21 November 2008

THINKING about information

A great friend and colleague shared this TED with me a bit ago and I only just got a chance to watch it and really think about it.

Watching this happened to coincide with my writing with a proposal my director and Champlain's Instructional Designer to LILAC 2009 (in Wales, cross your fingers for me!). The focus of our proposal, and the work I've been doing at Champlain, is asking students to think differently, creatively--if you will, about the information that they already use and will eventually need. As I read through the comment cards from this semester's teaching load (taught my last session at 8 am this morning), I am struck by how many students appreciate that opportunity. They really do seem to LIKE thinking about information in a way that is less defined and less prescribed. I don't think my job is to tell them what information or resources to use. Rather, I think our job is to help them ask them to think about or question which sources they want to use and why.

This is the thought that pounds on my mind when I read posts on ili-l about which texts to use for Info Lit course. Invariably, titles that are about Information Literacy are listed. Why would a college student want to learn about information seeking like this? Our students know a great deal about looking stuff up: it’s figuring out what to do with that “stuff” that they struggle with. Why not encourage discussion around truth, fact, reliability, trust, authority? Couldn’t we consider books like True Enough, the Big Switch, True to Life, Glut, of The Black Swan that ask students to THINK about information and articulate their experience, expectations, and frustrations with it instead of telling them what those experiences and expectations should be? By not asking them to think critically and engage in discussion about that thinking, I don’t know if we are really offering students the chance to become literate.

Which brings me back to Robinson’s lecture for a moment. In it, he asks what public education is really for? (Watch the video: the answer here is brilliantly funny and profound.) I think that’s a key question for information literacy programming as well: what is IL instruction for? If it really is to determine the extent of information needed;
access the needed information effectively and efficiently; evaluate information and its sources critically; incorporate selected information into one’s knowledge base;
use information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose; and understand the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information, and access and use information ethically and legally
, I think we have to ask ourselves if the way in which we teach is conducive to that goal. What are YOU doing to teach students to think about information in that way? Are there other things we should be asking students to think about and if so, how do you encourage that? How do you encourage your students to THINK about information?

12 November 2008

This Information Literacy Moment is brought to you by....?

Here is great example of the importance of EVALUATING information, even from the most trusted of sources. This coincides so well with the thinking I've been doing about the disintegration of truth and fact in the Wikipedia world. Perhaps I've just been reading to much Michael Lynch, or it's the questions I've been getting from students about the election, or the Mark Crispin Miller posts I've been reading about voting...no matter. While it might be easy to say that this is a "a gigantic compliment to The Times”, I think it touches on something far larger and deeper. I think it touches on the notion that people will believe whatever they want to believe, assuming they find someone to support it. This is the same premise that "True Enough" proposes: it's not about whether the information we find is factual, it's about whether it's true enough to serve our purposes.

In some respects, I think there is a lot to be said for Wikipedia's role in this shift. NOTE: I am not suggesting that wikipedia is BAD, EVIL, or USELESSS. But I am saying that there are repercussions to using a wiki-based, community constructed encyclopedia and I think we are just starting to see that play out. I cannot speak to what the talk of the town was in New York today as people got this free paper. Did they believe it? Did they question it immediately? Did they seek confirmation immediately? Perhaps Google Trends caught that and can say where the war in Iraq ended? (THAT'S SARCASM, by the way).

I can say what I see happening with students. And it's only somewhat encouraging. There are some students that talk of NOT using wikipedia because they question its validity, bias, or authority. I remind them that there is a lot of useful information in wikipedia and that it can often be a wonderful place to gather information with which to start a project as well as to witness the dialogue that makes up scholarship. Other students, as there always are, just take whatever they find and go with it. It's obviously this last batch that concerns me. And not only for their ability to do well in their classes. It's more for when we do encounter conflicting information in matters that are important everyday. Matters of national importance, as the Times example demonstrates. But also on smaller, more personal scales. Why is information literacy limited to just what you do in the library or school? Isn't SPAM about information literacy? Isn't the mortgage crisis? Am I alone in thinking that much of what troubles us today related to our lack of PURSUING information. It's clearly not a lack of availability but rather our willingness to dig deeper and validate, evaluate, or THINK about it.

And I'm not sure how to teach that. I'm not sure how to develop that in students other than to encourage it and model it. Do you?

05 November 2008

Where does that election info come from?

Needless to say, I am

Our little city in Vermont busted at the seams last night. As my husband put it in an email, "Burlington erupted - literally thousands of people in the streets running and shouting." He also added, "SFC spent most of the night with tears in her eyes."

It is an exciting time.

We watched the election results at True Majority's offices, which happen to be in the same office as my husband. We had three TVs and six online streams going, all of different channels. The one thing we couldn't get was Jon Stewart (but if you did, I'd love to hear about it!)

One of the things we were discussing was how the different stations report different numbers and different times. There was also a lot of discussion about how they can report with so few precincts reporting. At one point, they were reporting on states with as few as 3%! That just sounds like an awesome example of evaluating information if I ever heard one. With so many "trusted" sources giving out instantaneous information, is it a majority rules scenario? Or is there a way to know, really know, if what we are getting off of the news "true"? And does it even matter?

One of my students in my HIS415 Seminar on Contemporary World Issues is talking about how she felt like the reporting was more interested in "drama" than in reporting. For example, as soon as the polls closed on the West Coast, not only did they immediately report California, Oregon, and Washington, but they also reported Florida and Colorado within minutes. Again, a great point that emphasizes the struggles we face in finding information we can trust, especially in a world overwhelming us with information.

Here is a blog post from the NYT discussing "covering the coverage". I am on the hunt for some additional anaylsis. If you find it, share it.