Category Archives: Information Literacy

Information Literacy, Part II


The recent IDC white paper, “The Expanding Digital Universe” provides some interesting numbers on digital information, as well as some prediction through 2010.  A few examples:

  •  In 2006, the amount of digital information created, captured, and replicated was 161 exabytes (or 161 billion gigabytes, which numerically would be 161,000,000,000 GIGAbytes).
  • Between 2006 and 2010, the digital information added annually will increase sixfold from 161 to 988 exabytes.
  • Digital images comprise the largest component of the digital universe, captured by over 1 billion devices.
  • By 2010, 70% of the digital universe will be created by INDIVIDUALS.
  • In 2007, the amount of information created will surpass, for the first time, the amount of storage capacity available.
  • Growth of the digital universe is uneven, with emerging economies slowly catching up to established ones such as Japan, the US, and western Europe.

The Web Worker Daily Blog provides some interesting comments on the IDC’s predictions in a post called “Information and the web worker“, for example that

2007 is the year that our ability to stuff bits into the digital universe will outstrip our ability to store them. By 2010, the total amount of data will overwhelm the total amount of digital storage by a factor of nearly two to one. Whether it’s that e-mail offering to sell you a timeshare condo, the picture of your niece that you sent wirelessly to your mom, or a show that you recorded to watch later, something is going to be lost forever – and looking at the trends, the proportion of things that get lost forever will keep increasing.

More interestingly, however, are the comments on what this all means for knowledge workers,  namely that the work that these people do can to some extent be compared to switchboard operators:

When I look around I see a world where the real value is in connecting people and knowledge. But doing so in utter secrecy doesn’t scale. We don’t do sellside vs buyside. We do active endpoints. We don’t represent one side or the other. We represent the network. We’re switchboard operators for the digital knowledge economy.

That’s what social networkers are and do. We’re connectors.  

As I said, the switchboard operator analogy holds up only so far, and as somebody else already commented on this post:

There’s more to this connecting stuff than just pulling together the bits that anyone _could_ find: it’s being the people who actually _take the time_ to find the connections in amongst the huge stew of everything out there on the Internet.

That’s one of the places the operator analogy falls down. Operators were pretty much passive connectors: a call came in from person A who wants to reach person B, and the operator is the one who knows how to make the connection, but they don’t have anything to do with deciding what connection to make. The valuable operators in this new economy are those who spot the useful connections and initiate them without being prompted.

So where am I going with all of this? I think it should be pretty obvious from the above that just learning how to read, write, and do basic math isn’t going to cut it anymore, yet that’s what we do in education in many cases. Students need to learn how to search for, aggregate, analyze, synthesize, create, and communicate, and they need to be able to do so in an increasingly digital world (hence also the need for more social studies education in such areas as citizenship and global awareness). We can no longer afford to prepare kids with skills for an industrial economy, those days are long gone. The area I live in, Northeast Ohio, is a prime example, as further discussed in this earlier post.

Literacy is extremely important these days, even more so than in the past. However, as the nature of information is constantly changing, so should the ways in which we teach our students to be literate, and that means going way beyond learning how to read, really!

Image Credit: “DSC04332″, Neil Rickard’s photostream:

The Importance of Open Content


This one’s been sitting on my “to write” list for quite some time now, but a visit to the university library yesterday reminded me of it.

The idea of open content online is a simple one.  As Judy Breck has written in 109 Ideas for Virtual Learning, and  in this article:

Open content for learning, which is the substance of the global virtual knowledge ecology, is free, reusable, connectable learning subject content within the open Internet. It is easy to assume open content is applauded because it is altruistic for content creators to let what they produce be used charitably, for free. A much more fundamental advantage is the openness in the sense of being connectible to all other open content. Any content that is closed in the connective sense will atrophy in a withering that will ultimately punish those who sought proprietary profit.

I agree with Judy that access and connectibility are key ingredients. To that I would add (and this is by no means a complete list)

  • creativity: learners creating content; prime examples are Wikipedia, Curriki, and any of the myriad of media sharing sites that are out there;
  • accuracy: if content is open, created by many, and used for learning, it should be accurate. Wikipedia has been at the center of the accuracy discussion. If you ask me, I’d put more faith in Wikipedia content than the average textbook, because I know online content is up-to-date, multimodal, and checked by many (relatively speaking) for accuracy;
  • quality: see “accuracy”. If content is open, created by many, and used for learning, it should be good;
  • the power of groups and collaboration: many small ideas lead to big ones; examples of this include Google Image Labeler and Photosynth (Microsoft Live Labs): , as described in this earlier post.

