Search Strategies in the IT and Internet Era
The need for critical literacy and critical thinking in knowledge workers
Presented at the 10th International Thai Studies Conference
Thammasat University, Bangkok, Thailand
January 10, 2008
Ajarn Willard G. Van De Bogart
IT Language Center (ITLC)
Nakhon Sawan Rajabhat University
November 22, 2007
The Information Society or the Information Age became the accepted description for global social structures in the late 20th century supplanting the Industrial Age categorization of the 18th and 19th centuries. But now the Information Age has morphed into the Internet Era. Many of us who live in this Information Age or Internet Era are referred to as knowledge workers. Knowledge workers are people who by in large make a living collecting data and then analyze and synthesize the data into some understandable format whereby some information can be delivered to the rest of us.
One such group of knowledge workers located at the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and numbering 390 experts published “The Fourth Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-4) Report” on November of 2007. This 570 page comprehensive report states that Earth’s population growth is now so big that the amount of resources needed to sustain population growth far exceeds the resources that are available (Mojon, 2007). The GEO-4 report does not offer a very hopeful future for planet Earth citing declining species, availability of fresh water and a litany of hundreds of other environmental disasters threatening the very existence of life as we know it. For this reason sustainable development was earmarked as one of the most important issues to be implemented by the year 2050.
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), chaired by the 2007 Nobel recipient Dr. Rajandra Pachauri, released their knowledge worker’s 1400 page report in April of 2007 revealing the extinction of 30% of all plant and animal species given to the rise in global temperatures (IPCC, 2007).
With these few grim figures from our knowledge workers in the environmental and climate areas let us now examine a report from the knowledge workers in the digital universe area. According to IDC, an information think tank in the United States, in their white paper titled “A Forecast of Worldwide Information Growth Through 2010” revealed that the amount of information created in 2007 surpassed the planets available storage capacity (Gantz, 2007). The prognosis is that the growth of the digital universe is exploding at an unprecedented scale and what this means in a very practical sense is all organizations, whether in industry, education or government will require much more sophisticated techniques for information management and search strategy innovations in order to access all this data. Frankly speaking, we have entered a race of data expansion while at the same time bringing to exhaustion the very foundation needed to ensure our own survival on this planet. What do we do? What can we do, and what needs to be done?
As an educator I will focus on solutions within the educational framework of Thailand. One solution which is the most contested and controversial is the need for educational reform (Nation, July 11, 07).
Being an educator in Thailand (http://www.nsru.ac.th/langcenter/lc_7.htm) I will further narrow my analysis and focus on the educational system in Thailand. To take a quote from Education Minister Wijit Srisa, made at the 115th Anniversary of Teacher Training in Bangkok, Thailand, said, the whole of society must join together if Thailand is to succeed in breaking away from a continuous decline in the quality of education that has stalled international competitiveness (Nation, July 11, 07).
So it is obvious educational reform is a desired goal but what is the reform for? What should educational reform ultimately do?
Educational reform should teach the proper application of information for the sustainable development of the social ecological and business infrastructure by cultivating critical literacy and critical thinking in a digital universe.
Now, how do we go about doing this? This is hardly an easy problem to solve because all facets of the global society are so tightly integrated and interrelated. The day to day running of these interlocking systems of society including educational institutions, government and commerce institutions is a complicated enterprise and becoming more so every second. However, with such dire consequences in front of us, which has been poignantly expressed by Al Gore in his Nobel winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” or Dr. James Lovelock’s book “The Revenge of Gaia: Earth’s Climate Crisis and the Fate of Humanity”(Lovelock, 2006), nothing less than our own survival is at stake. It is therefore, imperative we collectively find a methodology which will prevent our extinction, and I don’t think there is an argument on this point.
Before a model is provided to solve these problems a few more findings from the knowledge workers impacting Thailand may be insightful. The IMD World Competition Year Book located in Switzerland claims that Thailand’s ranking among 55 countries was judged by four criteria; economic performance, government efficiency, business efficiency and infrastructure which included education. Thailand ranked 33rd out of 55 countries a drop from 29th place in 2006 (Boonnoon, 2007).
