Monday, December 12, 2016

Being skeptical about information literacy

Students born in the digital age appear to be seriously challenged by a lack of discernment.

I know this smacks of personal bias. But there is research to support it:
"When it comes to evaluating information that flows across social channels or pops up in a Google search, young and otherwise digital-savvy students can easily be duped, finds a new report from researchers at Stanford Graduate School of Education." Source
Access to information is so easy, and there's so much of it, that being discerning is more important than ever. But discernment is not easy. And that's where problems start for information consumers.

Innovators who want to create new products and services for today's market are literally forced to make things easier. Making something harder to do or use has no appeal. I cringe a little when I say that a good practice is to triangulate information. No one's going to do that unless they are really concerned about keeping their job or doing good scholarship.

On the other hand, what's the alternative? Making it easy. Demonstrating gullibility or an inability to think. Unless the stakes are high, most people may be able cope with that label.

While doing the hard thing (investigative searching) seems like the right thing to do, no normal person will volunteer to do it. They have to be made to do it.

In whose hands is the future of information literacy? Developers who can design apps that provide ever-easier access to information by which we can determine the source and reputation of information? Teachers who require students to learn skills that require time and effort?

I find Kalev Leetaru's suggestion in Forbes to have value--a developer's solution--for making one aspect of investigative searching easier. Instead of having to conduct a time-consuming search to triangulate information, it may be possible to aggregate tagged information to support or discredit statements:
"a browser or Facebook plugin that automatically identified quotes and factual assertions from an article and compiled a list of all reporting on those quotes and statements would at the very least allow a reader to understand how contested those details are. For example, a rapidly spreading viral meme attributing a certain statement to President Obama this afternoon could instantly be flagged as actually being a quote by Abraham Lincoln from a century and a half ago. A climate change claim that temperatures have actually dropped by 20 degrees over the past century could show that this number comes from a single personal blog, while all remaining reporting and scientific journals report very different results. Or, in the breaking aftermath of a major terror attack, such a tool could draw together all of the conflicting reports of the death and injury toll to offer a better understanding of the extent of the attack as new information emerges."
Such an app doesn't teach the reader how to find supporting documentation, but at least it gives the reader a chance to make up his or her mind by referring to other sources of information. Whether this solves a problem of information literacy or kicks it further down the road is something to consider.

No comments: