“Information Overload”: What can we do?

Simply writing the blog for this week leaves me with a feeling of “overload”.  “Information overload occurs when the amount of information that is available exceeds a person’s ability to process it (“he or she is receiving too much information”),” (Palfrey & Gasser, 2010).  I feel as though I have a great many thoughts on this topic, however I am not sure how to concisely share my ideas and the ideas of others.

There is a great deal of information for parents and teachers on the subject of overload, though there is much debate as to whether or not “information overload” can actually be diagnosed as an illness. According to Palfrey and Gasser, ultimately, “Parents and teachers must work with kids to teach them the skills they will need to manage all the information that can enrich their lives in a digital era,” (2010, p. 203).  This seems to be the overlying ideal I have taken away from this week’s readings/videos.  Regardless of how one feels about the information our students/children receive, as the adults in our children’s and students’ lives, we are responsible for helping our children deal with overload and the information they receive.

So, how do we help our children deal with overload?  Palfrey and Gasser speak about the many issues with overload while Tapscott shares positive aspects of the multitude of information being thrown at people today.  Rather than side with one particular author, I relate to ideals from each text.  As is true in today’s society, we are able to construct our own meaning by pulling from many different resources.  Palfrey and Gasser discuss how, “The constant use of digital technologies can place a strain on families, friendship, and classrooms,” (2010, p. 186). Jenny Radesky, a pediatrician and mother noticed that many parents at different restaurants are more absorbed in their devices than in interactions with their children.  The Boston University Medical Center went to different fast-food restaurants in the Boston area and observed 55 interactions of anonymous “non-participants”.  The researchers noticed how these non-participants failed to respond to their children’s requests for attention, simply returning to their devices without responding (Pediatrics as cited by Bowerman, Mary, 2014). Teachers and parents can help alleviate this problem by leading by example.  Parents can achieve this by setting aside a time when all digital devices are set aside, enjoying a dinner sans devices, or by refusing to answer texts while driving.

Other ways to deal with information overload are: focusing less time on each piece of information; using filtering devices such as accessing only scholarly journals or using search engines; or design institutions to absorb inputs such as printing online materials to eliminate distraction of technology (Palfrey & Gasser, 2010).  Parents and teachers can also teach students to chunk material; this is a skill that is often taught as a reading skill in most elementary programs so teaching students to apply this skill for online use should simply be an extension of chunking reading material from books/textbooks.

Besides the many “issues” brought about by information overload discussed by Palfrey and Gasser, there are many benefits to the multitude of information presented to our students and children today.  Tapscott for instance points out that by accessing information on the internet, “Instead of just numbly receiving information, they [students or children] are gathering it from around the globe with lightning speed.  Instead of just trusting a TV announcer to tell us the truth, [they] are assessing and scrutinizing the jumble of facts that are often contradictory or ambiguous,” (Tapscott, 2008, p. 98).  Not only do students have an over abundant amount of information to access, they can also explore this information collaboratively through sites such as Wiki and games which “often require cooperation with opponents to defeat a common enemy offering problems to be solved collaboratively and creatively…,” (Tapscott, 2008).  Wiki offers students the opportunity to watch information evolve as the collaborators gather more information.  This past semester I participated in my first real experience using a wiki page.  I was skeptical at first but actually learned a great deal and was amazed by how much the high school students  and our grad class learned by working with each other to create a wiki page.  I know a few of us were in this class last semester, but if you haven’t checked out our wiki page here it is: http://gamifi-ed.wikispaces.com/ ).  As I consider how students can help educators I find myself reflecting on what Tapscott pointed out in his interview with Wesley Weisberg (not certain of the spelling) saying that, “Teachers need humility to allow the kids to lead to some extent,” (retrieved online from http://edet635uas.weebly.com/week-three.html).  As teachers and parents we need to be willing to lead sometimes and allow our children and students to help guide us at other times.  Providing guidance for our children as they deal with “information overload” is certainly important, still as our children/students become more and more tech savvy, we as educators/parents can learn a great deal by allowing our students to help us navigate technology.


Finally, as I was researching for this week’s blog posting I came across another text blog suggesting another text that contradicts Palfrey and Gasser’s thoughts on being “Born Digital”.  Steven Poole discusses how Nicholas Carr views the overload of information people receive from the internet in his book, The Shallows.




Bowerman, Mary. (2014). Kids not the only ones guilty of too much screen time. USA Today. Retrieved

online from http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/03/10/caregivers-mobile-device-use/6174023/


Gamifi-ED Wiki Page. (2014) Retrieved online from http://gamifi-ed.wikispaces.com/


Palfrey, John and Gasser, Urs. (2008). Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives.

