Archive for January, 2010

30 Page Primer on Digital Information Literacy

Background

The Digital Literacy Contest is a competition to search the internet. Students have 30 minutes to answer questions. Correct answers are rewarded, and incorrect answers are penalized. The winners get cash prizes. Universities like Brown, Cornell and Northwestern host the contest for their students. Here’s a demo.

Interviewing Contest Winners

Our team interviews the winners of these contests in-depth. We want to understand why they are so gifted. What can they teach others? What are their favorite websites, tools and techniques? Over the years we have interviewed 100+ winners.

A Primer Based on these Interviews

We created a 30 page primer on digital information literacy based on these interviews. In fall 2009 we piloted this primer with a professor at Purdue University. She used it to teach 115 students how to find, evaluate and synthesize information online. This spring we updated the primer, and the same professor is using it again.

Want to Use the Primer?

Contact me if you are interested in using this primer: daniel.poynter@gnic.org or (765) 588-3620

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Elizabeth Gabel: Internet May Decrease Thought

Background

GNIC hosted essay contests across the U.S. and Canada in fall 2009. Part of the prompt was:

[How does the internet change our] intelligence – our memories, attention spans, as well as our abilities to focus, reflect and synthesize? Specifically, shape your argument as a response to Nicholas Carr’s Is Google Making Us Stupid? and Jamais Cascio’s Get Smarter… [more]

Elizabeth Gabel is a student at Pennsylvania State University. You can contact Elizabeth at elizagabel [@) psu DOT – edu.

Elizabeth Gabel’s Essay

“The instant gratification of the internet can be alluring.  It is a source for quick answers requiring limited thought.  A simple search can reveal analyses of works and a variety of facts.  With cyberspace offering us so much for so little, we become spoiled and abstain from important types of thinking.  If it is easier to search for an explanation of a topic online than to create a unique take on it, people are less likely to bother thinking it through.

Take, for example, a mathematical formula built out of basic concepts.  If one knows the fundamental formulas, it is possible to manipulate and combine them to form the desired equation.  However, it is quicker and requires less thought to simply find the final formula on the internet.   This removal of the necessity of cognition invites mental laziness whereas needing to figure out methods and problems oneself invites mental growth.  Even just to find simple facts, it can be a mental exercise to try to find them in one’s memory.  This simple opportunity is lost if one simply searches for the answer online.

Since it takes more time to solve problems and recall facts independently, people with internet access may find it easier to use others’ findings online than come up with their own.  Therefore, the web can inhibit mental exercise and growth if used too frequently.  This is not to say that the internet cannot be used to share new information and ideas to which others can then respond and build off of, but used too often it can remove vital mental practice and decrease the resulting potential intelligence.”

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Alex Goldman: Better Off in East Berlin

Background

GNIC hosted essay contests across the U.S. and Canada in fall 2009. Part of the prompt was:

[How does the internet change our] intelligence – our memories, attention spans, as well as our abilities to focus, reflect and synthesize? Specifically, shape your argument as a response to Nicholas Carr’s Is Google Making Us Stupid? and Jamais Cascio’s Get Smarter… [more]

Alex Goldman is a sociology PhD candidate at the University of Florida. He works at the Bureau of Economic and Business Research. You can contact Alex on his website.

Interview with Alex Goldman

Part 1

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Part 2

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Alex Goldman’s Essay

“As I was lying in bed the other night, I allowed myself to wonder what the biggest change in human society has been since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.  One of my first memories is of visiting Epcot’s Tommorowland with my father around that same time and daydreaming about the flying cars that were then already ten years overdue by 1950s predictions.  It seems to many people that humanity has made strikingly little progress on these kinds of tough technical problems – witness the continued doomer/boomer debate over environmental issues.  Yet, we should be glad that information and communication technology (ICT) innovations are clearly where we have made the greatest progress.  Intensive users of Internet tools simply live lives very different from those of non-users.  I would argue that the lifestyle gap between East and West Germans twenty years ago was actually less than that which currently exists between so-called “digital natives” and those who have not yet embraced the ICT revolution.  It is not that they understand their societies in a fundamentally different manner, or that they are somehow exempt from basic human tendencies and market forces, but that they interact with the world in a wholly different manner.  Just look at how differently mobile phone “refusniks” must plan and navigate their social lives to stay in step with those who use this increasingly ubiquitous technology.  Just think about the ways in which dating behavior, and not just in urban/liberal areas, has been altered by text messaging.

