Finding & Evaluating Information in a Hyperconnected World

The words 'Information Overload' are being filtered through a sieve to become Information
Photo Credit: Information Overload by verbeeldingskr8

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. Indeed, in last week’s Campus Technology session, Stephen Downes asserted that social media is today’s learning environment and that the way to find and filter the abundance of information and resources now available to us is by using social media—because you can’t do it with traditional means. Would you agree with that?

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.

This Thursday we will be attending the Top 10 Internet Resources for School Leaders session in LearnCentral. It will be at 6 p.m. 5 p.m. EST time (my fault for giving the incorrect time! It now appears that the incorrect time was given in LearnCentral but it is being recorded and is now available as well as the link to Admin 2.0’s LearnCentral community).


19 Responses to “Finding & Evaluating Information in a Hyperconnected World”

  1. carsten01 Says:

    Sharing information and with that creating communities of practice is an excellent way to provide high quantities and qualities of information about one or more specific topics. In its “perfect” form, it works as a magnifying-class, focusing information on specific topics.
    However, in order for communities of practice to work I believe it takes a shift of paradigm among teachers as well as students.
    Sharing information is a very altruistic thing to do and in a culture where independence is highly stressed, to make information available to others might imply giving up an advantage. But in a time where information is created and accessible 24/7 one individual is no longer able to cover much of it. In order to do so, help from others is needed. Creating communities of practice with hundreds of participants around the globe can of course reach out to a far greater extent and bring together information. We need to realize that we are in an interdependent world.
    This does not mean giving up advantages. It rather means gaining advantages in form of greater access to information. The individual than, is challenged to process this input and produce whatever product.
    Using social media means that one selects with specific tools e.g. diigo or twitter, specific paths of information. In doing so, one actively filters information accessible through the web. Instead of going through whole journals, broadly covering one’s interest, it is possible to narrow information down to individual articles and/or resources. As an example, I’m incorporated in the diigo-group “Classroom 2.O” where a link was posted to 6 Free Sites for Creating Your Own Comics –content that we covered in our last session. With the information shared by Mary Beth Messner, I can now go on planning my next lesson.
    The question is: Are we more likely to use social media for the positive aspects? We all think that using technology in teaching is a great thing to do and thus we decide to gather information promoting this idea. But do we also gather information that is critical about using technology in teaching and with this are able to reach a balanced conclusion weather technology –and how much- is good or bad? Do we filter out critical voices and establish a canon?

    • Barbara Says:

      An interesting observation, Carsten, and one that, if I read you correctly, hints at issues of power and purpose in education. As we explore and practice with these social networking environments, how can we critically evaluate these resources? What tools do we use and how?

      And should we also critically reflect on the paradigm-shifting learning environments that exploit these technologies? To what extent does this dialectic reflect the theoretical foundation of critical pedagogy? Who has power in the learning environment and how does that dynamic reflect and perpetuate existing social, political and economic structures? Who benefits from the status quo? In what ways do these new environments maintain existing paradigms or disrupt them?

      I’ll end my comment with a 2008 blog post by Will Richardson, who regularly seeks perspectives and points of view that ‘push his thinking’, entitled Critical Perspectives on Web 2.0.

      • carsten01 Says:

        I think a critical reflection on the learning paradigm we are in right now is the key for a critical evaluation of resources we use for teaching. The communicative approach, we experience and perpetuate, is set in the framework of globalisation. Abroad-experience is crucially important for one’s career and global traveling is -to a great extent- easy. Due to technology, we have abundant resources of information which we need to manage. This context creates pressure in regard to time and use of latest innovations. Thus, the question has to be asked whether we use technology in the classroom for technologies sake or for a deeper pedagogical objective. In focusing on technology too much, do we not loose pedagogic?
        I think in using the communicative approach we need to de-construct hierarchies in the classroom, and rightly so. But this does also mean that we need a shift in thinking about the role of teachers and learners. Especially learners need to take more responsibility for their education and the structuring of their education. A classroom environment can be set up in way that content is created and selected by students and the teacher takes more the role of a guide. But then each students has to pro-actively work towards the common goal. This de-construction of hierarchies allows “multi-perspectivism” which could work as a balancing factor of monolytic structures.

