Information Underload and Overload
- "Before you become too entranced with gorgeous gadgets and mesmerizing video displays, let me remind you that information is not knowledge, knowledge is not wisdom, and wisdom is not foresight. Each grows out of the other, and we need them all." (Arthur C. Clarke; British science fiction author as well as author of a great many non-fiction books; 1917–2008.)
- “We don't know a millionth of one percent about anything.” (Thomas A. Edison; American inventor and businessman; 1847–1931.)
- "Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense." (Gertrude Stein; American writer, poet and feminist; 1874–1946.)
Brief Definitions and Introduction
We are currently living in the Information Age. This document is about some educational aspects and implications of information.
The term information has quite a variety of meanings. The five-point cognitive development scale given below is sometimes called the Clarke scale, after Arthur C. Clark (see the quote given above.)
Many people use the term information to stand for the data, information, knowledge part of this scale. Others use it for the data, information, knowledge, wisdom part of the scale. Thus, information as in Information Age has different meanings to different people. The document given here discusses all five aspects of the Clarke scale.
A recent Google search of the quoted expression "information overload" produced about 1,890,000 hits. Many people believe that one aspect of our current information age is information overload—too much information. A later part of this document argues that while many people do suffer from information overload, the reality is that we have an information underload. Often a person cannot readily find the information that he or she needs to deal with a problem situation.
This may be due to poor information retrieval skills, but it may also be because the needed information does not exist or because the needed information has not been put into a storage facility that allows easy location and retrieval of the information. Much of the information stored in people's heads is not in written form available for retrieval by readers. Considerable written information is not available in hard copy or electronic libraries. Much of the information that is in photographs, videos, and audio recordings is available to only a modest number of people.
How Much Information?
Deacon, Brian (12/0/09). So, that explains the headache. Investors.com. Retrieved 12/11/09 from http://www.investors.com/NewsAndAnalysis/Article.aspx?id=514676. Quoting from the article:
- The average American receives 34 gigabytes of information a day outside the workplace, says the report. One gigabyte roughly equals one hour of high-definition video.
- Hundreds of sources were used for the yearlong study, including research from NPD Group, Nielsen and Arbitron. UCSD also looked at previous studies on data creation, storage and consumption.
- The study looked at information people come in contact with in hours, words and bytes from TV, radio, computers, phones, print, music and theatrical movies — but all outside of the workplace. That consumption totaled 1.3 trillion hours in 2008. That's 11.8 hours per person per day, up from 7.4 hours in the 1960s. (The figure might seem high, but a person reading and watching TV, while the radio plays in the background, would be triple-counted.) The average amount of words consumed per day per person in 2008 was 100,500.
- Computers and games accounted for 54.6% of bytes entering the home, largely due to game consoles and PC games that create huge streams of graphics. TV accounted for 34.7% of bytes delivered.
Problems and problem solving are part of the background needed in understanding the topics of information overload and information underload.
Posing, understanding, representing, and attempting to solve problems is lies at the heart of each academic discipline. Problem solving includes:
- * Question situations: recognizing, posing, clarifying, and answering questions.
- * Problem situations: recognizing, posing, clarifying, and then solving problems.
- * Task situations: recognizing, posing, clarifying, and accomplishing tasks.
- * Decision situations: recognizing, posing, clarifying, and making good decisions.
- * Using higher-order critical, creative, wise, and foresightful thinking to do all of the above. Often the results are shared, demonstrated, or used as a product, performance, or presentation.
Reread the last item in the list. It focuses on critical thinking, creative thinking, wise thinking, and foresightful thinking. From an informal and formal education point of view, we want students to become better in the higher-order thinking aspects of problem solving.
The discussion of information overload and underload given in this document is designed to help improve the higher-order thinking aspects of our educational system.
GIGO: A Major Difficulty
Data, information, knowledge, wisdom, and foresight are all really important ideas for all of us. Even if we don’t always consciously think about these ideas, throughout the day we all make use of them. As anexample, think about data. It seems like a simple enough thing. For example, someone designs and carries out a scientific experiment. During this process, data is collected, stored, and analyzed. It may be analyzed in real time (that is, as the experiment is proceeding) in order to help people and machines make quick decisions about processes going on in the experiment. Some or all of the data may be stored over a long period of time and made available to others who want to analyze it to help test or develop theories, or to make data-driven decisions.
But, what happens if a recording instrument is faulty, and "incorrect" data is gathered? Similarly, data can be recorded incorrectly. Or, data can be deliberately falsified and presented to the world as if it were "correct" data.
How good is your brain at remembering telephone numbers, email addresses, and Web addresses? Probably not so good. In all three cases, a small error produces an incorrect connection. Fortunately, we have writing and other aids to circumvent this common mental frailty.
Next, think about two different people observing the same event. Each is gathering data by the use of his or her senses. But, data gathered through one's senses is being processed through one's brain. Some of it is stored in short-term memory, and some of that eventually is stored in long-term memory. The collection, processing, storage, and eventual retrieval are not exactly the same in any two brains. No two brains/minds are exactly the same, and constructivism plays a significant role in the overall processes.
As a somewhat different kind of incorrect data or information example, consider Newton's laws of motion. Newton believed these were correct, and eventually a huge number of people came to believe that Newton's laws of motion were correct. The work of Albert Einstein and others in the field of relativity proved that Newton's laws of motion are not correct.
Physics and many other disciplines have "theories" that they make use of, but that may well be incorrect or not applicable in the situation in which they are being used. As the Newton's laws of motion example illustrates, even a highly mathematical and research-based discipline such as physics has this difficulty. It is easy to see why disciplines such as the various social science and education face major difficulties as they try to make decisions. And attempt to have good foresight about the consequences of these decisions.
What about information that comes from processing, interpreting, and understanding stored data and information? It is easy to see how incorrect information can result from the situations described in the previous paragraphs. Computer people have coined the statement, "garbage in, garbage out" (GIGO) to talk about the difficulty produced when computers are given incorrect data or information to process. Just because a computer produces a result does not mean the result is correct. GIGO also applies to human brain processing of data and information.
