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  • Writer's pictureDiving Bell

ICT, Wisdom and the Satisfaction of Research

One of the big tasks of Term 1 is checking on the progress of senior research projects. Have students thought about them over the holidays? Have they got a clear idea of what they want to achieve? Why are you getting so many subject-change forms to sign off on?

There is a fundamental difference between data, information, knowledge, and wisdom. We teach with data but hopefully for wisdom. This is why every research task should begin with a firm clarification about the human element and purpose of research: what is this investigation going to add to the way the researcher and their readers live their lives? And the more research that is done digitally, the more often that question should be put before the researcher.

Even the highest-minded research statement won't prevent students from committing the Seven Deadly Sins of Research:

  1. plagiarising

  2. waffling

  3. fence-sitting

  4. storytelling

  5. information-hoarding

  6. carelessness

  7. irrationality

But when the student asks themselves What Will This Add to Me? each step of the way, it goes a long way to preventing the research task from becoming a shapeless, badly-written muddle which hardens student's dislike of long-form writing and the mistaken sense that digital fossicking is equal to knowledge-production.

It's helpful to ensure that students understand the difference between the intellectual items they handle during the research process, and how their intervention changes the nature of these items. Data, for example, are discrete units of cognitively available signs which represent something about or within the world. Information is a predicate applied to data, determined by a question. It shows that the data is meaningful and relevant to the question asked. Data and information could be thought of as the raw units of research, which have had minimal 'processing' - that is, they have not been subjected to the questioning by which we take things around us and transform them into part of a personally-meaningful intellectual paradigm.

Knowledge is the outcome of a collective process, showing how the information is useful, and put to the service of living in our society. Wisdom is the outcome of an individual process of reflection upon knowledge. The individual comes to this alone, and uses it to define the way they live their life, as their life. Tasks offered for late-stage high school and undergraduate research should, if they're to be personally and intellectually rewarding, have a clear requirement to fulfil these components, which must also be clearly distinguished from each other.

Rather than muddling together the ICT method and intellectual product which good research should involve, students should be constantly aware of how the digital medium affects the intellectual and ethical product. ICT is still a relatively new tool, allowing us to achieve the same educational objectives in newer, faster, more culturally relevant ways. It's easy to lose sight of the wood for the trees, as the enthusiastic and rather naieve use of the term 'disruption' suggests (see ). The question of whether cognitive acts follow a different sequence in ICT-intensive research to non-digital research is debatable - it is likely, I think, that every student processes the combination of method and product slightly differently. Information may be presented or generated differently and the students' response may be in a new form, but the intellectual act of transforming data to information, then knowledge, and hopefully wisdom, remains the same.

Students should be challenge to evaluate the success of their research by the extent to which they have transformed information into wisdom. In evaluating their method, they should consider whether they have performed the following:

  1. Planned research

  2. Located information

  3. Evaluated information

  4. Digested information

  5. Assembled knowledge

  6. Composed knowledge

  7. Edited and checked composition

  8. Reflected and concluded

Although high schoolers and undergraduates' research rarely contributes to knowledge per se, the visible transformation of knowledge to wisdom is a much-needed reassurance for both student and reader that they recognize and understand the fundamental purpose of research.

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