Too Much Information

digital-info-literacyThe ease with which we are now able to access information, which is, after all, the first requirement in the acquisition of knowledge, is what makes the development of literacy so markedly different in this century from how it might have looked for the best part of the previous one. In the typical classroom of fifty years ago, sources of information were severely limited, and what was in the teacher’s head would constitute most of it. To say that things have changed is such an understatement that it hardly needs to be said, but the pervasive nature of the internet has been largely responsible for the term ‘information literacy’ and the sense of urgency with which it has entered the educational lexicon. No one disputes that, more than ever, the ability to find, sift, sort and use information is a key component in the development of an educated mind , but we are all of us still in the early stages of understanding the full implications of the free flow of information across the electronic networks. What the term ‘information literacy’ actually means, and how – in practical terms – it can be developed, is still up for discussion, as are the means by which teachers can ensure that all learners meet this essential learning outcome by the time they have reached the age of twelve or thirteen:

“To help me develop an informed view, I am exploring the techniques used to influence my opinion. I can recognise persuasion and assess the reliability of information and credibility and value of my sources.”

Scottish Curriculum for Excellence, Literacy and English Outcome Level Three (age 12-13 approximately)

It is quite clear that In order to develop this ability, there are a number of questions which first have to be addressed, including:

  • What ARE the techniques used to influence opinion? (emotive language? scaremongering? appeal to the senses?, use of statistics?)
  • How DO you recognise persuasion? (separating fact from opinion)
  • How do you assess the reliability of ANY information, but especially that found online? (who produced it and what was their objective?)
  • How do you ASCERTAIN the source of information, even before you attempt to assess its credibility? (or, do you know how to trace the source of a text?)

A  very useful addition to the ‘information literacy’ discussion this week has been the release of web player Mozilla’s Web Literacy Standard. Cutting across traditionally recognised subject spaces, the Standard is grouped under three strands – Exploring, Building and Connecting – and is described by the developers as ‘a map of competencies and skills that Mozilla and our community of stakeholders believe are important to pay attention to when getting better at reading, writing and participating on the web’. While some of our information still comes from traditional sources – word of mouth, newspapers, books, television – we are increasingly moving online, so that ‘information literacy’ and understanding the world wide web may ultimately become one and the same thing.  Anything which takes us towards a better understanding of how that relationship works must surely be a good thing.

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For further information about the Web Literacy Standard and other Mozilla web tools click here.

To download a copy of the National Information Literacy Framework Scotland click here.

Can Creativity Be Taught and Measured?

There must be very few people in education who have not yet seen Ken Robinson‘s provocatively entitled presentation ‘Do Schools Kill Creativity?‘. Loved and loathed in almost equal measure, the fact that it has been viewed over 5 mistakes.jpgmillion times on YouTube would suggest that at least he is hitting upon something that reaches to the heart of our education systems, the debate about whether creativity is something which can be taught, or whether it is part of our DNA and can therefore only be nurtured or stifled. Is education indeed ‘a leading out of what is already there in the pupil’s soul’, in the words of Muriel Spark‘s most famous fictional character Miss Jean Brodie, or does creativity still justify its place at the top of Bloom‘s revised, but increasingly less revered, hierarchy of skills, to be taught as well as learned? The issue was brought into focus for me again recently with the publication of Education Scotland‘s new ‘creativity measuring tool’, the ‘Brewstometer‘, which apparently “introduces the principles of creativity and helps learners reflect upon and evaluate any creative experience they have had recently. This could include a lesson, a workshop, a performance, a gallery visit or project. You can use the Brewstometer in any way that suits the needs of your learning environment, whether as a whole class, in small groups or one to one.” The Brewstometer has been developed by Creative Scotland and Education Scotland as part of Scotland’s Creative Learning Plan.

“The Brewstometer is a Creativity Measuring Tool that introduces the principles of creativity and helps you to evaluate any creative experience that you have had recently. This might have been a lesson, a workshop, a performance or project. The Brewstometer will help you and your learners to think back and reflect on the experience, how it made you feel, how successful it was, and ultimately how creative everyone was being.”

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The Creative Scotland ‘Brewstometer’

So there you have it. A tool which measures how much creativity has been ‘taught’ by a gallery visit for example? An interesting concept. My initial reaction was one of extreme scepticism – there are some things which cannot and should not be measured – but it seems that everything in schools and education these days has to be measured, assessed and inspected or it is of little value. As always, however, I would be delighted to hear from any teacher whose use of the new tool has made their classroom or its inhabitants more creative. Regardless of your views on the ‘measurability’ of creativity though, the Creativity Portal from the same partners will provide you with some excellent resources and ideas to make you reflect on how creative you are as a learner and as a teacher. The site also has some useful links to blogs, case studies and contacts across all areas of the curriculum.

Further Reading

Flipping Bloom’s Taxonomy by Shelley Wright

I’m Not Really Sold on Bloom’s Taxonomy by Jaye Richards-Hill

The Pursuit of Ignorance

There has been a lot of talk in recent years about the relationship between knowledge and skills in education, talk which has often been polarised and portrayed as a straight fight between these two purposes or goals. They are, of course mutually dependent, but there is nothing those of us involved in the education business like better than a good argument, or a controversial statement. Which is how my attention came to be drawn to this TED talk by the American neuroscientist Stuart Firestein, in which he explores (and explodes) our common misconceptions about the study of science, and stresses the importance of developing students who are able to keep on asking the right questions, long after their ‘formal education’ has ended.

Unfortunately, according to Fierstein, our current education systems, with their heavy emphasis on standardised testing and memorisation, tend to have discouraged that very natural curiosity long before students have reached that point. Far from arguing that knowledge doesn’t matter, I think what he is suggesting is that knowledge is of no value unless it stimulates a further search for that which is unknown, so the message for schools, teachers and students would be to find the right balance between learning the facts and asking impossible questions. In other words, I guess if he was being strictly accurate, he might have called it ‘the pursuit of informed ignorance’! See what you think.

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