Saturday, July 23, 2011

Withitness and the packaging of knowledge

Technology is blasting holes through the closed wall environment of the classroom and learning is gushing in from the outside. Teachers, forever the gatekeepers of knowledge, are under seige from a battallion of mobile devices.

Everywhere a teacher looks there are phones, cameras, tablets, personal listening devices and the like. What the students are saying, hearing or seeing on those devices is anyone's guess, and its frightening for a teacher to think that a student could be looking at or saying something inappropriate while under their tutelage. Worse still, they could be learning something other than what the teacher is, at that moment, teaching. The ability to control the learning process is slipping from the teacher's grasp and we're either petrified or oblivious.

But we needn't be. There is a way through this and its all to do with withitness and an understanding that the packaging of knowledge has changed.


Since the beginning of mass education teachers have needed to be alert to signs in the classroom that students were not doing as they should. An experienced teacher knows when a student is off-task. Remember the old movie scene where the teacher rips the book out of the student's hands to reveal the comic he was reading? Or the teacher seeing the note being passed around but waits till recess to ask for the note? Even if the student eats the note, consequences were applied - detention. All we need to do is learn the new signs and use our presence, as we have always done, to get the student back on task.

The changing packaging of knowledge

The packaging of knowledge has been changing since the invention of art. It can be supposed that in the beginning, all knowledge was passed on orally, from elder to the younger. Art then gave the artist the ability to pass on knowledge through paintings, without having to be there. Then came symbols, writing, the printing press, audio and visual recording, electronic broadcasting and finally the Internet. At each step of the way the method of accessing the knowledge has needed a teacher to either unpack the knowledge or to develop the unpacking skills in the student.

In the past, teachers upacked the knowledge by, first of all, stuffing all the knowledge into their own brains and then handing it out in small, bite sized pieces. But now those bite sized peices are just a finger flick away. Students don't even have to know how to read to receive this knowledge; video and audio recordings are released in their thousands (or millions) every day about a myriad of topics.

There is no need for the teacher to store the information like before, the content is out there and its flowing in and out of the classrooms at an increasing rate. But the content still needs unpacking. In fact, it probably needs more unpacking than ever before. This is the new skill that we teachers need to teach students - how to access and make sense of the knowledge out there and how to manipulate it in a way that brings benefit to the student.


  1. I have no clue about this. Honestly speaking I am unable to understand the point of this post. I want to see package styles which show your creativity. All I can say about this post is that it can be written in much better way.
    boxing machine

  2. Ha ha. This is a blog about teaching not packaging. I can only hope teachers know what I'm getting at.