The Presumptions, Policies and Practices That Prevent Digital and Information Literacy Learning in the Classroom

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.


3 thoughts on “The Presumptions, Policies and Practices That Prevent Digital and Information Literacy Learning in the Classroom

  1. I totally agree with you in many areas. Access is very important when looking at information literacy and many look at the economic aspect and forget about the other areas you mentioned. Thank you for that.

    One of my biggest concerns in middle and high schools is the lack of teaching students how to locate good, reliable information. Unfortunately, school libraries are being turned into virtual school labs and books are being replaced by computers. While, this is merely a sign of the times, we must also remember that just having the materials is not enough. If they don’t know what to do with them our labors are in vain.

  2. I totally agree, Pamela. It’s disheartening how many students, high school and college, who believe that Google is the answer to all of their research needs. Ms. Hovious certainly does touch on several relevant points, however. A change in mentality of educators and administrators is definitely necessary for any substantive digital literacy learning to occur. I’m glad that you mentioned access because that is, fundamentally, an economic issue. I see this as two-fold in that many public schools simply lack the monetary resources for teacher/librarian technology training and support. Additionally, most students who’ve acquired technological skills (not necessarily literacy skills) are the ones who’s parents can afford to surround them with digital devices in the home.

  3. Great comments! I think one of the reasons that Google is the research epicenter of the average student is because that’s how they find information in their daily lives – and it is a legitimate information literacy practice for personal things. So they transfer what they know to school-based literacy practices because no one is teaching them otherwise (I think that’s where educators and admins confuse technology skills with digital and info literacy). Fast forward to the college years (and I’ve worked in both community and 4 year colleges) and students are ill-prepared for the expectations of academic research. From my own experience with my daughter, I strongly believe that these skills have to be taught from a very young age. Waiting until high school or college is too late. But in order for that to happen, we really do need that change of mentality, which I think will ultimately require a complete overhaul of teacher and administrator training programs.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s