Information Challenges & Opportunities

Two news events of the past week inspire this post, converging in the world of mass media and provoking thoughts about the way we consume information in this era of instantaneous reporting and viral communication.  The first was information posted, and later widely disputed, about Shirley Sherrod, U.S. Department of Agriculture Director of Rural Development for Georgia, which began with an online post and accompanying video by conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart.  The second was the death of veteran broadcast journalist Daniel Schorr at age 93. 

The contrast between the two individuals responsible for disseminating information is notable:  Breitbart, 41, gained his experience as a purveyor of information working with online personalities Matt Drudge and Arianna Huffington; Schorr started his career covering foreign and domestic politics at CBS News with Edward R. Murrow, concluding some five decades later as Senior News Analyst for National Public Radio (NPR).  Schorr came of age at a time when “film at 11,” advertised at 6, denoted prompt coverage of breaking events.  There was relatively ample time for reporters to ascertain and verify facts, and for listeners, viewers and readers to absorb and analyze the resulting stories from a few different news outlets. 

In contrast, Breitbart and many other bloggers from across the political spectrum live and work in a world of quick digital editing, instant uploads and mobile apps.  The wonders of 21st century communications don’t preclude the opportunity for thorough investigation and analysis, but they make a lack of critical thought on both the reporting and consuming ends infinitely more likely.

All of which leads me to this question:  As educators, how can we simultaneously take advantage of the immediacy of today’s news coverage, encouraging our students to contribute to as well as consume the vast array of information that’s available, while also ensuring that they take the time to thoroughly and reliably research and analyze both what they communicate to others and what they absorb?  CTL’s Adolescent Literacy Model emphasizes reading, writing, speaking and listening across the content areas, applying rigor to the production and consumption of communications of all types.  Do you view the digital information age with its deluge of instantaneous messages as a teaching opportunity, a teaching challenge, or both–and how? 

Let’s explore the implications for education of the world of information in 2010.  Please share your anecdotes and approaches, and I will post some of the most intriguing and informative here in the near future.

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