13 Pedagogy for Abundance

History of Education

The history of education is all about scarcity. Scarcity of words, content and teachers. The ways in which information scarcity has affected education throughout history will be discussed below.

Scarcity of Words

The first kind of scarcity encountered is a scarcity of words. Scarcity in education started at the very beginning of written language thousands of years ago. Reading and writing were unstable concepts that not many people knew, words were also carved in stone and painted on surfaces, so knowledge was limited to that one location. Languages were developing and changing rapidly, and documents became unreadable when new cultures would arrive. This scarcity of words is what drove people to lecture, where one individual who knew what they were talking about would verbally teach others without needing to read or write. This would then require the students to memorize word for word what they were hearing because they had no way of relearning it later.

Scarcity of Content

Once written languages became more prevalent to the point where it could be passed around in the form of books, word scarcity was no longer the issue. Content scarcity became the most common problem starting around a thousand years ago. Books were difficult to get and very expensive. They were made using parchment made from the skins of dead animals, most commonly sheep. One book would require the hides of hundreds of sheep which alone made books very expensive. A book would then require expert craftmanship to bind, and hundreds, if not thousands of hours to write. Since books were mostly written or copied by scholars and monks using ink and quill under candlelight, making books was an astronomical task. Books costed an equivalent to tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in today’s market. The difficulty of obtaining a book meant that content could not be shared between people easily. People would travel hundreds of miles just to listen to someone read a book, and once again, memorization was essential in testing to ensure someone understood the material. They would not have access to a valuable item such as a book in the future and needed to know everything themselves.

Scarcity of Teachers

Around two hundred years ago the production of books had been greatly refined, paper was now easy to produce, and the invention of the printing press meant that for the first time, information was now being mass-produced. This finally started to remove the scarcity of information in our society, and everyone could begin to benefit from the knowledge contained in these books. However, with knowledge being such a scarce resource for so long, educators were still very rare and hardly anyone had a formal education, in short, we had a scarcity of teachers. This led to the development of the textbook, which allowed uneducated people to then teach a given topic by following the learning processes outlined in the textbook.

Pedagogy for Abundance

Throughout history, people struggled with information scarcity. As the scarcity in our educational environment changes, so too does the primary method of learning. In today’s world, we have the internet and electronic devices available everywhere. We now live in an age of extreme information abundance, any piece of information you could possibly hope to obtain can be sourced and learned in seconds via the internet. Yet our system still maintains this ÔÇťartificial cone of scarcity” as Dave mentioned. We are purposely not given certain information to create this artificial state of scarcity despite it no longer reflecting the current tools required to succeed in today’s society. For example, why test students on memorization of definitions and equations when such information will always be available? It’s because 50 years ago that information was difficult to come by, therefore the only way someone could use this information was to memorize it. There are many other environmental factors of today’s learning environment that furthers the obsoletion of this learning method. In this next chapter, we will look at the different environmental factors of today’s education system such as engagement and assessment. These should be addressed in finding a teaching method that better utilizes the learning tools available to students.


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Engaging Students in an Online Era Copyright © by David Cormier; Ghanem Ghanem; and Brandon Mailloux is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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