In another study the knowledge workers at Thailand’s National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA) found that only .26% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was allotted for research and development. This compared to Japan’s at 3.2% and the United States at 2.6%. NSTDA is trying to work with more than 30 universities to provide more R&D to correct this deficiency (Praiwan, 2007).
Lastly the World Bank’s Knowledge Economic Index showed that Thailand had fallen appreciably. This index is based on incentives and institutions, education, technology adoption and ICT infrastructure (Yuthamanop, 2007). From the stand point of Thailand integrating itself into a global infrastructure it can be seen that its present profile of economic indicators is low and that its internal support to increase its global posture is also low. But what if Thailand were more focused on the quality of life for its citizens and not how it fared in the international financial markets? The greening of Thailand (Suebsukcharoen, 2007), coupled with it’s unique health oriented spas and hospitals (Lueng-uthai, 2007), and new research efforts with a sustainable economy (Limsamarnphun, 2007), could provide Thailand with an influx of people that would make Thailand more of a model to be emulated than one in which it is always trying to catch up to global standards.
So, now with this backdrop of global and national problems what we find is a planet that is heading for extinction, a population growing beyond the Earth’s capacity to support its excesses and an increase in the size of the digital universe expanding beyond current storage capabilities. Finally, we find Thailand struggling to be on a par with developed nations, as well as its ability to support itself with basic research. Clearly reform is necessary both locally and globally. Knowledge based workers are positioned all across the globe. However, access to their data and transforming it into usable information to sustain all levels of existence is the crux of the problem facing humanity.
Two efforts in Thailand are currently exploring new efforts to reform education. First, the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) is experimenting with a Thai-based network university linking institutions at the global, regional and national levels. The president of AIT, Dr. Said Iradoust states, “my mission for AIT is to be a regional institute and a networking university” (Kelly, 2007). The second effort is found at the Office of Knowledge Management and Development (OKMD) headed by Dr. Apinan Poshyananda. The aim of (OKMD) is to access Thailand’s wealth of knowledge and intellectual resources (Suttilsiltum, 2007).
The following points to be discussed are being acted upon to a greater or lesser extent all over the planet, but due to our threatened global situation we must look more critically at our current need for educational reform in applying the suggestions that are here being offered.
Points to be discussed:
1. Critical Literacy and Critical Thinking skills
2. Technology Assessment skills
3. Research skills
4. Search Strategy skills
1. Critical Literacy and Critical Thinking Skills:
Critical literacy and critical thinking are skills which can broadly be defined as skills which provide a user in the digital universe the ability to analyze social and technological changes as they apply to local, national, and international growth.
To quote an English teacher from Istanbul, Turkey, “critical literacy involves a pedagogy and curriculum that supports students learning to read and write the word and understand symbols used to communicate within a given language system”(Mitchell, 2006). Critical literacy is the ability to become familiar not only with the content of information, but the intent and context of the many forms of media that contains this information.
Critical literacy also involves the analysis and critique of the relationship among texts, language, power, and social groups (Tasmania, 2002). The department of Education in Tasmania incorporates critical literacy into its curriculum design and recognizes that there is a massive increase of information from around the globe necessitating to know how to make meaning from the array of complex visual imagery confronting us everyday.
Critical thinking on the other hand is a learned discipline enabling the cultivation of a mode of thinking whereby the structures of thinking are understood. Critical thinking is the ability to evaluate information gathered from or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning or communication as a guide to belief and action (Scriven, M., & Paul, Z., 2004).