In brief summary, data, information, knowledge, and wisdom that one accesses from one's own brain, from the brains of other people, from hard copy storage media, and from computers and other storage media are not necessarily correct. We routinely do decision making under uncertainty. This topic is discussed later in this document.
The next three subsections discuss biased information, disinformation, and disinformation. These three types of “information” add to the difficulty of making good decisions and having good foresight into the potential results of decisions that one is making.
The above discussion in some sense suggests that data and information are in some sense either correct or incorrect. That is too simple a way to look at this situation. My recent Google search of the quoted expression "biased information" produced over 77,000 hits. Quoting from a medical article by Thomas Kramer, MD:
- There is increasing concern and disdain among practitioners of psychopharmacology about information provided to us from the pharmaceutical industry as a function of their marketing efforts. Some practitioners will not talk to pharmaceutical representatives for fear of receiving biased information. I struggle with this attitude. Although it is clearly true that the accuracy and integrity of information varies and some sources are better than others, I have always found that more information is better when one is trying to make decisions about anything, including prescribing psychotropics. I have never been impressed that ignorance is bliss, or even useful or protective of something. To a certain extent, all information is subject to some bias from its source. The only questions are how much bias, and what it is biased toward or against.
There is still another very important difficulty. You have undoubtedly heard the term misinformation—something that has the look, feel, and "smell" of information, but is deliberately incorrect and misleading.
Misinformation is an ongoing part of each person's everyday life. It is not just the steady stream of advertising that we are subjected to. It is also information transmitted among people in their everyday conversations. You have heard the expressions white lie, shading the truth, and biased information. You are aware of people routinely being biased in the manner in which they interpret data and information, and then represent their opinions as "true, correct information.
The types of analysis given above for data and information also apply to knowledge and wisdom. So, think about the problem of educating students in a world where much of the data, information, knowledge, and wisdom that they are routinely exposed to is flawed. How does one educate students to effectively deal with this situation?
Disinformation is an important aspect or information underload and information overload. A Google search on the topic produced over 1.6 million hits. Quoting from the Wikipedia:
- Disinformation is false or inaccurate information that is spread deliberately. It is synonymous with and sometimes called Black propaganda. It may include the distribution of forged documents, manuscripts, and photographs, or propagation of malicious rumors and fabricated intelligence. Disinformation should not be confused with misinformation, information that is unintentionally false.
- In espionage or military intelligence, disinformation is the deliberate spreading of false information to mislead an enemy as to one's position or course of action. In politics, disinformation is the deliberate attempt to deflect voter support of an opponent, disseminating false statements of innuendo based on the candidates vulnerabilities as revealed by opposition research. In both cases, it also includes the distortion of true information in such a way as to render it useless.
- Disinformation techniques may also be found in commerce and government, used to try to undermine the position of a competitor. It is an act of deception and blatant false statements to convince someone of an untruth. Cooking-the-books might be considered a disinformation strategy that led to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.
- Unlike traditional propaganda and Big Lie techniques designed to engage emotional support, disinformation is designed to manipulate the audience at the rational level by either discrediting conflicting information or supporting false conclusions.
- Another technique of concealing facts, or censorship, is also used if the group can effect such control. When channels of information cannot be completely closed, they can be rendered useless by filling them with disinformation, effectively lowering their signal-to-noise ratio and discrediting the opposition by association with a lot of easily-disproved false claims.
- A common disinformation tactic is to mix some truth and observation with false conclusions and lies, or to reveal part of the truth while presenting it as the whole (a limited hangout).
The top of the data, information…chain is foresight. It is different than the other four topics in the Clarke scale. You use foresight to attempt to predict or forecast the results of actions that you are contemplating. In predicting possible outcomes from a proposed activity, you can draw upon your full range of informal and formal training, education, and experience. We are all futurists, practicing our forecasting skills routinely throughout the day.
If you are in a situation that calls for immediate or relatively quick action, you are left to your own devices. You do not have time to accurately communicate the situation and possible actions to others who might be able to add their foresights and make suggestions to you.
But wait. How about airbags and collision avoidance radar in cars? These are instruments (tools) that have a type of foresight and can take very quick action based on their insights. Humans know how to design and build some automated foresight and action-taking tools.
For a more commonly occurring situation, think about the modern street corner crosswalk lights that are becoming more common. They contain count down timers along with a combination of visual and audio signals. You, the walker, make use of this information in real time as you make a decision whether to start across the crosswalk and/or how quickly to walk. Likely you have confidence in the correctness of the information being provided to you. However, you still use caution because you know that drivers sometimes don’t obey the traffic light rules.
If a decision you need to make does not need to be made quickly, you can draw upon the collected data, information, knowledge, wisdom, and foresights of others. In brief summary, we want to educate students to:
- Make wise, foresightful decisions very quickly when the need calls for it.
- Learn to use one's own insights and to draw upon the collected data, information, knowledge, wisdom, and foresights of others (including what is available in storage systems such as the Web) when time permits.
In addition, we want to develop machine aids (tools) to decision making and action taking that supplement the capabilities of people. Nowadays, Information and Communication Technology often plays a role in such tools.
Triangulation refers to the idea of making use of multiple sources of information and checking them against each other. While the word triangle may suggest making use of exactly three sources of information, the term triangulation in the context used here typically means to make use two or more sources of information. “or more” might well be way more than three.
As you draw on multiple sources of information, work to understand the various viewpoints being presented and learn to look for flaws and inconsistencies among the various sources.
In solving any problem or in making any decision, you can draw upon your own accumulated data, information, knowledge, and wisdom, and your foresight capabilities. You, yourself, are one part of the multiple sources of information used in triangulation.
