Saturday, May 21, 2011

What is knowledge and how to get it.

So the last typewriter company (in India) has finally closed it doors. It is certainly the passing of an era. A time when things were done in a different fashion. People, according to Sarah Wilson in Sunday Life May 22, 2011, are getting nostalgic about this passing.

Apparently people hunt around flea markets to find typewriters and "Type-ins" are being held around the world (cool typers hang out in pubs and hit they keys) and there's an emerging 'typo sphere" (a blog scene for typewriter nuts). One Gen Y fan sums up the appeal: "It's about permanence, not being able to hit delete." Another: "On a typewriter, you have to think". By which she means you have to think ahead (so as to avoid dousing your page in Liquid Page), which dictates a considered, reflective approach. As opposed to the modern "ready, aim, fire" approach." Sarah Wilson

Does this shift the way we thinking, attain knowledge with this quick, rapid fire approach to work and life? Wilson suggests that previously there was a lot more research, critical synthesis and contemplation on a subject before anyone "opined" on a particular subject. Josh Thomas, of Gen Y fame on the television show Talking about your generation, has carved out a persona of the "typical" Gen Y-er who has scant general knowledge about just about everything - almost the Goldie Hawn ditsy blond of the twenty-first century. Wilson says that he claims he gets his knowledge "as he needed it" and via Google on his phone.

And as a teacher librarian - that is a frightening reality - that so many students think that the ubiquitous search engine IS knowledge. That by putting in a keyword search into the box and hit enter - all the answers you will need can be gathered in LESS than a second. There is no fact checking, no ascertaining the authority or relevancy of the information before it is used. That is why teachers complain so often that students just type in keywords - get AN answer, copy/paste, hand it in and it hasn't answered the question.

Wilson talks about the virtues of different methods of collating information, thinking about it and presenting it. What is wonderful about the modern age is that you can use ALL the technologies at hand. From the humble pen and paper, the typewriter (if you can still find one), index cards (in the vein of Edward de Bono), or the laptop/web 2.0, all these methods are valid, have their uses and match various purposes. What is important that whatever your learning style, whatever your purpose - using the technology in an effective manner in order to get the best end product is what it is all about.

I don't think the pining for the way things were is beneficial to anyone. It is great to be able to access information with such ease. I loved hanging out in the library and reading books - but it didn't mean that copy/paste didn't happen in "dem old days" - I am sure most people would have copied verbatim at least a sentence from the World Book or some other monograph for an assignment to keep their teacher happy. So blaming the Internet and the current generation is just counterproductive.

What I need to do is ensure that students grasp that they need to drill down into a subject or issue to gain deep understanding - through many different techniques. Information literacy and trans-literacies are vital in order for any of us to get the most out of these tools - rather than being manipulated by the tools themselves. We are the ones in control, and need to exercise that power over the information we access.

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