Transforming Digital Worlds

transforming digital worlds

Along with 450 academics and practitioners, I attended the iSchools Transforming Digital Worlds conference this week at the University of Sheffield. Some fascinating presentations on information behaviour, information seeking and information retrieval.

I was particularly interested in the keynote from  Dr Lynn Connaway. Many of the messages although not new and perhaps well known to some, were put in a tone and context that really resonated with me – in a business world when we are often too quick to jump to the solution or answer:

“To identify why and how people get information we must first watch and listen”

“We need to understand motivations and expectations for using technologies”

In an interview study of 164 people from high schools and universities, some insightful gems were uncovered regarding digital literacy. This is in a landscape where critical thinking skills – the ability to examine the credibility and trustworthiness of information are increasingly significant. Take this quote from a 17 year old high school student gathered during interviews:

“I always stick with the first thing that comes up on Google because I think that’s the most popular site which means that’s the most correct.”

Connaway then makes the point “Critical thinking skills are a primary concern of university administrators and are crucial for developing an informed citizenry.” This was supported by the quote from a University Provost during the interviews:

We should be helping people learn how to think, learn how to be skeptical, learn how to use critical thinking skills, learn how to be self-reflective. I think because those things are so much harder to assess and to demonstrate we have not done as good a job telling that story.”

Although no mention was made of the business workplace, I have seen equivalent issues with digital literacy amongst seasoned professionals especially around ‘search’. Not only in their use of their own corporate search engines but also using Internet search engines for work.

This is by no means universal, for example, I was asked recently by a Geoscientist to recommend Internet search engines other than Google (e.g. duckduckgo) because they recognized and were concerned Google was personalizing the results too much and blinding them to potential information discoveries. There are many cases however, where I have observed critical geoscientific information missed in work tasks, simply because of search literacy capabilities.

Continuing to develop digital literacy capabilities in the ‘Digitalization’ workplace (not just how people use technology, but how they interact with information through technology) may be highly significant for organizations in gaining a competitive advantage.

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