Sunday, 8 November 2015

What is knowledge?

I have been thinking about knowledge lately. This came into focus as terminology such as ‘knowledge into action’, ‘knowledge exchange’ and ‘21st century knowledge’ are beginning to proliferate the discourse in education without the examination that we have a common understanding of the meanings of these terms.
The Oxford dictionaries (here) gives definitions of knowledge,
  • as a noun - “facts, information and skills acquired through experience or education”, “the sum of what is known” or “information held on a computer system 
  • as a philosophical stance - true, justified belief; certain understanding, as opposed to opinion”.  “awareness or familiarity gained by experience of a fact or situation” 
  •  in archaic term -  “sexual intercourse”.
Following on from this, I have chosen two papers to support my understanding of the meaning of knowledge from the Education Source – EBSCO, which is available to all registered teachers in Scotland through MyGTCS.

In the first paper by Merrill-Glover, the author discusses different types of knowledge and how knowledge has changed over time. She states that knowledge was “inextricably linked to historical and cultural legacies” (p24) and this knowledge linked to history was termed “official knowledge” (p24) by Bernstein. She comments on the philosophical concept of knowledge having both “external reality” and as being “part of human thought” (Burr, 2013:12) and the notion that “knowledge is both malleable and multi-layered”(p24).
She goes on to discuss the ‘knowledge economy’ and how this, as Burton Jones (199:22) asserts is, “beginning to challenge money and all other forms of capital” (p25). Merrill-Glover asserts that a rethink around the concept of knowledge was brought about by the “democratisation of knowledge” combined with “know how” knowledge held within “transferable skills”. In the ‘knowledge society’ the status of ‘official knowledge’ is under threat as ‘transferable skills’ are coming to the fore. These ‘transferable skills’, highly prized by employers, are beginning to replace pure knowledge (subject based) as we move into what Merrill-Glover called a ‘pedagogic schizoid position’ “where individuals and institutions are required to manage the competing demands of traditional practices and modern day expectations” (p31)

In the second paper authored by Kereluik et al, according to Gardner (2008) and Pink (2005) “the educational demands of this new century require new ways of thinking and learning” (p127). The reason stated for these new ways of thinking and learning are given as students “due to their immersion in technology” i.e. being digital natives, are fundamentally different learners. This rethink of knowledge and how we support students to develop knowledge is linked to “technological modernisation and globalisation” (p129). Learning in the 21st century seems to be almost exclusively linked to learning with technology but this is not without its misconceptions such as the belief that using technologies require a rethinking of pedagogy, just because you are using technology and a that technologies are limited to a single mode of use. I like the phraseology, used by a number of authors cited in the paper, which is that “technologies provide a ‘zone of possibility’”(p128), this supports my view that technology is a fantastic tool to support learning and provides teachers with new ways to engage learners.
In identifying knowledge types, the authors determined three broad categories and tried to “capture the essential elements” through an analysis of various frameworks. Their findings are summarised in as;
21st Century Learning
                Foundational Knowledge (to Know)
o   Digital/ICT Literacy
o   Core Content Knowledge
o   Cross-disciplinary Knowledge
Meta Knowledge (to Act)
o   Creativity and Innovation
o   Problem solving and Critical Thinking
o   Communication and Collaboration
Humanistic Knowledge (to Value)
o   Life and Job skills
o   Ethical/emotional awareness
o   Cultural Competence

The authors states that “the need for students to develop deep disciplinary knowledge has always been important” and goes on to say “what has changed is access to disciplinary knowledge and authentic disciplinary inquiry made viable through technology and subsequently experts and resources” (p133) and another important factor is “knowing how and when” to use technology. Even with changing pedagogy and resources in the 21st century “our core role (to know, to act, and to value) have not changed”.

Through examination of these two papers I do believe I have a greater understanding of the different forms of knowledge, but still feel that the education community creates and morphs words to make something ordinary sound extraordinary and in doing do loses some of the audience as they feel they cannot contribute and as they lack understanding. As Young (2008) cited by Merrill-Glover, argues, and I agree, “the question about what knowledge is remain largely unanswered”.

Merrill-Glover, K (2015) “Working towards powerful knowledge: Curriculum pedagogy and assessment in work based learning” Widening Perspectives and Lifelong learning Volume 17, number 1

Kereluik, K. Mishra, P, Fahnoe, C. & Terry, L. (2013)”What knowledge is of most worth: teacher knowledge for 21st Century Learning” Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education, Volume 29, Number 4

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