Published Knowledge Is Old Knowledge

Personification of knowledge (Greek, Episteme) Celsus Library, Ephesus, Turkey.
photo by Radomil

"Published knowledge is old knowledge.The art of intelligence in the 21st Century will be less concerned with integrating old knowledge and more concerned with using published knowledge as a path to exactly the right source or sources that can create new knowledge tailored to a new situation, in real time.”

From Collective Intelligence: Creating a Prosperous World at Peace (You can access that free online, but it's a 600+ page pdf so...)

That passage was written by Robert Steele in his essay “Creating a Smart Nation.” (Steele is a former CIA operations officers and Marine Corps intelligence official whose firm, Open Source Solutions Inc., works under contract for various intelligence agencies). Educator Will Richardson quoted it on his blog last month and I scribbled it down in my notebook. Steele is writing about national security and intelligence, but I'm thinking about it as it relates to open knowledge and open textbooks and open everything else.

It's a thought-provoking line. But I'm not sure that I fully agree with it.

It's the idea that knowledge often is old as soon as it is published (in the traditional publishing sense). I really enjoyed The World Is Flat and recommend it to educators all the time - but we know that many of his statistics and examples were outdated by the time the galleys were approved and the copies hit the street.

It's also part of the reason why learning has become networked, shared and increasingly open and available.

The quote sent me looking into Robert Steele, which led me to Open Source Intelligence. OSINT involves "finding, selecting, and acquiring information from publicly available sources and analyzing it to produce actionable intelligence." To the intelligence community, "open"means overt and public sources and not the covert, cloak & dagger stuff of our movie and novel imaginations. This is intelligence from newspapers, magazines, radio, television, government documents, many resources on the Web like Google Earth, blogs, wikis, geospatial software like a Geographic Information System (GIS), conferences, academic papers, and who knows what else. (Reminds me of the character Robert Redford played in Three Days of the Condor.)

Think about that list of resources above. How different is it from where we want students to go for information?

What about that "old knowledge?" It's hard for me to not integrate prior knowledge to build the new knowledge. Some theorists might call this building schema. Schema is a good word here - from the Greek "σχήμα" meaning shape or plan. Schemas (or schemata) show up in a number of fields. Most people are familiar with a schematic diagram that represents the elements of a system using abstract, graphic symbols. In computer science, there are data models to represent the relationships of a set of concepts, or an XML schema to define the structure, content and the semantics of XML documents. Our old buddy, Kant, used it in philosophy for "referencing of a category to a sense impression through time" (and I still don't get it - I was always more of a Locke fan).

Certainly we put aside old knowledge when it is outdated or disproven. Today we have access so so much new knowledge that filtering is a key skill. We old-timers that try to keep up with the new probably have more trouble. If you just ignore the new, or if you're young and just accept the new as true knowledge, life is simpler.

Take that pesky Wikipedia (which I frequently link to here on the blog). There's old knowledge there. Lots of it, copied & pasted from all over the place. But there's also much that is new being recorded as it happens. (Check the Barack Obama history page on Wikipedia and see how often it is being updated and hacked.)

I'm convinced that we need to first educate the educators and then have them teach their students how to filter and sort the good new knowledge, remix it with the old and have strategies for interpreting the inevitable conflicts that will occur. Information literacy and critical thinking may seem to be old terms, but much of what we need to teach in those areas is brand new.

We also have to make the new knowledge known, as we have always done with the old knowledge. The mediums for transmitting that knowledge may be themselves new. Publishing the content may be posting it online.

A friend nicely told me that he was getting a little tired of me talking about "open everything" on this blog. Perhaps, I have focused on that category a bit much of late. Still, how can we discuss all that I'm talking about here and not get into open: education, textbooks, knowledge, courseware and all the rest of it?

I'll close with a return to Robert Steele and that opening quote. There's a place for the old and the new. You can download his book free online, and you can pay $22 for a hardcover copy of On Intelligence: Spies and Secrecy in an Open World. What I don't feel there's a place for today is only the old information, or only the new.

"The problem with spies is they only know secrets," says Steele. The problem with education is...


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