When critical literacy and critical thinking are combined with sustainable development we have forged a new approach to avert ecological disaster. UNESCO’s Regional Bureau for Education in Bangkok has set aside the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) from 2005 through 2014 and defines sustainable development as, “development that meets the needs of the present, without comprising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. (UNESCO, 2006)
These three areas of critical literacy, critical thinking and sustainable development are crucial to promote in education especially in the Internet Era as access to a global network of computers is creating unprecedented amounts of information which needs to be analyzed effectively. With this foundation established, showing the importance of analyzing information, the next point is to focus on the skills necessary to access the information.
It becomes apparent that access to data in the digital universe is essential in order to develop a complete profile of the available information which can effectively be acted upon for education, research & development and lastly education for sustainable development. The next point is technology assessment skills.
2. Technology Assessment Skills:
Being able to access, utilize and apply the data which is being generated in the digital universe is surely the greatest challenge for every aspect of humankind’s successful survival. Already an enormous divide exists between those who have access to the digital universe and those that don’t. A consortium of companies and organizations in Thailand announced on Nov 20, 2007 the School e-Centre Programme to provide complete computer sets to schools in rural areas (Boonnoon, 2007). The goal is to bridge the digital divide by increasing access to computers and internet communities. I will address the effectiveness of this strategy in points 3 and 4.
UNESCO’s head quarters in Paris, France held a conference in October of 2007 comprised of ministers of science and technology from over 60 countries. A new effort to funnel the latest scientific information to countries around the world was given the name “Technology Platform”. UNESCO would act as a centre for technology transfer so each country could apply those developments which could directly impact their growth (Sutharoj, 2007).
At this juncture the question needs to be asked how you analyze the digital universe which is growing exponentially. In terms of educational reform the question to be asked is what pedagogical changes need to take place to prepare students to become knowledge workers who have both critical literacy skills and critical thinking skills? Dr. Virach Sornlertlamvanich of the Thailand Computational Linguistics Laboratory (TCL) has recently developed the Knowledge Unifying Initiator tool (KUI) allowing the flow of information between academic institutions and the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST)as well as other branches of the Thai infrastructure (Boonruang, 2007).
Having said this, and having identified these efforts in Thailand and around the world what is now needed is a set of methodologies to insure that the users of these new digital knowledge systems can perform their input functions intelligently to satisfy the desired output for which these systems were designed for and to apply the search results effectively when trying to use information from all the Diaspora networks.
Sawat Tantiphanwadi, the director of the Reverse Brain Drain (RBD) office at the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA) has created the Association of Thai Professional (ATP) in Europe, America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand to provide knowledge and technology transfer to help Thailand’s development (Boonnoon, 2007). Dr. Swat is also developing an on-going technology exchange program with Japan to support the NASA’s International Space Station (ISS) (Nimkannon, 2007). The Scientists and Engineers Statistical Data Systems (SESTAT) in association with the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the United States showed that over 12% of the 12 million people who have advanced degrees in science and technology work in the USA alone and are all of foreign origin. This is why the Reverse Brain Drain Project and the Association of Thai Professionals has been developed to ensure the widest Diaspora network possible with Thai professionals in supporting national development (Meyer, J.B., & Brown, M., 1999)
But this brings me to a point of evaluating the current competitive landscape in Thailand and how it compares with other countries. As already stated Thailand was placed 33rd out of 55 nations in terms of its overall ability to integrate its resources with other nations. But what was also pointed out in the “Competitive Roadmap” from the IMD World Competitive Yearbook 2007 was that global power is increasing at an accelerated rate with India, China and Russia producing 14 million university students in one year equal to the amount produced in the United States alone (Garelli, 2007).
With such an enormous brain pool coming on-line, efforts such as Thailand’s Knowledge Utilization Initiative or Intel’s Microelectronic Thai Division in providing 3000 PC and notebooks to 60 public schools (Boonruang, 2007), or even Thailand’s Democratic party leader Abhisit Vejjajira wanting to put Information and Communication Technology Centers in every village all sounds very promising in providing Thailand with the tools to elevate its standing in the international community (Boonruang, 2007).
