IFLA SL Newsletter

– a commentsblog

Web 2.0 Meets Information Literacy

By Joyce Kasman Valenza

Springfield Township HS Library

To be most effective, citizens of the future will need to creatively blend several relatively traditional skills with emerging information and communication tools. And they will need to practice those skills in an information landscape that is genre-shifting, media-rich, participatory, socially connected, and brilliantly chaotic. To be most effective, students also need understandings of traditional information structures as well as understandings of the shifts in the way knowledge is built and organized

Two threads

Through my librarian visioning glasses, I see two threads—information fluency and Web 2.0– beautifully woven into rich 21st century cloth as teachers and librarians who value inquiry, thinking skills, ethical behavior, and innovative student work hone their craft on a funky and vibrant 21st century loom, with learners as collaborators.

As a new thread—Web 2.0–is colorful and dynamic. It reveals new opportunities for collaborations, creation of media, and interactions with audiences never before imagined. A more traditional strand—information literacy–is a sturdy fiber. It is a fiber many of us digital immigrants carried over in our trunks from the old country. And it deserves to be unpacked and shared–woven through instruction and learning.

Information literacy or fluency is the ability to effectively and ethically seek, use, and create information. It is a process in which students (and the rest of us) recognize a need for information; formulate questions based on those needs; identify potential information sources; develop strategies for physically and intellectually accessing information; evaluate, analyze, synthesize and organize new information with existing knowledge; and effectively, ethically and creatively communicate new knowledge.

Information literacy competencies are process skills. They will grow with students, even when current search tools and platforms are obsolete, when we move beyond Web 2.0. These skills have legs. They will serve learners even when they forget how to balance a chemical equation or how to solve for X. They prepare students to learn to learn.

So, how do we interpret traditional skills for a chaotic, exciting, multimodal, socially mediated information 2.0 landscape? And how does our instruction shift as the information landscape evolves?

Fluency: Information access

Information access involves recognizing the need for information, identifying potential sources, and strategies for locating information.

I’ve heard celebrated futurists, as well as librarians, proclaim that we live in a good enough / why bother world. If people can easily find some information, they will not be motivated to find better or best information. Math teachers do not say, “good enough” at multiplication and division. They move as many of their learners toward higher applications and deeper mathematical thinking. Why should we not expect learners to master more thoughtful information-seeking strategies?

In a 2.0 world we must encourage students to seek information energetically. That often includes reaching beyond everyone’s favorite search engine or wiki reference. Though Google rocks it is not the only band in town. Google’s information reach is staggering, yet it may not be the best strategy for all information tasks. Innovation is thriving in the search world. In fact, a number of alternate search tools employ a less “vertical”, far more user-centered approach. A growing number of tools respond to the preferences of visual learners. A growing number of tools specialize in finding information in varying formats.

Those who wait for information to be set free, those who wait for all the scholars and authors to put their work up outside of their books and journals, may be waiting a long time. As Google strives to digitize the print content of university libraries, our K12 students may not recognize that they have substantial libraries of content already available, content designed directly to meet their information and developmental needs, content that Google has not yet and may never grab. Our students do not have to wait.

Hundreds of databases offer hundreds of thousands of valuable documents beyond those accessible on the free Web. Schools, state and national libraries and government agencies subscribe to content that is both developmentally and content-appropriate for learners. Unless we teach students about the enormous value of these reference sources, ebooks, magazine, journal, and newspaper articles, unless we value them ourselves, students will not find them or use them.

I could not conduct my own research without subscription databases created by such vendors as EBSCO, ProQuest, Gale, and Wilson. Because our school culture values these sources, because they are designed directly to meet their information and developmental needs, our students have grown to love them as well. Teachers and librarians must ensure that these valuable materials get used and are no further than a click or two away from learners. Students who do not have access to this substantial content, students who choose not to use them, are an information underclass. These resources must be front and center on our virtual libraries. They must be prominent on our online pathfinders. Our teachers look use of databases as they assess student projects. We create multiple points of access to them and we look forward to finding an effective federated search solution that will search across the databases, our catalog, and the Web.

Because students will need to access both traditional and emerging sources, through both formal and informal information systems, they need understandings of both worlds. In subscription databases, it still helps to know the underlying structure of controlled vocabulary and subject hierarchy. Students can use official descriptors or subject headings to help them gather relevant content. They can select to search by either keyword or by subject and that choice often matters. And although I no longer formally teach Boolean logic, in databases, sometimes AND makes a big difference.

