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Information Illiteracy: A National Pandemic
Friday, February 5th, 2010
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Information Illiteracy a National Pandemic

If you have been hanging around the Educational Technology world you would be very familiar with the concept of Digital Natives, and Digital Immigrants (Mark Prensky, 2001).It reflects the observation that we have a generation that has grown up in the digital age and their native language and/or dialect is digital.Compared to the folks like me that had to learn the 2.0 world as an adult, the digital world comes naturally for our kids.The focus of this conversation about Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants has for the most part been on the teachers who need to catch up with their students in the area of all things digital.This is a real trick when currently when some of the technology we would like to use most is not allowed within the school network.

This situation has created another concept the Educational Technology world is very familiar with hearing, the great student Power Down.The Power Down concept refers to students and teachers who are not allowed to use the technology that is common in their world, and makes school feel less connected to their personal lives, making school less relevant.As frustrating as all of this is, immigrate or native, power up to power down, it is all pale in comparison to an educational technology issue we have not faced head on within Educational Technology circles and has reached a national breaking point.I am referring to the national pandemic of widespread K12 Information Illiteracy!

Sadly, this Information Illiteracy Pandemic that am referencing in this article has no hard data.If you do know of hard data about this subject please contact Glen Warren at gwarren@ocde.usas soon as possible.However, there are plenty of antidotal observations that are being reported across the country from our higher education institutions.One in a long line of antidotal observations is coming from University of California librarians who are reporting that their undergraduate students do not have the most basic information literacy skills that are needed to be successful. We also are receiving antidotal reports of new Information Literacy classes for university freshmen being created in California colleges and universities in an attempt to make up for the lack of knowledge and wisdom of the incoming freshman.

Here are some of the general observations, antidotal as they may be, that are coming from Higher Education librarians, and reflect how are students may be technologically proficient, but information illiterate, and woefully ill prepared as a 21st century learners.

·awareness of the flow of information, from event through documentation of an event

·awareness of the difference between the "visible" and "invisible" web (freely available web sites and licensed or subscription sites)

·awareness of the differences between magazines and journals

·awareness of the issues surrounding intellectual property, copyright and fair use

·criteria for selecting useful web sites (visible and invisible)

·how to think critically about information tools, including web sites, blogs, wikis and other social networking sites

·how to think critically about materials retrieved through information tools like databases

·ability to search for information effectively

·ability to locate materials in or through libraries

·ability to utilize information effectively

·ability to use information ethically through appropriate quotation, paraphrasing, summarizing and citation

The above is just a few examples of the struggles that many colleges and universities are experiencing.It is time for us to help reshape and repurpose the next wave of educational technology evolution,to move beyond technology proficiency and get back to the basics of inquiry, research, critical thinking, etc… aka Information Literacy.

Last year at the California Curriculum and Instruction conference at Asilomar, Dr. Douglas Reeves shared with educational leaders for all over California his personal experience as a teacher of graduate level students who were taking his class at his university.He was amazed at how information illiterate they were.After he shared this deeply rooted frustration, I asked him why he did not mention teacher librarians as important leaders in meeting this educational crisis.His response was, “I should have said something about that.”

Recently, in a CSLA 2.0 webinar with Dr. Joyce Valenza, I asked her if she was hearing from east coast universities about how prepared K12 students were for university level work as it related to information literacy.She shared that her students who were doing undergraduate work their universities have reported to her that her students were very prepared, but most of the other students were not.

Educational Technology needs more than ever the expertise of a group of teaching professionals that are prepared to round out a currently anemic educational diet that is void of inquire, research, creative, and critical thinking.Educational Technology needs the expertise of 21st century teacher librarians.

If you would like to assist in advancing this essential educational message in California, please contact Glen Warren at the Orange County Department of Education as we sharpen our message at gwarren@ocde.us .

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