Castle Librarian

Writing is to book as …

In Musing, Web 2.0 on March 16, 2012 at 3:32 pm

Last year I witnessed a group of students attempting to define what a blog is. There was a great deal of confusion and lack of definition.

There was less confusion of format and content in the good old days when we had just books and magazines as textual information sources. A few formats could contain a wider variety of content types. A short story might be in a newspaper, a magazine or a book. Some formats were more appropriate for certain content types than others. Novels are too long for anything other than a book. The internet muddied the water by greatly increasing the number of “formats.” Now we have web pages, forums, blogs, wikis, databases, etc. Now there is a plethora of formats and a plethora of content types that can be mixed and matched. To make it even more complicated some are disguised and difficult to identify. It may not be important to identify a format. Some online magazines are using a blog format, but it is modified in such a way as to be transparent and the blog aspect isn’t really important. Format no longer tells us what kind of content to expect.

Helping students understand and navigate information sources is no longer simple, because the nature of formats is hazy. The physical formats have obvious features. E-formats are somewhere in the invisible world. When teaching visual or kinetic learners, it can be challenging to teach about the invisible/intangible. Add limited time for instruction and important foundational concepts get skipped. We go straight to “here is how to search this database” without explaining what a database is, what one might find inside, and how it works. I’ve seen this result in students searching a database, looking for research reports, but selecting letters to the editor instead. Finding and evaluating information is not instinctive. The 50 minute one shot instruction session is a tiny drop in the bucket, insufficient to the task.

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