Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Out of the Library, Into the Classroom

What's happening in Kansas isn't unique.

Wichita Public Radio's feature,  "The School Librarian is Expendable in many Kansas School Districts" documents a large scale shift in responsibility for information literacy instruction. As the number of school librarians dwindles, information literacy is being integrated into classroom curriculum to be addressed by teachers. How effective this will be, time will tell. Another case of teachers being asked to do more.

Neighboring Colorado is similarly affected, with a nine percent decline in the number of school librarians between 2007 and 2011.

In Illinois, Chicago Public Schools reduced its librarian staff by 44 percent in just two years. Librarians are being reassigned to classrooms as teachers. Faced with a teacher shortage, it's a move that makes sense. But part of the problem of considering librarians a luxury comes down to this:
"There's no required amount of minutes for library instruction (in Illinois), so schools won't face any repercussions if they don't have a librarian or a school library." Source
For the time being, other things are just more important. It's hard to make the argument that digital research skills are as important as learning how to learn when there is no reason to learn them other than they are good skills to have. When they are considered essential skills, the tide may start to change.

In the meantime, policy makers should see how proficient students in Elementary through High School are. This means assessment. The Information Fluency assessments we've tested show that students can't research challenging assignments and consistently make poor choices in the selection of information that is inaccurate, irrelevant, out of date, biased and is not held in high regard by trusted sources. If you are a librarian concerned about your job or a classroom teacher who just doesn't have the time to teach one more thing, request a free test for your students. The results could be eye-opening.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Trends in Information Literacy

Our friends at EasyBib have produced a new Infographic that confirms our findings that the majority of instruction depends on one-shot instruction or is still being built.

How does this match with your experience?  Full size image

If you aren't satisfied with one-shot instruction or need resources for developing instruction, the Information Fluency website is full of ideas! Consider our self-paced tutorial modules as a way to supplement your library instruction.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015


Fallacies (mistaken beliefs based on an unsound argument) appear in many forms, as the author of pearls and elephants recently posted:

Straw man – an argument used against a real person, the key is that the straw man does not exist but is fabricated to take attention away from the real person.  Discerning a straw man argument means finding out who the real person is and what he/she stands for – voting records help with this and are available via Freedom of Information Act requests.

Red Herring – a false plank or issue, similar to the straw man in that it is a fabrication meant to take attention away from actuality.

Band Wagon – Apple uses this to great effect, it is otherwise known as the coolness effect.  “Everyone is doing it (or wearing it), come on!”  Parents often confront this argument with, “If everyone jumped off a bridge, or stood on a rooftop to take a selfie, does that make it an intelligent, informed choice?”

Slippery Slope – an argument that asks you to accept a small step that leads to another step until ultimately you have strayed far from the truth.  An example comes from a play titled, A Streetcar Named Desire.  In the play, the female lead wears a slip rather than her dress on stage.  It caused a furor in 1947 – what about today?

More types of fallacies are discussed here

Fallacies are Red Flags. Other red flags include innocent inaccuracies (errors, mistakes), accidental or intended omissions, author bias, prejudice, deliberate misinformation, phishing. Fallacies are a staple of propaganda.

A great student evaluation activity is to provide examples of fallacious information and have students decide what it is.

What would you say these are:
  1. Reporter: "It seems to me that if you were elected president, the Congress with which you would have to work would not be very cooperative at all. How could you, as president, bring about any reform or help enact any beneficial legislation with a Congress that was almost totally opposed to your programs?" Ross Perot: "Well, if I were elected, about half the members of Congress would drop dead of heart attacks, and half of my problem would be solved from the outset."  [source/answer]
  2. Environmentalist: "Bicycle infrastructure should be expanded because cycling is a sustainable mode of transportation." Opponent: "We should not build bike lanes because cyclists run red lights and endanger pedestrians." [source/answer]
  3. Blogger: "I hope the art mural at 34th and Habersham will not be allowed. You open the gate for one, you open it for all and you'll have it all over the city. A person wanting to paint on buildings is nothing more than upscale graffiti. More than likely it will go too far." [source/answer]
  4. Son: "Wow, Dad, it's really hard to make a living on my salary." Father: "Consider yourself lucky, son. Why, when I was your age, I only made $40 a week." [source/answer]
  5. Voter:  "Everyone in Lemmingtown is behind Jim Duffie for Mayor. Shouldn't you be part of the winning team?" [source/answer]
Feel free to add your own examples by leaving a comment.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Information Warfare

In the 10-15 year history of digital information literacy, the need has generally been to help students find accurate, credible information and use it ethically. The stakes were typically low, i.e., school assignments, reports and personal projects.

Nowadays, there's a bigger threat to illiteracy: information warfare.

