“Electronic Neanderthals” and Squirrels

One of this semester’s subjects in my course is ETL505 – Organising Access to Information – what many refer to as Cataloguing. Some say “DRY”. I think, “Tell me more, I’m drowning out here”.

And that is probably why this quote in our textbook caught my attention —

cataloguing and the kind of imposition of order on the flow of knowledge and information that it represents may be all that separates up from becoming electronic neanderthals … (Gorman in Hider & Harvey, 2008, p. 8 )

This really rang true for me as I reflected on my increasing frustration in trying to organise and keep track of my own resources for study and professional learning. The common practices of tagging and word clouds in wikis, blogs and book-marking tools such as delicious.com are such a flabby ways of organising access to these resources. I may start saving articles for an assignment one day with certain tags but three weeks later I may be saving under some variation and not even realise it. Access becomes more difficult the greater the number of things saved/bookmarked. Like a squirrel running around hiding nuts for winter, I don’t always remember where I’ve put them later.

Electronic Neanderthals or Electronic squirrels – neither is a pretty picture when it comes to taking on the huge job of making digital information accessible. There really needs to be some standards to bring about better order for better access.


Creative Commons flickr photo by: Kalense Kid

Hider, P., & Harvey, R. (2008). Definitions and introductory concepts. In Organising knowledge in a global society: Principles and practice in libraries and information centres. Wagga Wagga, NSW: Centre for Information Studies.

Wikipedia – to use or not to use?

The Information Environment class I am studying (CSU ETL501) asks its students —

What is your opinion of Wikipedia? Should TLs encourage students to use it with care or should they advise students against using Wikipedia? What is your experience of using Wikipedia in terms of its realibility and accuracy?

Oh dear, here is where I have to confess that Wikipedia is one of my best friends. I have my trusty little laptop near the sofa and as we watch TV and wonder about things, we cruise Wikipedia for background information. It could be anything from Doctor Who directors to the name of the capital city of the Yukon territory.

Having said that, researching topics for academics is a different story. I still encourage students to use it (they will anyway so no point in trying to discourage it), it is an excellent starting place.

As a TL in a primary school, I find the information the 2/3/4 classes go to Wikipedia is general knowledge. Most of them will not end up using the information from Wiki at that age independently, the reading level is too high for them (eg. spiders). But from this age I let them try as the searching is good practice and I point out the hyperlinks at the bottom of the articles as possible places to search for more information. At this age books are still the best.

I read an article ‘somewhere’ (lost in my saved bookmarks) about print encyclopedias and their role in teaching the organization of information (topics and subheadings etc) and that online resources full of hyperlinks in fact work against that organisational development. It made me look again at the presented projects and sure enough children who had relied exclusively on web sites seemed to have a lot less organization to their finished products (anecdotal evidence only, maybe no correlation at all, but I always take note now). But I stray (like a hyperlink 😉 )

With the grade 5/6 students I encourage them to look at the fascinating stuff going on on the discussion page of whatever the topic is that they are researching. It’s a whole other world ‘backstage’ with raging debates, nitpicking and colossal feats of collaboration. Information comes alive then. They see that learning is not some cut and paste activity, the answers they were looking for are not black and white. Many of our best discussions about the reliability of information have come from those pages. Take a peek! Here’s a link to the discussion page of stort story “The Library of Babel” by Jorge Luis Borges which I think was mentioned in our study guide – clickhere

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