Friday, November 11, 2011

Information Literacy. Not without Caring, Time, and Experience.

Information Literacy is a trendy catchall buzzword that is not very self-explanatory.  Maybe info literacy doesn’t even exist.  Don’t worry though, research skills are still important in this day and age but they can’t really be forced.

We have to remember that college students and anyone else with access to information (commonly the Internet) and time (motivation is also vital) are potentially professional researchers in the areas of interest to them.  

How are college student's information literacy skills for topics outside their areas of interest? Probably not so good (at least in my experience).  You really have to care to have good information literacy skills because it involves an investment of time.  Going just half way in any sort of research doesn't usually do the job. 

From my experiences teaching freshman seminar courses I often see text in papers and assignments “cut and pasted” directly from the 1st or 2nd result on Google from a search that broadly relates to the paper's topic.  Do students care about going deeper in their web search on a subject that doesn't really strike their fancy? No.  Do they know how to go deeper for information that is important to them?  Yes, I believe so.  

Well, just like a local library regular who has been using our computers (for months) to find off-shore high paying contract jobs in the Middle East (for hours), college students probably at one point in time were passionate about a subject that interested them. They may have mined away exhausting all web resources on that particular topic. They just kept going and going until they reached the end (coming across the same web sites and pages).  In many ways, this "reaching the end" in Google or Bing is a monumental learning experience. Of course, this is not to say that the students have the query skills to reach the "end", but for that particular session and individual it was the end.

Does the library regular searching off-shore contract jobs have good info-lit skills?  Probably not, he types in all CAPS, which is an indicator of a person who may be considered by other Internet users as "low-information". However, the library regular is probably an expert (by now) of knowing which websites offer good information on high paying contract jobs in the Middle East better than anyone else in this library. 

I almost believe that once you go down one of the "rabbit holes" of the web a la “high middle east paying jobs” that you are going to encounter all there is to know about it simply because if you spend enough time on any type of website, blog, or forum, there will be other users and sites (w/ Google) that will direct, filter, and link you to everything related to the topic.  Maybe I am overestimating the skills of the library regular, but you get the idea. 

Do college freshman spend enough time researching for their classes and assignments?  No, I think not, and I would go a step further to say that they probably don't have the experience in having to find accurate information.  Many new college students are coming from a home where their parents have done almost everything for them, which includes many things, but also information literacy.  Non-traditional students (generally older than 21) have already tasted independence and perhaps have had to find information to a problem that they had to take care of themselves (repairing an automobile or looking up a medical problem they are experiencing).  In my experience, non-traditional college students are generally more proficient in finding and evaluating relevant information electronically than their digital native counterparts.

After much thought on the subject and dilemma of young people and their lack of information literacy skills I have come up with the following statement.

Caring + Time = Information Literacy.  Ok that statement might be oversimplified, so let's add experience in there as well.  Most people are valued professionally by their experience alone.  What type of person do we have when we strip away experience?  A novice.

I do think that evaluation plays a big part, but it also has a lot to do with experience, which goes back to time spent and caring about the subject matter.  I am a firm believer that while the information skills of our 18-20 year old college students is pretty bad, that they will improve in time along with their maturity, time management, and life management skills.

*Information contained within these pages do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of Schreiner University.

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