I’m sitting in one of the classrooms at the music school I attend, listening to my classmates discuss the meaning of the song lyrics we have been assigned to perform. The tune has some rather large, old-fashioned words in it, and one of them completely floors me. The teacher wants to know if anyone knows the meaning. Someone volunteers a definition, and in the midst of the discussion, the instructor comments that we can look on the Internet to find out.
Google to the rescue yet again. (I’m not even waiting for a knight in shining armor anymore... the Internet has rescued this damsel-in-ignorant-distress countless times).
Without rhyme or reason, all of a sudden the incredible ease and convenience of searching Google, Yahoo or any other major search engine took on a new meaning for me. Think about it this way. We want to know something in our voice class, so for the first time in history, we can look it up in less than 10 seconds and find exactly what we need. In a broader context, almost any information we want (and much that we don’t want, yes?) is available literally at our fingertips--or, for those with a functional relationship with Siri, at the sound of our voice.
You may be nodding your head in a “so what” way, but this incident in voice class raises deeper questions for me that might interest you as well. What does the ease and convenience of the information age do to education? How does it condition students to approach learning, especially students who, in the West, often have an entitlement mentality? What has knowledge become when it no longer has to be sought merely in libraries, or when it has ceased to be the rare and cherished gift that it was when newspapers were a phenomenon?
From one Millennial student’s perspective, it seems that the ease with which information of almost any kind can be obtained these days makes knowledge a commodity. This is an interesting thought when we consider that, about 200 years ago, people would gather eagerly around a blazing candle to listen to someone read the newspaper or anticipate/receive a store’s catalogue with awe (stories from the cherished “Little House on the Prairie” series of my childhood come to mind here).
Think about the day when people could never have pictured the concept of “moving pictures,” much less envisioned that they would be able to press a button and then be greeted by several different news stations reporting the events of the world. There was a time, my friends when information had to be sought because it was a precious rarity rather than a presupposed commodity.
Combine this factor with the prevalent “entitlement mentality” of the millennial West and you have an entirely different way of viewing knowledge and, by extension, education. It often seems that today, the prevailing mentality of millennials is to view much of what the world considers “privileges” as “rights,” including information; it has been unprecedented for students in previous centuries to have unlimited access to knowledge. And today my sense of entitlement about it is such that I am inordinately impatient when a web page does not load immediately. We take knowledge for granted, and it no longer has to be sought as much as it has to be sorted through.
As far as the potential of the Information Age to directly impact learning, the commonness of knowledge does not automatically guarantee a more informed generation. When knowledge becomes a commodity, there is always the potential for it being abused or undervalued, and the responsibilities that come with the increase of information are vast.
On the other hand, the fact that a person can discover nearly anything at any time through a push of a button has the inherent potential to produce a brilliantly savvy, aware and intelligent generation if it is stewarded properly. We are used to being constantly exposed to some form of mental stimulation in our current Western culture, thus education in the 21st century has the capability to be a daily affair that transcends the classroom. The availability of all kinds of information to all kinds people in every season and station of life can make life-long learners of us all.
Hopefully, this article has got the wheels of your brains turning about the information age we live in. If knowledge is power, we are the most powerful generation yet.