Adults certainly want (and expect) children to develop and make use of "common sense." But, common sense is not so easily achieved. In many cases it takes rather deep understanding of a problem situation to have the insights to have a reliable common sense. Good common sense tends to develop through transfer of learning from lots of life experiences and problem-solving experiences.
Many people "bounce their ideas" off of trusted friends, colleagues, mentors, advisors, counselors, and other groups of people to get their insights. Crowd sourcing has gained in importance. That is, people other than yourself can be a valuable component in a triangulation process. Communication systems such as cell phones and email can be quite helpful.
Peer Reviewpeer review in their scholarly publications. Roughly speaking, this means that research articles appearing in the "refereed" journals have been carefully read by about three scholars in the discipline before they are published.
As illustrated in the picture, grant proposals to various foundations and government-funded agencies usually undergo careful peer review. In these types of competitive settings, the more highly related proposals are the ones that get funded.
Somewhat similarly, academic books being published by reputable publishing companies first undergo review by experts in the discipline. A publishing comp[any may decide not to publish a particular manuscript based on the feedback from its reviewers. Of course, there are vanity presses (you pay to have your book published) and there is the self-publication process. Thus, there are many scholarly-looking books in print that have not undergone peer review.
Consider the document you are now reading. It has not undergone peer review. Thus, you should be suspicious of its contents. You can look into my credentials, and they might increase your confidence in this document. I am a retired professor, having working in two different math departments, two different computing centers, one computer science department, and one College of Education. I am the author or co-author of about 50 books that were published commercially (and thus, went through some level of peer review). I have published extensively and done a variety of other things that have helped to establish my professional reputation.
Notice that this document is published on the Web in a Wiki. That means that people who read this document can edit it—make corrections, make additions, delete material, and add comments. That is a type of document review that was pioneered in the Wikipedia. It is not as strong a reviewing process as occurs for high quality research journals—but, it is much better than no reviewing at all. The Wikipedia has a relatively good reputation for being a good and reliable source of information.
Here are a four more ideas that may be of particular interest to teachers:
- In team-based project-based learning, members of the team provide feedback to each other on their individual work and writing. A teacher can organize this into a reasonably careful team-based peer review system.
- In many project-based learning and other situations, students do relatively formal presentations to the whole class. The class members can be educated to provide a type of peer review.
- Students can learn to read each others written assignments and provide peer review. See, for example, http://serc.carleton.edu/introgeo/peerreview/index.html.
- A teacher reading a student's homework or viewing student in class participation is in a position to provide peer review. Thus, for example, a writing teacher can provide feedback on the depth and quality of the arguments in a paper. A math teacher can provide feedback on the depth and quality of the "show your work" aspects of student seatwork and homework.
In summary, it is very important that students learn about the general concept of peer review. Students need to learn to give and to accept high quality analysis and feedback about the correctness and quality of their work and the work of others.
Decision Making Under Uncertainty
The previous sections of this document are intended to help convince you that in our everyday lives we are regularly called upon to do decision making under uncertainty.
A recent Google search of the quoted expression "decision making under uncertainty" produced nearly 150,000 hits. Indeed, this topic is now an area of study and research, and one can become a high level expert in the area. Here, for example, is a list of research concentration areas from the reference given above:
- Basic methods based on probability, decision and utility theories
- Techniques for bounding the effect of missing and/or incorrect information
- Trading time and space resources with certainty
- Fusing uncertain information of different kinds
- Real-time inference algorithms
- Hybrid dynamical systems
- Machine learning algorithms
- Causal reasoning
- Problem structuring for optimal understanding by human decision makers
- Analysis and evaluation of courses of actions
- Cognitive aspects of interaction between human decision makers and automated decision-aids
- Methods for evaluating the effectiveness of automated decision aids
Risk analysis is an important aspect of decision making under uncertainty. What are the risks involved in making a particular type of decision? To give you a feeling of the depth and complexity of risk analysis, here is a quote from the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis:
- The Harvard Center for Risk Analysis (HCRA) is a multidisciplinary group of faculty, research staff, students, and visiting scholars who work together to improve decisions about environmental health. We conduct state-of-the-art research, educate the next generation of leaders in risk analysis and related disciplines, and encourage public discourse about risk topics.
- HCRA's research is focused broadly on developing risk, economic, and decision analysis methods that are well-grounded in the natural and social sciences. We use these methods to provide insights useful for informing real-world decisions. Our work draws on diverse disciplines including epidemiology, toxicology, environmental science and engineering, decision theory, cognitive psychology, applied mathematics, statistics, and economics. Areas of practical application include risks from air pollutants such as particulate matter, ozone and mercury; conventional and toxic water and waste pollutants; and emerging issues such as nanomaterials and low-level pharmaceuticals in the environment.
Your brain is designed for decision making under uncertainty. With appropriate informal and formal education, it can get better. This situation presents our educational system with an interesting challenge. How do we educate students so that they get better at decision making under uncertainty? How do we educate students so they recognize they are facing uncertainty in their decision making situations, but that through appropriate research and information retrieval they can reduce the uncertainty and likely make better decision?
Note that the previous paragraph is suggesting a significant change in our educational system. It proposes a substantial decrease in rote memorization of what to do in certain specified situations, and an increase in learning how to make better decisions based on one's current knowledge and skills, and the added information one can get from other sources (including the Web) at the time one needs to make an important decision.
The following is quoted from a 3/16/09 article by Bass and Eynon:
- Our experiences suggest in practice what broader research suggests in theory: If we want to cultivate adaptive and flexible thinkers, then we have to structure experiences for students that put them in positions to engage in intellectual discovery and exercise what Lee S. Shulman called “judgments under uncertainty.” This must be done repeatedly, from the earliest opportunities.
- There’s nothing simple or determinative about how new media technologies enable these kinds of learning experiences, but their inherent openness, complexity, and ubiquity should make them an inescapable part of our designs for essential learning.
