Finding and Evaluating Information in a Hyperconnected World

Experimental portrait of Tim Berners Lee, Inventor of the WWW

Experimental portrait of Tim Berners Lee, Inventor of the WWW

Photo Credit: Tim’s Web by tsevis

PBS recently aired the Frontline piece, digital_nation: life on the virtual frontier. I came away feeling the segment functioned more as a conversation starter. So I was pleased when I went online to find that the web site associated with the video offers multiple venues for viewers to explore more deeply various aspects of this topic, including the ability to engage in and follow extended dialogue with the filmmakers, interview subjects and other viewers. The film’s producer, Rachel Dretzin, talks about how they opened up the entire filmmaking process to the worId, allowing anyone to view the rough cuts, to make comments, and to submit their own videos as well. Is this perhaps a strength of social media for learning? Could we use the affordances these environments provide to guide our students into more complex, nuanced understandings of a subject? Support the development of critical (media) literacy skills? Or do we run the danger, as Mark Bauerlein warns (at 4:10), of sacrificing the essential ability to engage in slow, linear thinking, reading and writing?

Michael Jensen, in Authority 2.0 and 3.0: The Collision of Authority and Participation in Scholarly Communications asserts that “technology is less the driver of change than is our cultural response to technology.” How is that perspective echoed in our other materials? In what ways have these technologies made an impact on you as an educator and student?

It’s one thing to reflect on and react to these technologies, it’s quite another to figure out how to filter and manage the abundant resources and information now available through the internet. In the spirit of collaboration and community building, many educators are turning to these mediated environments to learn with and from each other. Bill Ferriter, a language arts teacher in North Carolina, created a wiki to share with others the what, why and how of social bookmarking for educators. We’ll devote class time to exploring some tools that can help us manage content of interest to us and that can provide our students and us the option of learning with and from those outside the traditional course environment.

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12 Responses to “Finding and Evaluating Information in a Hyperconnected World”

  1. bng09002 Says:

    The topic of this week’s discussion, Finding and Evaluating Information in a Hyperconnected World, has reminded me my experience as a student of Translation. At my university in Spain they are very concerned about how to bring new technologies to the students. Nobody can deny that they really are part of our daily life and we need to integrate it to our lessons. Considering that a translator is going to work with texts about any topic and that s/he cannot be an expert in everything in the world, s/he needs to know how to find the information s/he needs. This is really important for the translator: his/her decisions are based on the information found, so s/he needs to make sure the resource is reliable. For this reason, a professor organizes every year a seminar on how to search the web. She tries to give the students the tools to find relevant information because, as Thomas Washington states in We’re on information overload, “The pursuit of knowledge in the age of information overload is less about a process of acquisition than about proficiency in tossing stuff out”. Students are provided with the most useful sites, including specialist forums and distribution lists. Besides, she gives a series of criteria to identify the degree of authority of the sites consulted, including (surprisingly) some of the criteria numbered by Michael Jensen in The New Metrics of Scholarly Authority when he talks about Authority 3.0.
    Coming back to Storrs and our reality as instructors, what has struck me the most from this week’s readings has been the unlimited possibilities of social bookmarking and annotating. From the very moment I started to read about it, I started to think about LTL classes and how to apply it. At the moment I do not teach any LTL, but I guess it is difficult to get relevant information about a topic that you may not command or even not know anything about. You may have the materials the professor teaches, but you need that in the target language, not in English. On one hand, using social bookmarking and annotating you can easily access a wide range of reliable sites on that topic in order to prepare your classes. On the other hand, you can involve your students in that search and organize a project in which they make a library of resources on the subject in the target language, so they broaden their knowledge on, let’s say Nutrition, at the same time that they read and learn e.g. general Spanish and specialized terminology. This could also be applied in any class of language applied to specific purposes or in a course organized based on projects.
    I must admit I am a little skeptic about the reliability of what is found on the Net. Since there are not quality filters like in the printed press/publishing, I tend to think that there is no quality. But I have realized that I have to adapt to the new situation and change my way of thinking. Clay Shirky illuminated me when he said something like that if you had the same problem for a long time, maybe it’s not a problem, maybe it is a fact (It’s Not Information Overload. It’s Filter Failure, 22:02). The fact is that there is a lot of information available and we must figure out how to filter it, and I have found my first tool in social bookmarking and annotating.

  2. sondrus Says:

    I am particularly interested in how the production of knowledge is changing. There is a movement towards scholarly production being collaborative and a shift away from stringent individualism–(working in a bubble, or giving the impression that one is the sole creator of an idea). For example in Jensen’s piece Auth. 3.0 is where scholarship will be sharing one’s work, soliciting feedback and making alterations, providing links to one’s sources. On the one hand this is hardly different from what happens traditionally, however what is meant is an online format. I really like the idea of being able to click a link and see one’s source/reference right away. It is a move from the static to the dynamic. And in The IPad article this change is noted in teaching as well where there will be “no more memorization, repetition” instead projects will focus on applying knowledge. In the old days class projects and presentations were/are dynamic because they are in direct communication with one’s peers. Additionally the text books need to be dynamic as well, so that they can allow annotations, link to related materials, hear how to pronounce words, see photos of authors… In both absorbing material and producing, the ideal (or the benefit) is to offer many directions and possibilities in order to reach as many people as possible. An advantage of this is that one may likewise receive a greater amount of input or feedback from the community. This inclusiveness seems of value to Jensen who also says that a prerequisite to being able to harvest massive input is “openness and ease of access and ease of production.”
    Sometimes we may put “ease of access” down, discarding it as not being elevated enough, sophisticated enough. But I’ve heard that genius is the ability to explain something complex in a very simple manner. As a student and attendee at conferences I fervently agree. It is so important to reel one’s audience in. Part of reeling them in is through being understandable and being engaging. If you cannot do that then the majority of your audience are lost. Many presentations at conferences I’ve attended have assumed a specific knowledge (let’s say a specific theory) and leaped from this point. This is great if one’s whole audience knows this specific knowledge, but if 25% don’t, then that is 25% of missed feedback and missed further propagation of one’s work too. I think maybe we need to ask ourselves as teachers and scholars what purpose our work is serving. Is it to feed our egos, to teach or to engage?

  3. christopherlaine Says:

    I continue to find much of this very problematic. I don’t see why a professor in a lecture hall or seminar is “antiquated.” The mere possibility of transformation doesn’t mean that it is necessary or that the old has become obsolete. In order to make the old model seem outdated, it has been misrepresented. I never met a professor who “hoards” knowledge; and I never had a professor who wasn’t eager to have students come to office hours or engage in discussion via email. And reading from a text that is printed on a page and reads in one direction doesn’t imply a linear mode of thinking any more than multimedia implies a critical mode of thinking.

    William Rankin writes: “Hands-on apprenticeships and small teacher/student cohorts began to disappear, replaced by teachers delivering carefully parsed and categorized information to ‘standardized’ students, all while trapped in classrooms isolated from the world in order to limit ‘distraction.’” As if there were no standardization involved in the new pedagogy. bng09002’s comment that “Nobody can deny that they really are part of our daily life and we need to integrate it to our lessons” points to just such a standardization. The problem, as I see it, is that while the old-model student can adapt and use the new technologies, the new-generation student isn’t learning how to read. Thomas Washington justifies this through the familiar false opposition of form and content. But how can you get to “main ideas” of King Lear without taking into consideration the form? It’s the dialectic between form and content that disrupts linear thinking. We needn’t limit ourselves to Shakespeare to think this way, but my point is that this talk of revolution and obsolescence is rhetorical and ideological.

    New technology creates many new venues for engagement, but if the old are becoming obsolete, it’s not because the new are inherently better. They might be more economically efficient or professionally viable, but this does not necessarily mean more thoughtful.

    • Blanca Says:

      In my opinion, no radical position is a good position; as Aristotle said virtue is a means between two extremes, and that is what we should aim to. I used the word “integrate”, which means “to form, coordinate, or blend into a functioning or unified whole” (Merriam Webster’s), because I think new technology complements the so-called “antiquated” seminars/lecture rooms. I do not think what I said is a sign of standardization, but the statement of a fact. A fact is that last semester I had no hi-tech room and it was incredibly hard to catch the students’ attention, and now that I have it and that I started to integrate multimedia resources (again, integrate, not use only), they are much more engaged. Probably my point of view is biased by the fact that my previous work experience was conditioned by technology: I received the projects by e-mail, used CAT tools to translate, the web to look for information and consult experts, and the e-mail again to return it to my client. Obviously I have been integrating technology in my life, but I “keep the balance” and still read printed books and write letters. So again, my point is that “Nobody can deny that they really are part of our daily life and we need to integrate it to our lessons”. And I do not think that I contradict myself if I say that I agree completely when christopherlaine says “New technology creates many new venues for engagement, but if the old are becoming obsolete, it’s not because the new are inherently better. They might be more economically efficient or professionally viable, but this does not necessarily mean more thoughtful”. New technology is not inherently better or more thoughtful, but neither is the old. I hope we can reach virtue…

      • christopherlaine Says:

        I didn’t mean that what you said was a sign of standardization, but the state of affairs you describe is not free of standardization. “Nobody can deny that they really are part of our daily life”: I agree that for most people Facebook, text messaging, Twitter, etc. are part of daily life: life has become standardized by the virtually compulsory daily involvement with these. If you are not using them, you deviate from this standard. Moreover, these platforms impose their own particular standards: Facebook provides a template for users to basically fill in the blanks; texting and Tweeting set limits on length. These are forms of standardization.

