Information Overload


I am sure that others, like myself, are victims of "information overload," especially after attending the National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) held in San Antonio, Texas, in June. The nearly 11,000 registered attendees who participated in workshops and meetings also heard about many new products, as well as refinements and updates to older products. About 450 products and services were displayed at the conference, while nearly 3,500 exhibitor personnel were on hand. The exhibit hall was busy the entire time, and it seemed almost impossible to visit every booth. The conference also provided hands-on workshops, many lectures and interactive sessions, as well as student showcases featuring technology projects developed by students.

Software products and their use in both administration and instruction occupied a large part of the exhibit hall at NECC. Administrative software was shown by more than 60 vendors and instructional software by about 200 companies. Software to match curriculum standards to resources using a variety of assessment features was also available. Internet and Web-based products and service exhibitors had more than 100 booths. Another area of great expansion was that of professional development, where more than 100 companies promised to fulfill educators' needs. But, the two technologies drawing the most attention at NECC were wireless technology and handheld computers.

Wireless Technology

Use of wireless computing has grown. The Georgia Wireless Classroom Project, a three-year $10 million pilot for Georgia, has completed its first year. As part of the project, eight schools across the state, serving 4,800 students and 336 teachers, provide Internet-based instruction with wireless laptop computers to every student and teacher. PLATO Learning Inc.'s merger with NetSchools also offers wireless capabilities for students and teachers. In addition, Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pa., with its new wireless service worldwide, Drexel One Mobile, provides students with campus news, their grades, a search of the university directory, etc.

However, wireless technology is said to be still in its infancy; though its surge in popularity is such that it's predicted its number will overtake that of fixed phones this year. Using mobile devices is just as natural to young people - heavy users of mobile instant messaging - as using a pen and paper. However, greater efficiency and better versatility are needed. In business, mobile commerce has not proceeded as quickly as anticipated. The graphs from Information Week (June 17, 2002) on Page 10 (below) illustrate this fact. Small, low-resolution screens, spotty network support and insecure transactions are major concerns. Mobile devices need to be rugged, lightweight and have a long battery life. Major advances in mobile commerce using wireless are predicted to occur when higher bandwidth becomes more available and wireless service providers start cooperating with each other.

Information Literacy

The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) held a Leadership Symposium on information literacy as part of the events leading up to NECC. ISTE's mission is to provide appropriate use of information to improve learning, teaching and administration in K-12 education and teacher preparation. Participants stressed that all students need to develop digital literacy skills, particularly information literacy and technology skills. Technology skills for all students should begin in kindergarten. Technology literacy is not a separate subject but a skill to be acquired early. Howto use media, navigate the Web, and access and communicate information efficiently and effectively must also begin early.

John Bailey, director of the Office of Educational Tech-nology for the U.S. Department of Education and a keynote speaker at the symposium, stressed the importance of digital literacy skills for all students. He said that one of the most significant changes to come from the No Child Left Behind Act is the increased responsibility on state and local leaders who will be held accountable for spending federal funds.

It's anticipated that a large amount of money will be spent on technology. The new legislation encourages 25 percent of the funds to be set aside for professional development not only for teachers, but also for principals, superintendents and school administrators. Dr. Rudy Castruita, superintendent for the San Diego County Office of Education, closed the symposium with the topic "The Time Is Right - Connecting Information Literacy to Teachers, Students and Families." In his speech, he described the J'e Rindone Regional Technology Center in San Diego, Calif., and its function to improve student achievement, as well as establish educational leadership and home-school partnerships through the use of technology. The center comprises superintendents from 42 San Diego school districts, providing leadership, information advice, coordination and support of technology. Different perspectives and experiences were shared throughout the symposium, which included speaker presentations, group sessions and panel discussions.

Dealing With Overwhelming Growth

We come back to information overload and how to deal with what is valuable, as well as how we can integrate this information into our teaching and learning. We are inundated with new technologies and applications, such as digital libraries, virtual classrooms, e-learning, multimedia technologies, PDAs and improved networking promises. The growth of the World Wide Web is overwhelming. An estimated 30 million users worldwide representing major corporations, education institutions, political and charitable organizations, community groups and government agencies continue to grow at 15 percent per month.

Fortunately, some help is now available. Publishers are aware of standards that organizations such as ISTE have published, and individual states are working on standards and listing resources to accomplish reaching these standards. For example, Follett Software Co. has published the "Find-It-All Collection," which provides one-stop searching of multiple online resources and access to 160,000 safe, high-quality K-12 Web sites, according to the company. However, Debbie Babcock, client support and Internet services manager for The Children's Museum of Indianapolis, said at NECC: "While vendors have their place and should be part of the mix, I would like to see collaboration of state universities and colleges, school districts and museums in the development of standards-based education content. Perhaps the U.S. Department of Education could provide a Web portal for the state-developed sites."

Resources based on standards are becoming widely accepted. However, we will still have "information overload." Teachers, media specialists and technology coordinators in particular must have appropriate hardware, fast Internet access and a sufficient support staff. Time to explore is important to make the best use of whatever resources are suggested. As seen in conferences and discussions, recommendations by colleagues play an important role. However, dealing with this new information and resources in a timely manner will not be easy.

This article originally appeared in the 08/01/2002 issue of THE Journal.