        • jarcastillo Says:

          I agree with Carsten in that there needs to be a shift on the learning paradigm as well as the approaches and technologies implemented in the classroom. In order to be successful as instructors, students must be a part of this shift, but so must our fellow colleagues. It seems that there is a disconnect between the methods (and technologies) used within the same section and the different levels (of language courses for example). In a discussion I had earlier today with a colleague, the importance of using the communicative approach in elementary and intermediate Spanish takes a backseat once students start some advanced grammar courses. Due to rigid syllabi, explicit grammatical lessons must (according to who?) be covered in these courses. In order to deconstruct these hierarchies and allow the students to actively participate as instructors we must also be consistent with our use and judgment of what technologies we deem helpful within our classroom. As Devin Vodicka emphasizes in “Top 10 Internet Resources for School Leaders session,” media and information literacy is of utmost importance for students as they navigate websites. This also applies for us as instructors in order to consider the technologies available that would best benefit/work within our objectives and share these experiences with our communities of practice.

  2. melinaanne Says:

    Clay Shirky’s presentation correlates directly with Michael Jensen’s statement on our cultural response to technology. Shirky is essentially saying that information overload is not a problem—it’s a fact of our times, and it has been for centuries. Our difficulty in filtering this information—that is to say, our cultural response to it—is actually what needs to be analyzed. How to we react to information abundance? One example of the difficulty we have in filtering information comes to mind. In my high school classroom I was struck by the fact that my students, all of whom have grown up in the so-called digital era and who are certainly comfortable with computers and technology, struggled greatly to use a very simple, common device that we have employed for centuries to make meaning: the dictionary. Both the print and online versions were very difficult for them because they were unable to filter the contents. They were unsure of where to look, and once they found the word they were looking for, were unable to choose the right version. In fact, they would almost always choose the first option, even if it was a verb and they were looking for the adjective form, or if the definition did not match in any way with the word in question. Their response to information overload—their filter technique—was to assume that the first response was the right one, no doubt a result of having grown up in the age of Google, where the most highly rated match comes up first and is generally (but not always) the most appropriate.

    I think it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by a large presence of information, especially when it’s presented in ways that are still a bit “foreign” to a large number of people. It’s true that there are social bookmarking sites, and tagging, and ways to filter your RSS feed—but, as we have often repeated in this class, the way we think about thinking has not evolved as much as our technology has. We cannot, as Stephen Downes said, filter “by traditional means.” We don’t just have to learn to use new devices, but we have to learn how to think differently about the use of those devices. Old rules no longer apply. In many ways, we are still tied to the first age of information that William Rankin talks about, where the exchange of information was “highly personal and relational”, and moving into the second age (after the printing press), where accessing information became easier but “finding it” was more of a challenge. The use of social networking and bookmarking sites has the ability to combine both of these ages and solve the problems present in them by allowing us to engage in “collaborative reading.” In a time when even respected scholars admit to having a certain amount of difficulty in focusing on reading long narratives, it becomes clear that we have definitively moved into an era where meaning is made in a different way. The process of collaborative bookmarking is certainly intriguing—it’s like employing hundreds of research assistants at no cost to you. It’s also interesting to consider that we as individuals can filter information in terms of privacy settings and editing RSS feeds, but that we as a collaborative internet community are continuously filtering information for each other. It is certainly a revolutionary way to look at reading and research, though not a perfect solution. As Shirky points out in his presentation when talking about the student accused of cheating in Canada, the administration had a point, too: they want each of the students to be able to “figure things out” for themselves. Isn’t that what we want, too? How do we ensure that our students are active participants in online environments rather that, as Shirky calls them, “free-riders”?

    • Barbara Says:

      I wonder if you all agree with Clay Shirky when he suggests that we need to rethink the institutional model because we’re breaking the system we’ve got on a structural level? (at 21 min.) This makes me think of current attempts to ban/block cell phone use/reception in UCONN classrooms. Is this an example of a ‘filter failure’?

      • melinaanne Says:

        I think this is a result of filter failure inasmuch as blocking cell phone reception is a response that does not accurately identify the problem. It is too obvious to say that the problem is the cell phone, and the best way to combat the problem is to ban the cell phone. This is illustrated in Mark Pesce‘s presentation when he gives the example of information blocking as a dead end in China. The “mob”, as he puts it, is now mobilized and will now do as it pleases. Now that they have been given the tools, they will rebel against anything that stands in their way of the human need to share.

