Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Changing Course

When I first started studying information fluency, I thought most of the "good stuff" pertained to finding information efficiently, namely, using keywords and operators optimally, finding the 'right' database to search, choosing links effectively, etc.  Most of the activities we developed at 21cif addressed searching and, to a lesser extent, evaluation. There was a lot of energy around keyword effectiveness and power, the number of terms that was most often best and so on.

I'd say that interest has shifted; now the majority of our work centers on evaluation because that's the greatest need. It's not hard to find information. It's harder to tell if it can be trusted.  Many people are satisfied with their search skills because most of the time they find things they are looking for. Sure, they waste a lot of time getting there and miss a lot of relevant information in the process, but they get the job done.

My own thinking about evaluation has changed.  The 21st Century Information Fluency Project still maintains that determining credibility depends on the source and content of information and that knowing about the author, publisher, date and who links to a site are really important.  Lately I've been concentrating on investigative skills that serve to reveal information about authors and their objectivity, publishers, dates, linking sites and the accuracy of evidence taken from the content. One of these is truncation; others include searching domain registries, examining page information, using the links operator, browsing carefully and checking facts. Few students or adults use these investigative skills without training and as a result, sometimes they mistake fiction for fact.

An emphasis on searching is still pervasive but I hope that will change. Today I took an online challenge that was all about finding but not about qualifying the information. I got 100% and had about half the time left. But in truth, if students have the same experience (and they probably will because the questions were easy searches) they will go away thinking they are pretty good searchers when, in fact, they are not. They may be good finders, but they are not good evaluators. Because of the timed nature of the challenge, they are forced to take the first thing they find--evaluation is out of the question.

I would rather see (and you will find this increasingly on 21cif.com resources) a greater emphasis on evaluation challenges: "how do you know that information can be trusted?"

Would you call students who don't investigate what they find complete searchers?

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