There is a well-known Chinese proverb that says: “Give a man a fish and you’ll feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you’ll feed him for life”.Google allows us to confirm that it is indeed a Chinese proverb and it is very well-known. The sentence, in several languages, appears hundreds of times on Google and Bing.
For an exact phrase search these are very high results. With a quick scan of the results we see that many confirm that it is indeed a Chinese proverb and not a biblical aphorism, a popular saying, or a quote of a wise man.
The internet is radically changing how we acquire knowledge, how we learn. Fifteen years ago we would have needed a library and a few hours in order to find reliable data on the phrase about the fish and the fisherman. These days it takes less than five minutes, thanks to the voluntary collaboration of thousands of millions of people who publish information online. This online collaboration is becoming more more and more sophisticated, specialising in certain areas and using two basic methods of volunteering crowdfunding (monetary collaboration) and crowdsourcing (collaboration in effort and resources). New forms of collaboration are also developing, which are only possible via the Internet: microsponsorship (kickstarted, pozible, indiegogo), social mobilisation (Change.org, Avaaz, Care2), document translation (Dpulingo), map creation (OpenStreetMap, OpenSignal), using your computers CPU to collaborate with science (Boinc, Folding), mobile phone meteorological information (Weddar) and, of course, Wikipedia, the first macro collaborative project which showed that anything was possible.
These changes are so profound that we cannot even imagine where they will take us. What information technology services and projects will we be discussing in 20 years? Nobody knows. But we must be ready, especially in the area of university and postgraduate training, where we are training the actors who will live these changes. The challenge is to teach what we don’t know. In this context, the proverb that opened this text begins to make sense: we need to train our students in the abilities and strategies needed to acquire knowledge more than in already formed, closed knowledge. The problem for us as teachers is that we have to design and deliver this more open style of education but yet we come from a tradition based on transmitting truths and not in guiding students to construct their knowledge in a cooperative manner, something that is often new to the teacher him or herself. We tend to repeat experiences and teach how we were taught. But we now face a paradigm shift that involves a change in the role of the teacher and the present generation of educators are at the forefront of this change, with no clear references to to look to for support. Nobody taught us how to teach others to fish cooperatively in a sea of constant change.
At this point let us finish with another, less well-known proverb, (less results on Google and Bing): “‘Poor is the master who does not allow his pupil to surpass him”.