Why digital is definitely not superior

So recently on the school librarian forum SLN there was a thread about digital collections, moving away from print content, thinking spaces!?! (yes don’t get me started!) etc etc and someone made a comment along the lines that digital content is superior to print content in every measurable.
Well this is certainly a big statement to make and one that immediately annoyed me somewhat. 
Firstly, my main annoyance was around the fact that a comment like this goes full against what a library actually is and what it is for. Any library and librarian worth their salt knows that a library should contain in it a mixture of everything that meets the differing needs of its users. Not everyone wants to access things in the same way and we need to be understanding and responsive of/to this. By having just one point of access to information or reading we go against the whole ethos of a library and we do those we are supposed to be providing a service to a great disservice.
If someone chooses to create their library in this way then they are doing so not with their customers at the forefront of their mind but instead with a reasoning only to satisfy and promote their own misguided (for that is what it really is) viewpoint.
Digital content isn’t something that everyone wants to use in the first place to get their content. It’s the same reason why people are realising the whole thing wrong with learning styles is that we don’t just learn via one way. If we take a VAK test and it tells us we prefer to do (kinesthetic) to learn it doesn’t mean that that is all we should then engage with, it means that sometimes doing helps us to learn better. But by taking away the other options to learn we actually disable the ability to learn not improve it. This is the same with only having very limited and narrow collections in our libraries.

Secondly I have a really issue with everyone believing that we live in a world where digital content is so easy to come by. Yes a large percentage of the population has access to some sort of device but in our schools this may equate to access that is shared amongst 3,4,5 family members at any one time. It doesn’t matter what research you might do in your school to determine the type of access students have as you can’t know that the 80% that tell you have access to a device are a. telling the truth, b. understanding that you mean access at any time and c. know what you mean at all! Even if they do get all this and do have access it certainly doesn’t then mean that this is how they want/need to access information.

Digital print, the Internet and the Google generation has now been around long enough for some serious research to go into how we access information in print and digital format and this brings me onto to my third reason as to why I was upset by the initial comment made about the superiority of digital content. As time goes on there are more schools of thinking around the detrimental effect that digital information seeking has on the human brain and in particular on memory. This particular piece of research http://academicearth.org/electives/internet-changing-your-brain/ is not only extremely interesting but also very worrying. 
From all the research I have undertaken myself on the reading brain this makes perfect sense and there is tons more of it out there underlying how digital print is actually having, when it comes to information, an extremely detrimental effect and impact on student learning.

So this piece of research is concerned with Google in particular but it also highlights how our belief that digital print is somehow better is misguided in the least. We’ve all been there when we’ve got so fed up of reading a piece of information on the screen for the umpteenth time that we just decide to print it instead as we know we’ll be able to take it in, digest it better. What research is telling us is that when we read digitally our minds are only taking all the information into our short term memory but are not firing those neurons to link this to the ‘velcro’ of our long term memory. We are just seeing this information on the surface and that is it. We all know that for learning to actually take place we need this link to our long term memory yet as our brains are changing to our over exposure to digital print this isn’t happening we aren’t taking it in the same way and learning it we are simply ‘knowing it’ and only for a short period of time.
It’s actually something librarians should be very worried about. Especially those in schools who base a lot of their texts as e-resources. The place that heralds itself as furthering student learning could in fact be the place that is doing more harm. 
As the people that are supposedly trying to help young people understand, access and learn from information those that rely heavily on digital resources, especially in favour of hard copy resources are fundamentally not only going against the very fabric of library ethos but could potentially be doing more harm than good.

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OPUS a new information and learning model

OPUS model

 

OPUS is my new model for learning and information that integrates both of those important parts of school life. Although both learning and finding information are two of the most vital areas in school there is no model that links the two together even though there are so many aspects that run through both. To find information is to learn and to learn is to do so through the finding of information.

Maybe it’s because no one has ever viewed bothy of these in the same light together or those that view learning don’t think/know about information literacy and vice versa. In fact this may just be the case and you’ll agree if you work as a school librarian where on a day to day basis you see the ignorance of information literacy and the important role it plays!

However, this model is a potential catalyst for more discussion around both these areas being integrated so they can both work collaboratively and cohesively as they should.