In brief summary, here are some educational suggestions:
1. Help students to understand the uncertainty and the risks involved in many of the decision-making situations they encounter throughout the day. The vocabulary and the basic idea of decision making under uncertainty should become part of each student’s knowledge and understanding about the world in which they live.
2. Routinely provide students with problem-solving and decision-making situations that involve uncertainty. In each case, help students learn about ways to decrease the uncertainty and risk.
Many people complain that they are suffering from information overload. A while back I responded to a reporter who was writing an article on this topic. I thought about the information overload idea for a while, and suggested a contrary point of view.
I proposed that we are not suffering from information overload. Rather, we are suffering from information underload. We do not have ready access to the specific information we need to answer questions, solve problems, and accomplish tasks we want to accomplish. If we had lots more information and better ways to retrieve specifically what we need, then the so-called information overload would be substantially decreased.
This response did not go over well with the reporter, and I never heard back from him. However, I have continued to think about my somewhat peculiar point of view.
I find it useful to think about information underload from the point of view of the question, "what should we teach in schools? Our current approach is perhaps best summarized by, When in doubt, add it to the list of what is to be taught." The result is that the curriculum is too full. There is not enough time for reflective practices. There is not enough time for students to pursue independent investigations.
In most courses or units of study, almost all of the available time is used up in "covering required curriculum content." This is one sign of an information overload approach to education. An information overload approach to curriculum design tends to be governed by the idea that more is better. Hold this (bad) idea in mind as you read the next section.
Meanwhile, think about the following two ideas to help deal with information underload;
- Here is a suggestion for teachers. As you help your students learn a discipline, give them specific instruction and quite a bit of practice in making use of the Web and other information storage systems in retrieving information that is relevant to what they are studying. That is, hold in mind the idea that building on the previous work of others is one of the most important ideas in problem solving.
- Within any discipline that you teach, look for places where a computer system or other automated systems can solve or greatly help in solving the problems you want students to learn about. A good example is in statistics. This is an area in which very powerful computer systems have been developed to aid in the collection, storage, statistical processing, and display of results. Thus, for most students the type of education that is needed lies in the area of posing and understanding statistics-related, making use of automated aids to helping in data collection, storage, and processing, and then interpreting, understanding, and properly using the results.
Here is a way to think about information overload:
- I am constantly bombarded with information from ads, spam and other junk mail, blogs, email from my acquaintances, posting in the social networking systems I am engaged with, telephone calls, text messages, and so on. In some sense the whole world seems to conspire against me by continually interfering with or intruding on my time.
- When I need specific information, I often make use of the Web. The trouble is, my search engine frequently identifies many thousands of hits. I have to use a lot of time to find the specific information I need, and sometimes I cannot find it. In the latter case, it is often because I don’t know how to formulate a search expression that uses the correct words to find what I want to find.In addition, the searchable Web is only a small fraction of the total Web. Quoting from a March 26, 2009 Binghamton University news release:
- The Web has two parts: the surface Web and the deep Web. The surface Web is made up of perhaps 60 billion pages. The deep Web, at some 900 billion pages, is about 15 times larger.
- Google, which relies on a “crawler” to examine pages and catalog them for future searches, can search about 20 billion pages. Web crawlers follow links to reach pages and often miss content that isn’t linked to any other page or is in some way “hidden.”
Here are some thoughts about the first issue. A recent Google search of the quoted expression "information overload" produced about 1,960,000 hits. Quoting from the a an article by Nate Anderson titled "2008: Year of Information Overload?"
- Interruptions aren't merely annoying; they're also bad for productivity. And when you multiply the interruptions made possible by e-mail, phone calls, text messages, and Twitters across the entire US, the result is lost productivity on a massive scale: $650 billion in a single year.
- That's according to research firm Basex, which chose "information overload" as its 2008 "Problem of the Year." Failure to solve the problem will lead to "reduced productivity and throttled innovation." The situation is dire enough that Intel's Nathan Zeldes estimates "the impact of information overload on each knowledge worker at up to eight hours a week."
There are lots of self-help and “common sense” articles that discuss the first issue.
The second issue can be approached by making more information available to people and by helping them to gain an increased level of expertise of the type that research librarians have.
Here is another way of looking at the second issue. The Web is continuing to grow quite rapidly. The part of the Web that is searchable through Google is now at least 20 times as large as the US Library of Congress—that is, the equivalent of several billion books. One day's growth in the Web is far more than a person can read in a lifetime.
One way to approach the problem of information overload is to teach Big Ideas (essential concepts) and teach for transfer of learning. See Jay McTighe's insights into this issue in a 13 minute audio interview at (accessed 6/11/09)http://ascd.typepad.com/blog/2009/06/why-just-look-at-the-answers-that-a-text-book-offers-when-you-can-examine-the-questions-that-lead-to-the-answersw.html.
I found the following article to contain useful insights into progress in having computers help us to deal with information overload.
Cohen, Noam (12/19/2010). Computers Help Social Animals to See Beyond Their Tribes. The New York Times. Retrieved 12/20/2010 from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/20/business/media/20link.html?_r=2. Here is the first part of the article:
- I.B.M. researchers in this laboratory nestled next to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have been forced lately to confront a limit on computing power: the human brain just isn’t processing data any faster.
- It’s a shame, too, because the brain has never had more material to make sense of: more friendships, that come with more frequent updates, more bosses to report to, more news, more entertainment choices. And who knows when the next million-page WikiLeaks release may come along?
- Overwhelmed by all the noise, some have simply chosen to block it out — to opt out, say, of social networks and microblog platforms like Twitter. Alternatively, others have hewn close to these social networks, counting on them to sort through all the information coming at us.
