Friday, 3 October 2008

Putting information support in context

Reflections from DRHA received today from James Cronin, University College Cork, who spoke in the e-learning session at DRHA:

The DRHA conference at Cambridge was a useful experience as it showed that Ireland shares many of the issues and concerns with colleagues in Britain, in Europe, and in the States (intellectual property issues, authorship concerns, cost of funding resource projects, continuing needs for training and development etc.). The discussion of themes such as 'transdisciplinarity' and 'transliteracy' certainly touch on issues and challenges we are currently exploring.
Currently, in Cork we are exploring ways of supporting undergraduate research seminars in History of Art with our library colleagues These seminars are, in a sense, a pedagogic performance of 'transliteracy' and 'transdisciplinarity' drawing as they do on information literacy skills and applying them to a disciplinary context.

It is worth considering for a moment the context in which we find ourselves regarding information support provision. Today's students are facing into a complex information world. To quote educators like David Cromier and thinkers like Deleuze & Guattari and Jean Baudrillard, we are all at the centre-point of a knowledge 'rhizome'
-- an information node where we are saturated by You Tube, Face book, text messaging, email etc., our experience of information processing is one of speed and often without the necessary time to reflect on our actions. Alan Liu's keynote paper drew attention to a need for critical reflection in learning. As he illustrated with his wiki case study, what now passes for student research largely consists of cutting and pasting from the Web involving little or no process of reflection.

To paraphrase Paul Virilio and Slavoj Zizek, we are already experiencing a 'disappearance' of technology as multi-platform tools become smaller and faster and disappear from sight, but still run the computer architecture as web daemons – like the e-mail delivery daemon notifying you that a message has been delivered, you don't see it, yet its invisible role is necessary. Both Grid and Cloud computing are already available and are becoming known to the general public. These systems allow greater access to global information with faster downloads on cheaper platforms. For example, your typical mobile phone is now a camera, an archive, MP3 player, GPS, and web browser. Already CERN, who launched the Hadron 'Collider' in September are on the cusp of launching the next generation of the Internet. The challenge we face as educators (be we academics, administrators or technicians) is how can we equip our students for this increasingly complex information society precisely at a time when negotiating information is seen as a central mark of being educated?

Increasingly, international visions of 21st Century learners include concepts such as inquiry led learners, facilitated yet self directed, collaborative in the construction of knowledge, multi-tasking, and problem solving. Our evolving concept of digital resources in disciplinary fields is that such resources should enhance both the teaching and learning experience and where possible extend that experience in a seamless way. For example, a digital panorama may give a greater experience of spatial relationships in a building or a piece of sculpture than a single slide or static photograph can and so, in this way, the digital tool helps to enhance the teaching and learning experience.

Clearly, the speed and availability of information technology means that students have greater access to information than ever before, but, to once more paraphrase Paul Virilio, is it also creating information fallout from the exploded 'information bomb'? Can educators assume that students know how to pick their way through the mass of content in a discerning, critical, and ethical manner?