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Information Literacy In An Age Of Networked Knowledge

Net Smart: How to Thrive Online

From SXSW Ogilvy notes

I love this visual note from a Howard Rheingold presentation at SXSW. He was launching his new book called Net Smart: How To Thrive Online. From just looking at the note, these seem like things librarians can or should be teaching and discussing (curation, crap detection, triangulation, consumption v. creation).

I also just finished reading David Weinberger’s new book Too Big To Know. It’s about how “knowledge and expertise are becoming networks, and are taking on the properties of networks” in this age of abundant and hyperlinked information. In the book he touches on things like echo chambers, the changing nature of authority, the unsettled nature of knowledge, and information overload. I know that this book is definitely going to change the way that I discuss research and information literacy concepts with students.

In his final chapter he makes several recommendations about how we can best move forward now that knowledge is changing and becoming networked. Among them is teaching young people and students “how to use the Net, how to evaluate knowledge claims, and how to love difference (pg. 192).”

These types of literacies that Rheingold and Weinberger mention are important, but I don’t know if they get discussed many places. Librarians address some of them such as evaluating information and crap detection, but we don’t teach a lot about consumption vs. creation, loving and seeking out difference, curating/filtering information, or attention/distraction.

I agree with Rheingold and Weinberger that these are skills that our students as citizens of the web should have, but I’m not sure where they should be discussed. We often get trapped into thinking that we’re simply helping students with their research. But we’re not just trying to teach students to become successful academic researchers. We are trying to help them become sophisticated consumers and creators of information. This is a much bigger view that encompasses student’s critical thinking skills, lifelong learning and the future of the web.

Are there lessons or ways that you address some of these skills in your information literacy instruction? How do you talk about curation, loving difference, or distraction? Are there places or instances in which you see these conversations taking place? Are these topics we should be talking about with students?

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Make Your Own Learning

Several weeks ago I wrote a post about courses that I wished that they had offered in library school. There were a lot of great comments from folks about knowledge that they wish they had. These were things like event planning, research methodologies, programming, and others. The reason I wrote it was not so much to complain about the lack of opportunities in library school, but for it to be a signpost for current MLIS students about what they may want to investigate. It was also a recognition of skills that I would like to learn and skills that are useful for librarians today.

After the post, Fiona Bradley wrote a related one saying rather wisely that there is no way that we can learn everything in library school, and that it doesn’t matter because “librarianship is the ultimate extensible profession.” We have the skills for lifelong learning. She says in her post to go out and “make your own learning.” I love this sentiment, and it is getting easier all the time.

Education is noticeably changing. It is becoming less centralized. People with initiative can gain new skills or get a very good (though perhaps not credentialed) education for free or cheap. People who want to improve their skills can brush up or take a class any number of ways online or in person. There are a wide variety of tools available to get those skills in things like event planning or graphic design.

You can learn about entrepreneurship and innovation by watching lectures (like the one above about change and fear) from Stanford’s eCorner. You can learn how to code the fun and easy way with CodeAcademy or learn Python at the Kahn Academy. You can learn how to host a conference or basic graphic design from SkillShare.

With the vast amount of content available, instead of finding a teacher you could create a learning community on a service like Google+ and design lessons that center around shared readings and videos and host discussions via text or video chat.

Anne Murphy Paul at a Time Magazine blog says that projects like these are “ushering in a new golden age of the autodidact: the self-taught man or woman.” I tend to agree with her. Learning is not merely going to be students passively receiving knowledge from teachers. It will be a proactive pursuit for people who are curious and want knowledge that will benefit them either for personal growth or additional job skills. As librarians we are the “ultimate extensible profession.” We can learn graphic design if we want to. But are there also ways for us to help our students and users learn outside of the classroom? Can we somehow connect them with resources like those mentioned above? Can we facilitate peer to peer learning among students and community members who want to share their expertise? How can we create more opportunities for our community members to make their own learning?

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Outsourcing Our Memories To Google

image from Ars Electronica on Flickr

A study was recently published in Science Magazine called Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips. It concluded that because of the ever present access to information via the web people are remembering less. The Ars Technica summary says “experiments suggest that people expect computerized information to be continuously available, and actually remember less when they know they’ll have access to it later. We also seem to remember where we can find information instead of the information itself.”

I have heard students say things like “I don’t have to know that, Google knows it for me.” It seems that we are increasingly outsourcing parts of memory to Google and the web. This is definitely a shift in how our minds work and how we think about information. What then, are the implications for information literacy and how we talk about accessing and recalling information?

For one thing our thinking about information is becoming increasingly meta. Instead of remembering actual information we remember where it was located. We no longer need to know as many facts since connectivity is seemingly ubiquitous now and we can access collective knowledge via the web with devices that are in our pocket. We now just remember bits and pieces of an article that we read, but we can remember who tweeted it or which email account it was sent to, and then access it again when we need it.

Is depending on the web for our memories a bad thing then? People have made arguments in the past against technologies ruining our memories. In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates depicts the new technology of writing as a device that will ruin the memories of it’s users:

“ this discovery of yours [writing] will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.”

It seems that this did not happen, in fact writing was a great technology for spreading ideas across time and great distances. But what are some of the possible implications of outsourcing our memories to the web, and how can we talk with students about them?