Learning Skills

Evaluating Information


Web Resources for This Assignment

For General Education 110

Library Projects

For General Education 111

Library Projects on traditional African culture



Evaluating Information   Your primary task in learning always centers around information. Every minute of every student day you're bombarded with information from a ton of sources: classes, books, textbooks, discussions, student presentations. The problem with information is that it all looks alike and talks alike and walks alike. We've been learning to sort information in terms of high level information and significance (the use value of information). What we haven't really discussed is generality and specificity of information. This is tough topic because both generality and specifity are relative terms. You can never pin them down for they are always determined by their context.


General and Specific Information   First off: what do I mean by generality and specificity? Information is general when it covers a wide variety of phenomena. When we say, "language has meaning," we are giving a competent piece of information that covers all phenomena that comes under the rubric, language. Here's another piece of general information: "general information tends to be known by more people than more specific information." This is true, too. If I were to bring up the subject of traditional African cultures, most people would know that Africans speak languages or that they speak different languages than Europeans. However, a first grader may not know either of these facts; this information about Africans and language is entirely suitable to first graders, although it may be way too general for college students.
   Specific information subsumes a very limited number and variety of phenomena. The most specific information only deals with one and only one phenomenon or variety of phenomenon. If I were to say, staying on the African languages jag, that "Ga does not have an aorist proper in the verb form," I'm being massively specific about a single Ghanaian language. This specificity is immensely appropriate for a graduate course on African linguistics or an undergraduate course on Ga, but it is pretty useless in an introductory course on Africa.
   Almost all information that you're exposed to in college occupies the continuum between completely general and completely specific information. That is, most information that you see is both general and specific: it includes a variety of phenomena but is also specific to a finite group of phenomena. For instance, the statement, "all languages have meaning," sits pretty close to the "completely general" end of the information spectrum, while, "Bantu languages create meaning through the use of prefixes," is still a general piece of information, but probably sits somewhere in the "specific" range of the information spectrum. The statement in the previous paragraph about Ga is getting pretty close to "completely specific."


Context   The appropriateness of information, whether it is too general or too specific, is determined by its context. As you saw above, the mindlessly general statement, "all language has meaning," is appropriately specific for a primary school class but way out of place in a college course. The statement about the aorist in Ga (I don't know if it's true or not—I just made it up because it sounded scary), is appropriately specific for an advanced linguistics course but way out of line for an introduction to African cultures.
   Your first task, then, is to determine what informational level is appropriate for the project of the course or of the learning project that you're involved in. Obviously, the information that you're expected to retain in a freshman course would be more general information. The purpose of introductory courses is to introduce you to concepts, process, and general information that will serve as a foundation in later courses. More advanced courses demand that you master more specific information; general information is presented for review, but the information you're expected to concentrate on is the more specific information.
   Remember to think of information as on a continuum between completely general and completely specific. Decide which part of the continuum your class or your learning project should sit on. This isn't a point on the continuum, but rather a range. You figure out the purpose of your course or learning project and then decide from that purpose what information is more important. For instance, in an introductory chemistry course, the most important information is the knowledge, processes, and ideas that you can use in later chemstry courses. Understanding molarity is far important than remembering the quantum shells of electrons (which, even though you're introduced to them in introductory chemistry, are more important in advanced physics or chemistry courses). Once you've determined this range, you can easily sift through information and select what you need to know from what you don't need to know.


The Assignment

For General Education 111

   For this assignment, I want you to comment on and grade two of the library projects on traditional African cultures. You are to grade them only on the quality of the information present; I don't want you to consider the writing or composition. You are to grade the information present using only one criteria: general versus specific. Has the writer struck the right balance for this course between general and specific knowledge? Has the writer presented overly general information that doesn't help you? Has the writer done research that is too detailed and specific? How much of the information does the writer present that is useful? Does the writer use appropriately specific information to explain general information or concepts?
   On this assignment, I want you to submit your assignment using the virtual classroom. Your grades should be submitted as responses to the individual essays. You can respond to individual essays by using the form at the bottom of each student's essay. The link below will take you to the assignment index which lists the various topics covered in the library projects.

Library Projects listed by topic in the Assignments index



World Cultures

World Cultures Home Page


1997, Richard Hooker
Updated 4-6-97