However, in order to effectively operate any of these knowledge based initiatives requires not only trained students coming from the educational sector, but students who have been trained using high speed digital search strategy techniques. It’s at this juncture where the third point on research skills has to be reviewed.
3. Research Skills:
Research skills entails knowing how to use on-going research methodologies for national and global sustainability now and into the future. Speculation on the future has moved into the real world with the necessity of exploring and understanding how innovation impacts all levels of society and how decisions must be made to counter all the factors affecting the environment. Knowing how to access the myriad levels of knowledge networks is the key issue to be addressed. Whether it’s going to be the UN’s new Technology Platform or the Knowledge Utilization Initiative from Thailand’s Computational Linguistics Laboratory it’s going to take more understanding than just creating a high speed link as proposed by Thailand’s Office of Information Technology Administration for Educational Development with plans to increase speeds from 155 megabits per second to 2.5 gigabits per second or placing 800 computers in rural areas (Pornwasin, 2007).
What is also going to be required, and often overlooked, is a management system for all the information coupled with the knowledge of techniques on how to access the data. It comes as no surprise that research models have been developed at a pace in keeping with technology expansion. The sophistication of these research models has been extensive (Weingand, 1995).
To mention a few of these models there has been Trend Extrapolation which is based on empirical examination of a phenomenon with repeated measurements over time. Cross-Impact Analysis attempts to analyze one trend in the light of the occurrence or nonoccurrence of a series of related events. The Delphi Method is based on an anonymous series of iterations and feedback which solicit and report expert opinions. These are only a few research methods that have been developed and applied in the knowledge networking field. It is necessary to develop these new research methodologies in order to find the best way extract information that is crucial to solving problems. Thailand has recently inaugurated several new research methodologies making search strategies even more complex for the knowledge worker.
The latest was the Thai-Australian Research Symposium held in June of 2007. The theme of the conference was “Research- A Basis for Social Development”. Critical issues were addressed impacting Thailand such as biofuels, and nanotechnology (Johnson,2007).
The Institute of Field Robotics (Fibo) is developing Thailand’s first strategy for robotic technology (Sutharoj, 2007). The reason search strategies are becoming more complex is because the terminology is new and the future impact of the new sciences are unknown forcing probable projections using high speed computers that can now perform 280.6 teraflops. One teraflop is equivalent to one trillion floating operations per second (Johnston, 2007).
The Thai National Grid Centre (TNGC) is launching a 200 to 400 CPU cluster that will be shared with partners across the region. Grid computing is distributed computing over a network of heterogeneous resources using what is called open standards for software development (Sambandaraksa, 2007, Pornwasin, 2007).
The purpose in developing Grid Computing is to become more competitive with knowledge based economies. Thailand wants quality knowledge workers and I will address the feasibility of Thailand providing knowledge workers in the search strategy section. Lastly the opening of Thailand’s new Science Park (TSP) in April of 2007 and a two-billion-baht expansion to be completed by 2010 (Nation, 2007).
The Technology Management Centre (TMC) Director, Prof Chachanat Thebtaranonth, conceded the effort was late in coming but as she states, “With Globalization, everyone has to compete on knowledge” (Waltham, 2007).
But, what exactly does competing on knowledge mean and how can Thailand make its science park a progressive knowledge incubator. Being at a NASA Technology Transfer Center prior to the launching of the Columbia space shuttle on April 12, 1981 allowed me to understand knowledge transfer techniques, and the volume of information that was shared by scientists. But there is another by-product besides data evolution in the equation effecting the exponential growth of human inventiveness and that is the strain being levied on Earth’s entire eco-system stemming due to this progress. Green Technology has come to the forefront to diminish the dependence on non-replaceable energy resources. This situation is demanding that any reform in education must implement projects which will educate all students on how to search for data that has a direct impact on the mandate on supporting sustainable development in all levels of society. A new program is now being integrated into the curriculum of the schools in Thailand, in honor of His Majesty the King’s Sufficiency Economy Philosophy. However, at the annual conference held on Nov 2-3 of 2007 there was deep concern expressed by Dr. Somwung Pittiyanuwat , Director of the Office of National Education Standards and Quality Assessment (Onesqu) about the quality of students and the sub-standard qualifications at the higher educational levels. Dr. Somwung stated, “The people who control the quality of higher education are the teachers, who can choose to neglect or preserve it” (Noppakunthong, 2007.
