Saturday, April 13, 2013

Equipping Learners for an Abundance of Knowledge

Weller (2011) claims that the deveopment of the internet has made knowledge
abundant. Certainly if you look at the results of a Google search on any particular topic, it is clear that there is an awful lot of information out there. But I am inclined to wonder if truly useful knowledge is really all that abundant. If it's anything like the OER we studied earlier in the course (#h817open), it may be 1) hard to find, 2) of uneven quality.

In trying to develop a pedagogy of abundance, one of the questions Weller asks is how do we equip learners to cope with abundant free knowledge.

My own view is that the most immediate student need is not primarily one of critical analysis. Critical analysis of web materials is both labour-intensive and subjective, and it is a competency that is also very difficult and time consuming to teach.

When students need knowledge they need it fast. Normal critical faculties help in separating the nuggets from the gravel in the pan, as does the fact the good search engines already have a certain degree of critical analysis built in - those knowledge items found to be most useful by the most web surfers tend to appear near the top of the list of search results. The more immediate question for the majority of students is, how do we find a pan of gravel that is likely to contain nuggets in the first place?

I suspect that the answer to satisfying this need is instead of teaching facts, teach practical competencies and provide guidance:
  1. Teach effective internet search techniques (Does anyone remember in the old days how we had to be trained to use the university card catalogue?); with serious, in-depth search competency, each individual can activate their own professional support or 'just-in-time' learning system.
  2. Teach the use of social networks for problem solving; use social networks as the basis for a mutual learning network; the peer members of learning networks can assist in critical analysis of search results to pick out the nuggets.
  3. Instead of acting as a content expert, the teacher should learn to act as a filter guide; that is, don't find the stuff for them, but help them find it themselves; suggest what search strategies, even what search terms are likely to be most productive in any given situation.
It seems to me that the best way for anyone to cope with bewildering quantities of information is to learn the two basic competencies of filtering and harnessing peer assessment.

Weller, M. (2011) ‘A pedagogy of abundance’, Spanish Journal of Pedagogy, vol. 249, pp. 223–36. Also available online at (Accessed 10-April-2013).
[This posting is for Activity 17 (Week 5) of the OpenU course on Open Education H817open. The text is released under a Creative Commons Attribution license. The photo is in the public domain.]