Information Literacy and the Dreaded Citation Packet

The following is an excerpt from an academic paper I’ve been working on, hence the rather formal citations etc.


As a teacher of technology, I am very interested in the “new literacies” related to information management, often referred to as Information Literacy, Media Literacy, Digital Literacy, and Network Literacy. I recently read Judy Salpeter's article, “Make Students Info Literate” in the May 22, 2008 issue of “Techlearning” magazine. In the article, Salpeter succinctly makes several points that I've been trying to make with colleagues for the last four years.



Salpeter (2008) sums up these new literacies as “The ability to access, evaluate, synthesize, and build upon information and media.” ISTE, The International Society for Technology in Education, (2007) notes that students should be able to “locate, organize, analyze, evaluate, synthesize, and ethically use information from a variety of sources and media and evaluate and select information sources and digital tools based on the appropriateness to specific tasks.” NCTE, The National Council of Teachers of English, (2008) says that students should be able to “manage, analyze, and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information; create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts; and attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments.”


What does this all mean for those of us in the trenches, so to speak? It's a sad truth, but despite the tremendous advances in information management we've seen in the last several years, many teachers are still requiring students to rely on antiquated research methods. Salpeter puts it beautifully when she says, “remember typewritten card catalogs, multi-volume print encyclopedias, and dusty library shelves with outdated topics and material for classroom research? Today's students don't” (2008). Yet, many of todays educators are pushing these methods on unwilling and disengaged students. I see it all the time in my school. Why? The reason that we can all relate to is, “many students cannot discriminate between posts that are accurate and attributable and those that are undocumented and misleading” (Salpeter 2008). The natural reaction; throw up our hands and stick with the Library. Oddly, our library isn't even called a library any more. It's a “Media Center”, and our “Media Specialist” works hard to teach information literacy through the use of subscription databases, such as POWER Library (http://www.powerlibrary.org/) or peer reviewed search engines such as NetTrekker (http://www.nettrekker.com/). The thing is, students don't want to go through the complicated steps required to search POWER or even log in to NetTrekker when they can simply pull up Google and hit “search”. As soon as you turn your back on them or give them an independent project, they're right back to Google and Wikipedia. Instead of trying to ban Google and Wikipedia, Salpeter argues and I agree, we should teach students to responsibly use these resources.


For starters, we need to teach students to search. Salpeter points out that, “young people, while perfectly comfortable using computers and the Internet, are not naturally adept at search strategies. Left to their own devices, students will depend on natural language to search rather than analyze keywords that would be more effective” (2008). Google actually has some great resources on searching that I use with my students already (http://www.google.com/educators/posters.html). One thing Salpeter suggests and I try to do is “challenge students to search using a variety of strategies and tools and report back on the most and least effective search approaches” (Salpeter, 2008). This might stick a bit more than an extensive 40 minute demonstration of Boolean searching using online subscription databases. On of Salpeter's (2008) suggestions that I'll certainly share with colleagues is, “as students prepare for a major research project, require them to include a number of keywords and search options they used along with their traditional, footnoted attributions”. That's simply brilliant.


Of course in all of this, we can't ignore that Wikipedia elephant in the room. Most of our students' general information searches are going to yield results from Wikipedia. Indeed, a lot of attention has been “paid to inaccuracies found in the Wikipedia Web site and other collaboratively created online sources, prompting certain educational organizations to ban their use for research” (Salpeter, 2008). Stephen Colbert has brought a lot of attention to this idea, through his references to Wikipedia, which he refers to as his favorite website, generally in "The Wørd" segment. This all began on the July 31, 2006 broadcast, when "The Wørd" was Wikiality, defined as the concept that "together we can create a reality that we all agree on — the reality we just agreed on." I would respond to such statements first by pointing out the work of Halavias (2004) and Giles (2005) mentioned in the Will Richardson's “Blogs, Wikis, and Podcasts” (2006), which compares Wikipedia's accuracy to that of Britannica's and Encarta's. Then I would encourage teachers to, as Salpeter suggests, “have students do their own accuracy analysis as they explore a topic with which they are particularly knowledgeable—their home community, for example, or a favorite sport or hobby”. As a class activity, students could perhaps visit the site to check out a topic the class is particularly knowledgeable on, test the accuracy and maybe even contribute. Indeed we should “encourage students to responsibly edit Wikipedia articles” (Salpeter, 2008). I also like the idea of sharing the discussion section of Wikipedia, “where editors pose questions, raise concerns, and explain why they think certain items should be added, deleted, or modified” (Salpeter, 2008).