If Thailand needs these students to work in the knowledge based economies what courses will be introduced into the schools to prepare students for the research & development sectors? How will Thailand use its student population if their literary and critical thinking skills are not developed for working in a high speed data environment?
To give an example of an emerging future scenario of depending on poorly trained students in the resource pool I will use the Knowledge Utilization Initiative (KUI) mentioned earlier. KuiHerb is going to focus on herbal information to develop herbal medicines, however, according to Dr. Peter Wyse Jackson of the Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) states that over 1,400 plant species are threatened with extinction in Thailand (Thongtham, 2007). Therefore, when a student or any Thai professional is working with the interconnectivity of the digital universe and accessing plant information on the data base of herbal medicine from Thailand (KuiHerb), a new search strategy will be needed in order to find the medicinal plants because of Thailand’s decreasing bio-diversity. How a new search strategy is learned is the crux of this paper. A complete re-visioning of our knowledge based systems is required so the data does more than cause storage overload problems but instead provides immediate usable information. From here the next point is search strategy skills.
4. Search Strategy Skills:
Currently the search engine is a tool whereby you type in a phrase, hit enter, and hope that what will appear on the screen will be what you are looking for. It isn’t necessarily the way it is (Hoover, 2007). However, a new generation of search engine tools is appearing to retrieve the information sought for (Asadi, S. & Jamali, H., 2004).
But knowing what to do with the information that a search engine finds is still quite illusive. The science of search engine development is a study unto itself, and every knowledge based center I have mentioned so far needs a knowledge worker to operate the search engines. The number of citations (hits) depends on how far the search engine algorithm penetrates any document. This type of searching is time consuming and requires the knowledge worker to be able to critically interpret the usability of the information once the documents are retrieved. But a totally new search engine based on natural language technology may supersede the keyword system that all search engines have been using to date. A natural language search engine will retrieve information based on a grammatically correct question. As an example take the question, (What aircraft uses titanium in its wings?) and compare it to the keyword method of randomly typing in keywords such as, (aircraft, titanium, wings). The name of the company developing this natural language search engine is PowerSet from San Francisco. The search engine was developed after two years of secret research at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), (Liedtke, 2007). It becomes evident that critical literacy skills take on a new dimension as asking the right question can determine what the search engine retrieves.
Teaching how to use these advances in search techniques is hard to find implemented in any school system I know of. A few exceptions are “How to Teach Search Strategies on the Internet” an area experimented with by Dr. Joe James of Washington State University in the United States (Flash, 2004).
UC Berkeley in Oakland, California has developed a tutorial for finding information on the internet titled: “Recommended Search Strategy: Analyze your topic and search with peripheral vision” and can be found on the internet (Barker, 2006).
At Nakhon Sawan Rajabhat University the search engine was taught and incorporated into a critical thinking course (Van De Bogart, 2007).
The cognitive development of the knowledge worker using critical literacy and critical thinking skills is essential with natural language search engines. Another important consideration when teaching search strategies is how do you match teaching styles with leaning styles (Zhenhui, 2001) especially in a Thai culture where independent thinking has not been encouraged. Compounding this problem it was discovered that Thailand has a 24,000 teacher shortfall in primary and secondary schools (Nation, 2007).