        I’m no Aristotelian, and I’m not essentially opposed to radicalism, but I was trying to voice an objection to a particular radical utopianism in these articles that presumes that the proliferation of technology frees us from standardization; because I think the new standards are in some cases more restrictive than the old. And I think that the old standards were misrepresented: the classroom is not a “trap” (Rankin), and “distractions” are real. There was an interesting editorial in the University of Michigan student newspaper, The Michigan Daily, expressing frustration at the fact that in order to attend a lecture, a student has to train herself to block out all the other students using Facebook, playing games, etc. on their laptops. (I tried to find the page again to link to it, but I’m not seeing it.) As a TA for CAMS 1101, I’ve had students complain to me about being distracted by others playing games (and not just solitaire, but games with state-of-the-art graphics that would be difficult to ignore). So, the notion that today’s students just aren’t compatible with the old lecture format is just not right.

  4. kemen528 Says:

    I would like to address this issue of “free riders,” as coined by Clay Shirky in his presentation “It’s not information overload: It’s filter failure.” This is one of my main concerns when thinking about how the technologies ( those discussed in the articles and videos that we’ve seen this week) that impact educators and students. As educators, we must be wary of these “free riders”who are essentially taking the material for granted and just finding a way to cut corners. As students, it is more frustrating in the sense that others are utilizing one’s hard work and making themselves proprietors of this hard work without actually doing any of it. Do not get me wrong, I realize that it is frustrating for both parties, but it is difficult to establish a collaborator environment with these “free riders” tagging along.

    If I understood Thomas Washington’s article correctly, I believe that he would pin the very presence of free riders on all of the information and demands that we are placing on this new generation of students, which leads them to “negotiate” and “adapt” to their environment in any way possible, which may cause them to become “free riders” not out of laziness but out of mere survival. I personally think that this doesn’t have to do as much with “information overload,” but more with the grade-centered culture that we are creating. We have students that are literally at the end of their rope trying to get an A in every single class and they are willing to do anything to get this A, even if it means sacrificing their knowledge-ability. As instructors we have to understand and acknowledge this, and we must realize this when we are designing are classes and assigning homework. Instead of giving students insane amounts of reading and materials because we want to portray ourselves as these almighty knowledgeable beings, we should give readings and use technology that spark students’ interests in the material, which would go along with the notion of the collaborator. What I am saying is, we should focus on quality not quantity.

    In a way I guess I am also saying that we should learn how to filter ourselves as educators. Only selecting the technologies and readings (either from a digital or a paper source) that will work in our classrooms and help fulfill the objectives of the course and the goals of both the students and the teacher. I believe that if we do this, we may just filter out those “free riders” and convert them to students with a desire to learn.

    • celeste2010 Says:

      I completely agree with you, Kemen. The main issue should be quality not quantity, and our class goals should be the axis of the selection of information.

      We need a filter and of course a critical and specific one.

      But I’m thinking on these questions now:
      – how do we reach that filter?
      – which kind of process should be select?
      – do we involve our students in that process or we decide on it by ourselves?
      – do they need to engage in order to believe it’s meaningful?
      – are there specific parameters we can trust?
      – I think the filter we choose should be in keeping with the main goal of the course, but should it be “immovable” and determined in advance or we may be able to change it through the course?

      I just remembered a question that came out during one of our virtual classes about changing our teaching methodology and style if we arrive to a new place where they have a completely different approach. Maybe, at some point, it’s related to that.
      What do you think?

  5. chenwenh Says:

    I would not disagree with Mark Bauerlein’s worries that this digital generation might lose the abilities that we still cherish as essential to scholarship. Indeed, like what Thomas Washington observed, “The pursuit of knowledge in the age of information overload is less about a process of acquisition than about proficiency in tossing stuff out”. Even though Clay Shirky argues that our problem is not information overload but filter failure, he can’t deny the importance of filtering information. Therefore, the habit of scanning rather than scrutinizing breeds a non-linear, inconsistent fashion of thinking. This ominous prophecy really terrifies us educators. Perhaps one would even argue that this is no longer a mere prophecy, but a self-evident fact that today’s students are unable to read or write carefully and logically. However, is it technology or digital media that we should blame?

    Michael Jensen states that “technology is less the driver of change than is our cultural response to technology.” What changes our life is not Blackberries, iPads, or Facebook; instead, it is how we immerse ourselves into the world of digital technology, which is supposed to be simply a tool. Definitely, the whole project of digital nation asks the same question–being asked all the times–of whether we should embrace technological development or we had to remain alert with its dark side. We, as educators, should never turn our back to technology because our students are born to be digital natives. Undoubtedly, we should support the development of digital literacy skills because they need the skills to survive in the 21st century. Once we got on the train of technological development, there is no way we can return to the old days. Ever since we have emails, cellphones and text-messaging, no one would return to handwriting letters, no matter how romantic or nostalgic it is.

    However, we should always bear in mind that some universal values outlive cultural changes. As Marc Prensky kept emphasizing in digital nation “the cost of gains.” We lose something at the cost of gaining something else. Some essential values never wear out, however time changes. In the case of higher education, what remains unchanged is the ultimate goal: that of an independent critical thinker. Even when scarcity of information is at issue, the capability to filter and evaluate information already tops the list of requirements of scholarly training.
    Thus, if we remember well our goal of teaching students to be able to think critically, technology would never be a detriment. With overloaded information, we teach them to critique, evaluate and then filter it. First we digital immigrants must know how these digital natives think, and then we can teach them how to make “good” use of digital technology even though sometimes we had to sacrifice what we used to treasure in terms of Authority 1.0.

    • chenwenh Says:

      hey barbara and everyone, I just sent out my posts from the doctor’s office. I would drive my baby home first and then go to class. I would be late for class then. I am sorry!!

  6. celeste2010 Says:

    Choosing important material might also be a milestone for the class goal. I believe it’s not only part of the learning process but it’s also the process of learning itself as students acquire other skills during this process.
    It’s not only about quantity of information but quality and meaningfulness of it.
    We need to be clear on our goals before we have access to the information. Otherwise we might find ourselves and our class “adrift/on the rocks”.

    And of course it’s always a challenge to develop higher order thinking skills! But in my opinion it worth it.

  7. Lay Says:

    Taking some ideas from Clay Shirky’s conference, I would like to problematize our position as teachers. He began by explaining that information overload is not a new problem, but rather it started when the printing presses made books more available. We could have a whole library of books of all kinds of information and never have enough time to read them or to reach the fundamental ideas of all of them. The first universities focused then on dividing all that information into areas: sciences and humanities. The first filter was set up. Later, scholars made subdivisions. Science would become biology, physics, technology, and mathematics; while the humanities would be divided into theology, languages, history, and politics. The second filter was set up in place. Subsequent filters have made university what it is today. This is why I may say that I am an expert in biomedics, rather than just a science or biology mayor. I say that I am a PhD candidate with a mayor on Hispanic American literature, a specialist of XXI century literature from South America, focusing on Chilean comic books. I am filtering all the available information so that I can analyze something specific. However, I cannot hide the fact that there is a whole lot of information out there. My students cannot hide that fact either.
    Based on this, our role should not be the same one universities have had for centuries: we should not be information filters. This has nothing to do with how we teach, but what we teach. If we only expect our students to answer exams and write papers about what we have said on class, then we are simply filtering the information for them. We are maintaining the “status quo” of the free loaders out there that just want to receive answers to give them back and get a good grade with no effort involved. However, if what I teach is how to analyze, then the responsibility of being a filter for all that information falls on the students. I, the teacher, instead of giving my students many interesting facts, should find ways to make them find the information and decide what is useful for them, not only for my class but also for their future. Freeloading will not be a problem because they will not be looking for the correct answers for the class, but for the appropriate answers for learning.
    Even though I understand and agree with some of my classmates preoccupations about privacy and the clash between old school and technology use, I must stress on what I – as well as Shirky – have said before: we have to rethink ourselves and rethink our classes. Let us empower our students so they take accountability for their learning experience and great things will come. This is how the world changes. At least, that is how the Greeks started it all.

  8. sondrus Says:

    FREE POWERPOINT TRAINING THIS SAT.:

    There is still space available to register for the CT Writing Project Packing a
    Punch with PowerPoint Saturday Seminar to be held at EASTCONN’s Windham Mills 3rd
    Floor Computer Lab on Saturday, 2/13/10 from 9 AM to 12 noon.

    Have you ever experienced “death by PowerPoint”? This phenomenon occurs when people
    don’t know about some of the powerful features that are built into PowerPoint, the
    premier software used in business to enhance presentations and make sales. Teachers
    can use PowerPoint to “sell” their content to their students. In just three hours
    you will learn how to use PowerPoint’s basic features to enhance your teaching and
    to cement your students’ learning. Bring ideas and materials with you so that you
    can leave with a PowerPoint presentation that you can use with your students. No
    prior technology experience is necessary. If you already have experience using
    PowerPoint, you’ll learn some techniques for embedding audio, graphics, movies, etc.
    to create PowerPoint presentations that will capture your students’ attention. To
    register, go to: http://cwp.uconn.edu/teachers/satseminars.php.

    Please share this e-mail with any colleagues or friends who might be interested.
    Participants are encouraged to bring their own laptops so they’ll have access to all
    of their electronic resources. Laptops will be available for those who don’t have
    one. To make the best use of their time, participants should bring materials in
    electronic format stored on a flash drive or online so they can leave with a
    completed presentation.


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