Tuesday, February 2, 2010


I've recently had a change in perspective related to a belief I have had for a long time, and I wanted to share the process by which I ended up thinking of things differently.  It has to do with my perceptions and perspectives about the way I see the world, and what I need to do to make improvements in the system!

I watched an interesting video over the weekend, in which Clay Shirky spoke on the topic of privacy, information overload, and how we design systemic solutions for issues we face.  Shirky is an author, consultant, and adjunct professor at New York University who focuses on how the internet influences our social and economic realities.  I've listened to him speak several times and he is an entertaining speaker, who is astute and has an interesting perspective on issues we are all familiar with.

Since I have begun to read about the influence of the technology on society, I've read quite a bit about the amount that our collection of available information has grown.  It is a fact, and until recently I've thought it was an imposing barrier for peope to have to navigate in order to find important information.

Shirky however, proposes it is not necessarily information overload that is the challenge.  He makes the point in his video that people have always had access to more books than they could ever read.  Information overload is relative, and Shirky proposes it has always been this way since the invention of the printing press.  While the topic of his presentation is not on critical thinking skills, I was struck by this different perspective.

Shirky argues that it is our filter, through which we analyze information for validity and reliability, that we need to focus on.  Instead of publishers filtering for quality and only publishing good books as in the past, it is us current content users who must filter the information we read for value. 

Looking at the issue from this perspective, I think it might give us a different look at what we need to do for our students.  We must help our students develop their ability to analyze information and apply their critical thinking skills.  Instead of focusing on how much information there is available, we should be designing an approach that attends to the filter issue as opposed to the information overload issue.  It is a slightly different perspective that may be reflected in our curriculum and lesson design.

Shirky spends a fair bit of time talking about spam email, which is a filter problem of a different sort, privacy, and other issues but his presentation made an impact on the way I thought about this issue as well as how I hope to look at future issues I study. 

I don't know if there is a substantial difference between filter issues or information overload when it comes to teaching students critical thinking skills.  That debate is for elsewhere.  What I took away from his presentation is the importance of making sure I look at situations from multiple perspectives.  I have to push myself to look at situations from a perspective outside my traditional belief system.  I need to know my own biases about education, so that as we discuss building learning systems to meet the needs of adults and 21st Century learners, I can identify my beliefs and biases towards any issue and then look objectively at the situation from outside of my perspective.


No comments: