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Information Literacy - A Goal, Not A Technique

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The beginning of the 21st century has been called the Information Age. This is due to the explosion of information output and the increase in available information sources. Students cannot learn everything they need to know in their field of study in a few years of college. Information literacy equips them with the critical skills necessary to become independent lifelong learners.

Information literate people are those who have learned how to learn. They know how to learn because they know how knowledge is organized, how to find information, and how to use information in such a way that others can learn from them. They are people prepared for lifelong learning, because they can always find the information needed for any task or decision at hand. This is not just for college students but all of us – as professionals, in the workplace, and in our personal lives. Being information literate ultimately improves our quality of life as we make informed decisions when buying a house, hiring staff, making an investment, voting, and so much more.

Information and technology have become increasingly important in higher education and in the workplace. A glaring problem with technology is that students and employees are able to use it for socializing and entertainment but have difficulties using it for finding information, evaluating that information, and putting it to use. For many people, Google is their main source of information. Most users (less than1%)never venture beyond the first page of results.

Relying too much on Google is only one of many technology problems facing college students. A report released by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) finds that students lack many basic skills in information literacy. ETC defines this as the ability to use technology to solve information problems.

A study was done where the challenge was to see if students could identify trustworthy information, manage that information, and communicate it effectively. The results are not good. Few test takers demonstrated effective information literacy skills. Females fared just as poorly as males. For instance, when asked to select a research statement for a class assignment, only 44% identified a statement that captured the assignment’s demands. When asked to evaluate several Web sites, 52% correctly assessed the objectivity of the sites, 65% correctly judged for authority, and 72% for timeliness. Overall, only 49% correctly identified the site that met all three criteria.

Too often we assume that as students write research papers and read textbooks they are gaining sufficient Information Literacy skills. This is not so. Information literacy instruction requires a shift in focus from teaching specific information resources to a set of critical thinking skills involving the use of information. Literacy involves being able to take the techniques useful in one environment and apply them to unfamiliar environments. This is an integral part of everyday life. The ability to access, retrieve, and evaluate information should constitute a significant part of today’s definition of literacy. Information management skills are essential to literacy.

We can no longer rely on previous knowledge. Information is growing at an exponential speed and technology is changing how this information is delivered. You can’t count on what you used to know and you can’t rely on an instructor or employer to keep you abreast. This demonstrates that independently and appropriately gather information will be a key element in literacy.

The need to evaluate the credibility of information is nothing new. Until recently though, most learners could expect to deal with carefully selected reference materials in academic and public libraries. With the use of the internet, you may experience difficulty locating information from tried and true sources such as well-indexed books.

Change requires us to know more and learn more about the world around us. Unfortunately, the traditional literacies of reading, writing, and mathematical reasoning are insufficient for lifelong learning. The increasing quantity of information from all sources and the pressure to remain in a constant state of conscious learning means that we must be dexterous in the use of information. Information literacy is not a technique, but a goal for learners.

Because information literacy abilities must be learned, some colleges and universities are supporting initiatives to improve these skills in their students. Ohio State recently included information literacy in their core requirements for undergraduates.

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