I am currently attending a conference in Melbourne called Digital Campus and Blended Learning Innovation Forum: The New Era of Teaching and Learning. It does strike me ironic that such a conference on modern approaches to teaching and learning should be delivered in a format of 8 lectures per day: except for a short question session at the end of each presentation, there are no interactive sessions, no group work, and no digital/blended delivery! But putting this aside, I really have been given plenty of food for thought.

The subject of information literacy has only come up in two of the 12 sessions I have heard so far – and even in those two, it has only been a minor part of a complex and multi-faceted presentation. That’s disappointing. Teri Balser from Curtin University, who gave what I consider to be the best presentation so far, talked about information in terms of the hugely changing world we live and learn in. She made two interesting observations:

  • In 2010 it was estimated that a week’s worth of the New York Times contains more information than a person was likely to come across in a lifetime in the 18th Century
  • Four exabytes of unique information will be generated this year. That is more than the previous 5000 years put together! (and yes, I had to look up “exabyte” too – the summary is that it is a very, very, very large measure of data storage).

What can anyone do with that much information? When I wrote my PhD (17 years ago), I was told I would have to read everything written on the topic: now that would be impossible. The idea of this much information makes me want to put away my pen forever: in a world of this much noise, why would I want to make more?

Image result for too much information

Given this much information, what I hear most commonly in educational contexts is this: “we have to stop teaching our students content. If they want information, they can find it on google”.

But is this true? All the research on expertise suggests that experts’ heads are full of information that they can access, almost without conscious thought. I’ve recently been reading a wonderful book called The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teacher, about an inner city school in London designed for children from poor socio-economic backgrounds, which teaches an uncompromisingly knowledge-based curriculum. The argument given can be summarised thus:  without even being aware of it, children from higher socio-economic backgrounds have integrated masses of information into their thinking which our children don’t even have access to. If our children are to have the same fighting chances, we have to teach them that knowledge.

So, what do we do with all this information? How does it affect the way we teach and what we teach? Do we need to learn information, or just learn how to access it? What does  “expertise” even mean in this modern age? After two full days in lectures, listening to some very high powered speakers, I’m still don’t have the answers….what do you think?


Lisa Emerson