The ease with which we are now able to access information, which is, after all, the first requirement in the acquisition of knowledge, is what makes the development of literacy so markedly different in this century from how it might have looked for the best part of the previous one. In the typical classroom of fifty years ago, sources of information were severely limited, and what was in the teacher’s head would constitute most of it. To say that things have changed is such an understatement that it hardly needs to be said, but the pervasive nature of the internet has been largely responsible for the term ‘information literacy’ and the sense of urgency with which it has entered the educational lexicon. No one disputes that, more than ever, the ability to find, sift, sort and use information is a key component in the development of an educated mind , but we are all of us still in the early stages of understanding the full implications of the free flow of information across the electronic networks. What the term ‘information literacy’ actually means, and how – in practical terms – it can be developed, is still up for discussion, as are the means by which teachers can ensure that all learners meet this essential learning outcome by the time they have reached the age of twelve or thirteen:
“To help me develop an informed view, I am exploring the techniques used to influence my opinion. I can recognise persuasion and assess the reliability of information and credibility and value of my sources.”
Scottish Curriculum for Excellence, Literacy and English Outcome Level Three (age 12-13 approximately)
It is quite clear that In order to develop this ability, there are a number of questions which first have to be addressed, including:
- What ARE the techniques used to influence opinion? (emotive language? scaremongering? appeal to the senses?, use of statistics?)
- How DO you recognise persuasion? (separating fact from opinion)
- How do you assess the reliability of ANY information, but especially that found online? (who produced it and what was their objective?)
- How do you ASCERTAIN the source of information, even before you attempt to assess its credibility? (or, do you know how to trace the source of a text?)
A very useful addition to the ‘information literacy’ discussion this week has been the release of web player Mozilla’s Web Literacy Standard. Cutting across traditionally recognised subject spaces, the Standard is grouped under three strands – Exploring, Building and Connecting – and is described by the developers as ‘a map of competencies and skills that Mozilla and our community of stakeholders believe are important to pay attention to when getting better at reading, writing and participating on the web’. While some of our information still comes from traditional sources – word of mouth, newspapers, books, television – we are increasingly moving online, so that ‘information literacy’ and understanding the world wide web may ultimately become one and the same thing. Anything which takes us towards a better understanding of how that relationship works must surely be a good thing.
To download a copy of the National Information Literacy Framework Scotland click here.