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DMIL: week 1 presentation on cognitive authority
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DMIL: week 1 presentation on cognitive authority


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This is the presentation for week 1 of the Digital, Media and Information Literacy course unit (EDUC61711). It discusses cognitive authority, the idea introduced by Wilson (1983) and which, broadly, …

This is the presentation for week 1 of the Digital, Media and Information Literacy course unit (EDUC61711). It discusses cognitive authority, the idea introduced by Wilson (1983) and which, broadly, covers the various reasons why we assign credibility to texts, trust what they say, believe them.

Note that like all the Slideshare version of this course's materials, the audio files will not play within Slideshare. These are available via the Blackboard site which you have access to if you are registered on the course.

DMIL is available for stand-alone or professional development credits. For more information on this contact Drew at

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  • 1. EDUC61711: Digital, Media & Information Literacy WEEK 1: Cognitive authority
  • 2. Structure of presentation • This presentation introduces the core idea of week 1: cognitive authority. • There are three sections, and you should go through them in this order: 1. An activity and self-reflection 2. What is cognitive authority and how is it manifested? 3. How does cognitive authority apply to your own information practice?
  • 3. Activity: introduction • The activity involves you undertaking two information searches. • Play the audio for a short description of the general task. When you see this green speech bubble, there will be an audio file on the slide. Make sure you listen to it before moving on to the next slide.
  • 4. Task 1 • The image on the right is of the Rochdale Canal in the town of Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire (25 miles or 40km north of Manchester, and home of yr. humble lecturer Drew). • Your information search task is as follows: • There is a law that applies uniquely to housing in this town. What is it? Why has it been introduced?
  • 5. Task 2 • The gentleman in focus here is called Dick Knight. • I suggest he made two relatively minor, but nevertheless notable, contributions to UK culture in the 1990s. Your information search task is simply to determine what both of them were?
  • 6. What is cognitive authority… • … and how is it manifested? • The term ‘cognitive authority’ was introduced by Patrick Wilson in his book Secondhand Knowledge (1983) • The Rieh paper given as this week’s guided reading is a good introduction
  • 7. Cognitive authority… • … is ‘influence over our thoughts that we would consider proper’ (Wilson) • Do we believe something we read or hear? Do we trust it? Do we find it credible? Does it, in short, have authority? • NOTE: author, authority — both from the Latin auctor meaning, originally, to increase or produce
  • 8. This is not necessarily the same as agreeing with someone/something. We can engage in debate or discussion about truth or interpretation, but still accept that a statement is authoritative.
  • 9. Cognitive authority is linked with role and status. This man is my dentist. If he tells me I have a cavity then I tend to assign such statements cognitive authority.
  • 10. However, it is also relative, and specific to context. I might not assign him cognitive authority for other subjects — like how I should invest some money.
  • 11. Cognitive authority is relational. It requires two sides: the authority must not just be held, but recognised. A person might be an excellent authority on some subject but you just might not know or recognise this. Or, they lack a recognisable status or role.
  • 12. Cognitive authority changes over time. Authorities from the past will not necessarily retain this status in the future. This can be for many reasons.
  • 13. Cognitive v. administrative authority • Sometimes statements or people have not cognitive, but administrative authority • We follow their instructions because we are ‘supposed’ to, which is different from finding them credible
  • 14. The distinction between cognitive and administrative authority is not always clear. Reflect for a moment on this: bearing in mind we have only just started this course — why (or why not) do you give me cognitive authority?
  • 15. Cognitive authority and information searching Listen to the audio file at this point
  • 16. Some ‘answers’ For both the tasks I would say there are ‘correct’ answers — but there are also nuances and levels of detail which you may or may not have developed. Task 1: Hebden Bridge is characterised by housing that climbs steep valley walls, and in this town there are many houses that literally sit on top of other houses (mine being an example). This results in what is called a ‘flying freehold’, because the structural integrity of one house depends on the one underneath it. Mortgage lenders are usually reluctant to lend on such a property but they will do so in HB because a law provides protection for the property owners. If the house underneath mine were abandoned, for instance, I would be permitted to enter it in order to perform necessary repairs.
  • 17. Some ‘answers’ 2. Dick Knight was chairman of Brighton & Hove Albion FC — Drew’s favoured football team — from 1997 - 2009. He was leader of a consortium that took over the club when it was in dire straits thanks to the asset-stripping of the previous chairman, Bill Archer. The fan-led campaign against Archer was notable as the first such protest to be conducted in the ‘Internet era’ and thus pioneered the use of tactics such as email lists and web-organised protests — common now, but not in 1997. He made his money as an advertising executive and his second contribution is the famous ‘Hello Boys’ Wonderbra ad (which won’t be hard to find online, at least in the UK, if you aren’t aware of it).
  • 18. But remember… • The point of the task was to provide you with an opportunity to reflect on your search and the habits and routines that drove it. • Think again — where did you start? When was there ‘enough’ information? • Why did you trust particular sources? What gave them cognitive authority in these cases?
  • 19. Week 1: Conclusion • Have a look at the guided reading notes and then the Rieh paper • Keep these ideas about cognitive authority in your mind. It is a useful summary description of the broad set of processes we go through as we constantly (but often unconsciously) ask ourselves — why should I trust this text? Why is it credible? • When you come to write your final portfolio it will be an important basis of the work
  • 20. In week 2… • We will look at some metaphors used to describe the world of information: the information landscape and information overload/information obesity particularly • We will consider what information resources are available to you as part of your studies, and how cognitive authority plays a part in your interaction with them.