The following article argues that Information Overload is being hyped and is not nearly the problem that many writers think it is:
Bialik, Carl (2/21/2011). Behind the information overload hype. Retrieved 2/23/2011 from http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704900004576152384123140652.html. Quoting from the article:
- Reducing all pieces of knowledge—whether pixels, words or musical notes—to digital bits makes them easier to analyze. But bits are neutral about the value of knowledge. "You can get a lot of information out of reading a half-megabyte book, compared to watching a one-gigabyte TV show," says Roger Bohn, director of the Global Information Industry Center at University of California, San Diego. Yet in 2007, the world's capacity to store video was about 6,000 times greater, in terms of bytes, than the storage capacity of paper, according to the Science study. That, says Prof. Bohn, is a "testament to how efficient language is for communicating concisely."
- What is less ambiguous is that each piece of information, on average, gets less exposure today than in the past. W. Russell Neuman, professor of media technology at the University of Michigan, is leading a study that quantifies information in terms of minutes—how much time Americans devote to consuming information, and how much time it would take to consume all the available information.
Retrieving Just the Information One Needs
As noted before, part of the information underload problem is that often one cannot find the information they need, even in cases where it exists,
The various Web search companies and many other groups are working on this problem. Each thinks it is making progress in providing people with easy access to the specific information that they need to help solve their problems and answer their questions. Here is some information about a new approach that may soon be available. Quoting from a 3/7/09 article by Nova Spivack:
- Stephen Wolfram is building something new -- and it is really impressive and significant. In fact it may be as important for the Web (and the world) as Google, but for a different purpose. It's not a "Google killer"—it does something different. It's an "answer engine" rather than a search engine.
- Stephen was kind enough to spend two hours with me last week to demo his new online service -- Wolfram Alpha (scheduled to open in May). In the course of our conversation we took a close look at Wolfram Alpha's capabilities, discussed where it might go, and what it means for the Web, and even the Semantic Web.
- Stephen has not released many details of his project publicly yet, so I will respect that and not give a visual description of exactly what I saw. However, he has revealed it a bit in a recent article, and so below I will give my reactions to what I saw and what I think it means. And from that you should be able to get at least some idea of the power of this new system.
- In a nutshell, Wolfram and his team have built what he calls a "computational knowledge engine" for the Web. OK, so what does that really mean? Basically it means that you can ask it factual questions and it computes answers for you.
- It doesn't simply return documents that (might) contain the answers, like Google does, and it isn't just a giant database of knowledge, like the Wikipedia. It doesn't simply parse natural language and then use that to retrieve documents, like Powerset, for example.
Information Overload in Teaching and Learning
Each academic discipline supports the work of a number of professionals who do research and publication in the discipline. Each discipline has scholarly journals that help in the preservation and dissemination of the steadily growing accumulation of data, and information, knowledge, and wisdom.
Moreover, each academic discipline has teachers who accumulate pedagogical content knowledge and share it through a variety of means. For precollege education, some of this content pedagogical knowledge is taught in Methods courses.
Thus, each discipline has both information overload an pedagogical content overload. A teacher in any discipline has to deal with both of these types of information overload.
A Math Education Example
Let's examine the discipline of mathematics to help illustrate the above ideas and teaching/learning difficulties faced by the discipline.
First, the totality of math information and knowledge grows steadily. The dmoz open directory project lists 166 math research journals currently being published. There are, of course many other math books and periodicals, and math education books and periodicals, that are not classified as math research books and journals.
Next, we know that math is an ancient discipline. AS an example, Euclid lived in about 325 BC to 265 BC. Thus his books represent mathematics of about 2,300 years ago.
Thus, math is a deep, broad discipline that is accumulative and is continuing to grow. Math educators at all levels are faced by the task of deciding:
- What math topics should be taught at various levels of K-12, undergraduate, and graduate mathematics?
- How much of a particular math topic or area is it reasonable to expect students to learn in any particular course or sequence of courses?
- How can our math educational system adequately and appropriately assess the success of math education at various levels?
These are difficult questions and different groups of people come up with different answers. For example, is the United States (or, the world) producing enough doctorates in mathematics who will go on to be productive math researchers? In the United States (or, the rest of the world) preparing graduates of middle school or junior high school so they are adequately prepared to deal with the math they will routinely encounter in their everyday lives as responsible adult citizens? (This last question is not meant to address the "higher level" math requirements in many different jobs and professions.)
At any particular math coursework level) be it kindergarten of graduate school), there are the issues such as: breadth versus depth; memorization versus understanding; and the emphasis to be places on teaching and learning for use in disciplines outside the discipline of math (transfer of learning).
The solutions that our math educations is currently implementing provide a good example of information overload. In this United States, this approach to math education is often criticized as making use of a math curriculum that is a mile wide and an inch deep.
Here is a simple example. The concept of measurement of area is important both in "pure" math and in applications of math in many different disciplines. There is considerable agreement that elementary school students need to develop an understanding of the concept of area in a plane, area of a rectangle (including the special case of a square) and area of a right triangle. Of course, students can learn the names of memorize formulas for calculating the area of other triangles as well as for parallelograms (and the special case of a rhombus), trapezoids kite, regular polygons, circles, and so on.
- Here is an aside. I smile to myself as I consider the need for an ordinary adult to be able to name and distinguish between two plane figures, one being a parallelogram and one being a trapezoid. A similar smile results as I think about the issue of right, equilateral, isosceles, and scalene triangles.
Math is a discipline in which many of the problems people need to solve can be solved by computers or by computerized equipment. But, our math education system does not pay enough attention to this situation. Thus, a great many students complete their formal school-based math education in a math underload situation. They have "covered" a lot of math, but they do not have the long term retention, knowledge, and understanding to effectively deal with many of the math related problems in their lives.
A History Education Example
The totality of accumulated historical data, information, and knowledge is steadily growing. Think about yourself and your history. It is certainly important to you, and it grows everyday. Moreover, you interact with a lot of people. These interactions are part of your history and the history of the people you interact with. With over 6.6 billion people on earth, it is easy to see why the totality of accumulated historical data, information, and knowledge has a huge potential to grow quite rapidly.. Indeed it is, and the Web-based social networking systems are certainly helping in this accumulation.
Many people have memorized the quotation:
- "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." (George Santayana; 1863–1952.)
