No Information is an Island

We are entering the digital era, and everything gets digitized: we work with Microsoft Office software at work, purchase goods via PayPal, monitor everyday exercise or even sleep habit with fitbit, and post daily life experience on social network. Almost every behavior is influenced by Internet to some extent, and we really enjoy the convenience, efficiency, and stability it brings. As it comes to the learning process, the conventional “schooling” is also greatly transformed by Internet towards an advanced form of networked learning. Learning process is now not limited within an isolated classroom or a single textbook. You can easily have access to all the information and knowledge, jump into a discussion on online forum consisted of diversified groups of people, and express your opinions anytime/anywhere. The Internet-based learning, being one form of “connected learning”,1 bridge all the information and opens a new door for higher education with enormous benefits.


Digital Platform in 21st Century

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However, when this networked learning gradually extended to every classroom, there still have several challenges to be properly addressed. Using a laptop or PC for learning process can always be a distraction in conventional classroom or study room, especially for those freshman. New concepts tend to be boring, and complicated equations are always tedious. With a laptop on the desk and a whole world of interesting things happening every seconds, the lecturer can easily lose control to young students. This challenge urges lecturer to rethink about their way to deliver key information and make their fast-paced class more intriguing and understandable. On the student’s side, more self-control is preferably required for enhanced learning efficiency.

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Online Education vs. Traditional Education

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Networked learning via Internet requires more critical thinking for all the information. The traditional textbook-centered learning approach tends to deliver safe and well-confirmed knowledge to all learners. As Internet being a massive flee market of information and knowledge, students should carefully read through all related information online and rule out fake claims and incorrect messages. This process can be rather difficult for those students stepping into a new and unfamiliar area. Though more practice can certainly help, teachers should provide proper aid at starting period to help students understand fundamental principles and guide them through screening stage.


The last challenge for networked learning online is to effectively convey your points and messages in a professional way. As Doug Belshaw mentions in his blog, “ensure your data is readable by both humans and machines”.2 Students tends to treat Internet as a casual space, and hence their writings may have lots of oral language, confusing abbreviations, and/or random tags learned from social network, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. It is better to separate the writing pattern of insightful blog with that on social network to promote deep and more efficient communication. Having more practice in professional blogging can definitely help, but it could be better if university can offer workshops on professional blogging for freshman. Online blogging and forum certainly provides us a channel to access the professional and unique perspectives from others, post our own critiques, and eventually understand the original information better via comprehensive discussion. No information is an island in this digital era, and no learners should be separated from others.

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No Academic is an Island

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  1. For Ito’s most recently published thoughts on this topic, see Henry Jenkins, Mizuko Ito, and danah boyd, Participatory Culture in a Networked Era: A Conversation on Youth, Learning, Commerce, and Politics (Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2015).
  2. Doug Belshaw “Working Openly On the Web”

16 Comments on “No Information is an Island

  1. Having an oral conversation is a much easier way to communicate, however, also have a rich valuable information that you can come back to that is stored on a website is more of a value. I agree with what you said about having more practice in professional blogging, It defiantly will help especially when it’s a professional community. So when having workshops or orientation in blogging new students get as much experience from this way of this new learning environment.

    • I cannot see how we can ever truly get away from the oral conversation. Even the best VOIP online classroom systems add a barrier to communication between the prof and students – it is still possible, just much more awkward. And video lectures completely eliminate student –> prof communication.

      Maybe the technology will improve significantly and eliminate these issues – but for now, I’d much prefer a lecture course to any other format.

    • Thanks for the comment! Right now at Virginia Tech, some classes are videotaped, which provides a valuable chance for students who want to revisit the oral conversation during the class. Uploading the class video to a shared platform online and granting the access to all enrolled students can also enable further discussion after the class and promote networked learning.

  2. Very well written. You mentioned tags that people use in social networking and that makes me think about all the random hashtags that people use. Hashtags when used appropriately makes it easier to look up for specific content and create a well connected space of similar ideas, however haphazard use of hashtags could be useless.

  3. Thanks for this post. I agree that using the internet in the classroom requires more critical thinking but I also think that this is a very important skill that we need to be promoting in students. When they leave the classroom the vast majority of them will be using the internet to gather information and teaching them how to properly collect and discern what information is reliable is extremely important. On another note, I really enjoyed the article that you linked to “No Academic is and Island.” I think that we definitely need to develop better blogging communities in academia and create a stronger network to share ideas and promote dialogue.

