Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Data-driven Knowledge?

Simply put, knowledge is the ability to apply information in a manner that displays your skills and/or understanding of that particular field or area of study. This would fall in line with the constructivist approach of knowledge where one selects the necessary information and then is able to "construct" their knowledge to display their understanding. In knowledge, information "comes alive" since it is applied to help solve a problem, address an issue, create alternative solutions, etc.

Data is an essential element for creating information and producing knowledge, but on its own it is simply symbols, words, or numbers waiting to be applied by the practitioner. For example, I may be presented with a list of literary terms. This list would be the data. I then can research the terms and discover their definitions and begin to see how they can be meaningful to my learning. This is information. Now, if I learned the terms and definitions by heart, it may appear I am knowledgeable of literary terms. However, recall is not really knowledge. Additionally, recall in the 21st century does not appear as impressive as it might have ten or twenty years ago (although it works well in Jeopardy and Trivial Pursuit). But if I was then asked to apply those terms to an analysis of a poem or short story, that is when the information "comes alive," and where I would illustrate my level of knowledge of those terms.

Knowledge management can be viewed as the ability to effectively organize, utilize and sustain existing skills and knowledge in an organization while also promoting the growth of new skills and knowledge. In discussing her own experiences with knowledge management, Donna Bible at the Knowledge Management Forum points out that "the learning process that people undergo once they enter this company all too often leaves with them." She argues that "knowledge management is the attempt to secure the experience as well as the work product [of] the individuals who comprise a corporation." Her use of the word "experience" is significant when considering how knowledge management is relevant and connected to teaching.

What teachers do can essentially be viewed as a series of experiences that evolve over a professional career. Sadly, when many teachers leave a school or retire from the profession, much of the knowledge is lost. I remember at one point earlier in my teaching career, a principal brought me a box of "stuff" that essentially became my technology toolkit for awhile. He recognized that I liked using technology with the students and decided to share this material with me. My first question was where did all the equipment come from? I learned it had been used by another teacher. This teacher transferred to another school, and all the material had been stored, since no one else in the school had the knowledge to use it. I think this example illustrates Bible's point, and I think as teachers we know that "sharing knowledge" with other teachers is much more than leaving behind lesson plan books and overstuffed files.

I once was told that how successful you have been at something, whether it be your professional career, volunteer work, etc. should be reflected as much if not more in how it continues after you leave than what you did when you were there. As teachers, we all have experiences in our classrooms that should be shared with our peers. I have always been pleasantly surprised how much I have learned from having student teachers in my classroom who have introduced me to new ideas or different ways to approach subject material. Karl E. Sveiby at Knowledge Management Forum distinguishes two fields of knowledge management: management of information and management of people. I think in the area of education, when it comes to knowledge management, the management of people, and how they share their experiences with their peers, would be the better approach.

Lastly, when we consider how teachers share their experiences and the knowledge they have gained with other teachers, one category discussed at What is Knowledge Management (KM)? in the structure of knowledge management could be potentially harmful. That category is "knowledge protection." This category may have benefits in the world of business, but not in the world of education where many are promoting the sharing of ideas and implementing the creation, use and support of open-source resources. 

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