Obviously, open content does bring with it its own issues that will need to be addressed, such as

  • access: does “open” mean “unfiltered”? 
  • copyright: Creative Commons is a workable solution for this issue. It’s a matter of content creators being willing to use Creative Commons instead of more traditional forms of copyright. A good example is Gilmor’s We the Media
  • authority: or the importance of source. See e.g. this post by David Warlick.

What triggered my memory to write this post was a somewhat forced trip to the university library yesterday. I was working on a paper and a tight deadline when I was looking for some specific information on the history of cell phones and cell phone use. I figured, no problem, hopped on the Internet, searched wikipedia, ran some queries through Google and Google Scholar, but lo and behold, I couldn’t find the info, or if I thought I had, it was inaccessible because it was through a subscription service.

Finally, I turned to our library to look for a book or two on the topic. Usually, this isn’t a problem, as our library has a nice service where you can order the books and library staff will pull the book for you and order it. All I have to do is go pick it up (in past years, they would even deliver to your office). Anyway, because that usually takes a day or two I had no choice but to go get the book myself. According to the database the book was readily available on the shelf.

To make a long story short, I finally found the book on one of the sorting shelves (and out of order) after 30 minutes of searching. The trip to the library took me about an hour, time I could have spent writing if the information I needed had been readily and openly available online.

Of course, in a formal educational environment an occurence like this tends to have larger consequences, as teachers and students don’t have the kind of time that I do to go peruse the library for an extended period of time. Immediate access to digital information online and in the classroom is key to maintain the flow of learning.

Another interesting observation here is my dissatisfaction with the whole affair. A few years ago going out and getting the book wouldn’t have been that big of a deal. However, with the pervasiveness of the Internet and online resources, I think immediacy of access is something that we’ve come to expect; I know I have …

Image credit: “Open”, tribalicious photostream:

More Good Reasons Why Technology and Media Literacy Should Be a Part of Every Education


Amidst the deluge of posts I’ve been trying to wade through in the past few days is this gem by Vicki Davis, “Spies Like Us“, in which she discusses the implications of evermore wireless and mobile technologies, and what schools should be doing to be better prepared for the influx of mobile devices. As Davis states, banning the devices is not the answer, as students will find ways around that, as the cell phone controversy in New York City has shown.

Davis proposes that schools:

  1. update acceptable use policies;
  2. come to an understanding that the new school hours are 24/7;
  3. understand the importance of technology education including ethics;
  4. understand that blocking doesn’t protect your school from the technology and its uses;
  5. understand that information does not travel in straight lines.

Very well said, and I would like to add the following:

   6.  understand that the new school “day” goes beyond the brick and mortar of the school building. School has become much more of a process than a place (to go along with #2).  This also has implications for school policies, because where do you draw the line as far as school authorities being able to interfere with what kids do outside of school? An excerpt of an article of mine that will be published in Innovate this spring:

Because the online world and new technologies are blurring boundaries between school and the rest of the world, educational institutions are debating where to draw the line when it comes to regulating student use of the Internet. Many schools now have policies that hold students responsible for their online actions outside of school, and more and more students are being punished for what they post on the Internet. For example, in North Carolina, a student was suspended for 10 days for posting an altered picture of his school’s assistant principal on MySpace (Student Press Law Center, 2005).


These developments have raised First Amendment and free speech issues for students. In 1969, the Supreme Court ruled in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District that high school students have First Amendment rights at school, but speech that “materially disrupts classwork or involves substantial disorder or invasion of the rights of others is … not immunized by the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech,” with the burden of proof on schools (U.S. Supreme Court, 1969). School administrators now argue that the “substantial disruption” standard from the Tinker decision should apply to what students do outside of school, including online. Civil liberties attorneys have countered by saying that what students do and say outside of school should be the parents’ responsibility, and that schools are overstepping their boundaries, especially when students are critical of the schools they attend.

I wholeheartedly agree that blocking or banning is not the answer. Not only are those attempts futile ones in many cases, but we lose the opportunities that we have to teach students about the ethics of technology use, which, like Davis writes, is another critical component of a technology education for kids. In fact, many state and national standards include standards on ethics, for example ISTE’s:

  • Students understand the ethical, cultural, and societal issues related to technology.
  • Students practice responsible use of technology systems, information, and software.
  • Students develop positive attitudes toward technology uses that support lifelong learning, collaboration, personal pursuits, and productivity. (ISTE, 2005).

In fact, in ISTE’s proposed new technology standards for students, as blogged about by Julie Lindsay, ethics will take on an even more prominent role, as part of a section called “Digital Citizenship”. And by the way, I agree with Julie in that the standards, including the ethical ones, should be given a more global “flavor”.


As I said, great post by Vicki Davis; as far as I’m concerned it should be required reading for all teachers, administrators, and parents (and kids too)…



Image Credit: “James Bond’s Little Nellie”, Elsie esq.’s photostream:

The Future of Education?


