Students Need The Right Information At The Right Time


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Students Need The Right Information At The Right Time  

by Terry Heick

Google puts a universe of information at the end of any internet connection.

This is both true and unhelpful.

It offers up the universe, but no one needs the universe–they need the right thing at the right time.

A fact.

A connection.

A literacy strategy.

A model.

An image.

A resource.

A new perspective.

And finding that right thing at the right time can be as challenging as finding just the right word for a poem or song for an occasion. Research is often conducted in short bursts when there is library or computer lab time scheduled, often at the beginning of a project, or in the middle when ideas run dry.

This is curious.

In an always-on learning environment, constant access is only the beginning. How can we help students find what they need, when they need it?

Searching for Information

While other ways of finding information exist—e.g., bing—, and new ones are surfacing—Quora–by far the most popular is the noun that has become a verb.

“Googling” (Google’ing?) the lyrics from a song, a retailer’s reputation, or the author of a text is often the fastest way to find information. In fact, I’ll often back out of a website to Google something I’m looking for rather than use built-in search mechanics and navigation.

If you can learn the art of the keyword search, along with a handful of other Google tricks and tips you usually can find what you need, or at least where to look next. But the whole “universe at your fingertips” is unhelpful in the sense that what you’ll actually find when you look is strangely limited.

The way Google retrieves information encourages web content creators to use SEO techniques. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It’s not necessarily as nefarious as it sounds, where we all imagine a world where only the very best information and ideas are found. Value is subjective, and in the real world traffic, not knowledge, trumps content goals.

With such a crushing amount of information out there, even Google has to wave the white flag and ask for some help in finding information in the way of massive servers, bots, spiders, and even their social media platform Google+. Some content designers have learned how to get their content discovered, while others have not.

This presents a challenge.

The Timing of Information

In learning, as with boxing, dancing, selling, and clock-making, timing is everything.

The right question at the right time.

The right assessment at the right time.

The right information at the right time.

When and how students reach out for information often changes the nature of the information they’re reaching out for. Broad, sweeping questions that survey macro-level themes, or minor, detail-oriented questions that represent “lower-level” information.

Google struggles with the former dreadfully. I recall teaching a unit on the definition of humanity a few years ago and cringing–audibly groaning—to see students asking Yahoo Answers “What are the hallmarks of humanity?”

This is a classic case of user error, but Google encourages it by issuing you 27,674,767 search results for even the most outlandish term. But these aren’t answers. They may be entirely irrelevant. They may match phrasing, but not at all in terms of context.

There is no single way to make sure students have the proverbial right strategy, data point, question, or connection at the right time. Some of this is teacher instinct, some of it a matter of serendipity. Technology and intimate social networks can help. That’s good.

The juxtaposition between overwhelming information sources and the critical nature of information timing can cause some teachers to pare down data sources for the students, or to improve the quality of research results by adding their own sources.

These three websites, these two books, these four essays.

Reducing information noise and teaching students to learn to ask the right questions are both near the top of responsibilities for the 21st century teacher.

But teaching learners to do so for themselves might be #1.


So, your turn in the comments section:

What strategies do you use in your classroom to reduce information noise? Or this is important to do?

Is this conversation exclusive to learning with technology?

What adjustments make sense in your unit and lesson planning to accommodate this on a daily basis in your classroom?