The founding question

How is information organised on the internet? This seems a fair question to ask anyone using it for learning and teaching.

I imagine the answers will include ‘on websites‘,’on computers‘,’using webpages‘,’web addresses’ or perhaps ‘URLs‘. But the word we are really interested in is the one upon which 21st Century Learning hinges – organised. If I was to ask how a book organises information, a music cd or even a library – chances are the response will be narrower and more accurate. Learning and teaching is based on boundaries, discipline, frameworks and reproductive learning. We are working in attainment based assessment.

In all seriousness, if a mechanic was unable to explain how a diagnostic tool worked, then the chances of them finding or solving a problem would be slim. They might have some cognitive knowledge of the tool, but unable to maximise on benefits – or explain them to others. Application of knowledge to solve problems is more important that the cognitive understanding of the ‘tools’. Yet we focus on tools all to often.

In another approach, ask someone to ‘draw’ an organisational diagram to answer the question. The vast majority of people will draw a heiracy, and start with a box, most probably called ‘home’. They will then add nodes that demonstrate a parent-child taxonomy. It’s a fun activity in staff meetings or in class – to evaluate just how accurate their understanding is. We are so used to ‘searching’ that it often the most ‘hit’ page on a website.

We are at a watershed and need to do some self-diagnosis. As a group (class, school, organisation) do we understand how to organise digital information? Do we know where to look for it? Are we creating taxonomies that make sense? let alone creating effective scaffolds upon which students can attain knowledge? If we are creating resources which we hope other people will find … understanding how to organise information seems to be a better strategy that relying on Google’s algorithmic ability to discover it.

Before talking about shifts in education, metaphoric tools,  ‘learning’ theory, models etc, we need to understand how information is organised in the digital world. We know that ‘files’ are put in folders, stored on flash drives and hard drives. We use keywords to look for things on other computers or networks – and are likely to be offered millions of possible places to find it. We seem to accept these odds and complaints that ‘the internet is full of rubbish’.

The ‘beginning’ of relearning about ICTs is to ensure we know how to organise ‘our’ information so it can be found and shared. We need to embed baseline digital taxonomies and make sure staff and students attain this knowledge at the outset. Modelling this – though example (developing frameworks, collaboratively aggregating information etc.) from the ground up – will allow everyone to share in it’s creation and understanding. As students move from one learning situation to another, they are using a common understanding, as the curriculum is has a foundation based on understanding not exploration.

If staff and students are unclear about the answer, then this is the place to start.

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