Question Authority" is not just an old bumper sticker. Questioning authority has now become a critical element of information literacy. In today's world, students require not only academic rigor, but also the information literacy skills to recognize patterns, follow trends, and predict what effects a particular change might have on a given system. We must prepare students to become strategic, critical, divergent, and creative thinkers. Otherwise, they will succumb to irrelevancy and "power down" to sit in archaic classrooms, read outdated textbooks, and lose their intellectual curiosity. However, educators can create a more meaningful learning environment, one that gives students the skills they need to succeed in an information society.
CONSIDER THE SOURCE
The first step is to teach students to question the authority of a web site or printed text, to consider the source of that authority, and to look for bias. Answering these questions for every source will lead students to a habit of deep inquiry. Students who have come to accept Google as gospel are often intrigued by this strategy. One exercise worth building into a lesson plan is to have students compare the time that it takes to establish the credibility and authenticity of a source found on a search engine with the speed of finding relevant and precise content on a specialized database.
Verifying authority, considering the source, and investigating bias are strategies that serve students whether they're seeking ideas, opinions, or facts. Reading a newspaper article online seems simple enough. What about that magazine article? Do those sources have the same parent company? Alert educators understand the significance of that question and are prepared to share in the investigation. However, educators sometimes forget that the same questions should be asked about the book on the library shelf. It is illuminating to remember that many educators once viewed print in the same way that their students now view online sources.
One benefit of building information literacy skills into lesson plans is that students who are critical, strategic thinkers will find the content relevant and worthwhile. These students will answer the essential questions of curriculum for themselves: What is worthy of learning, and when and how shall we learn it?
WHAT IS IMPORTANT?
In the era of finite information sources, when there were only three major networks and record albums had 12 selections, we accepted that choices were made based on others' expertise. Today, our information choices increase as each nanosecond passes, and we no longer can rely on the expertise of a few "gatekeepers." The information literacy skills of evaluating authority, accuracy, and credibility of sources become necessary in our personal lives when we choose a news source, a phone system, or a Medicare card. Of course, the important content in classrooms is still selected by textbook publishers and mandated by state and district standards. But the skills in evaluating content will serve students in studying and taking tests in any discipline.
One of the first questions that students need to ask is: What is a fact? If we define it as a piece of information having objective reality, then is the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus in 1492 a fact? …