Many students think of history education as the process of memorizing dates, names, paces, and so on. Historians, however, think in terms of big ideas and connections such as causality, legacy, responsibility, and investigation. The first approach is fought with the difficulties of information overload. Students memorize, regurgitate, and forget. The second approach requires deeper understanding and a higher level of cognitive maturity.
Suppose that a school system is taking the first approach. To take a specific example, with the inauguration of Barack H. Obama, the United states has has 44 presidents. Is it important for a student to memorize the name and date of presidency for each of these presidents? What about the names of their spouses, children, and pets? How about the vice presidents, members of the Cabinet, and the important political figures throughout the world that the presidents dealt with?
You can see the problem. Like math, history is is a very deep and broad discipline. If you live in the United States, then it seems reasonable that you should know that the United States has a form of democracy in which a president is elected every four years. But, what should you know about the various presidents? That is, what should you carry around in your head and retrieve often enough so that the the data, information, and knowledge is readily retrievable?
Thus, for example, the Website http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/ is maintained by the US government, and contains a Web Page about each of the presidents. That is quite a bit of data, information, and knowledge that a person might memorize and/or but is is a tiny drop in the bucket relative to what is actually available. Moreover, how accurate is this particular Website? Does it contain incorrect information, misleading information, or disinformation? What important information has been left out?
There have been a number of interesting and perhaps amusing tests of successes and failures of history education. For example, A 2006 and 2007 study by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute American Civic Literacy Program indicates:
- OUR FADING HERITAGE: Americans Fail a Basic Test on Their History and Institutions is the third major study conducted by ISI on the kind of knowledge required for informed citizenship. In 2006 and 2007, ISI published the first ever scientific surveys of civic learning among college students. Each year, approximately 14,000 freshmen and seniors at 50 schools nationwide were given a 60-question, multiple-choice exam on basic knowledge of America’s heritage. Both years, the students failed. The average freshman scored 51.7% the first year and 51.4% the next. The average senior scored 53.2%, then 54.2%. After all the time, effort, and money spent on college, students emerge no better off in understanding the fundamental features of American self-government.
- This year, ISI sought to learn more about the real-world consequences of this collegiate failure. ISI crafted a study to measure the independent impact of college on the acquisition and maintenance of civic literacy over a lifetime. First, a random sample of 2,508 American adults of all backgrounds was surveyed, allowing comparisons to be made between the college and non-college educated. They were asked 33 straightforward civics questions, many of which high school graduates and new citizens are expected to know. Respondents were also asked several questions concerning their participation in American civic life, their attitudes about perennial issues of American governance, and other behaviors that may or may not contribute to civic literacy. Finally, the results were run through multivariate regression analysis, allowing ISI to compare the civic impact of college with that of other societal factors.
- Earning a college degree does little to increase knowledge of America’s history, key texts, and institutions. The average score among those who ended their formal education with a bachelor’s degree is 57%, or an “F.” That is only 13 percentage points higher than the average score among those who ended their formal education with a high school diploma.
The 33 question quiz is available at http://www.americancivicliteracy.org/resources/quiz.aspx.Here are the first two questions:
1) Which of the following are the inalienable rights referred to in the Declaration of Independence?
- A. life, liberty, and property
- B. honor, liberty, and peace
- C. liberty, health, and community
- D. life, respect, and equal protection
- E. life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness
2) In 1933 Franklin Delano Roosevelt proposed a series of government programs that became known as:
- A. the Great Society
- B. the Square Deal
- C. the New Deal
- D. the New Frontier
- E. supply-side economics
As you can see, this is a memory-based test. It is unrelated to the issue of whether the test takers have learned to approach history from the points of view of causality, legacy, responsibility,and investigation. The overall study being quoted can be replicated in any component of the accumulated historical data, information, and knowledge, and will produce the results that people don't know much history. The same types of studies will show that students don't know much XXX, where XXX is any academic discipline.
The results of such studies tend to be used to place still more emphasis on rote memorization in our schools. Such an (information overload) approach cannot succeed in improving our educational system, because the totality of accumulated information is both huge and is growing rapidly in every academic discipline.
Thus, in effect, our history education system leaves most students in an information underload situation. The over emphasis on an information overload-oriented approach to history education does not leave enough time for most students to master tools needed when one hs an information underload in history.
Reading, writing, and arithmetic (math) became formal subjects in schools more than 5,000 years ago. Since then there has been a steady increase in the accumulated knowledge of the human race. The pace of increase has been increasing. It may well be that the totality of accumulated data, information, knowledge, and wisdom is doubling in less than ten years.
Historically, out educational system's approach to this situation can be summarized by ideas such as:
- Increase the length of the school day, the length of the school year, and the general requirements of school attendance. (A few hundred years ago, a third grade education was a significant achievement. Now, we are unhappy that only 70% of students in the US graduate from high school.) Indeed, , we are pushing hard on the idea that all students should be prepared to go on to post secondary education and that most should do so.
- Increase the requirements to be a teacher and increase the requirements to graduate from grade school, middle school or junior high school, and high school.
- Improve the quality of the aids to teaching, learning, and assessment.
- Teach reading, writing, and arithmetic (math) and hope that learners will them make use of these basic skills to retrieve and/or figure out the information that they need to deal with their personal problems and tasks.(Note that this "learn by reading across the curriculum" is running into serious problems because today's youth are reading far less books and other non-electronic "traditional" print materials than the previous generation. Reading Twitter blog entries and instant text messages is a whole lot different than reading and understanding the types of materials that are stressed in a traditional education.
- Lament over the inadequacy of our schools, as the gap between what various stakeholder groups feel students should know and be able to do continually widens from what students actually know and can do. It is very easy to find examples that make schooling's "good old days" seem much more successful than today's results.
The reality is that these approaches have helped a lot. We have fought the good fight and made significant progress. However, we are losing the war! That is because both the quantity and complexity of new data, information, knowledge, and wisdom is growing so rapidly.
