Friday, March 28, 2008

A Question from a Colleague--And an Answer

On LM_NET, the school library listserv, one of the members, a distinguished author in the school library field, recently asked the following:

"Now that we have our new AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner, when I am writing, I'm not simply using the outdated term "information literacy skills." The first time I mention the five literacies, I say "digital, visual, textual, technological, and information literacy." Thereafter, I use the term "multiple literacies" as the Standards document itself does. My editor has asked me to think of a synonym for "multiple literacies." I'm stumped. Any ideas?"

I gave the following as a response:
I see digital, visual and textual literacies as "media" literacies. That is, they are about how we access and use different media. Of course, digital is also visual and textual! (What about audio?)
Technology literacy is a misnomer since the use of technology doesn't necessarily involve literacy (i.e., interpreting through letters/language) and technology is a huge area that covers practically anything people do.
Information literacy is a different baby all together. It involves using all the above "literacies" to access, evaluate and use information in creative and useful ways.
That's why it's hard to clump them all together with one term. Frankly, I still think information literacy is what we, as professionals, are primarily responsible for. The media we use to access and use information are just part of the big picture of info lit.

I think this little exchange is a parable about how we complicate issues at our peril. We try and anticipate any and all possibilities (we even claim these are 21st century literacies, even though we update or change our standards on average about every 10 years or so--what are we going to call our next set of standards? Standards for the Second Tenth of the 21st Century?).

My point is that what we call literacies really aren't. They are skills and knowledge of a certain kind and we will have to keep up with and even try to anticipate what new skills will be required by our students and colleagues in the (not-too-distant) future. But to claim these other literacies are equal our now "outdated" information seeking and use skills, called in shorthand "information literacy" is to make a grave mistake.

One of the beliefs which preface our new standards is: "The definition of information literacy has become more complex as resources and technologies have changed." Actually if we look at the definition of information literacy from the Information Power standards (1998) we read: The student who is information literate accesses information efficiently and effectively, evaluates information critically and competently, and uses information accurately and creatively. The standards go on say that the student should be able to use information independently and in a socially responsible way. None of this language refers to specific media with good reason. There is no reason that these standards can't work with any kind of media or technology. It's not the definition of information literacy which has become more complicated it's merely the tools which have become more complex. Whether using today's cutting-edge technologies like the ReadWrite Web or older technologies like the printed book, students still need to learn how to access, evaluate and use information independently and responsibly. This is the heart of information literacy and it will not change with changing technologies or changing modes of access or retrieval.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Common Sense Media Video Teaches Media Literacy

I recently viewed a new video from Common Sense Media. Common Sense Media is "a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization, [which] provide[s] trustworthy information and tools, as well as an independent forum, so that families can have a choice and a voice about the media they consume." Based in San Francisco, their website provides comprehensive information and reviews of all types of media including video games, Internet sites, movies, and even books.

They have teamed with Google to create this 7-minute video to remind parents about Internet safety and media literacy. It's a short but comprehensive overview of what kids need to know about Internet safety and using and creating content online.

Definitely worth a look.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Horizon Project 2008

This posting is an experiment using the send to button on my iGoogle toolbar. Nonetheless it is an important project which I wanted to remind myself (and my readers!?) about.
What is the Horizon Project?
During this project, the Horizon 2008 Report will have its trends "student sourced" as students from around the world analyze, compile information, and share their predications based on the report in a "Wikinomics"-style mass collaboration. This project is in the second year with the first project, winning multiple awards and recognition.
horizonproject2008 » home

Saturday, March 22, 2008

When Wikipedia Won't Cut It (Part 1)

Recently on the Library blog, the authors published an entry about research resources which go beyond Wikipedia's "incomplete citations, biased views, and inaccuracies," and direct the user to alternatives which deliver "high quality accuracy."
Most of these are definitely worth taking a look at and keeping an eye on as they grow and change but not all are really very useful.

The first site they recommend is Citizendium, the Citizen's Compendium, an encyclopedia-like site which relies upon ordinary users to write and "experts" to edit its articles. The idea of Citizendium is to go beyond Wikipedia's free-for-all approach to developing an encyclopedic database and enlist folks who are certified to know about what they are writing about.
To join Citizendium the user is required to be vetted at a website called BeenVerified, which helps substantiate you are who you say you are. The site asked various questions about where the prospective member lived and jobs they've had (with information culled from the Web) to substantiate my identity. Of course, this doesn't verify one's expertise. When setting up an account you are asked to check areas of expertise and Citizendium "constables" check up before they are allowed to contribute on their own. Membership seems to be aimed at the academic community and it does seem that Citizendium is trying to make their online encyclopedia a more reliable source of information than Wikipedia currently is.
While it may be true that Citizendium articles are more authoritative, it certainly can't compete with Wikipedia for breadth of coverage. Currently there are some 5,700 articles in Citizendium as compared to 9,000,000 in Wikipedia.
Definitely a site worth knowing about and using.

