I was asked to write for the UM School of Information Monthly about digital literacy. I struggled a bit to both validate the speed and fearlessness that come natively to today’s learners and our concern that without deeper comprehension and synthesis, their toolkit is incomplete. An excerpt:
As we rightly applaud the fearlessness of today’s youth in mastering the latest devices, developing strong interpersonal online networks, and commanding their apps and software to create digital delights, we cannot permit intuition to comprise the bulk of their digital literacy skillset. If we do, we risk a generation of Mowglis, wild children without mentors to help them mature into digital adulthood.
Digital literacy, which includes the abilities to search, read, evaluate, sequence, synthesize, and share, is essential for American citizenship. Children need to be challenged to stretch beyond their digital comfort zone, to tackle more rigorous intellectual questions online, to use robust resources, to read deeply and thoughtfully for meaning, and to synthesize others’ ideas. These are the key skills and processes of the digital age, and they rarely develop intuitively.
As librarians continue to shift from print collections, it is time to reinforce their role as teachers and guides of digital literacy. Melvil Dewey envisioned librarians-as-teachers over a hundred years ago in an 1876 article for American Libraries:
“The time was when the library was very much like a museum and a librarian was a mouser in musty books … The time is when the library is a school, and the librarian is in the highest sense a teacher, and the visitor is a reader among the books as a workman among his tools” (Dewey in Dewey, 45).
This fall’s “Information Literacy for Teaching and Learning” class (SI 641) has wrestled with how those working in libraries, schools, and community organizations can deepen students’ and patrons’ digital engagement, comprehension, and literacy. They have observed student and faculty behaviors, studied K-12 and university lesson plans, learned teaching tips from mentors, taught their classes, developed online modules, and developed strategies to help the inexperienced mature into thoughtful scholars, workers, and citizens …
The road ahead is rich with opportunities to empower our patrons with the robust resources and digital strategies that lead to more nuanced decision-making as adults.
Also in this “issue,” the terrifically talented Alissa Talley-Pixley talks about her work in our information literacy class:
“Through studying information and digital literacy, it’s become clear that students in K-12 need to be learning these types of skills, just as many people in the academic world still need instruction around these topics,” she says.
In addition to her interests in assisting people in their research, on a larger scale she says “I’d like to create more partnerships and collaborations between the University, public libraries, and K-12 schools to create more cohesive learning processes and usage of resources as we continue into the digital age.”
Finally, a profile of Professor Karen Markey, project leader of the Bibliobouts information literacy competitive, game-like module:
The game puts professional research tools into students’ hands and gives them repeated practice in using these tools to find, evaluate, and select high-quality information for their papers. Students search for sources online, choose the best ones to put into play, rate and tag their opponents’ sources, and compile a best bibliography of sources for a topic of interest from a pool of all players’ sources. When the game ends, students are ready to write their papers using the high-quality bibliography, online citations, and digital full texts that are the result of game play.
Whereas early evaluations focused on improving BiblioBouts’ features and game-like capabilities, recent evaluations demonstrate learning gains. Game players encounter many more sources on a topic than they would have found on their own. They are less likely to put off their research until the last moment. They gain valuable practice using new tools for conducting library research. They learn a methodology for evaluating sources, and they realize that the sources in library portal-based databases are higher quality than Google and the Web.
In 2010, Karen won the University of Michigan Provost’s Teaching Innovation Prize for BiblioBouts. The prize recognizes faculty who have developed innovative approaches to teaching that incorporate creative pedagogies.