Wednesday, August 20, 2008

How should we organize information.

I find newspapers increasingly annoying, as they not only contain the core information I seek, but also embed that information in longer prose that instantiates the information with personalized stories; the overall organization is not to facilitate the efficiency of the readers perusal or mastery of the story, but (I assume) to sell more advertising and newspapers.

I like better the organization of scientific papers, which seek an informative title, include an abstract which conveys the gist of the article, and then provides further information in a stylized manner such that readers with different degrees of interest in the article can choose their own skimming or reading tactics to obtain what they want efficiently. Of course we know that scientific articles leave much to be desired. There will usually be tacit knowledge that another must obtain to replicate the research results noted in an article. Moreover, scientific articles seldom explain how the research hypothesis came to be formulated, nor what the real process of the research actually was.

Still, it would seem to me that the Internet, digital information formats, hypertext, and other capabilities inherent in modern technology should make it possible to present scientific information in much more efficient, useful and effective ways than has been possible in the past. Think about the use of streaming videos and audios as well as graphics that add a time dimension as examples of what can be done to strengthen the conveyance of the information in a report. Indeed, a report might be interactive, diagnosing potential misunderstandings of the material by the reader. Moreover, computer presentation of information might be more effective in motivating reader behavior, and might adjust the presentation in accord with reader characteristics.

What information do we want and need?

It seems obvious that sources of information should be tailored to their intended audiences. Everyone recognizes that children and adults have different styles and needs for the obtaining information, but so too are the optimum presentations different for experts versus highly educated and motivated lay people, versus the general public. There are lots of other differences.

Still, it would seem generally useful to layer information. Think about online news sites which have clearly distinguished headlines, lead paragraphs that are rapidly visible, links to more complete articles, and from those articles links to still more detailed sources.

In some sense, hypertext rich sites also provide this kind of layering, allowing the visitor to diverge from the linear flow of a discussion to go into more depth on especially interesting items, then to return to the linear treatment of the original topic.

I wonder, however, whether we have taken sufficient advantage of improved understanding of the psychological research results on learning in the design of online resources. Do we have alternative sites for people with different styles of processing information and learning. Do we know how to differentially to design websites for use by experts or lay people?

A good source

In this respect, here is a good lecture by Alvin Trusty on good practice for preparing power point presentations, filled with useful information on U.S. copyright law.

Here are the links used by Professor Trusty in that presentation.

No comments: