Information Management in Education

Article excerpt

Education, in part, is a process of learning skills, learning how to find information and then gathering it, and learning how to put those skills and that information to use. One of the promises of computing in education and professional life is access to "vast information sources." While there are a number of information sources available through dial-up systems and on collections of CD-ROMs, having data available doesn't mean that it is useful.

This article will look at information and its management from three points of view:

* Asset Management--information is a commodity that can increase or decrease in value depending on how it is managed.

* Information Flow--what the sources of information are, and what happens after data is acquired.

* Integration--how your approach to information management fits the way you work and tools you use.

For perspective, let's look at these points as applied to the traditional approach of information management.

Traditional Methods

The most common method of information management today--in education, government or industry--is the file cabinet (or its cousin, the stack of paper on your desk). In order to find something, the stack of paper requires a sequential search until the item is either located or you give up. This is a high cost of access with uncertain return on your investment. The file cabinet offers more opportunity for organization (drawers, folders, files) but that just limits the extent of the sequential search.

The flow of information in this system is limited by the effort involved in copying, refiling and distribution. The effort often mitigates good intentions. Distribution among colleagues or students either requires making, collating and handing out copies, or giving out a list. In addition, the integration potential is totally dependent upon you.

The traditional approach is one of high cost (your time and effort) for what it returns. That cost may easily limit the value--measured in terms of utility, ease of access and ease of use--of any piece of information.

Information is a commodity that can increase or decrease in value depending on how it is managed.

Enter the Computer...

Computers, very often, are used as substitutes for pencils and paper and not as true personal information management (PIM) systems. Software tools like word processors and spreadsheets help manipulate information but don't really manage it. Even with databases, a closer attempt at true management, the cost and value, in terms of ease of access and utility, respectively, may not be fully understood.

Thus, two goals for information management are:

* Minimal cost of use. Information should only be entered once, and then easily found. Fortunate ones have access to a scanner/OCR setup in which the computer handles data-entry tasks.

* No imposed bounds on the value and utility of information. The way data is stored should not limit its usefulness, but rather should increase the options for its use, and thus its value. Avoid storage approaches that limit your ability to work. If you're writing an application program, for example, it should be able to produce output that other programs can read without reformatting. This offers flexibility to adapt to changing needs.

Input/Output

To fully exploit the computer as a full information management system, even data entry requires planning and thought. Figure 1 shows the relationship between three elements: data, information and knowledge. The circles represent the storage of the elements, and the arrows are the processes by which elements are obtained or transformed. Let's take an example from electronics.

Suppose you want to show that the electrical resistance of a wire varies with temperature. The first step is to measure the resistance of the wire different temperatures. …