Activity 17: The scourge of abundance

In activity 17, we were asked to consider the role of abundant content in education, more specifically how educators can “best take advantage of abundance in their own teaching practice” or how educators “best equip learners to make use of it?” We’re advised to draw on our own context and experience in our comment.

The discussion of abundant content and education is very welcome. In my context, higher education, the internet and the access it grants to abundant content is seen very much as a scourge rather than an opportunity to improve teaching, learning and assessment and bring higher education into the digital age.



At our university all written, campus-based exams are being digitized and this has caused a lot of concern with faculty and administration who fear that students will copy/paste answers and essays from somewhere on the internet without giving the proper references. Plagiarism is not only a concern in relation to exams but also in relation to the coursework students need to do. So resources are used on plagiarism detectors and time is spent discussing the best means to control that students are not engaging in any illegal communication or actions during exams, where instead resources should be used for  improving and developing new, up to date teaching, learning and assessment activities. So yes, a pedagogy of abundance is relevant and called for in order to try to cope with and realize the potential of abundant content rather than implementing control measures.

I’m not advocating the abandonment of academic skills, but I’m suggesting an upgrade of these skills to fit the digital age and reality. In practice this could be done by extending the list of academic skills (critical reading, critical thinking, writing skills etc.) with:

Remix skills – the ability to identify, evaluate and select relevant content on the web and remix this into new works that respect any copyright and licensing of the content used.

When teachers pose assignments to students, points should then be awarded for good remix skills.

Another skill that needs to be emphasized is source critique. It’s not at all a new academic skill. However, source critique seems to have been left behind, as the internet was swamped with content. The connection between source critique, the internet and abundant content is quite important. Educators can help students learn this by creating assignments that focus on source critique. I found an assignment, college level, that requires students to engage in source critique. In this assignment, students had to find three different sources to be used for a paper. Source guidelines in the assignment specify that

  • “only one source may be published before 2005
  • only one source may be a book
  • print out your online resources or copy them so that you may quote from them accurately and reference the author, publisher, date published (for online sources also note the date you print out information).”

(Putnam undated).

I think this approach is very refreshing in that it acknowledges the abundance of content and also emphasizes more recent content and content other than the book format. Also this very explicit way of working with source critique helps students see the importance and hopefully also the value.

Let’s help students get the most of the abundant content rather than block their access and ban usage.

Putnam, D. (undated). Source Critique.