Access does not equal success

So I often wonder how it is that we have unprecedented access to all of the worlds knowledge on the Internet, but it doesn't actually makes us smarter. Here's my thinking--

On Twitter, for the past year or so, I've been following the International Space Station observation account (@twisst18) which gives you times and dates of when the I.S.S. is visible in your area. I received my usual daily/weekly announcement--Later that evening, I was pulling into the parking lot of my local community center when I thought, "Hey, it's 9:00pm and a clear night, maybe I'll check the International Space Station flying over head!" Mind you, since following these tweets, I have NEVER seen the ISS! So I get out the car, find a clearing where I have an unimpeded view of the South-South West sky and I stand and I wait. I waited...and I waited....and I waited, but saw nothing...oh wait, was that flashing star looking thing the ISS? I don't know! Maybe it was just a really high altitude plane?

It was at that point which I realized that even though I knew exactly where the ISS was supposed to be and when it was supposed to be there, that didn't necessarily mean I was going to see it. I had access to all the correct information, but I still couldn't see the orbiting station.

Mr. Luehmann, our 7th-8th grade science teacher, could have easily pick it out. He's used to looking at the night sky! Surely he could see it! But there I was looking like a fool, neck craned back gazing into the vast darkness called night with no moving space station visible!

I think our students have the same issue with the Internet. They have access, but don't know what to do with the information once they get it. Students lack the wisdom needed to put the information into its proper context. It is very much like the line from the epic poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, "Water, Water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink."

It's for this reason that I appreciate the work of gentleman like Ian Jukes at the 21st Century Fluency Project. They have defined effective digital citizenship in terms of five "fluencies." The one I'm most interested in for this post is information fluency.

I remember listening to Ian present at NECC quite a few years ago when I first heard the term "info-whelm." We are drowning in it! Our students are drowning in information! We are all over-whelmed with massive amounts of content.

Information fluency is way more than just teaching students how to access information. Information fluency is about interpreting, extracting, authenticating, and perceiving. Over the years I've realized it's much easier to show students HOW to do a Google search than it is to help them make sense of the results once they get them. But I think in the end, that's what it means to be a great teacher. Showing kids what to do with it, once you've got. Access isn't the issue anymore. We've got the quantity thing figured out, now we need to work on quality.

Our kids today are living with information cups that are over-flowing. The challenge we face is not how can we make our students learn MORE (fill their "cups" with more stuff), but rather, what do I DO with the stuff that I already have! Take it one step further by asking, how can I help my students create a framework for dealing with all the info coming their way?

Thinking back to seeing, or not seeing, the International Space Station helps me empathize a little bit with my students. How irrelevant and trivial all this abundant information must seem to kids.

The skill I think students need the most is learning to distinguish the good from the bad information, the noise from the music. It is this task that I believe is the quintessential action of the teacher. You can't just do the same old thing in the classroom you did before, because traditionally, you're just "filling the cup." There has got to be something more!

Wow, all this thinking and ranting from not being able to see the International Space Station! Must have been a long week :-)

image: Overflow by Flickr user: 96dpi
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