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"Now that we have our new AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner, when I am writing, I'm not simply using the outdated term "information literacy skills."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 But to claim these other literacies are equal our now "outdated" information seeking and use skills, called in shorthand "information literacy" is to make a grave mistake.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.

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