American FactFinder

This is the English language portal to information from the U.S. Census Bureau. The permutations and combinations of information at the Census Bureau are almost endless and since they are based on data collected by various census polls they can be considered to be as accurate as those compiling the data.
Wikipedia has an external link to this site on its United States Census page but does not have an article specifically on this subject.
For lots of reasons, not the least of which is that this is the online version of the Statistical Abstract of the United States, this is an invaluable site for all students and staff.


This somewhat specialized site which includes an index of academic papers, dissertations, books, etc., on linguistic topics would certainly be fruitful as a resource for linguists and those interested in language in general. The interface is quite playful, one might say almost juvenile, for an academic website. According to its Wikipedia article, the site has been in existence since 1991 and is partially funded by grants from the National Science Foundation.
For the general user this site is too specialized to be added to list of general portals on the Web.


This is web portal to Web resources which "[s]ubject specialists select and evaluate ... and write high quality descriptions of...." The usefulness of this site is as a reviewer of resources on the Web rather than a compendium of information in general.
It is definitely a site which every student at Redwood should know about and use regularly.

Classic Encyclopedia

The fifth of these resources is an online encyclopedia based on the 1911 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. While that edition is considered the classic edition, it's probably not too wise to rely upon it for much modern information. It's an interesting historical artifact and some very well-known authors contributed to it but one needs to be very careful in using it as the definitive source of information.
Probably not very useful for high school students except as a curiosity.

More to follow....

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Questia Goes Over Big

This morning I had two great sessions with the combined U.S. History/American Literature classes of Mr. Brown and Mr. Winkler.

The students have begun their U.S. history research papers on a topic of their choosing . Topics can be chosen from American history events which occurred from 1870 to 1990.

Students earlier had been introduced to print library resources and Issues and the Controversies in American History database and had begun to develop topics and thesis statements.

Today we had their second "resource workshop" in which they were introduced to Google Book Search and Google Scholar, as well as two library subscription databases, Questia and CQ Researcher Archive.

The students were shown the basics of the specialized Google search products and how to go beyond them using the "Find in a Library" feature. The limitations of both search engines were pointed out--mainly the issue of access to full text--but the usefulness for research was also explained.

We next showed how CQ Researcher could be used for historical research using its "Issue Tracker" feature which shows documents/articles going back to 1923.

Finally I showed the students a video demo of Questia, a database which we have had for a couple years but which we upgraded our subscription to this year so each student could have an individual account. QuestiaSchool is a database of full-text books and journal, newspaper, and magazine articles. The video showed how to set up a "Project" and then search for and annotate, highlight, bookmark and cite articles and books from the database. Using Questia is like having a library on your laptop and unlike Google's Scholar and Book Search, you are always assured of having access to the texts you finding.

The students were impressed by the power of all of these tools but I'm sure we are going to see the increased use of Questia over the next few weeks.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Teaching Lab

Last week there was a lively discussion on a school library listserv I belong to about the usefulness of computer labs in libraries as opposed to having computers arranged in a less concentrated way. My response was to describe our set up and how I prefer it to the computer lab approach.

When I first came to Redwood there really wasn't a space to teach information literacy lessons. The Reference Room was broken up into a couple sections each with it's own tables and chairs but with no focal point. and the Main Room didn't really have a space large enough for a class to gather in because book shelves extended throughout the room. Even when we had the occasional staff meeting teachers were sitting between book shelves.

After a few months I began to really see how this wasn't going to work when I had a class in and needed to demonstrate something online to them, not to speak of library orientation sessions and other kinds of presentations.

My first priority was to have a suitable teaching space. By rearranging some of the furniture and moving the librarian's desk out of the center of the room, hanging a screen and figuring out a fairly efficient way to hook up an old LCD projector I was able to turn the Reference Room into a makeshift teaching space which could hold a class of 30+ students. One of the major drawbacks to this setup was that the room is long and narrow (it was the whole library in the early days of the school) and I felt I was not able to hold the attention of kids in the back of the room. My dream at that time was to move the screen to the long side of the room and have a teaching station with a computer and ceiling-mounted projector.

