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icon_utensilsInformation: so much, so many sources, so many ways to receive it.  And push it out.  And when it comes to keeping up with what’s new and innovative in education, it’s imperative to be in the know.  We don’t have time to gorge on information….and we can’t be on a diet if we want to be effective.  We need the right mix.  The question is “how”….and the answer is, “it depends.”  (PS: It pretty much always depends, but I digress.)

Traditionally, scholarly articles, opinion pieces, white papers, conference presentations, and various other “printed materials”, for example, have been go-to resources for information.  They still are. Otherwise we wouldn’t find them now online, easily accessible, or even organized for us and searchable, as our own Center on Innovations in Learning has done here.  As with anything, there are assets and limitations to these resources.  Studied, vetted, considered?  Check.  Fast-moving?  Well no.  It’s the crock-pot meal of information.

Tools like google alerts allow us to comb the web for very specific content that can be teased out and delivered to us in a personalized fashion.  This is the ultimate Burger King approach…”have it your way!” I choose the content, I choose the delivery mechanism, I choose the frequency.  Perfect!  Today, I received this gem in my inbox per my query related to “innovation education.”  Can’t imagine how I would have known about this otherwise, and it’s definitely up my alley.  That said, I need to consider my sources and even “why” google’s algorithm has decided this article is of top value.  Is it because the content is of high quality or because it’s been “clicked” many times?  These characteristics don’t always correlate.  Here’s my information “snacking“.  Delicious and aligned to my tastes.  Perhaps limited and, just maybe, not always good for me.

And there’s Twitter, of all things, which has become a valuable tool, not only for professional networking, but also for up-to-the minute feedback on what colleagues are talking about, hearing about, writing about, and sharing in education.  Sure, some use it to share in other ways, but when focused on professional connections, it can prove invaluable.  Gem #2 today via a hashtag search for #education innovation: A dozen reasons education can’t innovate; a dozen ways that’s changing.  Thank you, twitter bird, for valuable, constantly renewed, and searchable information.  Still, there’s some self-selection at play.  I hear from whom I choose to “follow” and glean what I query.  It’s random….but within my chosen comfort-zone.  I information “graze” in Twitter: taking it in here and there, but within a fence line I’ve constructed.

In addition to how we get our information, we must also consider “what” we get.  There’s plenty of strident posturing in education (see this excellent synopsis), and while it’s important to be aware of the polarizing realities of our field, it can be a formula for inertia when people go to their corners and dig-in. Through more traditional and more contemporary methods, we have plenty of access to philosophical opposition within our sector.  Even at the innovative SXSWedu conference in Austin last week, where talk of innovation was all the rage, some attendees were seen clutching traditional information sources like this: the reform battle as characterized by the latest best seller.   That’s all well and good, but, as we’ve learned since elementary school, a balanced meal serves us best.

It strikes me again today, with the launch of Real Clear Education, that there’s a place for information that is current, vetted, varied, and measured.  With a mix of information that is categorically predictable (i.e., updated news, analysis & commentary, research & reports) and with the potential for content that doesn’t fit our preconceived queries or comfort zones, here’s a source that fills a cognitive niche for our edu-brains. Might this be our information “tapas?”  Varied, sophisticated, surprising, and evoking conversation?  Yes please.

– Allison

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