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Greene: Navigating The Internet

With the Internet, there are no longer any stupid questions. Inquiries can be worded awkwardly or misspelled, and you will still get answers. No more shame or fear of looking ignorant. But the catch is: those answers will vary wildly in quality. Truth used to be gated territory, jealously curated by a seemingly mysterious elite. But the crowd-sourced Internet has shown us how relative that perspective can be.

Judy Koopmann, a reference librarian at the Brooks Memorial Library in Brattleboro says it’s no longer a question of there not being enough information out there, but of there being too much. “There’s more filtering in the librarian’s job now,” she says. “People need help discerning good solid sources from the rest.”

Recently, I participated in a workshop on Lev Vygotsky’s ideas of “knowledge as social co-construction,” conducted by Elka Todeva, a Professor of Applied Linguistics at World Learning in Brattleboro. The class explored how optimal learning happens when we tap into all the tips of the famous Hawkin’s Triangulation Theory.

The idea is that learning is shaped by the I/thou/it triangle. The “I” represents the teacher’s skills and knowledge, the “thou”, the students, and the “it” is a compilation of all the external information sources - among which, these days, the internet is the richest and most accessible of all.

The group was culturally diverse and mostly under 35. We were guided into detailing our knowledge about Soviet Russia during Vygotsky’s years from the 1917 revolution to the mid 30s, touching on history, the arts, literature, psychology, and the political climate. Initially, older students had an advantage in this exercise. Boomers seemed to know more about topics like the Russian revolution, Stalin, Kandinsky, Stanislavski, and Stravinsky.

As I struggled just to get an Internet connection on my phone, younger class members began calling out fascinating pieces of information. Latin American students drew a bead on a Soviet-Cuban connection. Others brought up the films of early post revolution Russia, like the classics of Eisenstein and Tarkovsky. By the end of the class, we had created a rich and varied picture. Todeva facilitated the process, expanding on our answers with more questions and further input.

I came away excited by my new knowledge and contextual understanding. I was impressed by my fellow students, and by Todeva’s tactful lead.

The stewardship of a librarian or teacher can indeed make a difference in effectively navigating the information tsunami – not only making it a social network worthy of the name, but tons of fun as well.