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?

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