Thursday, November 3, 2011

Information Vs Knowledge

This year, the advisory team of Phi Theta Kappa has been guiding the students in the research of the topic assigned by the organization's National Headquarters, "The Democratization of Information: Power, Promise, and Peril." One of the students interviewed Dr. Chaffee on the issue, and as I read the interview I found one except really relevant to what we are doing in the seminar, and I think it also highlights our future work as educators. Seems to me we have an ethical and professional responsibility to be helping the students make sense of what is available to them than to simply ask them to avert their eyes and ignore the internet and new technologies that make so much information readily available to them. Here is the except from Dr. Chaffee's interview:

Q: How does the media, press, and the internet influence the democratization of information?

Dr. Chaffee: Well, it’s interesting. On the one hand, it makes it more available. Anybody with a computer now can access any kind of information. The problem is that a lot of that information is worthless or worse, it’s false, and it really highlights this idea that information is not knowledge, information is just stuff. Information doesn’t become knowledge until the human mind acts on it, until it analyzes it and applies, synthesizes it, evaluates it, integrates it and makes use of it. But also, determines whether the information has value, and if it has value, what value and how it ought to be used. So on the one hand, there is the accessibility to an infinite amount of information, opinions and all sorts of stuff. But if the person doesn’t have the intellectual abilities, the critical thinking abilities to really sift through and evaluate the processing and make sense of all that stuff it really doesn’t have much value. In fact, it can be dangerous and destructive because people would read things or be exposed to things that they consider to be information, which then they might think is knowledge or something ​that has value when it doesn’t, and that can lead to dangerous and destructive actions.


  1. I absolutely agree with Luke and Dr. Chaffee. The internet has become so saturated with data and information that it nearly impossible to check their validity. Imagine I have my students gathering data from the internet to develop a mathematical model from an unreliable source. Even though they may use the right processes to come out with their models,their results would be useless. So I do also think that we have a resposibility to to help our students make the right choices when getting data or information from the Web.

  2. People have always had access to misinformation, especially misinformation masquerading as information. Some came from textbooks, which is more insidious than the internet...

  3. All you have to do is look at Wikipedia to see that information can be wildly distorted. While many of us use the format to gather information I know that sometimes what is on there is in fact not quite the truth.
    The greatest story I know is the Tommy Hlilfinger one from about 3 years ago. He target markets his material to the African American Male Community and there was a rumor circulating on the INTERNET that he was a racist. It took nearly a year for his ad team and the company to erase this story about him..

  4. I have to agree with Ximena.
    First, we went from books written by those with access to power and resourceful tools (money, education and status) and learned to believe it (as once it is in the text, it somehow becomes validated). Now, we deal with the internet and its more accessible ways by millions of people at once. We must continue to urge our students to seek the "How?" and the "So, what?" questions for everything they read and do. We have become and allowed our students to become so complacent and to avoid being challenged (uncomfortable). Dr. Chaffee nailed it. Information is just that, information! Thinking is one of those beautiful gifts we have got and cannot just let them be taken for granted. A dear friend of mine who's a teacher and a poet told me once that the hardest thing we teach our students sometimes is to 'unlearn" what they have have garnered as information turned knowledge. Students feel cheated when one reveals to them the truth or challenges them to think critically and to ask for sources and verification.

  5. In light of what's been said, the Internet is a gift in that it makes it so apparent that information does not equal knowledge or truth. The "written word" can always be revised in light of--ahem--new information. So if students can learn using the glaring examples, but also competing examples from the Internet, that one must approach anything/everything (e.g., textbooks, teachers, news, wikipedia, etc.) with a healthy dose of skepticism, we've gotten that much further in cultivating critical thinkers. The next step is evaluating sources--primary, secondary--and coming to tentative conclusions that are always open to reconsideration in light of new information. (That's the kind of critical thinking that can transform the world.)

  6. This issue with the quality of information is a great way to promote critical thinking and have students evaluate the information they are getting. We need to use this opportunity to teach them how to determine what is "good" information.

    In addition, we really have to teach them what plagiarism is, with the easy access they have to written information. They must learn to cite sources and to put information into their own words.