In Learning and Knowing in Networks: Changing roles for Educators and Designers, George Siemens ponders the cost of what he calls "participative tools."
"Is an expert, in the eyes of a searcher using Google, someone with an established record of research and contributions to a field, or is an expert the person who appears on the first few pages of a web search?"
-Siemens, p. 5
"...when participative tools are used to duplicate the academic functions of peer review and formal publication, the authority and authenticity of the resulting information is potentially suspect."
-Siemens, p. 6
While technology, especially the Internet, has made it easier than ever before to access information, it has also created a learning culture where everyone's opinion can find an audience. The anything goes pathos of the Internet has birthed a community where unfounded, totally biased opinions are considered as valid as research-based findings. Proponents of this "equally valid" form of thinking cite the Internet's democratic nature, where the playing field has been leveled and all persons potentially have the opportunity to contribute to online discussions, chats, and "scholarly" (yes, I am using this term loosely) sites like Wikipedia, as the ultimate in free form expression. However, at what cost does this expression come? Like Siemens states, when "the authority and authenticity of the resulting information is potentially suspect," of what real value is the information? I've lost count of the number of times that I have attempted to research a topic and clicked on what I thought would be a valid source only to find that I was reading someone's unfounded diatribe against, say, teacher unions.Of course, there are search tools such as Google Scholar that more effectively filter the content that comes up in a search, but when we use these, we are limiting the democratic nature of what makes the Internet such a revolutionary tool.
This fact that this dichotomy exists, where information, whether it comes from Google or Google Scholar, is considered equally valid, proves that technology has, as Siemens contends, "rewired" the way we, as a culture, think. If, like me, you are a teacher, than you have trained your mind to search out reliable sources of information. You use tools like Google Scholar to help you do so. However, can this be said of our society at large? I would say no. I have many friends, all of whom hold university degrees, who consider Twitter feeds to be as reliable a source of information as academic publishings. They would never have thought this way while they were completing their degrees. Why? There was no Twitter. The Internet was in its infancy. We still consulted books for our information. Books where ideas were backed by research and sources were cited. Now, twenty years later, these same people are willing to accept that a person with the Twitter username "@BuildtheWall" is somehow providing a valid, unbiased comment regarding Mexican immigration. Quite alarming when you think of it.
What do you think? If you are so inclined, please leave a comment below.
I am a Special Education teacher currently pursuing his Master of Arts in Information & Learning Technologies (Option: K-12) at CU Denver. I work at Boulder High School in Boulder, CO. Here you will find my thoughts on education.