        I also see ties between what Clay Shirky says about rethinking the institutional model with Mark Pesce’s point about the hardware coming before the cultural software. We continue to apply old principles and structural ideas to an institution that has evolved–at least for the moment–beyond our comprehension.

  3. Karen Zook Says:

    Clay Shirky’s talk, It’s not Information Overload. It’s Filter Failure, really struck home for me.

    I took a history seminar a few semesters ago in which the professor mentioned, offhand, that graduate students today are in an entirely different situation than those from a generation ago. A generation ago, access to information was limited; the number of books on any given subject which an individual could reasonably expect to have access to was limited. It was, at that point, still possible to have “read everything,” and thus to be an expert in one’s given field.

    Now, though, the situation is entirely different. Not only do we have this exponential explosion of information (graduate school is a pyramid scheme, I swear it!), but we can have access to all of it, all the time. And Shirky’s right that we need to start employing a new type of filter on what we consider important and worth consuming. When we’re dealing with ourselves (and our students) as scholars, however, it becomes a different situation; we almost have to externalize our brains.

    Remember that great line of Sean Connery’s from Indiana Jones? “I wrote it down so I wouldn’t have to remember!” When I first saw that movie, I remember thinking that was intended to be a joke (and it probably was): haha, the absent-minded professor-type can’t remember the things he’s supposedly spent his whole life learning! Well, here we are, faced with an amount of information it is physically impossible to ingest and process; as collaborative web technology continues to develop, the process of learning is going to become more and more about gaining proficiency in navigating an externalized set of information, rather than about internalizing information from another source.

    What melinaanne says above about today’s students’ inability to operate something like a dictionary is amazing (and similar to experiences I’ve had).

    In fact, they would almost always choose the first option, even if it was a verb and they were looking for the adjective form, or if the definition did not match in any way with the word in question.


    I think our role as educators who want to integrate the “externalized brain” of the web into our classrooms–and we should!—need to focus on is not only technological proficiency but critical thinking proficiency. The knowledge base our students need to develop is based on methods of discerning what is or is not valuable information, and not just based on melinaanne’s observed criteria of what Google happens to turn up first. When I was in elementary school, the type of research assignments we were given included requirements to use X number of sources; the teacher usually didn’t specify anything about the quality of those sources, because it was assumed that anything we had access to would meet a minimum level of quality. In a modern classroom, however, we need to teach our students how to decide whether a source is school-appropriate or valuable for their particular purpose. We need to teach them to internalize, not the information itself, but the critical skills necessary to develop their own filters and organize the information available to them.

    • Barbara Says:

      I wonder, are most educators are up to the task and if not, how do we help them to get there?

      • Karen Zook Says:

        I don’t think it’s easy to get them there, that’s for sure. Last weekend I was part of a presentation of the LAPIS practomime at ClassConn, in which our goal was, essentially, to convince a bunch of Latin teachers (some of the most traditionalist teachers out there) that they should be scrapping what they’ve been doing in favor of a student-centered model of formative assessment.

        They were interested, but that interest waned when they realized how much work it would be. It’s not more work than “regular” teaching, of course, but the first time requires the sort of prep work most probably haven’t done since their first year as a teacher. While it’s understandable that they don’t want to go through that again, it’s frustrating to see them resistant to change, not out of ideological/pedagogical motivation, but out of laziness.

  4. beatebirkefeld Says:

