As a university student I spend a lot of my time worrying about how the skills I am learning will assist me in the future. Will the skills I am paying to learn help me get a job? Will they help me in a job? Will they help me in my every day life? Has the thousands of dollars and years of my life been worth it? This worry has been compounded during the past few weeks. The past few weeks have seen me preparing for an economics exam. An economics exam largely predicated on calculations, and, therefore, the memorization of formulas. But the past few weeks has also seen Google release an interesting video on their new google glasses:
As you can see, while still a relatively new technology, Google glasses look like they will erode the need for memorization even further. I constantly point out that universal access to internet on our phones, tablets and laptops (etc.) has already eroded the need for memorization. But now there are devices that can scour the largest ever repository of human knowledge, without us even needing to break the flow in what we are doing. Why do I need to memorize the formula for calculating GDP? I could look it up within seconds, while barely breaking the momentum of a conversation or other task.
But this is not how economics is taught. We are still required to memorize formulas for tests. The emphasis is still placed on memorization, rather than utilization. In the real world I have no need to memorize the formula to calculate GDP. I could look it up on the multitude of internet capable devices currently sitting on my desk. I could even type in the figures straight into Google and let it work it out for me. Really, I can think of no scenario where I would urgently need to calculate GDP and not have access to the internet. How likely is it that a terrorist is going to create a bomb that can only be disarmed by calculating GDP, and then place the bomb in a Vodafone blackspot? Yet when I go into an economics test, I am expected to have memorized the formulas. We are not given them. We are not provided with the tools to look them up. Why is this so? Why is memorization of formulae still tested? Isn’t it more important that I know how to use the formula? Isn’t it more important that I know when to use the formula? Isn’t it more important that I know how to search for the formula?
These are the skills of our new information age. Gadgets like Google Glass and computers like Watson will soon make memory redundant. What will set humans apart is their resourcefulness and their discernment. Watson can’t to tell when to use the formula for calculating GDP. Google Glass cannot interpret or analyze it’s findings. These are the skills humans need. They are the skills uni courses need to teach. Uni courses need to catch up with a new reality.