Are your students frozen in intellectual amber?

One of my best digital friends is Steve Muth—one of brilliant minds behind VoiceThread, my favorite Web 2.0 tool of all time.

Steve and I have been interacting for years now.

He’s always thankful of the work that I’m doing with VoiceThread because it helps other teachers to see just what’s possible with his tool and I’m always thankful for his interest in creating a great tool for teachers and students—and for keeping that tool affordable for schools.

It’s a symbiotic relationship, I think.

Steve saw my post on managing information as an essential skill and dropped me an email that you’ve GOT to read.

He wrote:

Hey Bill,

Just wanted to share a Seth Godin blog post with you:  ‘The future of the library’.

My main point of agreement is the goal of graduating ‘Data Sharks’ which I think is a skill essential to modern work and life.

It doesn’t really matter what students know when they graduate.

If they step out the door of the school and don’t know how to hunt down and get information they’ll essentially be frozen in intellectual amber wearing their graduation cap and gown.

I’m not sure how many core skills there are in the future but I’d say Data Shark is one, and Collaborator is another. At VT I’d just hire someone for anything if they excelled in both those fields.

People can learn anything, at any time in their life, but without the ability to hunt and find data, and then collaborate with others to give that data form and meaning, well, they probably won’t accomplish much.

Your fellow curmudgeon,
-Steve

What caught Steve’s attention in Godin’s post was this bit describing the libraries—and librarians—of the future:

The next library is filled with so many web terminals there’s always at least one empty.

And the people who run this library don’t view the combination of access to data and connections to peers as a sidelight–it’s the entire point.

Wouldn’t you want to live and work and pay taxes in a town that had a library like that? The vibe of the best Brooklyn coffee shop combined with a passionate raconteur of information?

There are one thousand things that could be done in a place like this, all built around one mission: take the world of data, combine it with the people in this community and create value.

What I LOVE about Steve’s thinking is his metaphor for students who graduate without the data sharking skills Godin describes.

Steve says that they are “essentially frozen in intellectual amber.”

How powerful is that language?

More importantly, how frightening is that language for schools who are still set on cramming content down the throats of today’s students?

The fact of the matter is that our focus in schools has to shift if we’re ever going to prepare our kids to be hired by entrepreneurs like Steve.

You saw it in his message:  He’s not interested in hiring people who know a ton of random stuff on graduation day.

He’s interested in hiring people who are confident in their ability to learn and capable of collaborating with others.

Are those lessons being taught in your classrooms?

If not, why not?

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