One of the effects of living in a media saturated environment is to feel constantly bombarded by information – on television, through the many newspapers and magazines that we could read, and of course, on the Internet. Some of us are excited by the possibility of knowing (almost) everything about (almost) anything. But many of us feel overwhelmed and just don’t know what we can do to keep up. I see this anxiety manifests itself in important ways among students too, and they too respond in two broad ways: either by tuning out and developing an “I couldn’t care less” attitude, or by running in many different directions in pursuit of information and not knowing how to synthesize or assimilate it all. There are very few who fall in the reasonable middle, and who are able to not only selectively keep up with what they know is important, but who also understand how to strategically use the information for learning and application. This is perhaps one of the most important skills to develop in the information age – and as teachers we need to start focusing on it as early as possible, ideally in middle school, when students (should) begin to seek out information independently. Of course, some educationists would argue that independent learning begins much earlier, particularly in the experiential mode. One of the central issues in all of this is our own ability to handle this information overload. Only if we can develop our own strategies to deal with the massive amounts of material we are exposed to, can we share those strategies with our students.
The difficulty is that there is no one method that one can use; each of us experiences it in different ways and to different extents. But it is clear that we do need to think about it and come up with some way of dealing with it, as more and more of our students will need the ability to deal with it too.
The first step perhaps is to create reflective spaces for ourselves, where we cut ourselves off from the flow of information and take time to sift through it, think about it, understand it, judge its relevance to our lives, and then assimilate it in our own ways. The gaps in the school year – summer holidays, winter vacation – provide such opportunities. Yes, there is always preparation to be done, housework to catch up on, family obligations to be met, but despite all that, we can carve out some “me time” to be alone with our thoughts. And to devise our own strategies of coping with information overload.
Have a great summer!