Here is the latest article in Time on the future of education, entitled “How to Bring Our Schools out of the 20th Century“, which I ran across via a this post by David Truss (which is worthy of a separate post in itself). For a change, the authors of the article focus on

the big public conversation the nation is not having about education, the one that will ultimately determine not merely whether some fraction of our children get “left behind” but also whether an entire generation of kids will fail to make the grade in the global economy because they can’t think their way through abstract problems, work in teams, distinguish good information from bad or speak a language other than English.

Various people have already commented on this piece, including the likes of Will Richardson, David Warlick, and Wesley Fryer. All good posts, so no need to rehash their thoughts here. And by the way, the contents of the Time article are by no means limited to the United States. In fact, the article reminded me of a conversation I had with Graham Brown-Martin of HandheldLearning on mobile technologies and learning which included statements like:

Building schools for the future should not be about the architecture, but what school means. Is the school a building or a community, is a fundamental question; is school a community where learners with mobile tools can access information in different locations?

School has been a state-provided nanny. Is that really what we want educational systems to be about moving forward?” Kids need to be taken care of, but should be more than child care. Maybe kids should be at school to play and at home to learn. And what impact does that have on society?

Schools are going to be digitized out. You have to think in terms of Web 2.0 technology, different learning objects that are available everywhere, eventually we find something that we can understand.

With mobile technologies we are seeing a change. Students can assemble their own learning materials. Teachers will still be around, not replaced by technology. There will actually be more teachers, making all this stuff, making materials for learners. Inevitably, the definition of teacher is going to change from caretaker to teacher.

Maybe these are some of the conversations we should start having….

Image Credit: Nadya Peek’s photostream:

Information Is Ubiquitous Too


I’m trying to get caught up on my blog/news reading today, and ran across Jeff Utecht’s post “Why you are not in control of information“, which reposts the latest state of the blogosphere as reported by Dave Sifry in this post on Technorati.

Without going into much of the details (the numbers are literally running off the charts), it is obvious that the amount of information that is available to us and our students is literally exploding (and I’m just talking about the Internet blogosphere). Does that mean all of this information is good? Absolutely not. Does it mean that as teachers we are still in control of the information we teach to our kids? Even less so.

The proliferation of open content on the Internet is making it even more important these days to teach kids digital and information literacy skills as I wrote about earlier in my Information Literacy post. Instead of trying to cram more content into the school day because students need to know it “for the test”, why not focus more on the skills that will help kids deal with the flood of information our society throws at them every waking hour of the day? After all, to quote Albert Einstein, “Information is not knowledge”…

Image credit: Dave Sifry @ Technorati:

PS: And of course, right after I wrote this post I ran across this article in eSchoolNews via this David Warlick’s blog post.

It’s Not Just about the Information…


For a while now, there has been an ongoing discussion in the blogosphere about whether it is the technology or the information/learning that’s important. It seems like most people seem to be siding with the information/learning side.

However, following the Handheld Learning 2006 Conference in London, Tony Vincent posted this on the Handheld Learning Forum:

The second item that was pervasive throughout most all of the sessions in the Churchill Auditorium was that the device and software do not matter. I’m here to tell you that they do, especially software. As I said in my session, teachers need to know the abilities and limitations of the learning tools in their classrooms. You can’t expect them to figure it all out on their own time! Educators need training so they can use the devices effectively. Omitting discussion about hardware and software is a disservice because it really is necessary to know what your tools can do and can’t do. Also important in teacher training is classroom/technical management and instructional strategies. Without all of these, embedding handheld learning won’t be very successful.

And when educators go to a conference about technology, they are constantly thinking about how to apply the new tools to learning. Don’t insult them by constantly reiterating it’s about learning…they know-that’s why they are there!  Helping learners is their job and in most instances, it’s their passion.

Tony has a good point, and here was my response at that time:

Yes, the technology does matter, BUT, not to the point where it becomes the [sole] focus of learning. As Tony states in his post, teachers know it’s all about learning, they come to conferences like HH Learning to learn about technology and how to use it for teaching and learning. So… in my view we should be looking for a happy medium between learning and technology, especially when it comes to professional development.

I still stand by this. Information, and how to deal with it, is extremely important, no doubt about that, but I think what many of us are kind of pushing to the back burner sometimes is that technology,

  • has changed the nature of this information. As David Warlick has said, the new information is networked, overwhelming, and never finished. In addition, Judy Breck keeps emphasizing open content.

  • provides access to this new information. Just try to imagine for a minute what it would be like not having the Internet or your cell phone. What information would you not have access to?

  • empowers students. There are plenty of examples of this out there, and I see it on a daily basis in the work that I do.

