Skip to content

Information Literacy is a necessary skill

Nate Anderson, over at Ars Technica, has a tidy write-up on our children’s coming information literacy tests. The college-bound students of the next few years may very well have a new test to get through – in addition to the SAT or the ACT.

Students today are more connected than ever. They have email, mobile phones, music in their pocket, and access to both known and unknown information sources at the touch of a few buttons. With the internet and all its information of various quality, these kids are having to cope with determining what is real, what is legitimate and what is bogus.

Arguably, today’s students are more media-savvy than any of their predecessors. They understand advertising at a much younger age than we ever did. They ‘get’ it when someone is trying to sell them something and yet – we’ve also got the most pop-culture driven economy we’ve ever seen. Kids are marketed to at younger and younger ages and it will truly be a task to insulate my own kids one day from things that *I* think they’re not ready for.

This skill of navigating what is real in a mediated environment is one that we don’t really know how to measure very well. We have tests and we have surveys but in large part, we only have the market. And it’s booming when it comes to the coveted demographic of early teenagers with their parents’ money to spend and lifelong habit-formed attention to capture.

However, as these students come of age and begin to try and get jobs, prove their effectiveness as a team member and potentially make purchasing decisions of their own for *your* company, it’s important that we know how good they are at separating the marketing from the reality.

ETS has developed an ICT Literacy Assessment (test a demo version) that gives students short tasks (3-5 minutes, testing one particular skill) and long tasks (15 minutes, testing skills in combination) to complete on a computer. These include things like sifting through e-mail and developing accurate search queries for academic databases, along with other, more business-related projects. (via arstechnica)

Information/Media Literacy is a topic that resonates with me greatly. I will be lecturing a couple times this semester on this very topic and have found that, while the students are generally aware of their overwhelming connectedness, they do not grasp necessarily the potential costs of misappropriating their trust and/or improper sourcing of what they’re reading and consuming.

When it comes to understanding how new and disruptive our new technology can be, they sometimes glaze over. They use this stuff everyday – what’s the big deal?

Mostly, I’ve decided that the big deal is that to be a savvy consumer, you must do your homework. The companies will use every means necessary to get you to spend your money with them – or your hours in front of the television – or your attention in the grocery store. It is your obligation to inform yourself and know the differences between reality and fiction – between advertising and news.

The good news is that with the democratization of information and the transparency and competition being forced onto the companies that provide us with goods and services, the prices are coming down and the quality is arguably going up. We have more and more sources to consider in our hyperconnected world and we’re having to fall back on what is known to help assess what is unknown. A savvy consumer of information can protect him/herself from a great many hardships and costs by being diligent and being aware. Learn your biases. Know your strengths.

Information literacy is something we should not take for granted. As Gibson said, “the future is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed.” Those who know how to navigate our vast information space may prosper. Those who don’t certainly will not.

Tags: - - - -

View blog reactions