An Abundance of Options

Mexican Concha Bread. Photo Credit – Tanya Heck

Authors: Tanya Heck and Melem Sharpe

Introduction:

Do you remember lining up at the nearest Tower Records or your local music store, during the days of CDs or vinyl records, to purchase your favorite musician’s newly released album? Those days are long gone now that we can easily download music through iTunes, Amazon, Spotify or any number of online music sources. In his article discussing pedagogies of abundance, Weller (2011) referred to this phenomenon in the music industry as an example of “making a transition from an economics of scarcity to an economics of abundance” (p. 224). In this case, music was limited to its availability for purchase in stores which made it a scarce commodity (Weller, 2011). With the advent of online shopping and digitalization of certain goods, such as music, the scarcity of an item was no longer an issue (Weller, 2011). Weller used this analogy of economics of scarcity and abundance to discuss parallels in the field of education. As a result of digital content and access to free sources in education, Weller pointed out that although the expertise can still be scarce, the access to content is abundant. The question however, is abundant content enough to support learning? My partner, Tanya Heck, and I set out to explore this question and the type of content generated on the Internet while investigating how to create food photography for blogs.

Search Results:

Our initial investigation of our topic through a simple Google search yielded an abundance of results:

  •      Videos on food photography (662,000,000 results)
  •      How to take food pictures for blogging (631,000,000 results)
  •      How to take food pictures using an iPhone (226,000,000 results)
  •      Digital food photography for blogs (73,500,000 results)
  •      Digital food photography for blogs using an iPhone (44,200,000 results)
  •      Videos on digital food photography for blogs using an iPhone (2,620,000 results). Google searches conducted on 9.26.18

Given the immense quantity of results, we decided to identify criteria in the hopes it would narrow our search.

Defined criteria:

  1.    preferred format of presented material (video)
  2.    video length (no more than 10 min)
  3.    specific equipment (iPhone)

By further refining our search, we were able to limit the number of hits, and reduce the results that did not match our criteria. However, even with these modifications and efforts to narrow the search, Google still generated over 2 million results. As a learner, needing to identify what information is most practical and relevant to the skill-level of novice food photographers, it would be helpful to know how to assess the quality of content and define criteria that would narrow searches.

Perspectives:

The challenge with an immense quantity of information is not necessarily finding enough content, but how to find quality information and use time effectively to sift through an abundance of content. Weller (2011) suggests that the focus must shift from development of content to the ability to select, compile and interpret existing material (p. 229).  The question then, is what do learners and instructors need to know in order to do this? Based on the findings of Weller (2011) and Anderson (2016), and from our initial investigation of how to create food photography pictures, we identified the following assumptions necessary for the learner to be successful:

  • Ability to critically evaluate sources of information. In the face of an abundance of information, if a learner is unable to discern between what is meaningful or ineffective, the task threatens to overwhelm. Anderson (2016), who wrote on “Theories for Learning with Emerging Technologies”, suggests the ability to judge, compare and evaluate are challenged in the face of an abundance of content, so the focus should be on assisting learners to evaluate content.
  • Ability to build practical parameters around search times, and maximize this time. Weller (2011) argues that with an abundance of content “it is no longer the content that is scarce, but [consumer’s] own time and attention becomes the key scarce resource now” (p. 225). With an abundance of information and availability of choices, it is easy to spend hours investigating a variety of searches, which can easily distract from the given task.

Considering the above points, developing a learner’s ability to evaluate information, define search parameters and maximize their own search, will play an important role in equipping learners with skills to navigate an abundance of information.

Summary:

Given that we live in the age of information, it seems unlikely that an abundance of content is a passing trend. Google CEO, Eric Schmidt who “claims that society produces more information in two days than was created from the beginning of human history until 2003, stating “the real issue is user-generated content” (as cited in Weller, 2011, p. 231). Therefore, learning how to live with an abundance of content should be a priority in education (Weller, 2011). For instructors this may mean adopting pedagogies of abundance in order to equip their learners with the best skills possible to be successful in their learning. As Weller suggests “Exploring pedagogies of abundance will be essential for educators to meet this challenge and equip their learners with the skills they need in an age of digital abundance” (2011, p. 235). For learners, it may mean examining their interactions with content and learning how to maximize their learning in a digital environment. Ultimately, abundant content may not be enough without the skills and techniques required to make use of it.

References

Anderson, T. (2016). Chapter 3: Theories for Learning with Emerging Technologies. In Veletsianos, G. (Ed). Emergence and Innovation in Digital Learning: Foundations and Applications, 35-50. Edmonton, AB: Athabasca University Press. doi.org/10.15215/aupress/9781771991490.01

Weller, M. (2011). A pedagogy of abundance. Revista Espanola de Pedagogia, 69(249), 223–236. doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107415324.004