    Clay Shirky mentions a college student who was charged for violating his school’s code of conduct (I think Barbara told us the story, too.). I’m sure much has already been said about it, but I have been thinking about again. How can we take advantage of the fact that there seems to be significant interest in a study group on Facebook, which is completely run without any teacher encouragement? We each try our hardest to keep our private life separated from our work or “study” life. The last thing we want is going online to see our friends, but then feel reminded of tomorrow’s Chemistry test. Facebook has become more than a platform for informal small talk. It stretches from keeping up to date with our family and friends to professionals using Facebook as a representation of their work. The user-friendly application allows for structured postings, discussions, threads and much more. High School and college students check their Facebook several times a day. There is no need to set up a particular time to meet; everything can be done online 24/7.
    Now this might sound as if I am trying to sell Facebook here, but I really just want to emphasize what we have been talking about in our course for very long now: the traditional means of learning have left the classroom. We are now also learning in our social environment. Learning is no longer a dreadful chore, but becomes as “natural” as staying in touch with our friends.
    What I find interesting though is that Shriky says the problem was not so much that this particular student started an online study group, but that he started an online study group with 143 people. Put aside the legal worries, my point is, if a large number of students are so willing to collaborate, then why don’t we steal that idea from Facebook? We need to get students think about Chemistry beyond the classroom setting. Learning has to become part of our social life, which is now taking place largely online. We learn better when we exchange and discuss. We learn more and quicker when we learn from each other. Studying would be more effective if split evenly: Similarly to our last in-class activity, students could become “experts” on a topic they are working on and it would be immediately shared online. In a world of information abundance and fast-paced lives, we need to create communities of practice where we can share, teach and learn from one another without browsing books and internet for hours. If such online study groups should turn out to be more effective than what students learn by going to class, will students “waste their time” attending class? How does that change the role of the teacher?

    • Barbara Says:

      Just a quick thought as I’m in a world language assessment meeting right now in Glastonbury. Our very own Roger Travis and Neag School of Education doctoral student, Steve Slota, presented on the Latin ‘gaming’ course that Karen Zook is TAing for in her role as a demiurge. Much of their course work is based on collaboration in teams. In reference to this, Steve mentioned at one point that his dissertation advisor, Mike Young, quoted Sir Ken Robinson, who says, ‘when adults work together to solve a problem we call it collaboration, when students do it, we call it cheating.’ Yesterday, we listened to a psychometrician explain his group’s authentic, formative, embedded assessment tool that targets critical thinking and allows for students to continue to take these assessments until they become successful. With these new learning modalities now available to us, perhaps it really is time to reconsider how, why, where and with whom we teach and learn.

      Roger has graciously agreed to join us in an online Elluminate session in the near future to explain how his course works and I’m hoping Karen will serve as our course demiurge during this session!

  5. Eleonora Boscolo Camiletto Says:

    When I was asked (a couple of weeks ago in class) what was my best learning experience was, I couldn’t answer. I tried to remember my studying experience and all I could think of was all those nights and weekends spent in my room studying by my self. Even when I was in college I didn’t have a laptop, I didn’t know what Facebook was and I was commuting to college so I would not have the chance to be in a study group. When I moved to the States my experience at the university was totally different. I used to meet with my colleagues before tests and review together.
    What Facebook does, as Clay Shirky explains, is amplify this opportunity to share knowledge and help each other. Without barriers of space and time, people can meet 24/7 and discuss, share, produce. Understanding these new tools, accept them and be able to use them at their best is essential. Like Karen said and demonstrated in her response, it is easier for teachers to just stick with traditional methods and refuse any concept that they don’t know yet, but in this era of ‘digital natives’ it won’t be possible (and acceptable) to do that anymore.
    I think it all comes down to what Shirky talks about: we have a filter problem. We always had to filter information (as Melina explained with her dictionary example) but we are still filtering with the wrong tools, we are still thinking as non ‘digital natives’. In Michael Wesch’s words, we need to rethink filtering tools and information.

    • Barbara Says:

      I would be curious to hear if and how you all might find ways to address the broken filters you and your students are currently using.

    • aljarrash Says:

      I agree with you Eleonora since I had the same experience or maybe more difficult.I graduated from the college and I didn’t know how to use the computer even how to click to search in google.The first time I bought a laptop was two years ago and it was my first time to know what computer means.When I moved to US ,the experience was completely different .Everything is run by technology and if you don’t have a computer ,you are lost.Now,everything is changed .I mostly use computer for everything ,chatting,studying,teaching and communicating with people around and I feel that I can’t live without it even when I go back to my country.