Students have greater search power when they understand the newly tagged world, the world of popular folksonomies. Tags are emerging as powerful tools, different from the structured controlled vocabulary and subject headings of databases. As they search, students should be on the look out for the various tags assigned to the most relevant resources. Those public-created tags will assist them in gathering related content. They can discover information relationships by exploring aggregators like Technorati http://technorati.com or del.icio.us http://del.icio.us/. Student-developed tag clouds allow for browsing among related concepts, broader and narrower terms, names, places, etc. offering a freedom beyond outlining or taxonomy. A teacher who asks a learner to “show me your tag cloud” will see the various directions a student’s research, and her thinking, is taking.

We can teach students to control their own information worlds. By selecting relevant RSS feeds, they restructure search dynamics, channeling information to automatically flow in their direction, personalizing their own stream of information. As students find relevant information and news sources, we need to guide them to seek RSS buttons and capture those feeds.

Interactive survey sites allow students to design and conduct original research. Using tools like SurveyMonkey http://www.surveymonkey.com/ and SurveyScholar http://www.surveyscholar.com/, and Zoho Polls http://polls.zoho.com/, students can easily collect data and graphically describe their results. Surveys are truly authentic experiences requiring students to navigate through some of the sticky issues of inquiry–predicting question issues, deciding how large a sample should be, designing effective question formats—single choice, multiple choice, rating scales, drop-down menus. The sophisticated reports these sites generate eliminate some of the challenging statistical work previously associated with playing with survey data, forcing learners to focus on understanding and interpretation

The Internet fosters a search environment in which learners work independently, often in their rooms, often after midnight. There are fewer face-to-face opportunities for adults to intervene to help assess an information problem, focus a topic, suggest keywords and alternate vocabulary, or recommend a critical book or website or portal. While we should celebrate the independence of learners, we must recognize that any 15-year-old doesn’t really know what she doesn’t know.

As teachers and librarians in this new landscape, we have new opportunities to intervene, AND to have dialog, while respecting young people’s need for independence. Librarians can move their pathfinders to blogs and wikis, to open them to students and teachers for collaboration and comments. They can suggest search strategies and lead students to information types– primary sources, literary criticism, biography, news. They can lead students to the variety of information formats—portals of streaming media, wikibooks, ebooks, blogs, ejournals. They can lead students to global perspectives, diverse sources and points of view.

Fluency: Evaluating information sources

This fluency involves determining accuracy, credibility, and relevance; distinguishing among facts, points of view and opinions; and selecting the most useful resources for a particular information need.

The traditional publication process made evaluation a much simpler skill back in the days before digitization, and in the days before information assumed new democratic formats. And while it was easier to teach evaluation in a controlled world, a world where resources fit into neat little boxes, we now live in a wonderfully rich confusion.

New, as well as traditional questions emerge as learners evaluate the information they find. What is authority? Whose voices are valid and when? Is it best to examine the collective knowledge of the public, or the expert knowledge of academics? What is the information context? Is it a casual information need or a formal or critical project? Are we investigating a breaking issue for which scholarly material does not yet exist? Is the best source likely to be: scholarly, popular, trade; “on the ground” and timely, or retrospective and reflective; primary or secondary; biased or balanced? Who is the audience for my project? Is it a professor who values scholarship and depth?

Just as mega-store sites like Amazon address the long tail or the niche market, the Web, and blogging especially, promote the flourishing of the niche opinion, a great democratic concept, but a challenge for learners struggling to evaluate context and bias.

How should students evaluate and select blogs as information sources, with Technorati (http://technorati.com) currently tracking more than 72 million blogs? Blogs are essentially primary sources. They can provide lively insights and perspectives not documented by traditional sources. They compare in some ways to a traditional interview, with the speaker controlling the questions. Ripe for essays and debate, blogs present not only the traditional two sides of an issue, but the potentially thousands of takes. And those takes take less time to appear than those documents forced through the traditional publishing or peer review process. Blogs allow scholars and experts written opportunities to loosen their ties and engage in lively conversation.

