The murder of knowledge and the importance of school libraries

Knowledge, over the years, seemed to have lost its original meaning or has at least been lost in translation, especially since the dawning of the internet and the world wide web. Although in the 12 century one of the earliest meanings was to do with sexual intercourse the more familiar explanation given is that of  facts, information and skills acquired through education. That, for me, has to be the main point. ‘Gained through education.’ The implication is that one cannot just be granted knowledge but that there must be a certain amount of work and graft in a formalised setting. It is this that seems to have be lost since the invention of the internet.

Knowledge is now touted as the thing that is easily and readily accessible at the end of one’s fingertips and via a whole host of devices such as phones, tablets and computers. Knowledge is there for the taking. However we must not get confused with the differences between the idea of knowledge and with information. Information comes at us from all sorts of places and the internet is just one of those. There are endless reams of information that enter our lives on daily, hourly basis but this does not result in knowledge.

Information exists in abundance but knowledge is the ability to synthesise, understand and use that knowledge in a useful way. Knowledge is the higher order outcome that exists when we take information and are able to synthesise, understand and use it in a useful, successful way. It is the learned process of taking information and becoming it’s master, using it to your own ends and needs. Knowledge requires you do something with the information and not just take it in via osmosis. The belief that we can become more knowledgeable due to the ease of access of information is an interesting one and certainly not wrong. What is wrong though is the belief that this information can be directly turned into knowledge without a process occurring to assimilate this information into knowledge. This assimilation is the key and the area that worries me most about information in schools.

The kinds of information that schools are looking for is specific. In the bigger picture of information what schools require is just a drop in the ocean and this is the problem. If there is so much information and a student just requires a miniscule amount of that information how are they able to reach it succinctly and successful? The answer is of course with the aid of a guide and filter. Someone who is able to arm the student with the relevant skills to enable them but also someone to help filter out a lot of information that just isn’t needed. Then there needs to be a curriculum and level of teaching in the school where this information, once accessed, can be turned into knowledge where the user is ‘taught’ the understanding. Realistically what we are describing here is a library. A library where the librarian is one of curriculum leader; guiding the school and learning to make this outcome possible and where they are filtering the glut of information into manageable, usable and relevant information that can be transformed into knowledge. Importantly it also requires a library where there is a range of ways to access to information outside of digitally and if that is books then even better.

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The over reliance upon the internet is only perpetuating and further blurring the difference between information and knowledge. Having spoken to a number of highly qualified and leading curriculum experts there is very little of the curriculum that requires the internet. What the internet provides education and the curriculum is the enhancement factor. Collaboration is key for teachers, to share best practice and to access resources to enhance the learning in the classroom through technologies. However there is very little, to nothing in the curriculum that requires the internet. It may make finding information quicker and easier (though without the relevant skills I would argue against this) but you can still do this without the internet. Ultimately the curriculum is by no means dependent on the internet and neither is learning. So why do schools and educators believe it to be so?

It is because we have become conditioned to believe that the answer to everything is on the internet; that because the internet contains lots of information we are able to readily use it to find out whatever we need. But having and finding the information is very different from knowing and understanding it.

If we think back to our original thoughts about the internet when it first started to take over our lives we believed it to be the connection to the world; that it opened up possibilities for us to be closer as a species and that communication would become easier. However, what we seen over the past decade is instead something very different. We have seen a dramatic shift in the way information flows across the world. Sites such as Google and social media representations are filtering the information we receive to personalise the what and when of our lives. We are becoming part of a filter bubble where we only see what an algorithm thinks we want to see.

A perfect example of this is my smart phone. The Google app on it tells me in the morning how quick it is to work and what the traffic is like. It also tells me that on a Wednesday I take a different route as I drop my son off. Brilliant, you may think. But, I have never told it this information or created a setting to tell it do so. It does it because of the algorithm. Big brother is indeed watching us.

