Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Death of Information Literacy

According to the blog Infonatives, information literacy is dead. Indeed, Google trends for the past five years shows a consistent decline in queries for "information literacy."

But does that means it is dead?

Actually, the last two years shows the trend has flattened (if a trend may be accurately judged from a single query).  There may have been more interest in 2004 than today. The blog traffic at http://21cif.com/index.html has slowed down some as well (if a trend may accurately be judged from visits to one page).*

Saying information literacy is dead is a bit like saying keyboarding is dead. Maybe there's less interest in it, but it still matters. In fairness to Infonatives, the point is not the actual demise of information literacy, but a necessary paradigm shift:
"The idea that it is possible to teach localization, evaluation and use of information without reference to a subject-specific set of skill is ridiculous..."
I alluded to this point in my last blog.  Having content-specific knowledge is certainly a big help when evaluating possible scams--e.g., knowledge related to organizations promising humanitarian aid to Haiti.

I firmly believe there are some basic skills that underlie all locating, evaluating and using information ethically--things like interpreting urls, truncation, fact-checking, etc.--and these remain skills we wish to instill in K-12 students--students who may not think much of information literacy, but who, nonetheless, lack the skills to find, evaluate and ethically use digital information.

Subject-specific information literacy becomes more critical when it comes to identifying optimal databases to search and evaluation of content. Finding subject-specific databases is actually not all that challenging--a deep Web search skill that I still consider pretty basic stuff.  But accruing sufficient knowledge to ascertain the accuracy and reliability of subject-specific information--that is challenging.

For me, this points out the need to integrate subject-matter training with information literacy activities such as, for example, research leading to a science fair project. What does the student need to know about the subject? How does the student know if information is credible? Teachers support information literacy by helping students ask incisive questions. Those who leave students to find their own way, which includes leaving student evaluation of Internet sources unexamined, are doing little to prevent the death of information literacy. Put another way, helping students evaluate online sources promotes good subject-specific thinking while engaging in information literacy.

The challenge is to find subject-specific ways to help students find credible information online and keep moving in the direction of fluency.  Expect to hear more about this. Your thoughts are always welcome.

*At the same time, traffic to this blog has consistently increased since I started tracking it.

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