How does a human interpret and perceive information which is presented in multiple forms such as print, visual, audio, 3D visualization and much more? Google’s new Universal Search will do just this (Claburn, 2007). A whole new infrastructure has been developed to distribute queries across Google’s different search indices and return the aggregate relevant search results in many different formats. Analyzing all these different search result formats will be no small task. In October of 2007 Google Corporation and IBM launched a program to help students use large scale parallel computing (Murchinson, J., & Haikes, C., 2007). The development came about as a result of the changes in networks reaching capacity necessitating a fundamental change in network architecture whereby hundreds of computers will initially be put into clusters or “clouds”. Students will access the “clouds” via the internet to test what is called parallel processing to harness multiple processes to solve problems (figure 1.)
Clearly the race is on to tackle the millions or variables effecting climate change, reduce the amount of people displaced by these changes (climate refugees) (Perez, 2006), and be able to look at all the developments simultaneously from around the globe using new network architecture to counter self serving decisions with decisions that will impact the survival of the eco system and the human species.
But what is also important to consider is that if the digital universe is exploding, and knowledge is changing so rapidly then accessing the knowledge and applying it to recognized problems is the main reason educational reform is needed. What is required is an in-place, on-going, direct access to data as the acceleration of the entire eco-system demands cognitive adjustments to interpret the data and transform it into usable information. These cognitive adjustments composed of critical literacy and critical thinking are necessary because any decision that negatively impacts the environment from now on will directly impact our survival. Dr. Pachauri said, humankind only had seven years to halt the inevitable (Kelly, 2007).Knowledge workers have to be able to correctly interpret the information.
Will nuclear power in Thailand disrupt the already fragile eco-system (Sukin, 2007)
Will new dam initiatives in Laos and Thailand further hamper food supplies down stream as the Three Gorges Dam in China is already doing to the Mekong River Basin? What information is needed to make the correct decisions on just these two issues?
But when it comes to educational reform one has to consider the student who is sitting in front of the computer screen trying to learn how to navigate in the digital universe. Are teachers being trained for this task of guiding students to use search engines?
The search techniques are numerous and knowing they exist is mandatory for effective “data mining” which is the ability to find information in the digital universe. Again, Google Corporation has submitted many new patents for helping the search history of the user such as tracking previous queries, the order of the search results or even adjusting the queries based on a users history to mention only a few (Imthiaz, 2006).
The question still arises as to what kind of critical thinking skills need to be developed not only to understand how to receive relevant information but knowing how to perceive it (Van De Bogart, 1991). And once perceived what critical literacy skills need to be developed to form an opinion on the significance of the information. These newly acquired skills demand a total re-visioning of education to teach students new search strategies in order to keep up with the knowledge evolution. Basically, you can’t use the information if you don’t know how to look for it which entails knowing how to ask questions about a topic and then how to analyze the results.
Educational reform also requires that a systematic program of utilizing search engines be put into curriculum design in all schools that have a computer connected to the internet. How will a student be introduced to these technological changes so he or she can benefit the nation and the global infrastructure? Where are the curriculum designs that offer futures research methodologies which link critical decisions with tomorrow’s possibilities? Who will introduce the students to the severity of the disaster that our current eco-system is facing and show how those disasters are caused by an unchanged decision structures in all levels of society. Clearly reform is necessary.
On December 5th of 2007, Dr. Pratuang Phumpatrakon, President of Nakhon Sawan Rajabhat University, inaugurated a new IT Language Center (ITLC) named “Arkarn Chalerm Phra Kiat Paesip Phansa ha Thanwakom Songphanharoyhasip” (80th year celebration of the building for the King in 2550). Here for the first time a new IT Language Center (ITLC) will combine Language Studies and Computer Science enabling the diversities of language learning to be applied to search strategies in the digital universe.
Educational reform needs to be initiated to incorporate these above mentioned 4 points, and the leading decision makers in government need to know that corrective action can only come about from a combined effort of integrating education, student resources, and guidance into knowledge networking advances with other critical components of industry, commerce and politics. It’s a very big challenge but I believe we have the tools and the student resources to implement a solution (Nielsen, 2007). The mandate to save the planet from further degradation has to become the guiding influence in all educational reform if we are to survive as a species.
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