Let Students Cheat

Parameters of knowledge are shifting from know-how and know-what to know-where

A familiar sight: the biology teacher is slowly pacing around the room, looking over the shoulders of each one of her students. What is she looking for exactly? Any signs of scribbled notes, textbook copies, or any other piece of contraband that would undermine her mandated rote memorization.

It’s understandable why this practice began, back in the time when knowledge was power. The amount of knowledge a person held in his brain was correlated to his value in society–teachers had an obligation to pass down their valuable store of information to the next generation. Does that still ring true today?

George Siemens disagrees. In his pioneering work Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age, Siemens alluded to the fact that “knowing” has modified its hierarchy of parameters. The previous leaders, know-what and kn0w-how, have been replaced with know-where. When big data is king, the individual who can quickly locate and parse information reigns supreme.

After all, the human brain can only hold a lousy 2.5 petabytes. By comparison, the four big online storage companies (Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft) store a whopping 1,200 petabytes between them. And every year, the amount of information on the Internet grows exponentially.

When so much information is out there, and we have high speed internet with which to rapidly access it, are we reinventing the wheel by trying to memorize a large chunk? What sort of decisions do we have to make as educators [and learners] to prioritize which type of knowledge is worth memorizing and which to delegate to Siri?