Archive for the ‘information’ category

Ch. 7 – “Now….. This”

February 16, 2008

Continuing on with my reading – and thinking/blogging – about Neil Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, chapter 7 continues to lay out the argument that the rapid-moving format of our television culture is duping us all into being satisfied with shallow, fragmented, and decontextualized ways of “being informed”. Postman attacks American news in particular in this chapter – news as pure entertainment, delivered in tantalizing disconnected chunks, interspersed with commercials, music, and other eye candy. I agree wholeheartedly. That is television. However, he does make a few points that really made me stop and think hard about our digital “natives” and their proclivity toward multitasking, remixing, ubiquitous socialization tools, mashups, and other schizophrenic-like behaviors.

The result, Postman writes, is that “Americans are the best entertained and quite likely the least well-informed people in the Western world.” He goes on to write:

“What is happening here is that television is altering the meaning of ‘being informed’ by creating a species of information that might properly be called disinformation… misleading, irrelevant, fragmented or superficial information – information that creates the illusion of knowing something but which in fact leads one away from knowing.”


“In presenting news to us packaged as vaudeville, television induces other media to do the same, so that the total information environment begins to mirror television.”

So, this all got me to thinking about our “digital natives” and us, those adults who have embraced new ways of expression and communication. I think that in this new world of data smog, info glut, and info garbage, it has become even more critical than ever to help our students learn deeply, to see information transformed into knowledge that is deeply connected, grounded, and complete. I am not so sure that the emphasis on multi-tasking, mashups, remixes, and the like qualifies here. Expressive, it is. But, are we becoming satisfied with shallow learning wrapped up in impressive packaging? Our national obsession over testing has certainly railroaded any movement toward depth over breadth. However, I think more than ever before, we must help our students become well-informed, be highly skilled at navigating through the data smog, and produce learning artifacts that demonstrate a deep understanding and mastery of knowledge. We have more tools than ever to gain a broader cultural understanding of ourselves and of the world – past and present. Lets not let these tools trivialize it. Lets help students focus on a task and exhaust it. Lets not, as Postman writes, “let the information environment mirror television.” Is a college-level course taught on YouTube or a course taught over the cell phone head in this direction? Yeah… the digital natives love this stuff. And as a tech geek, I think it is all quite amazing. Does something of value get lost along the way? Are we heading in the direction of learning as a mirror of television?

What do you think?

Need Information Anonymous?

February 12, 2008

squirrel2.jpgDo you ever feel like you just have to keep up with all of the information out there… and are drowning? I feel like that today after spending about 2 hours on things that were not a priority yet were calling to me.
The first step to admitting information addiction is to admit that you have a problem. Here are the first 2 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Steps a la 2.0!

1. We admitted we were powerless over the amount of information—that our lives had become unmanageable.

2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

So, what is that power? How does one tame the beast in us that feels like we must be connected to a hundred zillion other folks using every possible tool out there – that we can’t miss one blog post, article, tweet, wiki update, ning contact, e-mail, IM, Skype call, UStream broadcast, slideshow, video…. for fear of being “left behind”… Alone. Uninformed. Ignorant. Does your RSS reader make you feel ashamed for not giving it the attention it deserves? Can you not look it in the eye and say “I love you.”?

Where is the time for deep reflection, peace, quiet,… Has your insatiable “need” for connectivity and information robbed you of something quite valuable? Are you unable or unwilling to unplug when necessary? Or, if you do unplug, do you feel the beast gnawing at you?

Do you dare silence the twittering birds? Or, is the tradeoff worth it. Has the world changed in such a way that we are required now to live this way?

Please share either your “Power” or your need to find that “Power”. Perhaps we can help each other here.

New Podcast Content in iTunes U

February 6, 2008

PBS and others are now present in iTunes U. There are some great resources here that are now itunesu1.jpgaccessible freely via iTunes. These are wonderful resources that have relevance in the classroom, but would also make great out-of-class assignments where relevant. Of course, since they can by synced with your portable media devices, that means that students do not need to be tethered to a computer to listen to or watch this media. One can access the following resources there: history, art, music, science, museum artifacts, scientific research, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and PBS content.