We need to modify our education system following some of the ideas listed below:
- Help all students to gain a good understanding of decision making under uncertainty, along with a variety of sources of uncertainty.
- Help all students learn to make use of multiple sources of information (triangulation) as one way to help decrease the uncertainty resulting from incorrect, misleading, biased, and other poor quality data, information, knowledge, and wisdom.
- Help every student to gain a significant level of expertise in information retrieval “across the curriculum.”
- Help students studying any specific discipline gain an increased level of expertise in information retrieval within that discipline. Focus on discipline-specific, information retrieval-based approaches to representing and solving the problems of the discipline.
Anderson, Nate (12/26/07). 2008: Year of Information Overload?Retrieved 3/27/09: http://arstechnica.com/old/content/2007/12/interruptions-info-overload-cost-us-economy-650-billion.ars.
Bass, Randy and Eynon, Bret (3/16/09). New Technologies for Essential Learning. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 3/16/09: http://chronicle.com/wiredcampus/index.php?id=3663&utm_source=wc&utm_medium=en.
Binghamton University (3/26/09). New metasearch engines leaves Google, Yahoo crawling. Retrieved 3/31/09: http://www.twine.com/item/124w3hlv1-256/new-metasearch-engine-leaves-google-yahoo-crawling. Quoting from the Website:
- BINGHAMTON, NY. One day in the not-too-distant future, you’ll be able to type a query into an online search engine and have it deliver not Web pages that may contain an answer, but just the answer itself, says Weiyi Meng, a professor of computer science at Binghamton University, State University of New York.
- For instance, imagine typing in “Who starred in the film Casablanca?” The search engine would respond with “Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.”
Dixon, Douglas (October 2000). Our technological future: Star Trek or Terminator? A warning from Bill Joy of Sun Microsystems. Accessed 3/14/09: http://www.manifest-tech.com/society/techfuture.htm.
Quoting from the article:
- In a controversial cover story in the April issue of Wired magazine, Bill Joy, corporate executive officer and chief scientist at Sun Microsystems, Inc., challenged technologists to consider the moral issues of their work. Joy's article, "Why the Future Doesn't Need Us," warns that the most powerful 21st century technologies - robotics, genetic engineering, and nanotechnology - have the potential to make humans an endangered species (www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.04/joy.html).
- Joy's manifesto has made him the front man on this issue, as he calls for a broader public discussion of the risks of technology, and even the possibility of voluntary relinquishment of scientific investigation and technological progress in these areas. Since his article was published, he has continued to address these issues in follow-up articles and public talks, at a rate of at least one per week. [Bold added for emphasis.]
- Joy's article has been compared to Einstein's 1939 letter to President Roosevelt alerting him of the possibility of a nuclear bomb. Joy points to the Pugwash Conferences, which have been held since 1957 to discuss arms control, as a model of how to address these issues. "It's unfortunate that the Pugwash meetings started only well after the nuclear genie was out of the bottle - roughly 15 years too late. We are also getting a belated start on seriously addressing the issues around 21st-century technologies - the prevention of knowledge-enabled mass destruction - and further delay seems unacceptable," he says in the Wired article.
GIGO (n.d.). Garbage in, garbage out. Retrieved 3/27/09: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garbage_In,_Garbage_Out.
Guertin, Laura (n.d.). Peer review. Retrieved 3/27/09: http://serc.carleton.edu/introgeo/peerreview/index.html.
IORG (n.d.). Information Overload Research Group. Retrieved 4/4/09: http://iorgforum.org/. The mission of this organization is:
- We work together to understand, publicize and solve the information overload problem. We do this by (1) defining and building awareness of information overload, (2) facilitating and funding collaboration and advanced research aimed at shaping solutions and establishing best practices, and (3) serving as a resource center where we share information and resources, offer guidance and connections, and help make the business case for fighting information overload.
Kolowich, Steve (4/7/09). U. of Richmond Creates a Wikipedia for Undergraduate Scholarshttp://chronicle.com/wiredcampus/index.php?id=3703&utm_source=wc&utm_medium=en. Quoting from the article:
- Arlington, Va. — At what point does the volume of historical scholarship get in the way of our ability to make sense of history?
- At The Chronicle Technology Forum on Monday, Andrew J. Torget, director of the digital scholarship lab at the University of Richmond, argued that we have already exceeded that point. He said that if a person were to read one book a day for the rest of his life, he would not even begin to approach the number of books that Google has already scanned into its database from college libraries. There is just too much information out there.
- The current model for teaching and learning is based on a relative scarcity of research and writing, not an excess. With that in mind, Mr. Torget and several others have created a Web site called History Engine to help students around the country work together on a shared tool to make sense of history documents online. Students generate brief essays on American history, and the History Engine aggregates the essays and makes them navigable by tags. Call it Wikipedia for students.
- Quoting from the History Engine site:
- The History Engine is an educational tool that gives students the opportunity to learn history by doing the work—researching, writing, and publishing—of a historian. The result is an ever-growing collection of historical articles or "episodes" that paints a wide-ranging portrait of life in the United States throughout its history and that is available to scholars, teachers, and the general public in our online database.
KurzweilAI.net (5/5/2010). Digital information will grow to 1.2 zettabytes this year: IDC study. Quoting from the article:
- Last year, the Digital Universe (the amount of digital information created and replicated in the world) grew by 62% to nearly 800,000 petabytes (a petabyte is a million gigabytes, or a quintillion bytes), and this year, the Digital Universe will grow almost as fast to 1.2 million petabytes, or 1.2 zettabytes, according to IDC's annual report, "The Digital Universe Decade - Are You Ready?" May 2010, which monitors the amount of digital information created and replicated in a year.
- "Between now and 2020, the amount of digital information created and replicated in the world will grow to an almost inconceivable 35 trillion gigabytes, as all major forms of media -- voice, TV, radio, print -- complete the journey from analog to digital.... This explosive growth means that by 2020, our Digital Universe will be 44 times as big as it was in 2009.