To me, it’s the combination of mobile devices and networked and open content that is going to be the key for future (and current) learning. And so this means a combination of technology AND information, not just one or the other. And to answer the question that Graham Brown-Martin asked about my discussion with Tony of “whether new technology should attempt to work around existing pedagogy or whether it should inform/stimulate a new one?” I’d say, given the current state of our schools, that we need a new one, badly…


Image Credit: marygrace:

Information Literacy, Digital Story Telling, Citizen Journalism, and …..

iwojima1.jpg           marineskuwait.jpg

Today is the release of the movie “Flags of Our Fathers“, directed by Clint Eastwood, which I’m sure will bring about plenty of discussion about the role of the media when it comes to news reporting and war (reviews of the movie are already availble on sites like Rotten Tomatoes, and a quick Google search turned up about 3.5 million hits for the movie). A good article to get started with is Newsweek’s “Inside the Hero Factory“, which discusses how the government and media have been using images over time to manipulate reality, and how the more recent proliferation of technology has started to turn the tables (although one should wonder about the content of the article, given the media outlet that published it).

The article draws a comparison between World War II and Iraq:

It hasn’t been a conflict in which photographers or network-news producers have captured the “picture that can win or lose a war” in Iraq. It was a shutterbug soldier who thought it would be cool to document the fun and games at Abu Ghraib. What the Pentagon didn’t foresee, and couldn’t control, was the rise of new media—the unfiltered images popping up on the Web, the mini-DV cams put in the hands of soldiers that emerge in the recent documentary “The War Tapes.” We don’t see much of the real war on network TV, but the unauthorized documentaries—”The Ground Truth,” “Gunner Palace” and many more—come pouring out. Just as more people think that they get a straighter story from Jon Stewart’s mock news reports than from traditional outlets, it’s been the “unofficial” media that have sabotaged the PR wizards in the Pentagon. The sophistication of the spinners has been matched by the sophistication of a media-savvy public.


It isn’t difficult to point out here that it is exactly because of these types of developments that it is sooooo important for educators to learn about and teach with and about many forms of media, including the ones that are currently being labeled as being bad for kids. Examples like flickr and YouTube come to mind, but let’s not forget television and the movies (especially those controlled by the large media conglomerates).

Again, this is yet another example of it is not the technology that is the focus of teaching and learning, but the information (a la David Warlick). How are kids going to learn to make their own informed decisions if we don’t

  • show them there is more than one side to a story?

  • teach them how to look for and recognize bias?

  • give them the tools to effectively analyze and synthesize a variety of sources on a given topic?

  • help them figure out the (un)importance of source and authority (see David Warlick’s post on that one)

As a former social studies teacher, I can tell you from experience that teaching these types of skills is much more important, relevant, (and fun) than plowing through an 800-page textbook of facts (which, btw, are not always correct either!!).

More to follow on this one …


Image Credits: mcfarland0311′s photostream
(Flag Raisers on Iwo Jima, 1945):
(Marines in Kuwait, 2006):

Information Literacy


Here is why it is so important that we teach students how to deal with the flood of information that’s available to them on the Internet, instead of blocking them from it:

Students Lack ‘Information Literacy,’ Testing Service’s Study Finds

This article is from yesterday’s Chronicle of Higher Education’s Daily News. According to the piece,

A study by the nonprofit testing service [ETS] looked at the scores of about 3,000 college students and 800 high-school students who earlier this year took a new ETS test designed to measure their information literacy and computer savvy. The test is called the ICT Literacy Assessment Core Level. “ICT” stands for “information and communication technology.”

According to the preliminary report, only 13 percent of the test-takers were information literate. ETS set what company officials described as a rough, unofficial information-literacy bar using information from a variety of sources, including the Association of College and Research Libraries.

The article doesn’t give a definition of information literacy (although I kind of get the feeling it’s heavily text/print based) as used by ETS, specifics on the actual test, or detailed information on what it measures, but it does caution the reader that the findings are preliminary. An excerpt from the findings:

Among the study’s findings, the ETS labeled the following as “good”:

  • Students generally recognized that Web sites whose addresses end in .edu or .gov were less likely to contain biased material than those with addresses ending in .com.
  • Students typically favored print material over Web sites for authoritative information.
  • When searching a database of journal articles for a research project, 63 percent of students identified reasonably relevant materials.

The testing service labeled the following findings as “bad”:

  • Some students were too willing to believe print materials, failing to distinguish authoritative from mass-market sources.
  • Students were generally poor at identifying biased Web content.
  • When searching a database, only half of students downplayed irrelevant results.

As has been said so many times, it’s not about the technology, but about the information…


Image Credit: Nandudesign’s photostream: