Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Filtering the Web

Education should return to the way it was in the workshops of the Renaissance. There, the masters may not necessarily have been able to explain to their students why a painting was good in theoretical terms, but they did so in more practical ways. Look, this is what your finger can look like, and this is what it has to look like. Look, this is a good mixing of colors. The same approach should be used in school when dealing with the Internet. The teacher should say: "Choose any old subject, whether it be German history or the life of ants. Search 25 different web pages and, by comparing them, try to figure out which one has goof information." If 10 pages describe the same thing, it can be a sign that the information printed there is correct. But it can also be a sign that some sites merely copied the others' mistakes.
This quote appeared in an interview of Umberto Eco, an Italian author and semiotician, here. The interview was on Eco's curation of an exhibition at the Louvre and the release of his book, The infinity of lists, on the same theme. Eco gave the above answer to a question on how teachers can instruct children on the difference between good and bad in context of the lists provided by Google search. Eco calls Google a tragedy for youngsters who need to be taught the "high art of how to be discriminating". This fits in pat with a book review I was reading this morning on Brain Pickings of The Information Diet. The Information Diet, as per the review and the book blurb (I haven't read the book yet) is also about how to be discriminating about the information one consumes.

Eco's views and the subject of the book address a problem created by the information age - quantity has replaced quality in the process of knowledge acquisition.With the Internet becoming a major source of information for substantial amount of the world's population today, copy pasting has overtaken careful reading, analysis and adapting of information to contexts. And while, the internet as a source of information is invaluable, it must also be accompanied by the same criteria that was once applied to books as a source of information. The credibility of authors and the websites that publish information must become a part and parcel of the selection process in the digital world. Given that credibility itself can be ascertained much more effortlessly in the digital world, it's a pity more of us don't take the effort to be more discriminating in what we carry into our heads from the web!

It's also something that the education system, as Eco points out, needs to actively build into its manner of instruction. It isn't enough to ask children to do projects or articles or essays. They will simply copy paste (I have seen this happen... more than once). Children must also be taught how to acknowledge sources of information, write a bibliography and how to filter information especially from the digital space. Much of this (at least footnoting and bibliographing) is fairly common practice in  the western world and in higher institutes of education. But not so in Indian schools, which while integrating technology and interactive learning, have not accompanied that with teaching children how to filter and navigate the labyrinth of information that the Internet is. Interactive learning and technology, in such a scenario, could prove more harmful than useful in the long run as children either acquire no knowledge and simply copy-paste or acquire erred information.

No comments: