The teachers responded that the reasons that made them experts varied, such as degrees they had earned, certifications, knowledge of the topic, et cetera.
He then looked at the group and asked “So, what knowledge do you possess that a 16-year-old kid couldn’t look up on Google and in 30 minutes know just as much as you do about the topic?”
What a great question!
What knowledge do you possess that a 16-year-old kid couldn’t look up on Google and become an instant expert? He went on to show how his students were able to get the level or exceed the”experts” in a variety of fields including making superior political posters for local candidates, and a 17-year-old who showed Apple how to make a commercial for its new iPhone.
The most impressive was the student of his who turned a dull research assignment about “voting” into a powerful four-minute video on how one vote has changed the course of history. Because of it, she became the Executive Director of MTV’s “Rock the Vote.”
I think the idea of an expert being a person that holds vast sums of knowledge is no longer a viable definition. Information is no longer the purview of the chosen few. The Internet has made information of the uncommon common, or as Thomas Friedman said “flattened the world.”
So just having information does not make you an expert anymore because anyone can access that information in the collective knowledge of the rest of the world that is the Internet. There is very little that you can tell students about general topics that they cannot find on the Internet, and from a variety of sources, not just your point of view.
Who is an expert now? Maybe on my list would be:
Doctors, plumbers, musicians, artists.
What do the above professions having common? They all can apply knowledge they can take separate pieces of information and turn them into something meaningful or new eye doctor knows the parts of the body, the symptoms of a disease, pharmacology to of a drug, all discrepant pieces of information by the way, and take those and synthesize them into a diagnosis with treatment.
An artist can take the knowledge of color, the white paint looks on different media, the look of how particular particular brush leaves a mark on a canvas and that artist can synthesize those discrepant events into a work of art. They take information and transform it into something new.
The problem solved, much like Torres’s students who took an empty palette and created new works he was teaching them how to become experts. The new era learning skills. The things that businesses are now pleading that our educational system teach our children to do, yet we sometimes seem stuck in the education systems of the past.
What are we doing to make the higher order thinking skills a reality in our classrooms and when are we going to kill the lecture as the sole source of information?
The lecture is dead, or at least it should be put on life support. I suppose that lectures still have their place like in churches, but as for classrooms, well, they should at least be heading towards the door.
If you are a teacher at any level, kindergarten through graduate school and your primary method of information delivery is the lecture, then you are out of touch with the realities of your students today.
You need to change your delivery method.
This is not news to anyone familiar with business and education, but it does suggest that there’s a big shift coming on what is important in education. Do students really need to know how many people died at the Battle of Gettysburg or that the battle took place and what was the outcome and how did it affect the Civil War?
Now can I take the information about the Battle of Gettysburg and apply it to today’s headlines, the wars around the world? Or take the lessons learned and apply them to today’s headlines? Can I take the information from the Civil War and create something new from that knowledge?
Ken Burns did a pretty good job of taking discrepant bits of knowledge about the Civil War and created a masterpiece of television history. Nothing that Burns told was new information to historians, but the technique and the delivery was completely new. Now it is a standard.
No, the term expert has got to be redefined in education and elsewhere.
Expert has now got to include the ability to apply the knowledge, beyond just knowing something. Expert has to equal problem solver. Someone needs to be able to take knowledge, apply knowledge, and create with knowledge. Just knowing something is no longer how we should be teaching our children, period.
Teachers of gifted students probably remember the urging from the 1980s to “Move from sage on the stage to guide on the side.” Timely advice almost 30 years ago, timely advice today.
Prakash Nair, a futurist and one of the world’s leading designer of educational spaces, also bridged the new idea of expert when he told his daughter “I don’t care what major you taking college, just make sure that no matter what you do, you’re the only person in the world that can do it.
I wonder how we are training our kids to do that?
Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.
Feel free to leave a comment. Read his previous columns here.