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November 20, 2019

Transforming information into knowledge in higher education institutions

THE early decades of the 21st Century is widely known as the Information Age. True to its name, never has so much information become accessible to so many people, and never has so much information been transferred from one person to another, between man and machine, and from one machine to another taken place in the history of mankind. Due to the unprecedented development of technology, information can be transferred from one person to another easily with the barriers of time and place being dismantled.  Just as the Information Age has impacted on the economy, so also it has impacted on the social sphere including the education sector. The easy access to information and ICT has greatly influenced the teaching and learning methodologies used in all levels of education, especially higher education, especially in countries that have the financial and technological resources to exploit ICT in education.
One of the goals of education is to impart knowledge. Information cannot be equated with knowledge. The difference between information and knowledge can be noted from their definitions in the 3rd edition of Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. Information is defined as “facts about situations, persons and events” while knowledge is defined as “understanding of, or information about a subject which a person gets by experience or study and which is either in a person’s mind or known by people in general”. Similarly, the website Innovation Zen points out that information is general data expressed by numbers, words, images, sounds and so on, and that knowledge refers to the practical use of information. Hence from the above explanations, it will be clear that information is not the same as knowledge. Certainly, knowledge is based on information, but to transform information into knowledge, one has to make careful study of it, and be able to make practical use of it.
An important goal of higher education institutions is to train students to become independent learners so that they can do lifelong learning.  In the 21st Century, just as people are eager to acquire information, so also people are eager to share information.  Hence, there is a proliferation of information and a variety of means is employed to convey it. Hence, the very first step in training students to become independent learners is to make them realize how much information is available to them. Information can be derived from traditional print and audio sources around them such as books, newspapers, journals, radio, TV, CDs, billboards, wall posters, notices, pamphlets, brochures, flyers, etc. In addition, information can be derived from verbal communications such as presentations, talks and explanations and from information resources such as the library and the Internet.  The next step in getting students to utilize information is to show students how they can access information from the various sources and to impart skills they will need  to do so, such as text comprehension skills which involve knowing the functions of each sentence and paragraph, and ICT skills for example using the Internet. Then, students will need to be shown how to make a preliminary selection from the vast pool of information available based on the reason for accessing the information.  As the preliminary selection will still be large, they will need to further narrow it, by matching the selection with the scope and depth of their interest. The next step is to critically analyze and interpret the information gained.  In this step, the person accessing information will need to evaluate such aspects as the following –
–    how fresh the information is
–    how useful the information is for one’s purpose
–    how complete the information is
–    how reliable the information is
–    how the information is reacted by others if readers’ comments are available
–    who the provider of the information is
–    what the purpose of providing the information is
In the next stage, students have to synthesize the information extracted from various sources and develop a coherent and logical piece of information. In the final stage, the information the student has gathered and studied is turned into knowledge, when it is used for some purposes, such as to do presentation in class which will include the presentation of one’s opinion and evaluation. (When doing so, he must never forget to give credit to the sources in order not to be accused of stealing other people’s
ideas.)  The last mentioned two stages are associated with 2 of the 6 specific recommendations of the Association of American Colleges and Universities (ACCU) 2002 panel report, related to information that students need to learn which are to interpret and evaluate information from a variety of sources, and to transform information into knowledge and knowledge into judgement and action.
In the process of transforming information into knowledge by students, teachers have many important roles to play.  Firstly, teachers must be thoroughly familiar with the existing information and knowledge related to their field of specialization so that they can guide their students to sources of information.  Secondly, they need to show students how information is structured in a text such as the functions of the different paragraphs, the functions of sentences in the paragraphs such as to serve as topic sentence, or to support the topic sentence with explanations or to express reasons, evidences, examples and details. Thirdly, in addition to developing comprehension skills, teachers also need to develop the critical thinking skills of students in order to promote their ability to evaluate the information and change it into knowledge, make use of it and to express their own opinion regarding the information presented, so that the information will not remain in their memory as a mere jumble of facts and figures.
In this age of information explosion, people are becoming more generous about sharing information both about themselves and what they know. They are also willing to collaborate on producing information and are willing to let people know their opinions and to receive comments, and to discuss. This willingness to share information is greatly assisted by ICT resources and various platforms.  As there is so much contending information vying for attention, it is all the more important that our young people have the thinking skills to be able to evaluate the correctness and value of a piece of information, decide which are the acceptable ones among the contending views, gauge the value of information in outdated posts, hasty posts, biased posts, and posts under the guise of providing information but are actually marketing ideas and things and to transform it into knowledge by making active use of it.

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