Content used to be king

There was a time when books, newspapers, magazines and journals were the prime source of content and information.  It was always your move! navigating the authority maze,  enjoying slow reading of (limited) information sources in order to gain a knowledge base that matched a particular curriculum outline.

This was when content was king and the teacher was the sage on the stage.

Now communication is the new curriculum, and content is but grist to the mill that churns new knowledge. Why?  I came across a few good reads this week that set me thinking and wondering about the changes that we must support in our teaching and in our library services.

Think about this:

The era of Teacher Librarians  ‘taking a class’ in order to show kids how to search, get basic skills, or navigate resources is over. This is a teachers job!!  Teach the teacher by all means (that’s professional development) but don’t waste time doing repeat performances for a teacher who hasn’t caught up with how to integrate information resources into the curriculum.  How can they claim to be good teachers if they can’t model how to use information effectively?  How to use new search tools? How to navigate databases? These ARE NOT specialist skills any more – they are core skills for learning!

The era of collaborating, communicating and integrating resources flexibly and online is here to stay. Every form of interactive and social media tools should be deployed by school libraries to support learning, teaching and communicating with and between students. Are teachers ready for this?  Are your own library staff ready for this?

So what is the situation with content?

Dave Pollard wrote about The Future of Media: Something More than Worthless News. Agreed, the reason he wrote the post is quite different to mine – but in a lateral kind of way, what he wrote has huge relevance to information professionals. Media is changing, and the way media can work for or against learning is deeply concerning. Dave writes

Few people care to take the time needed either to do great investigative work, or to think creatively and profoundly about what all the mountains of facts really mean.

There’s the rub – mountains of fact. Authority and relevance are as nothing when we are confronted with mountains of information to sift and verify. The alternative is to grab ‘something’ and miss the opportunity to engage in real metacognitive knowledge activities.

The diagram Dave offers provides a strong framework for information professionals. How do we deal with new and urgent information need? What value do we place on media scrutiny?

Of course we can’t answer these questions effectively without taking into consideration the shifting dimensions of interoperability and semantic search. We are datamineing on the one hand, and creating data on the other.

Now what’s the implications of this? Semantic search depends on our tags! and our tags depend on our understanding of the strengths and weaknesses inherent in data sets.   It all depends on how things are defined and linked! Duplicate and meaningless content is created by poor  search engine optimization and keyword cannibalisation.  This means that the info junk pile continues to grow. The Search Engine Journal provides a good set of graphics (with explanations) that spell out these problems .

Here’s a simple image that demonstrates a good interlinking strategy. Then go and examine the canonical solution – looks like the stuff of good information professionals to me!

Of course, alongside the need for good search engine optimization is the growth in search functionality and growth in search engine options. Google has  some new features that have been tested in the past months. Google wants to expose some advanced search options that allow you to refine the results without opening a new page. The options are available in a sidebar that’s collapsed by default, but it can be expanded by clicking on “Show options”.

You’ll be able to restrict the results to forums, videos, reviews and recent pages. There’s an option that lets you customize the snippets by making them longer or by showing thumbnails, much like Cuil. Google wants to make the process of refining queries more fun and exploratory by adding a “wonder wheel” of suggestions.

Maybe I’ll just stop thinking and wander right off and do some Semantic Web Shopping!

What? more issues to consider?  not my move anymore? ….. massive change is pushing us into a  21st century information maze.

Change is coming (image by Maria Reyes-McDavis)

Change is coming (image by Maria Reyes-McDavis)

Emerging technologies for learning

Some excellent research and commentary is available from BECTA in the UK in the recent publication

Emerging technologies for learning: volume 3 (2008)

The various chapters explore the ‘net generation’ who can seamlessly move between their real and digital lives; examine the implications for education of the convergence of mobile devices, pervasive wireless connectivity, and internet applications and services; discuss the development of virtual worlds and ‘serious games’ and how we can make best use of these technologies to support better learning; analyse the problem of finding and searching digital content on the web and the limitations of current systems; and considers the potential of some emerging display and interface technologies to improve interaction with computers and facilitate collaborative activities in more natural and intuitive ways.

These are excellently presented too, and make good professional reading handouts for staff discussion.