A few months ago I wrote about a learning trajectory that I have been riding for the last year or so. I ended with a few questions:
How can I help transform moments of formal and informal learning with my students into seedlings of curiosity that they, themselves, can nurture and grow?
How can I help students learn to sip from the internet’s firehose of information in a way that empowers them to have agency as capable, self-directed learners?
How can I develop the patience, intentionality, and resourcefulness in students that will equip them to build bridges to new territories of thought and walk across them at the same time?
Sounds exciting, right? I look forward to investing a lot of my professional future in answering these questions as best I can.
But I see that there is a way to fundamentally misinterpret these questions as a threat instead of an opportunity: if information is cheap does that mean that expertise is cheap too? Can a glut of information actually be a threat to knowing?
Grokking sounds like an ugly word
In some communities, “grokking it” means something along the lines of learning by intuition; “grokking” is not necessarily associated with depth of knowledge or attention to nuance. In his book, Present Shock, Douglas Rushkoff provides an example of grokking vs. understanding through the lens of our society’s changing relationship with time itself. In one example, Rushkoff confesses that he “doesn’t know whether to be delighted or horrified” by a high school student who “already saw the world in fractal terms and assumed that being able to fully grasp one moment of Hamlet would mean that he had successfully ‘grokked’ the whole.” Rushkoff sympathizes by considering the student’s context: “Functioning in [our] world does require getting the ‘gist’ of things and moving on, recognizing patterns, and then inferring the rest.” While in this context grokking seems like a useful skill, the example makes it clear that grokking should not be conflated with real understanding.
Is that a lurking threat in our 21st century classrooms? Is a mix of grokking and Googling threatening to replace the value of developing a real depth of understanding?