We live in the world of information overload. It’s not an exaggeration. Information is literally just milliseconds away if we want it. What does this mean to teachers? And to students? It means students can access information anytime, anywhere and anyhow they want. They don’t need to memorize the name of capital city of Nicaragua anymore. Or how deep the Pacific Ocean is anymore? (In fact, no one needs to memorize anything unless you are taking part in a televised quiz show.)
It means students can be as informed as the teachers.
And therefore, these two expressions – Student Beware and Teacher Beware mean a lot. Before I jump into what I mean by these two concepts, let me take help of author Daniel Pink (and his book To Sell is Human) to explain the two expressions from Commerce/Sales: Buyer Beware and Seller Beware.
Suppose, I wanted to buy a laptop. A few years ago, I would have gone to a computer seller and asked her around for which one is a good one. Dell? Sony? Mac? Depending on my requirement and budget, the seller would have suggested me one of the brands. And it’s likely that I would have bought whatever she suggested me.
The seller always had more information than the buyer. There existed ‘information asymmetry’ between the seller and the buyer and Pink calls this situation as Buyer Beware. The seller had more information and thus could persuasive, pushy and manipulative. They could sell the things buyer don’t need (remember this expression – a great sales person is the one who can sell a comb to a bald man). Hence, buyers had to be aware else they would get cheated.
However, the wheel is slowly getting reversed with the easy availability of information. More often than not, the buyer is the one who has more or same amount of information than the seller does. Now the situation, as Pink calls, is Seller Beware. Buyers come in with so much information already that it is not possible for a seller to manipulate, force or dupe them, at least theoretically.
So today, if I wanted to buy a laptop, I would first go to the internet (or flip magazines or watch TV ad or ask for recommendations from knowledgeable friends) and find all the necessary information I need. And then only I would go and buy the laptop I can afford or desire.
Therefore, Pink asserts, sales is becoming more and more challenging in this world of ‘information parity’. It’s harder to get people’s attention, convince them and sell stuffs to them. And, if you are a traditional sales person who is pushy, forceful and manipulative, your days will be soon outnumbered.
Now, what does this possibly have to do with teaching?
I find the two professions – teaching and sales are very very similar. I don’t want to disrespect this noble profession which I am very passionate about. Without trying to defame the profession, I think that as a teacher, we are basically trying to get the student’s attention, convince them and sell them ideas and knowledge. There’s no monetary transaction but it happens in the form of exchanging information, negotiating for attention and investing time and energy. And if you are a teacher right now, you certainly know what I’m talking about. Just like sales these days, teaching is a tough profession.
Things were different in the past when a single teacher possessed all the information and knowledge (and note books). The information disparity between the teacher and the students created the ‘Student Beware’ situation where the students were literally at the teacher’s mercy (just saying). And may be, for those reasons, the teachers had to be respected, revered and worshiped. More so out of threat, than out of love.
But obviously, the situation is not like that anymore. The information is all over the place. Students can watch a 10 minutes long video on youtube (eg: The History of English Language) and be as informed as after listening to a teacher’s lecture or after reading a history book. I don’t need to read 600 pages of theories on marketing, or attend a lecture on behavioral psychology (unless I am looking for a college degree). I can simply access to those knowledge when I want and as I want. The student in me would probably get bored to death in the classroom listening to some professor yapping about ‘history’ stuffs which I can easily access on my smartphone. It’s all over the wikipedia.
This ‘Teacher Beware’ situation is a challenge to all the teachers and more so to those who are sticking to traditional ‘teacher-centered’ methods. And to expect the students to be attentive, obedient and respectful is as close to daydreaming.
So, as teachers, how do we face this challenge and still walk around with enough work-satisfaction, dignity and pride?
(To be continued)