Notes from a Laptop

May 1, 2008

Demanding questions – ala Jamie McKenzie

Filed under: General comment — Lindajay @ 6:17 pm

Many educators today, while recognising the technological skills of Generations X and Y, often decry what the Internet is doing to their research and analytical skills. In a recent article on the Questioning.org website, Embracing Complexity, Jamie Mckenzie points to the way in which we as a society also wish to find simple answers to complex problems. Is this simplification a consequence or symptom of our information rich world? And what should educators do about it?

A few answers

Speaking at a workshop in Sydney this week (‘Demanding Questions and Lesson Design’), Jamie discussed the need to orchestrate lessons in which students are guided in the process of piecing their answers together – moving beyond the ‘cut and paste’ mentality often found in many research activities. He challenged those present to give students something that will “keep them thinking for the next 37 years”!

Another key theme of the workshop was to give students authentic activities. This is so that they value what they are doing – as opposed to just collecting facts. Making activities real, purposeful and things to make them wonder should spur them on to be involved, to have their minds switched on and to make  research their own.

Like many others, Jamie believes that ‘many of our students are well-educated but incapable of thought’. We need to assist them to develop a greater capacity for lateral thinking – a skill in great demand in today’s world which calls more and more for creative thinkers. (As Dan Pink promotes in ‘A Whole New Mind’ – “The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind… a new world in which “right brain” qualities-inventiveness, empathy, meaning-predominate.”)

Jamie also touched on the hurriedness of schools – where little time is given to wonder, to ponder or to wander, all of which are valuable experiences in the learning process. The ability to wonder is one Jamie has called for us to embrace in education for some time – see Why Wonder?

Another thing highlighted in the workshop was the distortion of reality which occurs so easily today. Consider the ease with which things can be Photoshopped (see Dove Evolution video) or edited before or after adding to the web (many examples of Wikipedia have been noted over time). And a new phrase has been coined of late – wikilobbying – referrring to act of paying others money to edit Wikipedia entries in order to cast the employer’s company, product or point of view in a better light – so how accurate can Wikipedia remain?

With all these issues raised, it is clear that we need to engage students in their own learning. We also need to equip them with the skills to be critical in their thinking, strategic in their investigations and energised as they examine the meaning of reality. Thanks for the inspiration, Jamie!

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