Sunday, May 5, 2013

Holistic Information

So has anyone called it this before?

"Holistic Information" (my term? at least in this sense? my definition): The healthy taking in and dissemination of knowledge or intelligence; A comprehensive understanding of how the use and misuse of communicated intelligence can affect one's life.

This was a core part of my week. I was charged with offering an information literacy lesson to a health class. (Perhaps because it was for health class that the word "holistic" is sticking with me.) One of the most fascinating things about my new position as a high school librarian is the diversity of classes I have the opportunity to teach. The lesson for health class was meant to show how we should be careful of advertising promises and information tools. The lesson preceded a mental health unit as a way to show how our evaluation of information can have positive and negative outcomes on our understanding of our world and thus on our overall outlook on life.

Though I don't usually share the particular lessons I do on my blog, I thought that this one in particular might interest readers. It shows the value of thinking about libraries, archives and museums as an information field. It shows how as professionals, we have a lot to offer beyond our traditional roles. I thought I'd share some ideas from the class and to show how I am using my new role to help people think more about different types of information, how we use information, and how we should use it.

We began with a discussion with what is information and then discussed how we get it. We talked about books and magazine, the Internet, word-of-mouth, media, billboards, objects, and archives... One student talked about getting information through discovery - by manipulating data and things on one's own. YES! (Perfect thinking leading to the "learning lab" we hope to create at school.)

I told the teens to question everything and to ask the following questions any time they are getting information: What are they telling me? Are they selling something? Who is selling this or telling me this? Do they have a vested interest? Why are they pitching it this way? [is there an angle? Should I believe them?] What’s right for me?

Attempting to relate this directly to them and to make it contemporary, I began with the misinformation about the Boston Marathon bombings. I talked about the early misinformation regarding the capture of the bombers. At the time, I had misgivings when the news media announced that they had suspects in custody.  It didn't sound right. Things didn't add up. I showed the students what had come through on Twitter in my feed regarding the news. It was contradictory and passionate. Everyone was jumping on the bandwagon. We are all guilty of that sometimes. My next slide showed an official update saying that indeed no arrest had been made. It basically told us, "Calm down everyone. By spreading misinformation you can mess this whole investigation up."
  • We discussed ads. Why is Vitamin Water called Vitamin water. Is it good for you? Why or why not? 
  • How does that Brooke Shields Calvin Klein ad from my childhood relate to the Hollinger jeans ad now? (Sex sells from generation to generation.) We also dug deeper. The discussion included an article from my friend Judith Ross, discussing the dangers of distressing blue jeans. The process of sandblasting to create that look is extremely harmful to the workers who create those jeans. Should this go into our decision making process about what we wear? How deep should we dig to find out about
    the products we buy?
    Should we judge them by how they look on a friend? Is just knowing that they look good on us enough? Perhaps it is, but if we do care about how products are made, should we seek this information? 
  • We talked about Made in America and what that means. Is it important to understand that "Made in America" does not necessarily mean it is 100 percent made in America? We need to understand that many companies walk a fine line to get that label.
  • We picked apart a sneaker ad to figure out who the manufacturer was trying to get to buy this footwear. We decided that it was Justin Bieber fans. In fact, all five classes I taught immediately said Justin Bieber even though he was not mentioned in the ad. That's pretty powerful stuff. We looked at a one star review of the sneaker and a five star review. We read them carefully. One of them was calling the high top a "running shoe." It seemed like it wasn't talking about that shoe at all. Did the students know that some people get paid for writing ads? What should we believe? How can we pick apart information to see what is false information?
  • Colleges were a big part of our conversation. Are these 15 year-olds already thinking about college? Where do they want to go and why? What goes into our decision about college? Location, major, size, future opportunities, cost... How are colleges manipulating their decisions through ads? We talked about a few ads. One read: "My purpose To Make a World of Difference." What exactly does that mean? Does it mean anything? Does it mean different things to different people? Are they playing on passions? (of course)
Finally, we discussed the Internet and social media. We discussed putting out information about ourselves as well as taking in information.
  • What is the value of Google? What are the drawbacks? Does Google do everything it claims to do? Is the use of Google black and white? Is it a good or bad tool? It is good in the right situation, but we must constantly evaluate the information it gives us and be aware of its flaws AS WITH EVERY INFORMATION TOOL. Why do we use proprietary databases at school? What other places can give us information? Did the students know that Google tries to tailor ads to us based on the information we are giving it? We are their product.
  • What role does social media play? We should use the right tool for the right job. I asked how the students use Twitter and then showed how I use it to talk to colleagues around the world and not to my friends. (That's what texting and Facebook are for?) We talked about the role Twitter played in the Egyptian Revolution and what a powerful tool it can be. Ah...and then snapchat. The app that lets your posts "disappear." This is very big in many of their worlds. We did a little "close reading" -- really paying attention to key words -- to see what snap chat says about itself:

We left with these main lessons in mind:


Liking something doesn’t mean it is right for me
We may like some things about something and not others. It may be the right product or tool for me OR there may be something better
The information we get about something often depends on the source
Sometimes sources purposely hide information
Always evaluate information for yourself!

Great week in the classroom for the Holistic Librarian! Any questions? ;)

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