Even when we are not logged on Google uses 57 signals to personally tailor the information we receive based on those different factors. There is no longer a standard Google anymore where we all receive the same results based upon our enquiries. What we receive is information that places us in a bubble by not only showing us what it thinks we want to see but also eliminating everything else we don’t. The worrying fact is that as these corporations become more targeted in this way our students in our schools may be receiving a quantity of information from any one search but they might not be receiving the right types of information or only information targeted towards what they algorithm thinks they want. This could be disastrous and potentially harmful in the learning process.

So how do we overcome this? How do we stop this from happening and make sure that students get the information they need without the over reliance on internet where they are only receiving biased, tainted facts?

The answer is obvious. Libraries and librarians. We need to trust the skills and knowledge of the librarians and we need to make sure these skills are utilised when analysing curriculum needs and looking at resourcing subjects. They need to be part of design of schools and the fabric of learning just as the classroom teacher and senior leadership are.

The curriculum does not need the internet but with some taming and an understanding of where and how it can be used to enhance learning and improve processes the internet can be a useful tool for all of us. So let’s use the people that can already do this in schools, the school librarian.

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Escape the filter bubble – consult a librarian

filter bubble

 

Mentioned in my post last week, here, I spoke about the information filter bubble that exist on the internet today and through social media sites.

The importance in knowing this exists, especially if you work in an education setting, is massive. The internet is fantastic, a great invention and the potential it gives for learning and teaching is massive, however both these things, learning and teaching, are not reliant upon the internet. They do not need it to be successful and they should not rely on it. In the UK there is nothing that the curriculum requires of the internet however the internet can provide a lot to enhance aspects of learning and of collaboration.

But, and this is the Kim Kardashian of buts, how many know about the information filter bubble we are being forced into? How many teachers know that the Google factor is not what they have been led to believe it is? How many students take for granted that on any search they are seeing only the information that an algorithm wants them to see? And more importantly how many people have the skills and abilities to make sure they think around this and gather news and information from a range of sources to step outside the filter bubble?

We need to have a healthy diet of all types of information. We need to see things that make us uncomfortable in the news as well as things that confirm our beliefs. We need information desserts as much as information vegetables, however we need someone to enable us and to guide us to make sure we don’t end up with just information junk food.

Seeking information from a range of sources is how a student can get a fully formed understanding of a subject and therefore can begin to turn this into knowledge. However with an over insistence on Google our young people are being led to information that only goes about confirming their own biases, almost a never ending self fulfilling information retrieval prophecy.

In my last post I spoke about the librarian in school being the person with the ability to do this role and to help guide youngsters outside of the information bubble. Maybe I spoke imprecisely about the librarian being a filter themselves. Yes my main attack is on the filtering job that the internet does that places us in this information bubble but when I speak of a librarian as a filter I mean them to be the person who filters out the non needed informtation, the irrelevant stuff, but leaves a bigger picture of the subject being searched for. The Information dessert and vegetable of the required subject.

What schools need to do is think about how their students access information. They need to embed in their teaching policies, the accessibility polices and their SMSC policies the right for students to have access to a range of sources from all different viewpoints. If they do not do this and continue to leave information searching and retrieval to chance then we will be at risk of growing our young to be shut off from the ‘bigger picture’ and only believing in the picture that is being created for them.

Information literacy may not be the most interesting of subjects and at the top of most schools’ agendas yet it is in my respect one of the most important issues of our generation. How can we make sure schools do all they can to allow young people to be able to step out of their isolated information filter bubble?

The first step in my mind has to be the empowerment and trust in the school librarian as a curriculum leader to pursue in schools a balanced and thoughtfully analysed approach to information retrieval. For them to teach and further empower the classroom teacher tying their teaching and the children’s learning into thoughtful information retrieval, importantly not as a an add-on but as a fundamental part of learning. If this can be achieved in schools then we can give our students the opportunity they deserve to become fully rounded individuals instead of only believing in the information they have been forced to see as the truth.

By this can only happen if we position in schools someone who has this knowledge, ability and responsibility.

Someone like a librarian maybe?