The Thinks You Can Think and Other Thinks: Making Sense of My Information Overload In a Digitized Society

A childhood literary hero, the individual who helped me put my children to sleep when they were younger; and the person who helps me introduce poetry at the Grade 10 level comes readily to mind this week.  If you guessed the allusion to Dr. Seuss you are correct; if not or you are still wondering about the specific reference – go to the add tab in your browser window and Google the term – but keep this tab open….

The last month has been one of great personal growth for me as both a reader and a novice thinker. I say novice as I reflect on all of the new information that I have taken on board in the last several weeks from a variety of sources. These new sources of information have been a result of the on-line work that I have been doing with my students. As a high school teacher I am a huge believer in the use of the internet as a educational tool – my students use the internet for research, to log into a virtual classroom that I run through Taking IT Global where they can access homework, post blogs, access on-line video conferencing after school hours with their peers or during tutorial hours with myself. I have also, of late, experimented through the Center for Global Education with international video conferencing with other schools across Canada and around the world. While the setup for the conferencing was a steep learning curve the dividends that it has already paid made it time very well spent.  I use a SmartBoard daily in my classroom and am set-up with Skype on every machine that I access on a regular basis.

In short I was beginning to think that I have begun to understand the digital world that I have worked with for almost two decades. The last month has made me rethink my level of savvy as I have discovered in the last month or so there is more out there than I could have ever imagined – I mean we hear or pay lip service to the idea that the amount of information out there is more than we can handle – in the same way that we pay lip service to other concepts like it is a beautiful day or time flies – you know things that we say or acknowledge without much in the way of a second thought or real attention to the implication of what it is that we are acknowledging. Well between making new connections to various on-line organizations as well as increasing my participation in the online dialogue with others via mediums like Twitter and TweetDeck and discovering what hash-tag discussions are all about I thought this morning when I sat down to write this entry that I am suffering from information overload.

Upon further reflection, and several cups of coffee, I have determined that if I use the skills and tools that I have tried to pass onto my students that I am not in over my head as far as I may think that I am. I constantly remind my students that when faced with a question or situation that it is important to develop criteria to help decide what source, material, information, position etc. is relevant to what it is that I am doing. When I apply this methodology to my studies of technology use in education I have developed several criteria questions that I can use to help me prevent personal information overload. First, is the site, source, post etc relevant to what it is that I am currently trying to figure out? Secondly, is the source one that leads to greater knowledge for myself or those that I may share the information with? Third is the time factor – how long, realistically, is it going to take me to make sense of this source be it to read the material and/or adapt it to my needs in the classroom or with other educators or students? I find that if I keep these questions in mind as I approach new sources of information or ideas for implementation I can significantly reduce my sense of being overwhelmed.

Granted it may mean that there are some sources, no matter how good they are, that for one or more of these reasons gets kicked to the proverbial curb; but as a trade off I filter information in such a way that it is manageable and relevant to me. I have discovered that streams like HootSuite and TweetDeck can allow me to scan quickly posts that are made and only further investigate those that fulfill the above stated criteria thereby allowing me to streamline my viewing.

So how do you make sense of your information overload in a digitized society?

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