Magazine article Technology & Learning

Make Students Info Literate: There Remains a Larger Challenge for Schools: How to Develop a New Generation of Knowledgeable Digital Citizens Who Can Operate in the Unregulated Online World

Magazine article Technology & Learning

Make Students Info Literate: There Remains a Larger Challenge for Schools: How to Develop a New Generation of Knowledgeable Digital Citizens Who Can Operate in the Unregulated Online World

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Remember typewritten card catalogs, multi-volume print encyclopedias, and dusty library shelves with outdated topics and material for classroom research?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. Why resort to such antiquated methods when almost any subject will be found on Wikipedia or by googling it?

Educators know that answer. Many students cannot discriminate between posts that are accurate and attributable and those that are undocumented and misleading. This fact leads teachers to limit online research to subscription services like netTrekker or Web directories like Awesome Library. While sites like these certainly play an important role in the classroom, there remains a larger challenge for schools: how to develop a new generation of knowledgeable digital citizens who can operate in the unregulated online world.

Call it information literacy, media literacy, or network literacy, the ability to access, evaluate, synthesize, and build upon information and media are crucial skills. The following suggestions can help give your students the basic skills to be both technology-proficient and info-savvy.

Teach them to search

Researchers at the British Library recently confirmed what most teachers understand: Young people, while perfectly comfortable using computers and the Internet, are not naturally adeptat search strategies. Left to their own devices, students will depend on natural language to search rather than analyze keywords that would be more effective. They also tend to rely entirely on a single search tool such as Yahoo or Google for obtaining information.

Challenge students to search using a variety of strategies and tools (see "21st-Century Literary Terms and Definitions," this page) and report back on the most and least effective search approaches. 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.

Get meta about it

Much attention is 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. Why not treat the site itself as a subject of study? Recent analysis reports Wikipedia's accuracy to be comparable to that of Britannica's and Encarta's. 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. Do they find any misleading, inaccurate, or missing information in Wikipedia? How does it compare to overviews they find elsewhere?

Also encourage students to responsibly edit Wikipedia articles. Go over the site's own policies and guidelines. Discuss what makes a reliable source and what makes a piece of information verifiable. Also, read together the "discussion" section of Wikipedia, where editors pose questions, raise concerns, and explain why they think certain items should be added, deleted, or modified.

What mores o source viable?

Another interesting leaming opportunity for users of Wikipedia is the site's explanation of what it is not--a dictionary, a blog, a Web directory, a vanity press, an online newspaper, a soapbox for opinion-sharing, or a publisher of original work. Analyzing such a list and getting students to define for themselves what makes an encyclopedia, a newspaper, and various other sources is a useful exercise. Such conversations might 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.

Students' use of the Internet for scholarship has moved beyond browsing. Bookmarks no longer suffice as the sole organizational tool needed to manage and organize information. …

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