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2001 Gwen Gawith: Digitised Cinderellas

2001 Cathy de Moll: The Internet and September 11 disaster

2001 Mark Treadwell: Cognitive and conceptual development

2001 Gillian Eadie: ICT directions

2001 Rob Green: Integrating ICT into the secondary curriculum: PD for teachers

2001 Gwen Gawith: Garbage detection is a key component of information literacy

2000 Ron Johnston: Knowledge is abundant, but the ability to use it is scarce

2000 Stuart Hale: The last communication revolution.

1999 Pete Sommerville: Virtual field trips.

1999 Gwen Gawith: An open letter to Bill Gates.

1999 Gwen Gawith: Hype, hope or information literacy.

1998 Mark Treadwell: The emperor's new computer.

1998 Nola Campbell: A conversation about being online.

1998 Gwen Gawith: Intelligent technologies: Teaching for information literacy.

1997 Gwen Gawith: Technology and ODL: Rent an information literate luddite!

1997 Gwen Gawith: Technology and learning.

1996 Gwen Gawith: IT: charms or challenges.

1994 Gwen Gawith: new technologies: new skills for information literacy.

information literacy:
ICT & learning online

Technology and learning: a rent-a-luddite perspective

Keynote at TUANZ ‘97 CONFERENCE:
Education Stream : Auckland, 7th August 1997

Gwen Gawith

I’ll begin with my favourite current quote:

Stop the disc drive... I want to get off!

Now that cry may sound surprising from someone who spends most of his spare time writing computer programs and is currenly writing a system that deserves at least a knighthood to help teachers cope with the planning and recording demanded by the National Curriculum. It is just that I believe Information Technology is a waste of a good computer... You can do a lot with a pencil, not only can you chew it, you can write with it and draw with it. Shakespeare never had one, neither did Da Vinci... Einstein did but he worked it all out in his head. Just think what the ‘greats’ accomplished without even a pencil, never mind Information Technology.

... all Information Technology can do for a child is help it become an adult too early. But it looks good...

"We did it on a word processor" says child.

"They did it on a word processor" says the parent.

We go home at half past three. Then we have our tea. by Jason, Gary, Paul, Harriet, James, Betty, Gladys and Norman

"I did it in pencil" says the child, "on my own"

and they lived happily ever after. by Jane

I’ve got three little mice in my computer... Albert, William and Prudence. Information Technology will do little to bring them to life, but imagination might (Allen, 1993: 44,45).

An American high school principal writes:

Recently one of the authors, as an exercise, wrote a 68 page paper on Burkino Faso... The paper contained maps, charts, comparisons of economic indicators and information on culture, religions and political systems. The paper was reviewed by faculty members and judged to be an effective, comprehensive paper. Yet the author put it together electronically in 38 minutes and acknowledged that he knew little more about the country than when he had begun...

This practice is already evident in schools where students have ready access to educational technologies (Melchior et al, 1995).

The difference between doing a sophisticated electronic pastiche of information on Burkino Faso and building knowledge about Burkino Faso relates to how we interpret the notion of learning in an information-enhanced environment, and the role of the teacher in ensuring that students have the skills and competencies, not just to use technology, but to succeed in this type of learning. Dede says:

In a world where data increases exponentially each year, a major challenge for schools is to prepare students to access and use information effectively. Learners frequently become lost in a morass of data from texts and from inquiry projects. Without higher-order thinking skills, they cannot synthesize large volumes of information into overarching knowledge structures... (1992: 54)

He predicts the introduction over the next decade of highly realistic virtual collaborative and interactive environments, but suggests:

Such learning environments risk overwhelming their users unless they incorporate tools that help students and teachers to master the cognitive skills essential to synthesize knowledge from data (ibid: 54).

Between electronic information pastiches, such as the Burkino Faso example, and knowledge construction is an unexplored gulf.

In the near future, all the representations that human beings have invented will be instantly accessible anywhere in the world on intimate, notebook-size computers. But will we be able to get from the menu to the food? Instant access to the world's information will probably have an effect opposite to what is hoped: students will become numb instead of enlightened. (Kay, 1991: 100).

Does the teacher have a role in helping the child to get from the menu to the food? My answer is embedded in my definition of learning. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong - just that it is underpinned solidly by theory, and can, in turn be translated into pedagogy - not the pedagogy of half-truths and cliches, but solid learning strategies that start and finish between the ears, even if there is a technological mediator:

Learning is a PROCESS of developing understanding; it is a process of transforming information into knowledge, into understanding, meanings and meaningfulness. It is, at once, individual and social, integral to personal, social and emotional growth. It is a process that is highly amenable to mediation by skilled learners and skilled use of technologies.

This leaves several questions, and the most troublesome to me is:


How can they be if many of them cannot articulate, beyond a heap of cliches and gobbledegook half truths, what exactly learning is, and how you do it and help others to learn how to do it?

Art Costa (who is coming to WAEC in October) has a few pertinent things to say in his preface to David Hyerle’s book:

Human beings are the only form of life that can store, organize and retrieve data in locations other than our bodies...

Because of the lack of vast amounts of disparate available information in the past, the human intellectual capacity for constructing abstractions may have been underdeveloped. And because of the increase in available information, the upper limitations of this capacity will be continually tested and exceeded in the future.

...Humans are the only form of life that actually enjoys the search for problems to solve... Process is, in fact, the highest form of learning and the most appropriate base for curriculum change. Through process, we can employ knowledge, not merely as a composite of information, but as a system for continuous learning (1996: viii - xi).

David Hyerle (1996: 3) suggests that his students could brainstorm and link ideas but asks "could they analyse, synthesize, and evaluate their own thinking?" and goes on to ask "And do visual tools offer new forms, or languages, for meeting the needs of learners working in an Information Age where constructivism is the guiding educational paradigm and the Information Superhighway is the new metaphor for information access?"

