“There’s Just Too Much”

is what a teacher told me recently. Information, that is. Email, posts to discussion forums, blogs. And you know what? There is.

Right now, I have 516 unread posts in my Netvibes reader. (Does it count that I just got back from vacation?) I have 4 active email accounts– o.k., it’s really 3: one web-based email account just collects the email from all the others so I can access my mail anywhere. I follow 100ish folks on Twitter. I use Facebook regularly.

You might think, well you aren’t keeping up; you should cut back, maybe not look at internet stuff at all.

But in this new time, there are new ways, and that includes thinking about information.

Once upon a time, we thought there was a finite amount of information. That’s why we went to school– we needed to “get” it. The one who could give the information needed to have lots and lots to give. She or he was responsible for knowing It All-– at least, enough to be able to answer any question.

This is why my colleague was flipping out. You wade into the tsunami of information that is the internet and there is too much to take in. How can we know it all?

We can’t.

Uh-oh. What does that mean about our standing as the givers of information?

Think back to early school years. Did a teacher ever not know? In later years, if a teacher didn’t know, what did you think? I’ll tell you what my parents would have said at the dinner table: What a crappy teacher.

But we can’t take it all in. No one can.

Howard Rheingold offers a short warning about the dangers of RSS and TMI (Too Much Information). “The problem  becomes one of tapping the flow adeptly to get the right information coming in, then filtering and sampling that flow appropriately.” He says it’s about learning to manage attention and offers a collection of resources related to attention literacy. 

Here’s my translation: Delete. Unplug. In the classroom, move from being The Knower of All Information to teaching how to find, evaluate, use the information to make something new.

Take Twitter. I need to manage my Twitter time more effectively. It’s evolved into one of the most valuable professional development tools I have, but the wealth of knowledge & experience can also pull me from my priorities.

Take the blogs I follow. I need to be more ruthless about who adds to my professional development, who doesn’t.

Take my response to students’ questions when I don’t know the answer, that secret moment of feeling ashamed of my ignorance, and turn it into a teaching moment. “I don’t know” is not my enemy, especially when I don’t leave the discussion there.

A blogger hasn’t updated in a while? Delete. A Twitter  person I follow regularly says stuff that offends me (which is different than saying stuff I disagree with)? Delete. Back issues of The New Yorker piled so high they’re falling over? Unplug for a while & read.

I didn’t know how to do this when I dove head first into the tsunami. I had to teach myself. It took time I didn’t always have. It still does.

But, oh, what benefits. Each moment, I see the world in a new way, including my students, my profession and its priorities. I see myself new, too. And that’s precisely the opportunity this digital age offers.

When the way we see information shifts, we’ll find ourselves rethinking what it means to know and to learn, to be human.

To teach.

2 responses to ““There’s Just Too Much””

  1. Beth F says:

    Hi Karen.

    This is so articulate. I was nodding my head at “‘I don’t know’ is not my enemy.” There are plenty of times in my course when I don’t know the answers to the questions my students pose. But, as I tell them, if I were the only person in that classroom with knowledge worth sharing, we would all be in trouble. Usually my “I don’t know” opens the door for all of us to learn from each other and share the resources we bring. Last week, my students asked me what year a book we were discussing was set in. My “I dont know” led to all kinds of internet searching and cross-referencing based on details we found in the book, and more learning than if I had simply imparted the answer. Plus, they discovered many resources on the web that they didn’t realize were available.

    I need to be more selective with information management. It can be overwhelming, but I’m grateful for the abundance we have access to.


  2. Karen says:

    It’s about having the guts to be transparent, isn’t it? To model what one does when one doesn’t know opens doors on many levels. It *shows* the kids they have power over their learning. That there isn’t one authority– they can be authorities too. That they can get excited about learning. And on and on….

    The funny thing is, if you say “I don’t know” because you want them to get into the process of finding out, I think they can smell that we really do know. Then they sit there like deflated balloons.

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