Thinking Collaboratively About Information

It is important to realize that “learning is happening online, all the time, and in numbers far outstripping actual registrants in actual schools” (Davidson & Goldberg, 2009, p. 10).  This informal learning is now an everyday part of many of our lives, but in formal education, people can sometimes forget that there are many types of learning and many methods of instruction.  It’s not entirely the fault of more traditionally minded educators because so much of schooling is standardized these days.  “Call this cloned learning, cloning knowledge, and clones as the desired product” (Davidson & Goldberg, 2009, p. 21).  People need to start thinking of new innovative ways to work within the structures that have been mandated by educational policy.  More participatory learning may be an answer.

“With participatory learning, the play between technology, composer, and audience is no longer passive” (Davidson & Goldberg, 2009, p. 16).  Both educators and learners can collaborate during the learning process, discussing ways to think differently about information and ways to best use the new technologies and learning collectives that are readily available.  Many of my colleague teachers had rules against using Wikipedia for research, but I took a different way of looking at it.  “To ban sources such as Wikipedia is to miss the importance of a collaborative, knowledge-making impulse in humans who are willing to contribute, correct, and collect information without remuneration: by definition, this is education” (Davidson & Goldberg, 2009, p. 29).  As I mentioned in a Diigo note last week, I told my information literacy students to use Wikipedia to their advantage.  At the bottom of every article is a list of references used to write that article, *those* are your sources!  I had previously explained that encyclopedias are often filled with information that is too general for scholarly research anyway so they shouldn’t use them.  I just tied that in with Wikipedia since it is in fact an encyclopedia.  The references listed at the bottom on the other hand are the perfect research short cut.  Why do all that again if someone has already compiled it for you?

Thinking critically about information is a priority in not just formal education, but also during day-to-day informal learning as we try to figure out the changing world around us.  “The increasingly rapid changes in the world’s makeup mean that we must necessarily learn anew, acquiring new knowledge to face up to the challenges of novel conditions as we bear with us the lessons of adaptability, of applying lessons to unprecedented situations and challenges” (Davidson & Goldberg, 2009, p. 33).  As the world becomes more wired and learner expectations change to expect more collaborative and imaginative learning experiences, educators need to plan for more interaction with information because learners are becoming more comfortable with the idea that education isn’t always a traditional classroom, but can instead be a website where they can find new information that is relevant to their changing needs.  “Given the range and volume of information available and the ubiquity of access to information sources and resources, learning strategy shifts from a focus on information as such to judgment concerning reliable information, from memorizing information to how to find reliable sources” (Davidson & Goldberg, 2009, p. 27).  Being able to judge information and interact intellectually with new sources might be the preeminent skill for the 21st century learner.

Jenkin’s blog posts about his conversation with John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas about their book A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change brought up some interesting points about the need for imagination in the classroom as a way to move away from traditional teacher-centric education models to more learner-focused learning opportunities.  By shifting focus from a central point and instead allowing for the sorts of collaboration called for by Davidson and Goldberg, educators can allow themselves the freedom to allow freedom of imagination in learners.  “You don’t teach imagination; you create an environment in which it can take root, grow and flourish” (Jenkins, January 21, 2011).  By building a collaborative environment, both educator and learner can think differently about the information that is available now as well as any information that may become available in the future.  “Essentially what this means is that as the world grows more complicated, more complex, and more fluid, opportunities for innovation, imagination, and play increase” (Jenkins, January 19, 2011).  By decentralizing information gathering, sharing, and creating, learning can become more a playful and enjoyable experience that allows for unexpected innovations and discoveries.

4 thoughts on “Thinking Collaboratively About Information

  1. Karen Yarbrough Post author

    Erica, in my experience I had the best reactions from middle school students to IL sessions. The high schoolers seemed to be much more “I know all this already” when they really didn’t. My middle schoolers were much more open to thinking more about IL. Get them young before they stop listening!

  2. eimpagliatelli

    I completely agree about your second paragraph where you discuss that teachers and students should collaborate in this new learning environment for the improving the various uses of technology. Collaboration is one of the major keys to educating students to not only be productive US citizens, but to also be competitive with non-US citizens in the real-world.

    As a middle school educator, I’ve never really explained Wikipedia in-depth enough to my students. I’m glad you pointed out the resources at the bottom of each Wikipedia link, as those do often serve as fabulous sources for research. Next year when we do research in my class, I’ll have to remember to better explain how Wikipedia works to my students 🙂 We always discuss sites like Yahoo Answers, and I normally create a question and answer session with someone who says that dinosaurs still exist and that she has one in her house to point out the fact that you can’t believe everything you read online!

    I also like your final note about learning being more of a playful and enjoyable experience. Technology certainly allows this to be the case for today’s students, and I think we definitely need to focus on this idea for motivation’s sake as well.

    Thanks for sharing, have a wonderful week!


  3. Karen Yarbrough Post author

    Don’t feel bad about not feeling comfortable using Wikipedia! I would never in a bazillion years put that site in a reference list at the end of a paper (unless it’s an image, no problem there). That said, I use it constantly for informal information gathering. I think it is a case where we need to think about the differences between searching the Internet and *RESEARCHING* on the Internet. The two are not the same thing.

  4. mlc400


    I agreed with the first part of your post about teaching today being structured in the traditional teacher-directed setting due to the pressures of standardized testing. If we are to ever get to a state about really caring about student learning instead of student performance on standardized tests, I wonder if administrators would be open to participatory style of learning and teaching? I liked how you talked about the use of Wikipedia in your classroom. It made me think back to my high school days where the teachers instilled in us that Wikipedia was “bad”. To this day, I have a fear of using information from Wikipedia. Instead, I liked that you responded to the idea that we need to teach students how to check for validity of resources instead of scaring our students into never using or reading them. I know that I personally have never really been taught how to check for the validity of different resources I use on the Web. There was one class I took as an undergraduate that pointed out the importance of checking our references to different internet sites we were using. The prime example that has stayed with me was when we were researching information about Martin Luther King, we found an awesome informational page; however, after checking the validity of the source, we found that it was actually created by a hate group! I never would have guessed that the source would have been that! I believe that in order for educators to use this style of teaching, to partner with students in learning, to teach finding the validity of resources; we need to first teach our educators how to do that! I will even put my name at the top of that list!!

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