Information is a Science…

 5 6500382 8A0D4B6130I’ll be in Memphis for the next few days at the renowned Laptop Institute, on the campus of Lausanne Collegiate School, and at points across that river city where blues music, good food, and merriment are to be found. I’ll be making three contributions to the conference, a keynote address on contemporary literacy, an unconference-style session that will unveil itself in its own way, and a presentation on Web 2.0.

In the literacy keynote, I will describe how, during the past 10 to 15 years, the information that we use to accomplish our goals has become increasingly

  • Networked,
  • Digital, and
  • Overwhelming

These three emerging characteristics of information have, I believe, changed what it means to be literate in the 21st century. Reading, arithmetic, and writing continue to be at the core of literacy. However, there are other skills today that are as critical to a democratic and economically viable society as the ability to read text on a piece of paper. This development, I believe, should affect our notions of the basic skills as they are integrated into what and how we teach.

During the past two to three years, new developments in the information landscape have almost suddenly appeared. Their characteristics have long been known by a younger generation of video gamers, who prefer spending their time interacting with information and being a participant in emerging plots and character relations, while we, of an older generation, prefer passively consuming information, accepting the plots and characters laid down by authors.

The rise of blogging, podcasting (and vodcasting), wikis, and the glue that ties them and much else together, RSS, more closely align with the video game view of information than the blook-reading and film-watching mode that is my information consumption and was the central part of my education. The information landscape is increasingly a place that we participate in, observing our experience, reflecting on what we observe, reporting it to the blogosphere, reading, reflecting, and writing some more, and constructing uniquely valuable content — along with the junk. Information flows through new channels and on new levels and it is tied together through tags and folksonomies, remixed, and attracted back to us in new and educationally potent ways.

Today, as information becomes increasingly networked, digital, and overwheming,

  • Content rises increasingly out of conversation rather than formal and procedural publishing,
  • The behavior of content depends more and more on the behavior of its readers, and
  • People are increasingly connecting to each other through their content — through their ideas

These three emerging characteristics offer to change not only what and how we teach, but the very structure of the education experience, evaporating the definitions of teacher, learner, classroom, textbook, and all of the other firmwares of the institution, and making education an integral part of living. This, by no means, means the demise of the teacher, classroom, student, or even the textbook (though that surely must evolve into something far more networked, digital, and overwhelming). It simply means that what happens in the formal learning experience must look much more like on-the-job training, where we are helping children learn to become life-long learners.

Our indication of educational success must be much less a measure of what students know, and much more a measure of what they can teach themselves.


Image Citation:
Etech, “Laptops and Conversations.” Etech’s Photostream. 14 Mar 2005. 16 Jul 2006 <http://flickr.com/photos/oreilly/6500382/>.

In searching flickr’s creative commons directory, I was amazed at how much people love their laptops. 😉

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Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.