Monday, 3 November 2014

education is not simply information storage

What a good article. Marshall Gregory criticizes the idea of knowledge being information and education being information storage. Iit makes me wonder about my discipline of biochemistry. It seems much of its educational content is information to be memorized. I have always rationalized that by considering it to be a language that must be mastered before it can be spoken or understood. I think that is still true but it does make it difficult when trying to make assessments authentic. Especially when trying to follow Eric Mazur's assertion that if an assessment is authentic, it shouldn't make a difference if that assessment is open-book or even open-internet. After all, biochemists do not limit themselves to using only what they have in their head. If they don't know something or have forgotten something, they google it or use their favorite database to research for what they need. So what are we doing in our classrooms? This is why I have been trying to use more active learning in my classrooms and asking students to learn what they need outside of class to perform as biochemists inside the class. But there does seem to be a balance. Students often don't know what they need to know - they don't know what they don't know. It is much easier to solve a problem if the information is at your fingertips (i.e. in your brain) than if you are always needing to look it up. So, there is a balance. Some information is needed to be known by us and our students to successfully perform in whichever discipline we have made our home as asserted in Michelle Miller's recent post in the Teaching Professor: we do need to help our students remember those facts necessary for them to develop expertise in their chosen discipline. I guess the point that Marshall Gregory is making in this article, and I think is echoed by Eric Mazur is that information gathering and storage should not be the goal of education. Rather the goal of education is preparing students to be thoughtful, insightful and creative with how they use what they know. But our students will only turn out that way if we model it and give them opportunities to practice being so inside of our classrooms.

Information is necessary but insufficient for the educated mind.


Gregory, M. (1987). If Education is a feast, why do we restrict the menu? A critique of pedagogical metaphors. College Teaching 35(3): 101-106.

Miller, M (2014). Helping students memorize: Tips from cognitive science. The Teaching Professor 28(9): 3.