warlick.jpgHow has Information Changed?

David Warlick, 2 Cents Worth

Gary Stager challenged me yesterday by asking in his comment, “How is information changing?”
Of course, in certain frames of thought, information itself isn’t changing. However, the nature of information has changed dramatically in the past decade or so in how it operates, behaves, the laws of physics that control it, and these changes, I believe, are critical to us as educators because they further define what it means to be literate.
  1. First of all, information has become increasingly networked. When I was growing up, the information that I had access to what that which I could set in front of me in a book, magazine, newspaper, etc. It had been produced (at great expense), carried, and stored in my home, or in the small public library clear across town (about four blocks away). The information was, by and large, trust-worthy, because I trusted the people who produced it, selected it, and put it in front of me.
Today, much, if not most, of the information that we encounter came from someplace else, where it was produced at little or no expense, and probably produced only a very short time ago without evaluation or vetting. This gives us access to enormous amounts of content from a wide variety of perspectives, some of them trust-worth, and some of them not.
This, I believe, expands what it means to be a reader in the 21st century.
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  2. Second, information is increasingly digital. Rather than being stamped or scratched on paper, information is now made of numbers, ones and zeros. Text, images, sound, video, animation — they are all made of ones and zeros. Because of this new structure to information, we can use computational devices to affect information in brand new ways, searching vast archives of content, organizing it in amazing and brilliant ways, and even manipulate, disassemble, reassemble, mix and remix content to generate new information and new knowledge.
I believe that this new shape to information is important to use, as educators, because it brings the concept of numeracy to all content. It’s no longer just about computing numbers. It’s now about adding value to content buy processing images, sound, video, and text.
  1. We are overwhelmed by information. This is not really a change in the nature of information, but it is a distinct change in our information environment. Much of what defined our information experience, and education specifically, was a world of information scarcity. We did what we did in our classrooms because we were so seperated from the world we were preparing our children for. Now that we have so much information and so much access to information, it hikes up the possibilities of classroom instruction — of learning in general.
Specific to literacy, this overwhelming information environment requires us to be able to distinguish information, to make decisions on what information to use and what to ignore. From the stand point of the communicator, it means that they must produce messages that compete for attention. Therefore, it is no longer enough to simply be able to write a coherent paragraph. We must be able to express ourselves compellingly, so that our information will compete for the attention of our audiences.