There is more out there than Wikipedia, though, and we need to discuss with students “what makes a reliable source and what makes a piece of information verifiable” (Salpeter, 2008). There are many great resources for this discussion on the web, including the following:





Additionally, I agree that, “such conversations [should] also involve a look at the advantages and disadvantages of various resources—not only with regard to the accuracy issues discussed earlier but also in terms of the fluidity and speed at which information is updated” (Salpeter, 2008). Incidentally, use of the Internet for obtaining information has moved way beyond browsing. As Salpeter (2008) notes, “Forward-thinking teachers are encouraging students to explore the new generation of options designed to connect them with digital media as well as with other human beings—tools such as del.icio.us (for organizing and sharing links with others), Flickr (for photo sharing), or aggregators such as Bloglines (for consolidating information based on RSS tags).” I particularly like Will Richardson's suggestions for setting up RSS feeds to “search” news stories based on a particular keyword or phrase found at http://weblogg-ed.com/wp-content/uploads/2006/05/RSSFAQ4.pdf.


Finally, we all know what students do when the do hit the information jackpot; copy and paste. This is a fact that makes content area teachers and librarians, excuse me, media specialists the world over cringe as though they had been struck. How do we respond to this? I would argue that the answer does not lie in the seven page MLA citation packet we throw at kids the first week of school every school year. Sure, “the ease by which we all cut and paste these days raises many questions about the definition of the word plagiarism,” (Salpeter, 2008), but students simply ignore such cumbersome style sheet information, particularly when they're not working on a major research paper. In quick discussion papers, blog posts, or forum responses, often a URL would suffice perfectly without bogging students down in a world of carrots, quotation marks, underlines, and italics. Heck, I've used APA for so long, I can barely keep MLA straight. As Salpeter (2008) argues, “By expecting students to provide attribution to the best of their ability, and discussing the challenges they encounter as they try to do this, the education world can help redefine what it means to be an ethical and active participant in collaborative authoring ventures”. I've heard numerous student frustrations with this process during my lab periods as they try their best to find the “date of publication” for their “Document from an Internet site”. A great site I use to explain issues of copyright and teach students how to attribute their own work is Creative Commons (www.creativecommons.org). I particularly recommend the “Get Creative” video (http://mirrors.creativecommons.org/getcreative/).



Whether Information Literacy, Media Literacy, Digital Literacy, or Network Literacy, todays students need help in becoming “knowledgeable digital citizens who can operate in the unregulated online world” (Salpeter, 2008). It's our responsibility to help them navigate these issues, and it is tragically neglectful of us to simply resort to antiquated methods in the name of academic honesty and source reliability.




Richardson, W. (2006). Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press


Salpeter, Judy (2008, May, 22). Make Students Info Literate. Techlearning, Retrieved August 5, 2008, from http://www.techlearning.com/showArticle.php?articleID=196605232

Comments

  1. I especially like Salpeter's point that "young people, while perfectly comfortable using computers and the Internet, are not naturally adept at search strategies." It's our job as educators to teach those skills.

    But I think the problem arises when we as educators--the majority of us digital immigrants--are not naturally adept at using our search strategies on the internet.

    The suggestion to “challenge students to search using a variety of strategies and tools and report back on the most and least effective search approaches" is a great idea; but I think it is one that we should try as a staff (perhaps as an in-service training or a faculty meeting). Otherwise, we've got the same small handful of teachers willing to turn their kids loose on such a powerful tool. If I'm not comfortable doing it, I'm not likely to let my students do it.

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