Information abyss – in the era of global education

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.

1. flickr photo shared by heathbrandon under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license heyjudegallery

10 thoughts on “Information abyss – in the era of global education

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  7. I agree. First, organsistions assume technology is efficient, and has no side effects – particularly probing areas of philosophic and ironic thought it has been working on reducing through homoginizing the curriculum. Of course there is a body of scholary evidence to support direct instruction (content is real and assess it (universal truth). Without doubt DI is the predominant culture as it has hundreds of years headstart. It was far easier to prove, organise and insist on. Even web-heads seem to favour DI despite their crowing about the cloud. Yes it’s a flipped classroom, but it’s also DI by proxy, It’s the same model. The abyss to me is the lack of imagination that is still evident. Prensky warned us 10 years ago that there would be jostling among the immigrants for intellectual power and financial gain – and we’d miss the opportunity and fail to address it. Egan a decade ago rejected Dewey, Blooms on the basis that imagination is more important that identify. The abyss to me, after working with thousands of teachers is simply, even though they are somewhat aware of modern technology, they rarely imagine what it could do – in both positive and negative ways. While we tinker with new tools, much of it resorts to DI as in my view the function of educaction is confused with the structure.

    To me the function is linked not only to information, but the patterns and routines. We have a generation that have vast prior knowledge, but attempt to sift it into DI preferential structures is a hit and miss affair.

    The clearest example of this is that schools are happy to employ maths, english teachers etc, but still don’t see a new type – the virtual teacher. Sadly many tech-savvy teachers are capitualted into the idea of integration (efficiency) – when in my view we need information experts at one end (libraries) with imaginative curriculum developers. The class of the virtual teacher would be k12, and they need not be content/information experts at all – as if they ever were as you say. This is how it works out of school, the virtual teacher would be in the classroom connected to information experts. This isn’t how virtual school is conceived, nor higher education DE.

    I get many emails about setting up Minecraft Servers to teach. Another example of the Abyss. Although there is plenty of DI information to do this, the culture is not to re-imagine leaning, but to install something. Little to they know 30 kids in a Minecraft server has negative effects on imagination.

    Just a couple of examples, but essentially I believe the best way to engage teachers an kids is though imagination, the more DI we push into the market (and it is a commercial market) the more imagination is crushed.

    I find Web2.0 to have gone thought Taylors S-Curve. It’s has as much entrenched dogma an vested interest as so DI belief. The abyss can’t be addressed by paying consultants to point at it. I understand that some imports to Australia demand over 30k for a days work.

    In my imagined world, more could be achieved for $30.00 in iTunes and Kindle cards. Personally, I see 2012 as have almost nothing to do with 2004/5. The Abyss is big and won’t be made any better if 2012s agenda is called “more of the same”.

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  9. Hi Chris, a good place to start is to dip into the Googlization of Everything (And Why We Should Worry) by Siva Vaidhyanathan. I know that you are a certified Google teacher, which means that you will be teaching students how to manipulate that particular search engine for information access. But most teachers don’t fall into that category, nor do they make good (or any) use of alternative search engines and approaches (see the Knowledge 2 livebinder mentioned in the post). Finally, many teachers make poor use of other information sources and digital repositories, and worse of all, digital is always touted as better than books, which is somewhat premature given that some of the best writers in the various disciplines are still not available in e-formats. From a curriculum perspective, information fluency (not just critical literacy) is often ignored and poorly integrated into the development of teaching frameworks and learning activities. A common phrase in classrooms is “and do a google search”! or students are provided with a handful of links to use. I’ve watched many a group of kids on their laptops doing random searches, with random key terms, operating without a ‘guided enquiry’ framework to facilitate knowledge discovery. New enhancements, such as Google instant, have both enhanced and hindered information seeking habits, seeming to make it quicker to find information without thinking about the search process. While the web can provide excellent sources of information, just how much thought goes into the process of stimulating thinking? After all, Dan Russell, Googles usability chief, has stated that in global terms, the first search result is clicked on twice as much as the second, and the second twice as much as the third. The information abyss is real, and unacknowledged by teachers. Great learning doesn’t need fancy spaces or geek toys, though that can help! What it always needs is deep reflection and a passion for quality information – the best possible. Always the best.

  10. Judy,

    While I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said here, I find myself wanting to further understand the point you’re making. Agreed, information and the ability to manipulate, interpret and use it, is an important, no, critical, literacy. I’m just not clear on exactly how you see the manifesting itself in your vision of the library. Can you provide a couple of concise examples of how you see this vision playing out in a practical way? I’m assuming you’re talking about more than just a reaffirmation of the importance of the teacher-librarian role, and are looking more deeply than that.
    I know you are making an insightful point in this post and I just want want to understand it a little more clearly. Can you give me an example of your “information abyss”?

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