Over the past couple of years a big issue in learning to evaluate has been what to do about Wikipedia. Its content is heavily accessed; its articles appear on nearly every result list. Its democratic editing process provokes questions relating to the wisdom of crowds and the value of experts. Wikipedia forces us to examine the dynamic nature of information and to explore how knowledge is built. Whom do we trust and when do we trust them?

If a project has to do with breaking news, a hot topic, technology, or popular culture, Wikipedia may be the very best place to start. One of its advantages over print is that it is not limited by traditional publishing restrictions of cost or size. It is able to address the long information tail, providing something for nearly any interest.

But when teachers encourage students to find scholarly materials, Wikipedia may not be the best place to start. Academics, concerned about tenure and promotion generally find other avenues for publication. High school and university students need to know that teachers and professors will expect them to reach beyond Wikipedia.

Evaluation also involves reflecting on your own work. How might it have been more effective? How could I have done a better job?

Fluency: Digital citizenship and information ethics

These fluencies involve contributing positively to the learning community; respecting diverse points of view; practicing safe, ethical, and responsible behavior regarding information; recognizing the principles of intellectual freedom; respecting intellectual property; and promoting equitable, democratic access to information.

It’s increasingly tough to model respect for intellectual property in a world of shift and change, in a world of mixing and mashing, in a world of ubiquitous sharing, casual online communication, and pirating. Debate continues to rage regarding how to balance users’ needs for access to information while protecting the rights of content creators to profit from their labors.

Students are rightly confused and frustrated. The Pew Internet & American Life study, Teen Content Creators and Consumers, quoted researcher Mary Madden in its press release http://www.pewinternet.org/PPF/r/113/press_release.asp

Today’s online teens have grown up amidst the chaos of the digital copyright debate, and it shows. . .At a time when social norms around digital content don’t always appear to conform with the letter of the law, many teens are aware of the restrictions on copyrighted material, but believe it’s still permissible to share some content for free. (Lenhart & Madden, 2005, Press release)

Can we guide students to behavior that is fair and just and respectful of intellectual property without compromising their creativity and enthusiasm? Today, a single student project might incorporate downloaded video clips, music, and art, as well as quoted text. It is also likely to be broadcast.

When projects stayed in our classrooms, limiting the amount of borrowed content and simple documentation were generally enough for students to ethically use the creative work of others. With students regularly publishing and broadcasting beyond classroom walls, they need to take greater care and use new strategies when they borrow the creative works of others. On the Web, it is not always possible to get permission from or even identify a content creator.

We can help by teaching students about information ethics when they produce and post media. We can ease some of the confusion by teaching students about the new flexible protections and freedoms made possible by Creative Commons http://creativecommons.org/ licensing.

Even simple documentation is complicated by the fact that the official style books have not kept up with students’ new array of information choices. If we expect ethical behavior, we have to make it less painful for learners who want to behave ethically. Even before the examples hit the standard style manuals, we should facilitate students’ ethical behavior by adapting and modeling citation formats for blogs and wikis and podcasts and whatever is coming next.

Social responsibility is also about etiquette. Bloggers do not have editors. Bloggers blog on the spot. Rash thoughts may be posted before a blogger really chews on an idea, before rational thought has time to take over. In classroom blogs, learners should argue and debate and criticize. They also should be sensitive and respectful. As teachers, we can inspire a degree of impulse control for learners who blog.

Social responsibility extends to interactions wikis, as well. In class wikis, we may need to discuss and establish guidelines for how we modify information and negotiate content. Guidelines for wiki construction could be class-generated, with the wiki’s about page serving as a kind of charter for behavior, trust, accountability, and contribution. These guidelines should serve to build the culture of the wiki. Even in an open authorship environment, participants should see both freedoms and responsibilities relating to the community.

As teachers and librarians, we too have responsibilities. While we look out for the safety of our students, we must also protect their access to the information and communication tools they need to learn effectively. We must speak up against initiatives that prevent access to critical tools for learners.

Fluency: Synthesis and organization

This fluency involves the ability to see information patterns, to analyze information, to organize ideas, and to effectively weave together ideas and content from multiple sources to create a coherent new whole.

Web 2.0 presents the ultimate opportunity for teaching synthesis. Students who effectively use Web 2.0 tools, synthesize effectively.