My father was bullish on the future, and especially on early PCs.  Like many people, my parents believed that the then dominant forms of entertainment did not help one grow intellectually, but computers did.  Thus, television was restricted, video games were banned, and spending hours on the computer was encouraged.  Even at ten years old, I knew these were fatuous distinctions.  Granted, by all appearances it must have looked like I was training for future white-collar employment, but this was mostly an illusion.  Fantasy baseball leagues on Prodigy were a neat supplement to watching or playing the game, but they would not improve my understanding of statistics.  Real-time strategy games would not make me a brilliant military strategist.  I feel compelled to point out that while Playboy magazine does in fact come bundled with some good writing, Internet porn never does.  The bulk of what I learned about mental engagement with others (what I call “arguing the world”) didn’t come from electronic media, but from being forced to reading the local paper with my parents and discuss almost everything I read.  Today, I’m reading more than ever, what with all those RSS feeds and free access to Google Books.  Yet this increased intake has done little to improve my ability to engage with ideas at higher levels.  Despite not being free to read with the breadth of a digitally-enhanced Westerner, I must admit the distinct possibility that my mind might have been better off in East Berlin.”

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Allie Conti: Searching & Destroying

Background

GNIC hosted essay contests across the U.S. and Canada in fall 2009. Part of the prompt was:

[How does the internet change our] intelligence – our memories, attention spans, as well as our abilities to focus, reflect and synthesize? Specifically, shape your argument as a response to Nicholas Carr’s Is Google Making Us Stupid? and Jamais Cascio’s Get Smarter… [more]

Allie Conti won first place at the University of Florida. She studies English, Journalism and Religion, and she was an Opinions Editor for the The Independent Florida Alligator. You can contact Allie on her website.

Audio Interview

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Allie Conti’s Essay

“Netflix subscribers can now stream an unlimited amount of videos online with their subscriptions.  Instead of increasing the time I spend watching movies, though, I’ve found that this new service mostly increases the amount of time I spend clicking through movie descriptions and reviews. I add movies to my “virtual queue” that I never watch. I am a collector of hypothetical cinematic experiences. A lot of the times I end up watching nothing simply because I can watch everything.

Likewise, instead of immersing myself into a book, I sometimes find myself skimming through endless Wikipedia chains. Starting with a biography of Richard Wright, I’ll notice that I’m reading about John Keats’ theory of negative capability and wonder where the time went. Instead of this being a byproduct of a shortened attention span, this is simply a different type of learning, distinct from deep reading.

Simply put, there are two manners of acquiring knowledge that work in concordance with one another. To take from the title of an Iggy Pop song, I could call one “searching” and the other “destroying.” Searching involves researching topics to delve into, and destroying is the mastery of a specific, narrowly tailored topic.

The Internet is augmenting our ability to think because it allows us to find more things to think about. To respond to Nicholas Carr’s statement about how “staccato thinking” prevents once-voracious readers from completing novels–  “staccato thinking” and “deep thinking” are mutually exclusive, but they are different sides of the same coin. As a literature enthusiast, I use “searching” to whet my appetites and then “destroying” to tackle works that seem especially worthy of my time.  As a journalist and an editorialist, I use “searching” to find stories and “destroying” to focus in on a topic I want to localize. Instead of dampening my abilities to analyze information, the Internet provides me with an unlimited amount of topics to analyze. I must still use critical thinking to choose which topics are most relevant or important; once I am done scanning, I must switch to a different kind of thinking in order to “zero in.”

If anything, the Web has changed the way we think without erasing the ways we used to think before the age of the hyperlink. One could even say the Internet acts like a derailleur on a bicycle in a form of cognitive aerobics. Yes, I add many movies to my “instant queue” that I’ll probably never watch, but that doesn’t mean I lack the attention span to sit through them. Exploring a vast library of movies, or of any knowledge, is not a waste of time or a sign of technologically induced ADD – it is a form of augmenting one’s awareness of what exists  in order to appreciate something truly worthwhile when it is discovered, whether it be through human “fluid intelligence” or through the help of a artificial focusing assistant.”

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