So, simply, what strategies do you, as a skilled learner, use to teach your students to be what Hyerle calls an ‘infortective’? How do you teach them to:

  • articulate their existing domain knowledge?
  • determine their knowledge needs, ask questions, differentiate between factual and inferential questions?
  • determine relevant and appropriate information sources and resources?
  • use these sources heuristically, critically and analytically to synthesize key ideas, key concepts and key factsm key opinions, and to translate information into knowledge?

More importantly, if I asked your learners - Year 0 to tertiary - whether they could show me the strategies you have taught them for doing these things, what would there response be? It’s is nonsense to say that these are such complicated processes that they can’t be taught ar learned. I can teach you simple pen and paper strategies for doing each of these things. So could David Hyerle, so could David Jonassen, and so could half a dozen other educators who see, and say, that, without these strategies, letting kids loose on the Internet an expensive waste of time. I am not saying that the Internet is a waste of time any more than books, CDs, records, videos and any other information resource is a waste of time. They are all a total waste of time if you don’t know how to learn from them.

You’ll be hearing from the intrepid pioneers like Mark Treadwell whose is doing a wonderful job of sifting through Internet sites and providing a filter for busy teachers, and John Carr, who now infuses his graphic genius into Sunshine Online. I think Sunshine Online is tremendous, and, likewise the Puffin UK online pages are an amazing support to literacy learning. I think Pete Sommerville’s LEARNZ Antarctic pages are a fantastic example of clear, incisive well-written and well-illustrated information - the Internet at its best. I think Carol Moffatt’s project is inspired, not because it links schools with audiographics, but because she has recognized that, to use it well, requires far more attention to the processes of learning and teaching, and, above all else, that it requires teachers who think like learners and plan learning not lessons. She has recognized what NOONE in the Ministry or any other educational agencies has, that technology-based learning is only technology-enhanced learning if teachers teach differently, plan differently, and teach students, not how to use the technology, but how to LEARN.

So, despite a bumbling Ministry and even more money being poured into the shaky QA rhetoric of seamless learning, there are some brilliant innovators and innovations, and also some unsung heroes like Lawrence Zwimpfer, ex Telecom, who supported lonely pioneers like Carol Moffatt and me when our own Ministry and Institutions were pouring money into solutions without bothering to diagnose the problems.

So what are the problems and what are the answers? As I see it:

The problem is that by focusing on the technology to the exclusion of the process of learning which the technology potentially supports, we distort researched reality, ie that computers in and of themselves have been found to have NO impact on learning, but significant impact on enjoyment. So:

We need to re-focus on learning - what it is and how to do it - in order to understand how the phenomenal power of technology to store, process, retrieve and communicate information can be harnessed with cognitive technology and cranial software.

The problem is, as Costa suggests, fairly sophisticated mental systems to cope with transforming the information overload into knowledge. The idea that the use of the technology encourages these skills to develop by some osmotic process is simply laughable. Yet teachers seem to believe it. So, prove it!

Cranial software needs to be shaped, modelled, mediated and nourished. It does not work automatically; you do not learn to learn from a screen or keyboard. In fact there’s every evidence of the ‘use it or lose it’ syndrome, and every evidence that the most neglected area of the curriculum at any level, primary to tertiary, is the skills and strategies needed to learn to learn.

The problem is that teachers have abrogated responsibility for teaching in the name of politically correct notions of child-centred learning and facilitation, aided and abetted by the pig-ignorant ravings of my countryman, Seymour Papert (who, incidentally, backtraced in his next book after Minstorms had become bestseller) who fuelled a fervent and deep-seated belief that, if we could only get rid of teachers and give each kid a computer to learn by exploration, education would surge ahead. The problem is not that this is nonsense, but that so many otherwise intelligent people, including many educators, actually believe it.

Learning is a human process. It doesn’t matter whether the skills and strategies are taught on paper, drawn with a stick in sand, or on a compuer screen, but until more skilled learners work with less skilled learners to develop, practise and apply these learning skills and strategies in increasingly more sophisticated techology- and information-enhanced learning environments, learning will remain as it is now - something that you catch if you’re exceptionally bright or exceptionally lucky.

The problem is that if we don’t have a clearly articulated view of learning and some understanding that learning is related to knowledge - a process of building understanding that happens in the head, not in a piece of technology - we will continue to confuse half-truths, myths, and cliches, for proper theories of learning and pedagogies, and will continue to confuse electronic information pastiches with learning.

I believe that EVERY child needs to know how to articulate and map knowledge, analyse and define questions and hypotheses, analyse, collate and synthesize information and produce relational knowledge maps, hierarchical maps, concept maps, narrative maps, cause and effect maps, etc, and that what you need to do it is not technology, but that stuff between your ears.

I have never been more passionate about learning, and I am, caution and scepticism notwithstanding, passionate about the potential of technology to support learning. After 20 years in education I am totally unconvinced that we have an education system, or a teacher training system, that is capable of producing the sophisticated level of learning, or the confident, self-efficacious learners who will be able to exploit the learning potential of technology.

You may like to hear the same thing from Art Costa in October, from David Perkins, John Abbott, Howard Gardner, Gavriel Salomon, Alan Kay, Peter Senge, Chris Dede, John Bransford, Lauren Resnick, Carl Bereiter and Marlene Scardamalia, David Hyerle... If you haven’t read them, I’m afraid I can’t recommend any inservice courses that focus on the thoughts of the leading educational writers and learning theorists of our time.

We only seem to be interested in courses that teach us how to use technologies. And, as you know, the market is always right!