Moursund, David (2008). Information Age. Retrieved 3/27/09: http://iae-pedia.org/Information_Age.
Spivack, Nova (3/7/09). Wolfram Alpha is Coming -- and It Could be as Important as Google. Retrieved 3/14/09: http://www.twine.com/item/122mz8lz9-4c/wolfram-alpha-is-coming-and-it-could-be-as-important-as-google.
Possible Other Topics to Include in this Document
Quoting from http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-autism.htm
Autism is believed to be a neurological and sensory disorder; autistics do not perceive and relate to the rest of the world in the same way as non-autistics. Temple Grandin, an autistic who gained a PhD in animal behavior as an adult, has written of her life with autism in Thinking in Pictures. She claims an autistic's cognition is much more closely tied to visual stimuli than that of non-autistics.
Autism in children can be diagnosed very early, as early as 12-18 months. The signs of autism include:
- Language development problems: An infant may babble and begin to acquire one-word concepts, then at some point cease to learn new words and lose the ones they have already required. Some autistic children never begin to develop language at all.
- Social retreat: Rather than enjoy and seek out social interactions, a toddler with autism will avoid them, preferring their own company. A child who actively, even obsessively, avoids eye contact may be in the early stages of autism.
- Sensory problems: Autism seems to interfere with how a child processes sensory information. Tactile sensations may be overwhelming or addictive. Visual stimuli such as the rotating blades of a fan may prove an irresistible focus for an autistic.
- Repetitive behavior: Autism often makes itself visible in children who perform ritualistic or repetitive motions. Hand flapping, organizing toys rather than playing with them, and opening and closing cabinets repeatedly for a lengthy period may all be hallmarks of autism.
Automatic Filtering Done By One's Brain
Our senses are exposed to a continual stream of input data. Most of this is processed without conscious thought. Thus, potential information overload from one's senses is avoided in most situations by our built in filters.
Totality of Stored Information
- Timmer, John (February, 2011). World's total CPU power: one human brain. Quoting from the
- How much information can the world transmit, process, and store? Estimating this sort of thing can be a nightmare, but the task can provide valuable information on trends that are changing our computing and broadcast infrastructure. So a pair of researchers have taken the job upon themselves and tracked the changes in 60 different analog and digital technologies, from newsprint to cellular data, for a period of over 20 years. …
- Computation is probably the most varied mix of hardware of the lot. Back in 1986, pocket calculators represented about 40 percent of all computer capacity, beating out PCs at 33 percent and servers at 17 percent. Even then, gaming hardware held a nine percent share.
Calculators were gone by 2000, when the PC peaked at 86 percent and the mobile phone/PDA first appeared at 3 percent. By 2007, phones held six percent of world processing power, but the big story was gaming hardware, which shot up to a quarter of the total computational capacity, pushing the PC back down to a two-thirds share. Supercomputers are apparently rare enough not to measure.
Learning and Forgetting
The human senses filter the steady stream of information that they are exposed to. Thus, mush of this information is never brought to conscious attention.
In addition, the human brain is quite good at forgetting. Thus, a student faces an ongoing conflict between efforts to learn and the his or her brain's propensity to forget or, to not be able to recall) parts of what have been carefully studied.
The psychology of attention. Mike Posner, H. Pashler. Quoting from http://www.pashler.com/Articles/Pashler_PB1994.pdf:
- Dual-Task Interference in Simple Tasks: Data and Theory
- Harold Pashler (1994).
- People often have trouble performing 2 relatively simple tasks concurrently. The causes of this inter-ference and its implications for the nature of attentional limitations have been controversial for 40 years, but recent experimental findings are beginning to provide some answers. Studies of the psychological refractory period effect indicate a stubborn bottleneck encompassing the process of choosing actions and probably memory retrieval generally, together with certain other cognitive operations. Other limitations associated with task preparation, sensory-perceptual processes, and timing can generate additional and distinct forms of interference. These conclusions challenge widely accepted ideas about attentional resources and probe reaction time methodologies. They also suggest new ways of thinking about continuous dual-task performance, effects of extraneous stimulation (e.g.. stop signals), and automaticity. Implications for higher mental processes are discussed.
A 8/12/09 Google search of "spacing effect" in learning produced about 1,260 hits.
Janet Metcalf, Columbia University.Quoting from 2002 article: http://www.columbia.edu/cu/psychology/metcalfe/PDFs/Metcalfe%202002.pdf.
- Is Study Time Allocated Selectively to a Region of Proximal Learning?
- Janet Metcalfe, Columbia University
- Five experiments investigated whether people allocate their study time according to the discrepancy reduction model (i.e., to the most difficult items; J. Dunlosky & C. Hertzog, 1998) or to items in their own region of proximal learning. Consistent with the latter hypothesis, as more time was given, people shifted toward studying more difficult items. Experts, whether college students or Grade 6 children, devoted their time to items that were more difficult than did novices. However, in a multiple-trials experiment, people regressed toward easier items on Trial 2 rather than shifting to more difficult items, perhaps because Trial 1 feedback revealed poor learning of the easiest items. These findings are in opposition to the discrepancy reduction model and support the region of proximal learning hypothesis.
Henry (Roddy( Roediger, Memory Lab, Washington University. http://www.psych.wustl.edu/memory/index.html.
Doug Rohrer. http://uweb.cas.usf.edu/~drohrer/
Fred Keller, Personalized Sytem of Instruction. http://ww2.lafayette.edu/~allanr/keller.html.
Michael C. Mozer. http://www.cs.colorado.edu/~mozer/.
Cumulative midterm exam and final exam may increase the five-year retention rate by a factor of 5.
Using end of math book chapter questions that draw on the whole book up to that point is highly desirable.
Links to Other IAE Resources
This is a collection of IAE publications related to the IAE document you are currently reading. It is not updated very often, so important recent IAE documents may be missing from the list.