NATO has launched a Strategic Communications Center of Excellence in Riga, Latvia for the purpose of combating alleged pro-Russian propaganda. The purpose of the Center, according to Director Janis Karklins, is to "develop skills of media information literacy and critical thinking in our education system to make it harder for adversaries to disorient the population." Read the full article.

The Internet may be a greater hazard than ever as a tool for terrorist recruiting and military "hybrid warfare." The challenge is how to educate populations to recognize and resist information that is created specifically to control or disorient thinking.

Educators would do well to keep an eye on the Center's activities to see how they propose to educate an populace about propaganda. Better yet, it may make an excellent language arts or social studies assignment for high school students to see Internet warfare and effective defenses in action.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Information: To filter or not to filter?

Making it easier for children to use digital information does not always prepare them for real life tasks.

Filtering information to make it more kid-friendly takes several forms. A recent Japanese study found that students were more successful when given information that was presented in an organized way. For example answering a multiple choice test based on what different sources said, by providing the students with four sources. But when asked to determine the answer to a simple question that involved selecting relevant pages from a fictitious Website, the majority of students--more than 90% of elementary and 88% of middle school students--could not answer the question.

Analyzing the results, professor Kazuo Nagano concluded, "(students) need to acquire skills to filter disorganized pieces of information to find solutions, whether online or in the real world." Read more

What information do you provide your students? Disorganized or filtered?

Try this challenge with students: What is the year-round temperature of Fauntleroy Creek? Start here--  This is a real Website and the information is only three clicks away. For younger students, start at #1 or #2.
This is a browsing activity--searching through "disorganized" (unfiltered for students) that is bound to be frustrating. If the students know the answer is only 1 or 2 clicks away, it helps. This is one way to scale the activity without overly filtering it. What links are most promising for getting to the answer?

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Dark Side of Bias

Recognizing facts and evidence of freshness are only two of the filters fluent readers must apply to digital information. Another type is author subjectivity or bias, of which, propaganda is a more extreme form.

Propaganda, as described on the Information Fluency site, is the "dark side of bias:"
"Propaganda is the dark side of bias. Propaganda techniques are designed to influence opinion by manipulating the truth. A propagandist is completely biased in favor of some point of view.
"Knowing propaganda techniques will help you analyze webpages, understand advertising, and recognize bias when you see it.
"Authors who use name-calling and strive to evoke fear are using tried and true propaganda techniques. Appealing to the group, using glittering generalizations, and relying on testimonials are very persuasive techniques, especially if the audience is unaware of how propagandists operate."  Source

Here's a new resource, Mind Over Media, that your students may find engaging, since they can upload instances of suspected propaganda and have others react to it. There are also examples that may be used for teaching.

Not to recognize propaganda puts the reader at risk of becoming an unwitting pawn:
Propaganda is the deliberate, systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist.
-Garth Jowett and Victoria O'Donnell  Source: Propaganda and Persuasion

Monday, February 23, 2015

Still a Challenge

not enough time
Here's a challenge: According to a recent survey by ImagineEasy, an online citation and research management platform that includes EasyBib, school libraries are addressing information literacy in ways that are consistent with colleges having to train incoming student in digital researching.

Learning to search efficiently in several databases, evaluate the information and cite it are not difficult skills. Yet most students aren't up to the task when they arrive at college. Here's why:

The following profile of K-12 schools emerges from the 1,100+ responses to the survey:
  • 37% of K-12 schools offer one shot sessions in researching
  • 23% offer a combination of approaches
  • 12% offer nothing
  • 9% are currently developing curriculum
  • 0% offer a course
  • (apparently the rest didn't answer the question)
"One shot" instruction is the norm. I've heard numerous participants at workshops in information fluency describe this model: you get the students for 45 minutes and need to teach them to use the library and related tools. Not an effective model for teaching how to formulate a research question, how to turn that into a query, know which database(s) to search and what to do with the results. Students are left to learn that on their own, armed with experience using Google.

When asked how confident students feel about their search skills, they tend to overrate their abilities (confidence is higher than demonstrated proficiency). source: Teaching Information Fluency Most of this self-perception probably comes from being self-taught and a steady diet of easy Internet searches. Teachers are also susceptible to thinking more of their abilities than is deserved. When encountering a challenging search problem, they get as frustrated as students.

One of the reasons we developed search challenges on the site is that they can be used as short instructional segments during class time or assigned outside of class time. The challenges are harder than most things students search for and focus on strategies and techniques that come in handy when performing research tasks. To get a flavor of some Challenges, visit this tutorials page.

Finding time during school is still a challenge. It hasn't become any easier and that's not going to change soon. One option to developing a new curriculum from scratch, meeting with students for one-shot sessions or doing nothing is to find ways to reward students for solving search challenges. You can run contests. You can use free search challenges from our site as the content. If interested, we can offer digital badges as an affordable package.