How Information Overload can Affect Teachers

Juliana Tavares

Whenever I have to prepare a class, a presentation, or a workshop of some kind, I face the inevitable online research with a little bit of fear and anxiety. Even though I know I am going to find all kinds of good stuff to make my work richer and more interesting, I often feel overwhelmed by the amount of information that 1) will go unnoticed because I simply do not have the time and 2) will make me doubt whether I am being thorough enough, or whether I know the topic enough to teach about it.

Does it sound familiar at all? Information overload is quite a contemporary problem, but one that affects many people, especially those who rely on the internet as source of information or news (everybody!).

When it comes to our profession, there is no doubt that the easy, tip-of-the-finger access to information is a major asset for teachers. In my personal experience, the internet is my main source of authentic texts, it’s where I go to 99% of the times I have doubts about grammar or collocations, it’s the Disneyworld of free downloadable, cute flashcards, it is just the place for networking, just to name a few of its wonders.

Having said that, whenever I have research to do – whether it is because of a workshop or for my writings – I feel that I am falling down a black hole: I get confused by the dozens of opinions, theories, and novelties thrown at me, I feel completely lost and, more serious than that, I feel dumb. Yes. Completely dumb. It feels like what I know will never be enough. There will always be someone who knows much more than I do. There will always be a new trend in teaching that I will only hear about when it is no longer new. There will always be a webinar or a workshop I am going to miss because I did not know about it in time. Three days ago, The New York Times published an opinion article called "An Elegy for the Library", in which at some point the writer says, “Google can give you 100.000 different answers, but a librarian can give you the right one.” Good old times…

I have some news for you, in case you can relate to all of that I just wrote – you are part of a large group who feel the same way, and there is not much we can do to avoid it. However, unless you want to go crazy and let yourself be crushed by the excessive and often unnecessary information we come across every time we google a simple “classroom ideas for oral practice”, there are things you can do to feel a little less guilty and more relaxed about not knowing everything. The list below includes a few things I try to do, as well as some tips I found guess where? Online, of course!

Stick to your focus

Do you want to find classroom ideas for oral practice? Be smart about your choice of search words, and chances are you won’t have to search through a needle in a haystack. The right words will lead you to links that are more likely to give you exactly what you want. Another good tip is to have a few of your favorite teaching sites saved in your favorites list. You go directly to them and see what they can offer first. More often than not, they will have what you need.

Avoid hyperlinks

This tip is useful when you are reading about a subject online and the text is almost entirely blue due to so many hyperlinks. Although hyperlinks are very practical tool at times, they contribute to my losing track of why I am reading the text in the first place. If you are doing some random reading in your free time with no particular aim or focus, fine. However, if you are doing research for a class, a paper, or workshop, it’s best to stick to the text and only open links that can really help you at that moment.

Use your Favorites tool wisely

If you favorite websites the way I do – randomly, without a system to organize them (by subject, for example) – it will be so messy that, eventually you will end up not looking up your favorites list anymore, just because it will be too hard to find anything in there. I am trying to change that by making folders and adding only websites that are worth being on my favorites list. One folder I made is called “Want to read”. To this folder, I add only links to texts that I find interesting, but that I can’t read right away. It helps me keep focused on what I am really working on at that moment.

Be careful with app mania

How many teaching apps do you have on your phone or tablet? Too many to count? If that is your case, I invite you to go through one by one and ask yourself: how many times have I used them? How many of them do I not know how to use? How many of them will I probably never use? If your answer is too many to count, then you can start being more selective and use only what is helpful for you. Sometimes there is no way to know, but if it you have an app that you love and that works really well, why find another one that does basically the same thing?

Nothing you do compulsively can be good

Not even learning. As teachers, we know that our profession is a never-ending learning experience, but it should make you feel happy and empowered, not anxious and overloaded. If you’re feeling that there is too much to learn and not enough time, if you feel less because you can’t keep up with everything you think you should, then it’s time to revisit some of your habits.

After reading this text, do you think you have many changes to make? Remember that if you know how to be selective about the information that comes to you, it is easier to pass on that skill to your students. After all, information is only valid when we are capable of turning it into knowledge, and ultimately into wisdom. Isn’t that what we want to teach our students? So, don’t waste your precious time.