When plans were being made to pass a construction bond I made sure that the teacher station idea had a priority in the modernization project. By moving computers to tables around the periphery of the room (with data- and power-cables coming via ceiling conduits) we made the configuration which we currently have. I also made sure that there was a teaching station (a recycled piece of the old circulation desk) with a hard-wired laptop which could easily be connected to a ceiling-mounted projector. I've been very pleased with the way that the project turned out and can very quickly be online and projecting just what I want the students to see and do.

There are sixteen desktop computers in the room on 48"-wide tables. I specifically chose the wider tables because I don't like to look of computers with no workspace and the wider tables allow students to work side-by-side when necessary. In the middle of the room are four large (8'x4') tables each with at least six chairs. That means that the room can seat 40 in some comfort. The wall shelves still hold the reference collection of around 6,000 titles which didn't have to be sacrificed and which grows each year along with prudent weeding.

The other secret to making the room a success as a teaching space is our 28 laptops which are able to access the wireless network and can be used anywhere in the library. Usually when multiple classes are using the library, we've got some kids on the desktops, some on laptops, and some using the print collection. I really like the combination of all these ways to access information because it forces me and the students to explore all the resources the library has to offer. I like teaching in the Reference Room because I can easily walk to the shelves to show kids where books and other items are located and if I forget something, I'm not running to another location to get it, it's all right there.

My desk is also on the floor of the Reference Room which puts me in the thick of the action all day long.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Skepticism, An Essential Information Literacy Attitude

In a recent column Time magazine's Michael Kinsley discusses his concern over two memoirs which were admitted by their authors to have been faked. One, written by a white woman, was about growing up as a half-Native American gang member in South Central (Los Angeles). The other was the story of a woman who claimed to have been a Holocaust survivor as a child, which features an episode of her having been protected by a pack of wolves for a time. Kinsley refers to these fake memoirs as "autophoniographies."

After the infamous episode a couple years ago in which James Frey's memoir turned out have been padded with tales which were exaggerated or non-existent, I moved his book from the biography section of the library to the fiction section. His wasn't the first and certainly won't be the last of such books.

Kinsley's response to the publication of these books was interesting and has implications for information professionals and those we teach: "[B]ook publishers--unlike newspaper and magazine publishers--do virtually nothing to check or warrant the accuracy of what they print." (I have a feeling Time will be getting a few letters over that comment).

I think we sometimes mislead our students when we imply in any way that they can be secure in using books (print or digital), online subscription databases, or any other source of information without scrutinizing each source with a skeptical eye.

I continually remind my students to "check every source." No source of information is perfect and all have to be taken with some skepticism. As a matter of fact, the entire process of research should be based on a kind of skeptical mindset.

And this doesn't just apply to bogus memoirs. Another recent incident in the news revealed that a study which most likely played some part in the author's winning the 2004 Nobel Prize for Medicine had to be retracted because the author couldn't later verify the results.

The bottom line is not that we throw up our hands and quit looking for information, stop creating knowledge, cease producing results--but that all of us model how to be careful in assessing and evaluating information no matter what the source.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Web Site of the Month (Women's History)

March is Women's History Month and I was alerted to a great website about women's history through a librarian's listserv I subscribe to. It got me thinking that I could do a post each month about a website having to do with some topic being celebrated that month. Coming up we will be celebrating Earth Day in April and Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May.

This month, though, we celebrate the contributions of women in history. Of course, one might ask--why celebrate the larger half of the human race? Basically it's because women's role in history has been traditionally neglected as women were systematically excluded from roles in positions of power through the ages.

So here are this month's sites of the month.

-- American Women's History: A Research Guide
-- American Women Through Time

Both of these sites are maintained by Ken Middleton, a reference librarian at Middle Tennessee State University Library. According to his website, he has a second master's degree, with an emphasis in American women's history, from the same university. American Women's History: A Research Guide was named one of the Best Free Reference Web Sites in 2004 by the Machine-Assisted Reference Section (MARS) of the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) of the American Library Association. American Women's History provides citations to print and Internet reference sources, as well as to selected large primary source collections. The guide also provides information about the tools researchers can use to find additional books, articles, dissertations, and primary sources.

The image comes from the American Memory Project at the Library of Congress, "Votes for Women" Suffrage Pictures, 1850-1920.