Well, this article from Library Journal Teaching How Information Works, Not How to Work Information, has made me revisit some ideas. Barbara Fister writes eloquently on the topic of Information Literacy and how it is taught. She is writing about the university undergraduate setting but many of her thoughts transfer directly to the secondary school. Are we teaching our students to really think about the sources they are using? To evaluate them in a reasoned way, or are we teaching them Information Literacy by numbers? Is that what we believe they need? Is it what they do need? Is it time to change what we tell them with regard to what is ‘good’ information and what is not?
We’re instructing students to do what comes easily. If you use books, you’re probably safe if the words “university press” appears on the title page. Limit your database search to scholarly articles. The assumption is that research that looks like scholarship is innately superior to other sorts of research, but we might as well be telling students that storks bring babies. I’d bet on the research that went into a New Yorker piece by John McPhee or Seymour Hersh against a large proportion of scholarly articles any day, and they have the added benefit of being understandable. We aren’t really teaching students to think, we’re teaching them to judge books by their covers. This seems even more superficial now that the formats are changing and traditional publishing models seem increasingly unsustainable. This week’s kerfuffle as the renowned science publisher Springer published, then seemed to withdraw a book about intelligent design, illustrates why determining validity using brand names is tricky.
If you read nothing else read the last paragraph in her article.
Only a small percentage of information use starts with identifying an information need and seeking authoritative sources that will satisfy that need. Much information use involves creating paths for information to flow toward you (as experts do, building networks and following online conversations) or being able to make good judgments about information you encounter. We assume information is sought and that judgments can be made based on visible signals embedded in a source. As the information landscape changes, as definitions of authority and reputation change, as we move into a world where publishing will be fundamentally different, we need to rethink what we talk about when we talk about information literacy.
Yes, for me, time for a rethink about what I mean when I say Information Literacy. Thoughts?