It may seem like I’m often on certain warpaths, but it’s only because every time I read something related to one of those warpaths, it sets me off again. For example, I’ve read a number of articles in recent months that go on about how the internet, by way of mobile phones and tablets, will replace the current education system. It’s a great theory, really, especially to someone who grew up dreaming of PADDs (who may or may not have bought a Palm Pilot the moment she could afford one just to pretend she had something that cool).
The problem is that just we like have to find a way to impart to children how to read and how to compute, we have to find a way to teach them how to interpret data. In fact, part of the reason we teach children to read and compute is so they are enabled at a basic level to interpret data. It’s crazy how interlinked the two are, really. And we certainly aren’t born with the innate ability to read or compute. There are people who go their entire lives without learning to do one, the other, or both. But if we aren’t born with the ability to at least recognize data, why would anyone think we’re born with the ability to interpret it?
Information literacy really refers to a set of skills including recognizing valid sources, separating unbiased reporting from opinions, recognizing plagiarism, and being aware of copyright. Actually, there is no set list of information literacy skills. If you look it up, you’ll find dozens of different skills grouped together in dozens of different ways. At its core, though, information literacy supports a student’s research activities in any class. When the student develops these skills, they become more skilled at distinguishing between primary and secondary source materials, or how to use non-primary sources to locate the primary source. The student also learns to look at a source and decide if there is a bias, where it is, and how that will affect their research.
Information literacy is also where a student learns about copyright and plagiarism. The student learns (or should learn) what copyright is and how it applies to their research materials. The student should also learn about plagiarism, including what it is and why it’s a bad idea. A copyright/plagiarism lesson is the ideal place to teach the student the art of citation, regardless of the format you’ll use for the project. It makes them aware of how to minimize plagiarism in their own work.
In a culture where we are bombarded with information from all directions, it’s useful to arm students with the ability to sift through and find what they really need to know. When done correctly, that’s ultimately what education is and should be: enabling children with the basic skills to consume information, reflect critically on it, and make appropriate decisions about it so that they can continue to learn and interact with their world as adults. That’s why we need to teach them information literacy skills.