Rob: Is that why we keep having these conversations?
Stacy: Don’t get snarky with me. You’ve still got a whole course of conversations in front of us.
Rob: Right on. So let me say it another way. What, pray tell, do you love so much about dialogues?
Stacy: Well, the dialogue emerged as a genre in antiquity, and it’s used across the centuries as a way to demonstrate the exchange of ideas between two or more people.
Rob: So, it’s a natural modeling technique?
Stacy: Absolutely. From a teaching and learning perspective, dialogues are a great a way to show and invite participation with information as opposed to simply displaying it for passive consumption.
Rob: In other words, they represent the difference between “showing” and "telling."
Stacy: Admit it, you love dialogues too.
Rob: Of course I do. I remember reading Douglas Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid back in the 80’s. Hofstadter used dialogues to make highly abstract and advanced concepts both understandable and interesting to a broad audience.
Stacy: Yes, they work really well for that. But even more important, they model and “active engagement” with information.
Rob: Right on. Dialogues “show” people discussing information in a meaningful way and by extension, allow learners to engage more actively in the information.
Stacy: Absolutely. In my online classes, I create dialogues that include conversations with fictitious learners. This allows me to do several things that are really hard to accomplish with traditional reading assignments.
- I am able to “show” the topic being discussed as opposed to simply “tell” about it.
- I am able to engage students as active participants in the reading process by including them through my composite student participant in the dialogue.
- I am able to answer frequently asked questions in a way that is completely contextualized and, thus, more valuable.
Stacy: Let’s face it. If you and I can do it…
Rob: And much more fun than the same old lectures we used to give.
Stacy: Much more.
Rob: Okay. So, in the spirit of “showing,” shouldn’t we give an example from one of your courses?
Stacy: I’m good with that, and I happen to have one at the ready.
Rob: Just like a Julia Childs cooking show.
Stacy: Okay. So, in this example from one of my courses, we can see two key ingredients of a good dialogue – 1) It is an actual dialogue, meaning both speakers ask and provide information; 2) It breaks up the information into “discussable” chunks, which allows for more contextualized and meaningful reflection.
Zemke: This week, you’ll begin your introduction to information studies by looking at what information actually is.
John (Student 1): Shouldn’t be too hard to find examples.
Zemke: You’re right, and you’ve just brought up one of the most common perceptions about information – that, over time, there is more and more of it.
Lisa (Student 2): Information overload.
Zemke: There’s definitely lots of talk about that – the 24 hour news cycle, the amount of email/text/phone calls we receive every day, the 300+ channels of available TV programming and all the Internet video we can access. Most people feel that they are bombarded with more information than in the past. There’s also a rising sense of information anxiety - that feeling that we’re not getting the right information, or enough information, or that we’re missing out on something everyone else knows, even if it’s just the most recent popular spectacular skateboard crash video on YouTube.
Lisa: For me, it’s when my friends post new photos on Instagram. I alway like to be the one of the first people to comment.
John: But isn’t it weird that when we hear about something like information overload that it’s always coming from some media source, and those are the very groups causing the information explosion in the first place. I even read somewhere that there’s more information in the Sunday New York Times than the average person alive in the 19th century was exposed to in their entire lifetime.
Zemke: I’ve heard that too, and I’ve heard it in many variations – with comparisons to 18th century man, 19th century man, or that there is now more information contained in one day of CNN news coverage than a person in 1900 was exposed to in a lifetime!
Lisa: You also hear people talking about how the world’s information is doubling every two years or something like that.
Zemke: Yes. These are all interesting statements, and they’re also a good way to start framing a definition of information.
Let’s start with how we gather information in the first place. There are many ways we actually do this. For example, if I get up in the morning, and the milk jug is empty, I gather the information that the jug has little or no milk in it through physical observation. This observation gives me information that tell me I have to go buy more milk, or that I won’t have my Cheerios that morning, or that I’m a miffed at my husband for drinking all but a tiny bit of milk and putting the carton back in the refrigerator. I might also I look out the window and see that it is raining. That information gathering lets me know I have to take an umbrella with me.
John: I walked out of my apartment this morning and saw our parking lot was closed off because they are re-pouring concrete at the entrances. I found out I was riding my bike to campus instead of driving,
Lisa: Sounds like you might have missed some information along the way, like an e-mail or a flyer posted somewhere.
Zemke: These are all good examples, There’s so much information around us and available to us all the time, And, when you think about it, that information isn’t so different from the information that was available in the 19th century. How and where their milk came from may have been different, or how they covered themselves from the rain or got from one place to another, but the basic information that is observable in our world has remained consistent. What is different is the codified information that is available today, the processed data and information that is available.
Lisa: Codified data? What’s that?
Zemke: The stuff printed in the paper, on web pages, sent in emails. One of the big differences today is the number of written/delivered/codified information surrogates. A recent study found that the average American is no more informed about politics today than the average American in the 1940s, even though the amount of information codified about this topic has grown exponentially in the same time period.
John: I hear that kind of stuff from my father. He talks about how, when he was a young man, he knew the issues of the day and could talk about politics and economics. I tell him that sure, he could talk about those things but he didn’t have to study Calculus and Physics. The information explosion has also given us more things we have to learn.
Zemke: Which brings us back to our basic question – What is information? Is it the stuff that we gather as we observe our world? Is it what we are told? Is what we actually know? Is it the stuff that is codified and distributed in some format? Are some distribution formats better than others?
Lisa: I definitely feel like information isn’t just the stuff that comes to us through different media, like websites. It seems like it’s really everything around us, everything we see and hear, taste or touch.
Zemke: Hmmm… I would say Yes, and no. Much of what we observe every day is less valuable than actual information – it’s just data, or the raw material of information. Data only becomes information when it is observed and processed by a human being. Most of the data we observe is just ignored, passed over because it’s not relevant to what we’re doing at the time, or the problems we’re contemplating. The rest is just noise – useless data. Not that such data might not be valuable to us later in life. It’s just that it doesn’t seem pertinent today so we ignore it. Of course, the person sitting next to us may find the data extraordinary, and think it’s exactly what s/he is looking for.