October 27, 2005

It’s always a balancing act

In general, life is a balancing act. This hardly can be describe as a new or profound thought. Two posts particularly resonated with me about balance.

Susan Sedro set the stage for me by confessing, she should have been doing other things. Thanks for being honest. The first post was from Wired News where they write about cracks in Web 2.0. I’ve been using this term a lot lately simply because I haven’t found a better one and it’s one that many are now familar with. For many of my local colleagues, it’s a new term that likely doesn’t have great meaning. Anyway, the article talks about the inevitable problems surronding new technologies. In this case wikipedia is cited as an example of how the openness of access introduces the possiblity of inaccuracies and even pure garbage. True enough. Here’s the part that adresses balance:

“Online, free media is one of the contributing factors to the shrinking circulation of good newspapers,” he said. “Now, traditional media is shifting away from large investments in bureaus and hard reporting, and towards cheaper content and opinion-making. It’s hard for me to imagine participatory media devoting investments to hard, investigative or overseas reporting. The healthiest scenario would be one in which both kinds of media thrive.”

The second post was from George Seimens who talks about the joys of shallow thinking. I’m all for that. Actually his post looks at how we need to be able to read in different ways.

What happens when we change how we interact with information? We “ramp up” our processing habits. Instead of reading, we skim. Instead of exploring and responding to each item, we try and link it to existing understanding. We move (in regards to most information we encounter) from specific to general thinking…from deep to shallow thinking. Shallow thinking, in this sense, isn’t as negative as its connotations. Shallow thinking (perhaps I need a better phrase) involves exploring many different sources of information without focusing too heavily on one source. Aggregating at this level helps us to stay informed across broad disciplines. So much of education intends to provide “deep learning”. Often, however, “shallow learning is desired” (i.e. we want to know of a concept, but we don’t have time or interest to explore it deeply). All we need at this stage is simply the understanding (awareness?) that it exists. Often, learning is simply about opening a door…

As an example, today while skimming my Bloglines feeds, I formed a general awareness of lawsuits against Apple, developments with Google Base, blood tests for determining anxiety, etc. I’ve grown in my skills at rapid reading and aggregating information. I’ve also learned to quickly recognize information that is important for deeper exploration. The bulk of this work still happens in my head, but I’m encountering more software tools that assist the process. I don’t think it’s too ambitious to say that we are still very much at the beginning of a new era of learning – one defined by confusion in the abundance of information…and the accelerated need fro determining which information is valuable, and how the pieces fit together.

So it’s not that deep thinking is not necessary, but we need both and my sense is that everyone needs to think about how they and their students are balancing both the material they are reading, and how they are reading it.