PBS, in particular, has a great deal of valuable content that can be used to supplement the curriculum and instruction.itunesu2.jpg The screenshot below shows content from just one of 3 pages of PBS resources.

With so many great resources being made available, it makes the integration of podcasts and portable media players even more of a no-brainer. Of course, all of this content can be accessed on a computer as well. Depending on the goal and age, one medium may make more sense than another. And, with so many filtering obstacles in schools, this also makes it easier to bring content into the classroom that is not accessible from the school network. Content can be played right off of the teacher’s laptop or directly off of an iPod. Not so long ago, it was fairly difficult to bring this type of content into the classroom. You had to either record it at home and bring it in on VHS, or ask the library media specialist to record it for you (but that had all kinds of requirements and limitations…). Oh, and you had to (1) know what shows were to be aired, and (2) remember to record them (if you had that channel at home). Now, it is just a matter of looking through a list of already-aired shows and picking them to download and watch – whenever and wherever you want. So, no excuses now… (well, I’m sure you could still come up with some…).

Ch. 5 – The Peek-a-Boo World

January 29, 2008

(Continuing on with by book club of 1…)

Today, I read a new post by Will Richardson on the topic of Twitter and it resounded so strongly with me (you can read my comments there) because I had just finished reading this fifth chapter of Neil Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, and found incredible parallels between the influence of the telegraph, photograph, and television to the newer forms of information technology in this last decade . Will is wrestling with the impact of Twitter on his world, and how folks are restricted to communicating in 140 characters or less and others following up to 600 or more tweeters out there. Wow – have we ever changed from information moving as fast as physical people could carry it to seconds after the “post” or “publish” command has been invoked. Postman introduces the idea that this has produced “context free” information which holds merit simply because it is novel, interesting, our curious, “elevating irrelevance to the status of news”. I don’t think I am alone in being annoyed with the state of news in the US these days. In the morning I get 5 minutes or less of shallow news bytes and then 55 more minutes of the best macaroni and cheese recipes, 5 tips to firmer thighs, and where in the world is Matt Lauer. There is now such an glut of irrelevant information out there that instead of finding productive ways of taking action locally in our own communities, we struggle to stay afloat in the endless sea of information that seems important, but so disconnected that in the end we can’t find ways to take action on any of it. The idea of neighborhood has been replaced with “global neighborhood” – one that Postman defines as “… a neighborhood of strangers and pointless quantity; a world of fragments and discontinuities.”

Although Postman’s thinking evolves into a criticism of the television world, I find meaningful connections to newer worlds as well. To quote Postman once again,

“Facts push other facts into and then out of consciousness at speeds that neither permit nor require evaluation… Knowing the facts took on a new meaning, for it did not imply that one understood implications, backgrounds, or connections. Telegraphic discourse permitted no time for historical perspectives and gave no priority to the qualitative. To the telegraph, intelligence meant knowing lots of things, not knowing about them.”

As a teacher, I am compelled to help my students make sense out of both the information at their fingertips as well as the impact that the information medium has on his or her understanding and view of the world. I am challenged in new ways to help my students use new information tools in powerful and meaningful ways that do not sacrifice depth and complexity for breadth and glitz. How are we making sense of our world with the presence of such tools and glut of information? Are we struggling just to RSS the headlines and keep up the Jonses… I mean the Twitters? Do we need to be up on every RSSd headline or blog post? Or, are we tackling meaningful projects that positively impact our own communities based on meaningful and powerful uses of information. Are we contributing at all, or have we become so consumed with feeding on information that we have forgotten about our real neighbors and communities? Do we now live so much in Facebook or MySpace that the idea of community service is almost crazy? I mean, I have followers… I have an obligation here to satisfy them and their desire to know what I am doing every moment of the day. (sorry… this is getting a tad sarcastic)

Wow… this is making me think about a great deal. I have no answers at this point as I struggle with all of this. But, I am struggling, reading, and reflecting…, and that is good. What do you think about all of this?