Today’s title is a mouthful:)
My daughter enters middle school this fall, which has made me pause and reflect on her development as a digital and information literate student. Much of what she has learned in terms of those literacy skills has come from having a mother as a librarian. Looking back at her elementary years, I’ve come to realize that schools are really tripping themselves up with the sheer number of obstacles in place that prevent the development of digital and information literacy learning in the classroom. And those obstacles exist in even the most 21st century-enthusiastic school districts. I would go so far as to say that some of these obstacles extend well into the college years.
Here’s my take on the presumptions, policies and practices that create obstacles to digital and information literacy learning:
The Digital Native Buy-In
No, being born in the digital age does not automatically make you a digital native. Exposure to the digital environment is required to learn the digital language. And there are many reasons why students may not have been exposed to the digital environment. While economics might be the first thing that comes to mind, parents’ beliefs about technology play an important role too. Interestingly, one of the most common reasons for lack of digital exposure I’ve come across is what I’ll coin the ‘short end of the stick’ – that’s when multiple siblings have to share the same digital device(s), and the youngest (typically) gets short-changed, and ends up with less digital exposure than some of his classmates.
When schools presume that their students are digital natives, they may fail to develop an appropriately well-rounded curriculum that fosters digital and information literacy.
Overly Restrictive Internet Policies
Overly restrictive internet policies negatively impact what teachers can do in the classroom. As a result, students miss out on learning skills that improve problem solving and critical thinking (e.g. evaluating web sites). They miss out on developing the skills that will lead to college and career success.
Ignoring the Foundational Skills of Digital and Information Literacy
Too many schools ignore (or are ignorant of) the foundational skills of digital and information literacy. These are skills that need to be addressed in elementary school and include:
- Understanding information organization. Students need to understand the concept of how keyword and subject indexing works in a book (concrete) before they are introduced to searching online (abstract).
- Understanding information sources. Students need to understand the purpose of different types of informational texts. While Common Core addresses this, implementation is another story altogether.
- Understanding how to navigate an information environment. Students would be better-equipped at navigating online information if they first learned to expertly navigate their school library. If a school is still using the Dewey Decimal System, the perfect opportunity for teaching this skill is when students are also learning how to put decimal numbers in order.
Pre-Selecting Research Sources
When students are first exposed to projects that require research, they should be allowed to do the research themselves, albeit guided. Providing students with a set of pre-selected research sources sends the message that finding information is not an important part of the research process. And now you know why students come to the reference desk with the expectation that they will be spoon-fed their research sources.
Equating Technology Skills with Digital and Information Literacy
This is why students rely heavily on Google. And this is why they select the first five web sites they find (Wikipedia is always in there somewhere).
Inadequate Teacher Training
I think all teacher training programs need to include a course on 21st century literacies, which emphasizes integration of those skills into the curriculum, along with teacher-librarian collaboration (in other words, classroom teachers need to be taught how to collaborate with librarians in the same way that librarians are taught how to collaborate with teachers).
Inadequate Professional Development
Librarians need to be more involved with the professional development of classroom teachers. PD can go a long way to help teachers change their perspectives on the importance of digital and information literacy in today’s classroom (and to become digital and information literate themselves).
Failing to Recognize the Librarian’s Role in Digital and Information Literacy
This may be the biggest administrative blind spot in our education system today.