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Thinking About How To Use Information

In a companion piece to the op-ed piece cited in the previous post, a teacher at a local private school is concerned with the lack of thinking that goes into the research done by her students.

A few clicks on the computer and today’s students find data that might have taken my 1980s college generation days or weeks to track down in a library. That may not necessarily be a good thing, because we may be developing the same kind of dependence that leads some to blame calculators for declining math skills.

Are we creating a generation of kids who can neither formulate a research plan nor analyze their findings? Jumping from page to page and source to source for quick “fact bites” on the Internet may weaken a student’s ability to complete in-depth reading and carefully assess data, so important for critical thinking. As one student put it to me, “It’s very hard for me to read a book or a long news article.”

She is also concerned about plagiarism, but mostly the unthinking copying and reuse of information with little or no attribution.

A student quoted in the article, however, attributes this behavior to the fact that young people who have grown up with the web view information in different ways.

“We are part of a networked society,” one student told me. “Your world is different from ours. We are taught to share information and collaborate. We do it all the time. No one really cares where it came from.”

So, on one side we have students who are used to superficial searches and the free, unthinking exchange of whatever they find.

And on the other we have teachers who want their students to find and use information in meaningful, ethical ways.

Does any of this sound like something from the standardized tests around which our current educational system is wrapped?

The skills this teacher, and the former teacher from the previous post, want students to learn while they’re in our classrooms are the foundation of information literacy.

Instead of improving their ability to take multiple choice tests, that’s what we should be teaching them: how to find, manage, analyze, validate, and use information in all of its many forms.

information literacy, plagiarism, research


  1. Andrew Pass

    Tim, I don’t think it’s one or the other – we need both, knowledge and quality critical cognitive skills. Quality thinking skills requires a deep knowledge base. I wouldn’t be so fast to criticize standardized tests. After all, critical and creative thinking is built upon common shared, or standard, knowledge, if it is to be meaningful and understandable.

    Andrew Pass

  2. Tim

    But is a “deep knowledge base” the same as remembering a collection of facts with little or no context?

    I would argue that students will retain more of the standard knowledge for a longer period of time if they have a good understanding of how all the pieces of information relate to each other. Unfortunately, most standardized testing programs emphasize rote learning with a minimal level of superficial analysis.

    Many college teachers will tell you that their students don’t remember most of the foundational knowledge they supposedly learned in their K12 education. Probably because the kids “learned” it long enough to pass the test and move on.

  3. Diana King

    Tim, perhaps you should put the thoughts from the last 2 paragraphs of your blog entry into a message to Sen. Kennedy. He has the best of intentions but doesn’t seem to understand how NCLB really plays out by the time it trickles down to the schools.

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