               [On-line] Retrieved June 1, 2014 from: http://site.ebrary.com/id/10392430?ppg=8


Tapscott, Donn. (2008). Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World.

               McGraw Hill Professional Publishing: New York, New York.


Poole, Steven. (2010). The Shallows: How the Internet is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember by Nicholas Carr, discussed by Steven Poole. Retrieved online from




5 thoughts on ““Information Overload”: What can we do?

  1. Sara-

    I liked the strategies you mentioned from the book to help deal with overload (focusing less time, using filters, only accessing journals or search engines, or elimination of distraction through special print design). Although I don’t have my students doing much research in math, I found some of these strategies to be particular helpful for other subject areas such as science, social studies or even English. When giving students an assignment, why not narrow the sites or resources ahead of time so students don’t waste time or experience overload. I think this is an approach teachers could practice further instead of directing students to “go on the internet and search for…”. Helping to minimize a broad research topic will help set our students up for success.

    I think it’s also important to teach our students good search techniques. For instance, using specific words in a search, Boolean techniques, or advanced search options and having the ability to evaluate their results (is it a .com, .edu, .org, .gov, etc.) can give students an edge in curbing overload. This also takes effort on our part to help students build their digital literacy skills. According to Leslie Harris O’Hanlon, in her article for Education Week, “Teachers should model the process for searching online and make it something students do regularly in their classes” (O’Hanlon, 2013). Students won’t develop these skills overnight, they have to practice and practice to get better.

    O’Hanlon, L. (2013). Teaching Students Better Online Research Skills: Improving Web Research Tactics is a Priority. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2013/05/22/32el-studentresearch.h32.html?tkn=QWCCgXpStXBSdGy%20RabLBT9BSWvJPFfQ47w2&cmp=clp-sb-ascd on June 4, 2014.

    • Setting up searches for students is definitely helpful, especially in the primary grades. I have also had students do web quests which is a great way to get them exploring the internet without having to search right off the bat.

      In the article you mentioned she spoke about the different ways you can search and how to judge the quality of information you receive. I recall having to search very explicitly when I was younger and even into my early teens; however, the way we search seems different now. I tried the author’s recommendation to look up the planet Saturn as she said, “Saturn-car” so I could see only information about the planet Saturn as she suggested. The only information I received, though, was about the car. I also tried the different recommendations for the search on the assassination of John F. Kennedy and regardless of which way I search I received information about John F. Kennedy. I think some of her techniques may no longer be applicable. I suppose this is just a testament to the ever-changing internet. Still the article makes good points. This article really got me thinking about how we search now. Educators and parents really need to play around on the internet so they are able to educate children on the best ways to navigate the internet safely.

      Thanks again for sharing. The article really made me think about how I search. (I will say that the search techniques mentioned in the article are helpful for sites like Ebray when you are trying to locate a book/text.)

  2. In this age of technology, it is so important to have strategies to deal with information and technology overload. Just like with any type of activity, too much can leave a bad taste in one’s mouth and not want to return to it. I love your list! Very helpful.

  3. You put a lot of information and great suggestions in your blog. It’s amazing how much information is available about information overload. I find the irony somewhat amusing. My situation is similar to Natalie’s in that I do not require my students to do a lot of online research in my classes. When I do, I typically list several resources for my kids. This gives them a starting place. These are sites that have trusted information that I’ve already verified. As I stated, this is only a starting place. I encourage my kids to search beyond my recommended list and ask them to share their findings with me. When I get a chance, I try to ask them why they think the information they found is valid and encourage them to find other sites that support them. It’s a tedious process but it gets my students thinking. It’s always interesting to see how many kids want to immediately jump to Wikipedia. It’s also interesting to see the number of sites my kids find that are useful and informative. You mentioned the statement from this weeks reading that “Teachers need humility to allow the kids to lead to some extent.” There are so many sources of information out there. I want my kids to know how to search for things that are worth their time and effort. I also believe in recognizing their efforts when they come across something amazing.

    • Scott,

      I think it is great that you set some initial parameters for your students but then allow them to “search beyond [your] recommended list”. In the past you have spoke about building a relationship with your students as well. I imagine that building a strong relationship and allowing your students to search beyond what you provide for them has helped your students achieve success. Additionally, your students, I imagine, follow the expectations you have laid out for them because you have taken the time to build this relationship and set up boundaries.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s