    • I second your thought that better blogging communities are required in academia. Though we have lots of conferences each year with thousands of oral and poster presentations to promote face-to-face discussion, academic blogging provides an alternative approach for everyone to be engaged in the research topic, anytime and anywhere. However, it is also very important to know our target audience and adjust the written language.

  4. Very well said Shiqiang. As you said in the beginning, we are so on the internet now and life seems impossible without it. The Internet is the major way of communication and without it, teaching and learning seem impossible in the modern age.

    • It is hard to imagine the time when we were young and all the teaching happened only on the blackboard. No recording and video is provided, and you can only count on yourself. Good old times.

  5. Hi! Thanks for sharing. I really enjoyed your blog and I liked your perspective on professional blogging. I agree that it is a practice that will make stronger academics out of all of us! Writing composition is difficult, even for native speakers who are out of practice… (Often, this is me!) I have really gotten a lot out of the classes that have thought of creative ways to integrate a blogging component in the curricula. I think you have a good idea about offering blogging courses to (freshman) students– I’m sure there are a ton of students out there who would benefit from developing the skills required to produce quality content. I look forward to reading more of your writing this semester!

  6. Thanks for your post! I really enjoyed reading it! One part of your blog that really stood out to me was the need to meet students where they are and to try to understand the needs and struggles of the students. You mentioned first-year students potentially needing more guidance identifying good sources, identifying when technology is helping vs. distracting, etc. and I would definitely agree with this. I taught a few first-year courses and students often struggled with these things. Additionally, in one of my classes, we had a discussion about the need to be aware of what students post on social media because potential employers can and do look at sites like Facebook to learn more about a potential candidate. Students who are preparing to graduate and are using blogs or a personal website to promote themselves as they apply for jobs may have different challenges and needs. Thanks for the interesting post!

  7. The self-discipline is a very good point (and a quality I lack). I am a bit older than the average grad-student, and back when I was an undergrad there was no WiFi or smart phone (the first iPhone came out in 2007, I’m not that old). We sat in the class and listened to the lecture – the best opportunity for distraction was doodling in our notebooks.

    Today, I have trouble keeping myself from browsing the web in class, and I’m a geezer. I have no idea how the 18-19 year old students can do it. Moreover, in a distance class, like a MOOC, the onus to study and keep up with the course falls entirely on the student (no grade penalties). I’d bet not more than 20% of students who signed up for a MOOC actually finish it.

    It seems that self-discipline is more relevant to schooling than ever, but we also live in a day when it is constantly eroded by distractions. I am not sure how we can reverse this trend.

    • In 2015, I signed up for two courses on Coursera during the semester and completed none of them. I believe I’m way too positive about my time schedule during the semester when I can easily get swamped. It should be easier to complete the MOOC during summer or winter vacations.

  8. The reference here is to the famous line “No man is an island” from Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, a 1624 prose work by English poet John Donne. In that poem, Donne is getting at the idea of human unity and interconnectedness (“…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”). I am curious how you think this concept translates to information. Is all information the same then? Does it all emanate from the same place? Is it all part of the same whole? Does misinformation still contribute somehow to our collective knowledge as a society?

    • Thanks for the comment! To be honest, though I’m dealing with lots of information everyday as a graduate student, I’ve never take time to think about these questions deeply. But I believe all the information should be connected somehow. For those information that appears to be very distinct from each other, we just have not find the right connection to bridge them. I believe the whole world around us is a little bit like a giant jigsaw puzzle. Some parts of the puzzle is quite complete, and hence we can clearly see the connection. Still, some parts are quite new to us, and the information we currently have is just a few pieces of puzzle. It takes time to unveil the the whole picture, and networked learning can certainly help accelerate this process.

  9. Being clear on the difference between different types of writing, even online writing, is so important! English and communication classes need to emphasize this to a greater extent. Blogging is very different from using most Web 2.0 social media platform. If you are an English instructor, you wouldn’t be well-advised to encourage students to tweet before they fully grasp that colloquial language, emoji, etc, are variations on a standard that needs to be upheld in other contexts.

    I explicitly ban the use of technology in my classroom for the reasons you listed — the major reason being distraction. I make it clear that if students have differences in ability that required them to use an electronic device, they can, but aside from that: no. I wonder if other GTAs here do the same thing?

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