Thursday, July 10, 2008

Reflection on LTEA2008: people as information sources

I spent a lot of time the week before last preparing for, and then running, the track of the Learning Through Enquiry Alliance 2008 conference that took place in Second Life (SL), the virtual world. The real life conference was in Sheffield, and I was running the Second Life part from a hotel room in Sydney, Australia. The focus of both was Inquiry Based Learning (IBL). There is a lot of information about all parts of the conference on the conference wiki,

In the SL part there were about 20 delegates from a variety of countries. There is information about the sessions at and in particular there is a transcript of the chat about information literacy and IBL in SL at and information on my guided tour of my 3D model of the research process at (I haven’t yet put the other chat transcripts online). I was on the organising committee for the real life conference in Sheffield, and I have (and will be) highlighting some sessions from that too. Here are a few thoughts about "people" as sources of information, emerging from one of the discussions in Second Life.

The chat about information literacy focused on issues to do with "evaluating" information, and the nature of information. I suppose because I am now fairly experienced in SL I get a bit baffled on the extent to which people assume that SL is "false" or "inauthentic", and are concerned about who they are talking to (this had emerged in a session earlier on where we had some interaction with the real life conference delegates).

Reading through the transcript I realised that because I do think of SL avatars as people, I am comparing information seeking from/about them with information seeking from "real people". One of the delegates in our SL chat talked about how people might trust him for information because you could see he owned the SL land and could tell he “lived” there. This is like someone in real life wanting directions or information about the town, seeing someone standing in their garden and assuming that person will know about the area (and this seems quite a rational assumption).
LTEA2008 in SL
Also research into everyday information seeking (and most people’s experience) shows that people ask other people a lot for information, without generally pre-screening them to see if that person is “objectively” the best source. However, you may judge from the response made, or the context, or physical appearance, or your existing knowledge of the person as to whether you will place any value on the information they give. I may have said on the blog before that, given the importance of people as information channels (in study, work and personal life), helping students develop more ability to evaluate people as information sources (in real, not just Second, life) could do with more prominence in information literacy education.

Someone at in the SL chat session mentioned that people at conferences don’t usually have to submit an ID before collecting a conference badge: they could in fact be “anyone”. At the last conference I was at, I didn’t know many people, and I am not as familiar with Australian universities, so it was more difficult to judge them from their badge. So how could tell whether what they were saying was “valuable”? I suppose I used my experience of people (“oops, he sounds like he’s got a bee in his bonnet about that…”), prejudice/instinct (“he sounds amusing”), the subject (though it wasn’t in a central area of my expertise), obvious clues (“she got a paper accepted, she must know something”) and so forth.

Thinking back to students: why are some treated by their peers as more reliable channels (for notes, advice on assignments etc.) than others? Having thought about this some more, I think I should try and bring this question (of people as information sources) more explicitly into my 1st year Information Literacy class next year.

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