Teaching in the data deluge

I currently subscribe to a design magazine called Desktop and an article called Artifacts reminded me of the big difference between my college life and that of my students. The article discussed the collection of inspirational and reference documents, books and items kept by professional designers, with some illustrated examples, but highlighted the difference between the early days of modern design and now.

“There was a time, not long past, when seeking inspiration and influence was the challenge, not sorting it.”

The article goes on to note the difference between sharing a dog-eared copy of a design magazine, going to the library (which the authors define, tongue in cheek) and having to copy printed resources.

Of course, our students have gone through the same change. I had to go to the library,as a student, if I couldn’t buy the book. Locating was the problem. These days my students have to be able to classify, sift and order because there is so much information to hand. Of course, no all sources are equal and the implicit authority granted by physical publication now faces off against the ease of availability of the top ten hits on Google.

I find this more challenging in some ways but far more interesting in others. Yes, it’s easy to incorporate work that’s not your own but we are living in the data deluge – this fact allows us to have discussions about assessing quality, determining validity and authority and what plagiarism is and, importantly, how to avoid doing it, even unintentionally.

I much prefer a world where the problem is sifting. It forces us to look at far more interesting and important questions than “when does the library open” and allows us to spend our effort on understanding and using knowledge, without expending the majority of our effort on trying to locate already-published information. That whole “shoulders of giants” thing works a lot better when you can see the giants and find their shoulders! A surfeit of shoulders is a much better challenge to have.

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