Information and Critical Literacy in the Web World

This is the first of three posts which focus on information and critical literacy. This first post outlines the importance of developing information and critical literacy. The second post will give specific strategies and tools to use when evaluating information found online, while the third post focuses on verification of social media. Slides to support these blog posts are available on Slideshare.

The democratization of content creation is a wonderful thing; even as I type, I am enjoying the ability to publish to a worldwide audience. Thanks to the thousands of content creation and distribution platforms including WordPress, Scribd, Weebly, Storify, and of course YouTube just to name a few, millions of voices which might have never been heard have a channel to communicate their message. Content is being created at a mindblowing rate:
Click the image to open the interactive version (via http://pennystocks.la/).
Whereas previously content had to pass through extensive editorial processes prior to work being published, there is no such on the internet. Therefore we see just as much accurate as inaccurate information being posted online; a horrifying example being footage posted on Twitter, which was circulated as from the Brussells terror attack, but which was later revealed as footage from an earlier bombing in Belarus.

Disturbingly, it’s not just the accuracy of assignments that are at risk by this spread of misinformation; at the height of the Ebola crisis, according to this article by the Washington Post, 84 people had self-published Ebola e-books on Amazon in just 90 days; and almost all of them include information that’s either wildly misleading or flat-out wrong.

We need to develop skills in what Howard Rheingold calls ‘Crap’ Detection – knowledge of how to find and verify accurate, useful information – or basic information literacy for the internet age. This type of literacy is something which must be taught to students, and which must be brought to the attention of anyone who uses the internet as an information source – which, it seems, in Australia at least, is most people.

So what are these information literacy skills, and how do we learn them?
This series of posts attempts to outline some of the strategies, tips and tricks which can be applied to ensure the accuracy of information sourced from the internet; of course, much of it comes along with the fact that a little common sense goes a long way…

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by Ludie Cochrane

The multimodal nature of the internet allows users to create any version of truth. You might have seen the Dove Evolution video, where an attractive young woman is ‘transformed’ into a supermodel using photoshop; more recently, a human interest reporter Esther Honig wanted to see just how much culture influences beauty, and so she had the idea to ask 40 photo editors in 25 different countries to photoshop her picture.
“Make me look beautiful,” was the brief. The results show the amazing way the internet connects us, and the way technology can manipulate what we believe to be true.

For students, the internet is the dominant medium and place they go to for information. In a world of information overload, it is vital for students to not only find information but also determine its validity and appropriateness.

For teachers in particular, it is necessary to not only have these skills, but also to be able to educate students to become informed, literate, self directed learners, who are able to navigate effectively the information accessible on the internet. Mandy Lupton, in her research on inquiry and the Australian Curriculum, has found that inquiry skills and information literacy are embedded in the Australian Curriculum in the subject areas Science, History, Geography, Economics and Business, Civics and Citizenship, Digital Technologies and in the general capabilities Critical and Creative Thinking (CCT) and Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) . A huge part of being an effective learner and being able to research critically is being able to determine what is quality information, and where to source it from; after all,

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Click here to access the next post which explores Alan November’s ‘REAL’ strategy, and provides tools and strategies to apply in order to verify information discovered online. The third and final post, on critical literacy and social media is available here.