Thursday, November 17, 2011

Learning in times of abundance...for quite some time now!

This week's topic, as I mentioned in my initial post, is learning in times of abundance. Eric Duval, in his definition of abundance, goes for the digital element, but I wanted to focus on something  a little more mundane - the "disconnected" world of the library.  The fact of the matter is that our abundance of information is no new thing. Some may go back as far back as the invention of the printing press, but I won't since buying books still costs money to the individual and thus, while there is an abundance in materials, it's not abundant to you because you've got limited money.  Instead I want to focus on something quaint - the library.

The library has provided us with a lot of abundant information, for both learning and pleasure.  Through various consortia, if your own town library (or libraries) don't carry the item you want, they can get it for you, usually for no extra charge, so you can have access to whatever material you need. In high school I almost never used the library; except to borrow the original Star Trek movies and to do some required summer reading*...both of these activities happened at the same time. As a college undergraduate I used the library as a free place to get internet - again missing out on the wonders that the library could offer.  It wasn't until graduate school when I really started using the library a lot.

Why such a lag in using such abundant information sources? Very few courses I took required trips to the library to research (I was a computer science major as an undergraduate) and I really lacked the information savvyness to use the library, and to use it well!  Our focus now, as is evident from Eric's initial post, is the internet - what can the internet for us and our classes?  Well, the answer is nothing; unless of course people really learn how to use it; how to find resources relevant to them, to weigh them, evaluate them, and put them to use.  The problem with the internet is the same problem as the library: they are both abundant information sources but they do require some user training for them to use. Just as you can't walk into a library and immediately (and without training) find the information source that's right for your query, in the same manner you can't just hop onto Google and find an answer to your question without critical  reasoning and questioning skills.

The benefit of this connected world, is that we get a chance for a do-over. We get an opportunity to teach learners how to find information, both in digital form and in physical form in a library, how to evaluate it, how to be critical of it, how to cite it and create and defend arguments based on this information.  Technology is just a tool, the hard work is all mental ;-)

* well, I also got some books on programming Apple ][gs machines using ProDOS, but that was limited in scope
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