  6. ntrax84 Says:

    I strongly agree with Carsten when he says that we should not use technology for the sake of using it. We should be critical with technologies and think about or pedagogical objectives. And yes, the teacher should be the guide-on-the-side instead of the sage in the stage. But this is exactly what some of the social networking tools are good for. They do help to create “communities of practice” and the students learn from each other while communicating and expressing their thoughts and ideas online. Because the teacher is only the guide he needs to make sure that the students are able to work with online tools and the internet in general. As said in the article “The iPad and Information’s Third Age” by Dan Colman it “has become virtually impossible for a person to assess the quality, relevance, and usefulness” of all the information you get online. Mark Warschauer, a Professor in the Department of Education at the University of California already predicted years ago in his paper “Technological Change and the Future of CALL” that technological development has a huge effect on the foreign language classroom. He says in his paper that there are not only new contexts, new genres, new identities, and new pedagogies, but also new literacies. New literacies means that reading online is way different from reading books from a library. It “cannot be done without making critical decisions at every step”. There are so many opinions and papers out there and the students really need to be able to find, sort and evaluate the information. He says that “in the online future, virtually all literacy will necessitate critical judgment”. But how do we teach this critical judgment? How do we make the students prepare for the huge amount of information they find online? Yes, maybe we need better filters and programs which help us to get the information we need. But evaluates them and decides which resource in reliable and which one is not? I really like the idea of programs like diigo and delicious and I’m looking forward to see during the next couple of weeks if those tools work for me.

    • carsten01 Says:

      I think there is even one step before initiating the necessity of judgment of vast amounts of information. How do we make students interested in pro-actively gathering information?
      To a certain extend our students -due to the structure of education as it is- are used to get information.
      What is your take on that?

  7. claudiopi Says:

    I definitely have to say that this topic is very interesting and in this post I’ll try hard to filter all of my thoughts, without overloading your screen with scattered information, as the Web seems to do for some.
    First, I want to comment on the people that have been mentioned/quoted in your posts and comments. Regarding Michael Jensen’s reflection “technology is less the driver of change than is our cultural response to technology,” I guess we can agree with that. Technology is an invention and as such, it goes on and it changes according to the cultural responses that the invention receives. Facebook was invented. It was nothing. It grew because some people thought it was useful or innovative and now that “some people” has become “a river of people.” I know it sounds very simplistic, but that’s the way it is. And the reason why there are problems with it (e.g. the college student creating a study group, as Clay Shirky reports on his presentation) it is because there is a collision between the “real” and the “virtual” (which is in other words what Shirky says too). And our cultural system is still not ready to see them together in every context of our life. The real can’t control the virtual. And the virtual sometimes seems to take over the real. There is yet not enough communication between the two. As Shirky says “if you see a problem many times, it’s not a problem. It’s a fact.”
    I’m instead not sure about what Michael Jensen has to tell us. He talks about a shift from information scarcity to information abundance (I would rather call it “information overwhelming”). Again, I agree with Shirky, who says that it’s only a mental shift, after all. This is only how we perceive the change and how we react to the many sources on the Web we are provided with. In the past the means were different. In a time when paper was the only means of sharing information, the filter for quality would be owned by the publishers, but still, I guess you actually didn’t have to necessarily be published by a publishing house to reach a certain target. I don’t think it is correct to call it scarcity.
    Talking about the present instead, the virtual is not so virtual, after all. It’s not an alternative anymore, or a way to transfer written books to a screen. We are continuously faced and influenced by the virtual now. Believe it or not, the virtual is part of our real life. Therefore I would definitely agree with Stephen Downes who suggests that we use social media as a filter (“because you can’t do it with traditional means”). Our means of filtering can’t be traditional anymore. I think we are still on our way to reach this awareness.

  8. aljarrash Says:

    It is nice to have so many choices and too many tools you can use to get information and communicate with people everywhere and easily.If one has an idea on what benefits from all the choices ,it will be good and helpful,but if he/she finds him/herself sink in an ocean of websites and links,then this is a problem.
    I experienced that myself.I had created so many accounts in different websites and tried to link all in one ,but I failed.I found that I was getting from one to a new another one with less advantage.As a teacher,more knowledge is needed in this field.How could a teacher help students if he/she doesn’t have the ability to help him/herself first in getting and filtering what’s found.If the teacher is not specific about where to go and what to do or how to choose ,then students will get totally distracted.I know it is necessary to be qualified using technology ,but we shouldn’t use it for the sake of using it and should think of our pedagogical objectives first as Carsten said.As I know that we are living in a a different situation than time before and here comes a question:do we need to know all what’s online and then know what should be filtered?
    Michael Jensen and Clay came down to one point that the problem is not that we have a huge amount of information and information sources ,but on how to analyze,respond,react and filter .It is only the way we understand what’s between our hands and on how we accept the changes .

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