Do you sometimes feel as if the world is moving faster and faster? Navigation systems recommend what routes to take, based on real-time data. Driverless cars are not part of some Jetson-like future, they are being tested in several states. All-day, every-day news is everywhere. Ninety percent of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years. 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created every day—the equivalent of 6 quadrillion Libraries of Congress. According to one source, in 2017 we accessed the Internet to find this information or access these services at the following rates every minute of every day:
- The Weather Channel: 18,055,556 forecast requests
- YouTube: 4,146,600 videos
- Twitter: 456,000 tweets
- Texts: 15,220,700
- Uber: 45,787 trips
- Wikipedia: 600 new page edits
- Amazon: $258,752 in sales
What are the educational implications for helping students navigate this sea of data? Traditionally, literacy has been defined as the combination of reading, writing, speaking and listening. We have taught these skills across the curriculum and grade levels. These skills are what state requirements and accountability measures emphasize. However, with the vast array of data resources available, we also need to help young people understand how to gather and collate data from disparate sources and judge the credibility of those sources. Teaching how to read and process digital content requires a shift in how we think about literacy as well as how we teach.
Digital data sources allow ideas to be quickly amplified, spread and re-mixed. This easy access poses unique challenges to traditional learning. For example, what’s the difference between plagiarism and a re-mix? How does one document a source, when the source is as ephemeral as a web page? What happens when what was true and reported as a fact at the time the information was gathered, is replaced by updated information prior to turning in the paper?
Here are some things adults (teachers, parents and community members) can do to help our young people traverse the data seas successfully:
- Encourage students to use technology beyond simply consuming; redesign instruction to allow for student collaboration and creation of content;
- Equip youth with the necessary skills to validate information online and make informed decisions;
- Allow kids to be curious and question the validity of information they are exposed to and challenge assumptions;
- Provide opportunities to apply complex thinking to identify and create solutions to problems in the community and beyond, engaging in high levels of inquiry and civil discourse;
- Allow young people choices in their own learning, and to tap into their personal interests and passions;
- Expose students to different social media channels, teach them how to fact-check and develop a deeper understanding of how information is constructed and shared;
- Establish a culture of safe, ethical and responsible use of technology;
Decades ago, the average American had access to three major television stations and perhaps an independent channel. They were the gatekeepers of information for the common man and we trusted them implicitly. However, the days of Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley are clearly gone. The immense amount of information available to us mandates that we take an active interest in not only what is reported, but who is reporting. We must do our best to be fully informed. When this country was founded, the importance of a “knowledgeable citizenry” was well recognized. Thomas Jefferson wrote that “An enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a republic. Self-government is not possible unless the citizens are educated sufficiently to enable them to exercise oversight.” This is truer now, than ever.