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Info literacy is (or is not) equal to info technology

April 18, 2012

People on our campus are currently discussing information literacy and what it means to our curriculum. What sparked this discussion? None other than implementation of our new general education program. Faculty are in the midst of reviewing course proposals for their support of the University’s ten newly selected General Education Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs). The second SLO, labeled ‘Information Literacy,’ states that students will be able to “Find, evaluate, and ethically use information using appropriate technology.”

Right now, the discussion of information literacy centers on how broadly or narrowly this goal should be defined, and on the role technology plays in information literacy. Some faculty equate this goal with ‘information technology,’ stating emphatically the goal is all about teaching students how to effectively use technology. Interestingly enough, the faculty espousing this view are from the colleges of education and business. I have heard it said this goal is primarily about learning how to use technology, because technology is mentioned in the goal. I, and others, have responded that the goal clearly is about finding, evaluating, and using information using the appropriate technology, which may or may not be electronic. Most often it will be, but students should be able to judge when it is not appropriate. Is it appropriate to spend 3 hours using a library computer to search the Internet for an authoritative source listing a drug interaction, when a print or electronic book readily at hand contains the needed information? You be the judge.

OK, I admit I’m a little cranky on this topic, but I find no support for the idea that technology will solve all our problems. In fact, it often seems to create new problems that were unforeseen. To paraphrase Shane, from Jack Schaefer’s novel of the same name, technology is a tool, only as good as the people using it. I am not a Luddite by any means — I do not want to go back to the days of card catalogs, thank you very much — but I disagree with the assumption that using technology is, in and of itself, always a desirable act. Yes, technology is ubiquitous and we do have to learn to use it, but boy oh boy, I think we can benefit from being more critical of how we use it.

OK, so I’d like to hear what you think. Do you distinguish between information literacy and information technology literacy? How do you define technology? How do faculty on your campus define information literacy? Information technology literacy? What do you make of PA Forward’s definition of information literacy:

Information Literacy – Libraries can help all Pennsylvanians learn how to use online resources and current technology to improve their education, to enhance their job skills, and to participate fully in a digital society.

Do you agree with this definition? It seems to agree more with those on my campus who equate info lit with info technology. What do you think?

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 18, 2012 1:18 pm

    Linda—This is a great post and a great topic. I actually think there is quite a bit of overlap between technology literacy and information literacy goals, and the potential here exists for librarians to capitalize on this intersection to find new/expanded roles for themselves in higher education. I don’t think higher ed. has technology literacy goals, but if you compare the K-12 National Education Technology Standards and Performance Indicators for Students (NETS-S) and the ACRL Info Lit goals, you will find significant overlap. However, as you say , it is more than just about use. Faculty should be on board with that idea though, as it is really about how its used and why…critical thinking and higher order learning goals, just like the ones we want to see for information literacy, and just like what faculty want to teach their students. You can have really basic skill level Info lit goals too. But librarians have fought to raise the level of our instruction and out goals…and that is what is needed when discussing information technology use too

  2. Paul Proces permalink
    April 18, 2012 2:45 pm

    I might up the ante by mentioning not only info literacy & information technology literacy, but the constellation of interrelated ideas of this kind advocated by various non-mutually-exclusive constituencies. This includes information fluency, transmedia literacy, meta-medium literacy, multimodal literacy, transliteracy, metaliteracy, ict literacy, etc etc etc. If popularity is the sole arbiter, the only thing all these advocates agree on is that (1) what is fundamentally important to education has changed and (2) the application of critical thinking to some kind of electronic technology is important enough to be called something new. It’s a bit of an oversimplification, but I think mostly true.

    • Linda Neyer permalink
      April 24, 2012 2:02 am

      @Larissa, I agree there’s a lot of overlap and interdependency between info lit and info technology literacy. Higher ed takes it as a given that students will have developed both by the time they enter college, but students’ abilities are all over the place. Faculty are more concerned with info technology literacy (imo) because a lack of it is more obvious when students try to create a product — paper, presentation, poster, whatever. Lack of info lit? Not so obvious on the surface perhaps, but it’s there.

      @Paul, you’re absolutely right in that the ante has been upped. Using technology does change the way we think about things — and not always for the better, would you agree? It is crucial we apply critical thinking to using electronic technology. Personally, I’m put off by what I perceive as an automatic use of technology in all situations. It can detract from deeper questions.

      OK, time to go home and go to bed!

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