The OPUS model is hopefully a way to be able to not only do this but to also provide libraries and school librarians with a system they can implement that can be used across the school and be fully embedded within the curriculum. This is where information literacy should be and where it can have the biggest impact. Teachers set students work on an hourly basis yet do they do so making sure that the students are aware of what they are looking for, where they might find it how they can best access the correct information? The answer is most likely no. A model like this is therefore what librarians have been crying out for as it encourages this type of learning to take place making sure that the responsibility of information skills is delegated through the whole school and taught in every single lesson.

The model itself represents the four main areas of learning and searching in a progressive order. In each stage there is also a further sub division that highlights the main areas of learning within. These subdivisions are real ‘stuff’ the bits that make the learning happen and the bits that explain how each section is possible. For instance in the Objective stage, the first stage, the sub divisions include the definition of need, the eliciting of prior knowledge and definition of gaps. What this looks like in real terms is an understanding of what is being asked, what prior knowledge exists to answer or complete the query and then a definition of what information is still needed.

The practical application of this in the classroom will be when the teacher is setting work maybe as homework, specific research work or even classwork. Things should be made explicit to the students and this could form a series of questions or a class discussion. For instance the teacher sets the main question thats needs answering and a discussion is had with the class to clearly define what is actually being asked of them.

What information do they need to answer this question. This, fundamentally is the ultimate goal. For a teacher this discussion also means that each student is able to leave the classroom or begin answering the question knowing exactly what it is that is being asked of them. A bonus for any teacher is that this will undoubtedly increase the quality of the work the student produces and the so also the difficulty of the work that teacher sets can get progressively harder over time due to students’ understanding of this methodology.

There is also some give from the teaching in a model like this. They need to be active in the learning as well as the student. Firstly the work they set must be meaningful not a series of treasure hunts, i.e. find ten facts about… The question set has to lead to a thirst for further knowledge and sometimes these are best achieved as challenges. The teacher also needs to be active in eliciting any prior knowledge of students. Helping them to see the links between this piece and any other work they have previously undertaken or even any knowledge the already have for a diffferent reason. This, coupled with guidance on formulating and defining the knowledge gaps leads to the completion of the first stage Objective, or defining the problem.

The next stage Plan, goes hand in hand with Objective as it is again a part of the classroom environment. This is where the teacher will spend time talking about important information literacy aspects such as keywording during internet searching and reliability of sources whilst also modelling what this process looks like. This is both familiar in terms of information literacy but also in terms of learning in an outstanding classroom. The process of modelling is important in allowing the students to see what it is they are to achieve and how they are to go about it. It forms an integral part of both of these aspects.

In the first stage we see the learner trying to gain a better understanding of how they are going to learn. This I have called the learning to learn stage. However in the Plan stage this is about the teaching enabling the learner to continue their journey. They are giving them the skills and knowledge that is going to help them undertake whatever task it might be.

The OPUS model , although not linear in the fact that a learner may move back and forward as they reassess the learning, does also follow a progressive path an ‘end’ stage. This end stage is a combination of the final two sections of the model, the Understanding and Synthesis sections.

The Understanding section involves the discovery of learning or information and it is the part where the learner finds themselves applying their skills, practicing their information searching or learning and assessing their success as the go along. This discovery stage is where the student, having been enabled can undertake the task armed with the correct tools to succeed. This the the meat of the learning and an important part of the whole.

This is also the point where the learner may find themselves referring back to Objective stage as they confirm whether the information, or learning they have completed is correct.

It is also the point that makes the final ‘end point’ possible. Moving seemlessly to the final stage of Synthesis sees the learner applying what they have learnt, found in a practical application. This can take the form of creating something or communicating an understanding or it could be about elaborating on and furthering the knowledge and understanding gained from the discovery stage. As mentioned before, OPUS is not linear so can allow, as learning does, the student to move back.

This model has already proved to be a success in school where we continue to use it as both a teaching/learning model and an information literacy model. In future posts I will cover its practical application with examples of how this can look in a classroom as we already have collected many successful examples of this.

However, it is exciting to see how a model which has information literacy at its heart can link so strongly to that of a teaching and learning model and which can be embedded into the ethos of learning in a school and be fundamental to a clasroom.

So watch this space for more information!