Wikis promote a jigsaw style in which learners can divide a research task and share individual expertise and insights to complete an information gathering task or answer a driving question. Wikis may be one of the best tools for helping students to learn how to collaborate and build text-based knowledge as they incorporate information from multiple sources, consider diverse ideas, learn how to edit, integrate feedback, and negotiate the content of multiple authors. Additionally, peer collaboration and distributed authorship remove some of the “drama” associated with top-down assessment. Wikis shift the onus of correction and improvement from the teacher to the community. Teachers can assess the work of the group, as well as individual contributors to the wiki community through its history pages. A growing number of online tools also support collaborative writing and other types of information synthesis. They include: Google Docs and Spreadsheats, ZohoWriter, Celtx (for scriptwriting and storyboarding)

AjaxWrite. I cannot imagine planning a group writing project without using a wiki or an online writing application. Bernie Dodge’s Design Patterns for EduWikis http://edwiki.org/mw/index.php/Design_Patterns_for_EduWikis lists the impressive ways wikis might be used by learns.

Blogging is also essentially about synthesis, with emphasis on the blogger’s voice as he or she engages in dialog and debate. Blogs foster the kind of risk-taking writing that may not happen in the traditional five-paragraph essay. In this new form of public writing, students can share ideas before they are fully formed and solicit and use the ideas of others as they clarify build their own. Bloggers learn to connect with audience, to express their messages in concise space and in more conversational tone. Bloggers learn to weave their own voices into personal, unique communication products, developed over the course of time. Students can blog their research experience (we created a template). Students can use blogs to host their literature circle discussions. They can blog in the voice of a character with the goal of enhanced understanding based on synthesizing discussion.

New media projects as digital storytelling, inherently involve synthesis as learners select and weave words, images, sound, and video together into a coherent composition to conveying meaning, knowledge, and personal perspective. Using editing tools like: iMovie, Final Cut, and GarageBand, students compose and share original media, incorporating the relevant ideas and creations of others. If we are to teach synthesis in a 21st century landscape, we need new strategies for encouraging and assessing synthesis in these innovation creations.

Fluency: Creating and communicating new knowledge

This fluency involves seeking excellence in knowledge generation, collaborating, and contributing positively to the learning community.

What’s changed in terms of communication of knowledge? Web 2.0 is the perfect sandbox for our students to authentically hone this information fluency.

We’ve always worked to inspire students to improve their writing, research and communication skills. Web 2.0 shifts writing and composition in critical and exciting ways. Web 2.0 means audience. Learners now have the potential for a truly authentic and globally connected audience. Learners are discovering real reasons to research, to write, to tell their unique stories. They can use new media tools to stream and share in ways that truly showcase their personal talents. Learners are discovering that research can be collaborative, community-based, media-rich, and exciting.

Writing, or public writing, doesn’t come naturally to all students. Through classroom blogging, we prepare students to write effectively and regularly for many purposes, and for varying audiences. We prepare them for the types of blogs they will likely find in academics and business—for those blogs that are used for project management, professional communication, customer communication, and for college courses.

Through their writing and research contributions in wikis, learners learn to collaborate, to share responsibility as a team member, to create together. Wikis represent a version of the peer review process for non-academics. In wikis, students help each other as they grapple with such writing challenges precision of word choice and accuracy.

Communication in the future will likely be increasingly collaborative, geographically agnostic, and multimodal. But even when paradigms shift, some things stay the same. Those who can use information to communicate effectively have clear professional and academic advantage. The learner and the worker of the future must be able to ask the important questions, use information create thoughtful and compelling arguments, back their arguments with solid evidence, make decisions and reach conclusions. This type of brain work may result in a streamed multimedia presentation or a digital story. It may also result in a formal corporate white paper posted as a PDF.

I want my students to be fluent for all information formats– traditional, current and emerging. They should be able to identify a wide array of information and communication strategies and choose the ones that best meet their needs. But wherever the information they need lives, whatever the vehicle they choose for communication, they will be more successful if they can weave some sturdy old threads into the fabric of their communication. They will be more successful if they can effectively and ethically access, evaluate, synthesize, and communicate in whatever version of “Web” we experience. Teachers and librarians together can prepare learners to produce work that will last the test of time.

For links and references, visit Joyce’s Information Fluency Wiki: http://informationfluency.wikispaces.com

This article contains excerpts from the author’s contribution to Terry Freedman’s Coming of Age 2.0.


July 2, 2007 - Posted by | 6. Issue 44, 7. Theme 44, USA, Web 2.0


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