from The Global Achievment Gap by Tony Wagner
The Sixth Survival Skill: Accessing and Analyzing Information
Employees in the twenty-first century have to manage an astronomical amount of information flowing into their work lives on a daily basis. As Mike Summers [vice president for Global Talent Managment at Dell] told me, “There is so much information available that it is almost too much, and if people aren’t repared to process the information effectively it almost freezes them in their steps.” Annmarie Neal [vice president for Talent Management at Cisco] pointed out that organizations need to be able to understand how people deal with the flow of information. She also stressed the importance of critical thinking in the context of how an employee receives and uses information. Rob Gordon [director of the American Politics Program at West Point, retired] said that all high school graduates need to learn how to access and analyze difference kinds of information. And Susan, the woman who works in the retail industry, talked about needed “people who can conceptualize but also synthesize a lot of data.” As she mentioned: “There’s so much more data that people have to synthesize. And they can’t just produce a bunch of reports. They have to find the important details and then say ‘here’s what we should do about it.’ “
Obviously, this information revolution has profound implications not just for work but also for citizenship and lifelong learning. To be active and informed citizens today, knowing how to read a newspaper is no longer enough. We have to be able to access and evaluate information from many different sources. Indeed, all this access to information is of little use – and may even be dangerous – if we don’t know how to evaluate it. This the immediate availability of information places an even greater premium on critical-thinking skills. Recently, a teacher told me a story that clearly illustrated this new challenge and unfortunately reflects quite a common occurrence. She had assigned students the task of researching Martin Luther King, Jr., near the time of the national holiday in his honor. But what many of them found during their Internet searches was scary. It tuned out that a white supremacist group had prepared for this important holiday and figured out how to manipulate Internet searches in such a way that their website was listed among the top five or so when an individual typed Dr. King’s name into a search engine. Their home page provided some factually accurate biographical information, so the site may have appeared legitimate at first glance, but when students went any further into the site, they encountered every kind of racist belief – all presented as facts.
Instant access to overwhelming amounts of information raises fundamental questions about the nature of curriculum in our schools today.
Teaching students this survival skill is an area in which librarians can really shine. What are you doing to help your students learn how to deal with the flood of information that is available to them?