The more I look the more certain I am that I stand at the edge of an information abyss, rather than at the dawn of a golden age of information and life-long learning powered by the digital environments. Perhaps there are two sides to this: The good side encompasses savoring the growth of creative knowledge and nurturing the understanding for students engaged in the topic of discussion. In this way students can sometimes surprise and delight us with insights and even lead us in new directions taking the teacher mentor along with them. The bad side encompasses that information abyss that exists, but which is misunderstood, largely unmentioned, and yet which is creating a new form of the digital divide – content and conversation ignorance in an era of mass information. Knowledge and creative/scientific understanding is always at the heart of the educational endeavour. Teachers gnawing at the syllabus bones of their subject may find juicy marrow, but it’s still the same pile of bones. The officially mandated parameters of accreditation organizations (think departments of school education or higher education) means that content and process may run parrallel to the natural learning needs of students. Designing any long-term educational action these days (especially in the face of 1:1 computing and mobile devices) involves creating scenarios for acquiring and developing competencies and knowledge in subject domains that are enabled by personalization. Competences are the main element of the learning process and personalization in virtual learning scenarios involve designing and executing learning paths, learning activities within a subject and some kind of analysis that ‘tags’ the success of the particular lifelong learning elements involved. That’s education, but is that learning? Ah – here it is again, that information abyss. Educators were never information experts, but in the era of ‘industrial schooling’ this did not matter. Information was organized and made available in structured ways, quietly providing access to tacit and explicit knowledge at point of need. Then technology transformed the information landscape, pushing changes into education. Unfortunately education experts forgot that they were not information experts, and in the age of web-enabled information some educators and educational leaders, in their enthusiasm and ‘debunking’ of industrial schooling, have also advertised their ignorance in how to work with the most precious of all commodities – information! Did they toss the baby out with the bathwater! Nope, they actually never did know what information organization was all about, what metadata means, when digital preservation is important, how information access can be facilitated, how information is organized, and what strategies are needed to find, analyze and synthesize information. Pre the web era , this didn’t matter. There were librarians around to fill the breach and provide the knowledge gap. Now things are different. Information (and the knowledge it contains) is the underpinning of society, learning, and future developments. Information is what lead to the creation of the web, and which leads to developments in all forms of our web engagement. Social networks are enabling information sharing. We need to be able to read, and read well, to access information. We need to know how to find and make available to others the information that matters. But while educators “toot” the use of web tools, and play with virtual environments, they seem to remain more ignorant than ever about the impacts of web organization on information access and information retrieval. Only a fool closes a school library down because information is on the web, and fiction books are sitting in a box in the classroom.
How should we ensure we refresh the mental browser of pre-digital thinking to suit the evolution of the web?
What school leaders need to do is to go out and find the best information and library experts they can find to re-vitalize their school library. What school leaders need to do is to go and empower an information expert within their school to lead in curriculum design, and ensure that it incorporates the required fluency with information access, use, manipulation, remix, and dissemination. What school leaders need to recognize is that all the reshaping of classroom spaces, and use of tech tools and mobile devices for curriculum innovation is nothing more than a hollow shiny bauble (which may well be crushed in the next iteration of the web) and really useless . Kids aren’t learning how to be adaptive in complex information environments. Someone HAS to help the teachers of our 21st century kids understand reading, literacy and information seeking in a connected world. The information abyss is right there at their fingertips, and each day teachers are doing a great job of throwing kids down into that abyss! (Test your knowledge of the abyss by perusing Knowledge 2) Our students now need help in navigating diverse information pathways within their personal and creative learning environments. They need a range of literature and information options, delivered to them via a variety of physical and virtual means, from books to all manner of media and digital objects, via a plethora of digital devices. They need to know how to juxtapose text, sound, media and social connections in real time, and how to filter, then mix and match what they see, hear and experience in order to build personal knowledge and understandings of the curriculum.
Where once the bibliographic paradigm created text-book learning and school libraries, learning today requires that teachers and school librarians understand reading and information-seeking in a connected world.
Deal with the information abyss. In the name of education, get a new school library! This is what I’ve already debated in the post Why Teacher Librarians are Important. Essentially though, in this new library we find that the literature, magazines, information, technology, learning and teaching activities are designed to support the needs of the networked learning community, creating a partnership between teachers, students, school, home and the global community. Moving to a Networked School Community is essential, and is the only way to ensure that a school is dealing with the information abyss.