Monday, August 30, 2010

Why Information Literacy Needs to be Woven Through All Courses

Seymour Papert (1997) in an essay, Why School Reform is Impossible, writes:
The first microcomputers in schools were in the classrooms of visionary teachers who used them (often with LOGO) in very personal ways to cut across deeply rooted features of School (what Tyack and Cuban neatly call "the grammar of school") such as a bureaucratically imposed linear curriculum, separation of subjects, and depersonalization of work. School responded to this foreign body by an "immune reaction" that blocked these subversive features: The control of computers was shifted from the classrooms of subversive teachers into "computer labs" isolated from the mainstream of learning, a computer curriculum was developed... in short, before the computer could change School, School changed the computer.
In reading Papert, I began to think about the trend to locate information literacies within the domain of the media specialist as a separate "topic" or subject to be taught.  I want to suggest that this is a mistake every bit as much as was the design of computer labs in the 1980s for the very reasons Papert purports. He writes:
One may at first blush see a tautology in using this proposition to explain failures of reform. But to say that School changes the reform is very different from simply saying that School resists or rejects the reform. It resists the reform in a particular way -- by appropriating or assimilating it to its own structures. By doing so, it defuses the reformers and sometimes manages to take in something of what they are proposing.
Information literacies cannot be a 40-minute class taught once a week.  If so, the School will reform it to maintain its status quo and we will be ever be reading clever columns about why Johnny Can't Search, Communicate, etc... We need to want more for ourselves, our students, and our democracy.

Whereas media specialist and librarians may well lead the way helping us all to better understand ways to use Internet-based tools and how we might apply critical and creative thinking dispositions to the information we consume and produce, we must not situate this critical literacy as a single course or event.  Informational literacy shapes how we think and fail to think.  Its skills, strategies and dispositions deeply define what it means to learn powerfully and ways we might represent that learning creatively, critically, and socially.   I want to suggest that seamless integration of informational literacies into all courses across all grade levels for all learners may be more challenging to achieve than the single separate strand, but this commitment will help us to change schools in fundamental and enduring ways.  Unlike the computer movement of the 1980s where the computer was allocated to the lab and separated from the School as Papert purports, seamless integration of informational literacies along with critical literacies is the revolution knocking at our collective doors.  The question is: Do we have the will to open that door? 

Opening that door makes possible an environment where different types of learning informed by social media might occur.  Consider how different the learning potential is between a group of students in classroom A who learn that research is a solitary activity one does alone with a few resources, some note cards and an idea vs. the students (who cannot be confined to a classroom) who through diigo, skype and the like propose, build, challenge and re-present and remix ideas.  The differences between these scenarios are significant as is the environment that allows for social collaboration and learning.  

President Obama last year established by proclamation an information literacy month. The Proclamation read:
"Every day, we are inundated with vast amounts of information. A 24-hour news cycle and thousands of global television and radio networks, coupled with an immense array of online resources, have challenged our long-held perceptions of information management. Rather than merely possessing data, we must also learn the skills necessary to acquire, collate, and evaluate information for any situation. This new type of literacy also requires competency with communication technologies, including computers and mobile devices that can help in our day-to-day decisionmaking.... Though we may know how to find the information we need, we must also know how to evaluate it. Over the past decade, we have seen a crisis of authenticity emerge. We now live in a world where anyone can publish an opinion or perspective, whether true or not, and have that opinion amplified within the information marketplace. At the same time, Americans have unprecedented access to the diverse and independent sources of information, as well as institutions such as libraries and universities, that can help separate truth from fiction and signal from noise."
In many ways we are the information we produce and consume and those among us who have multiple Discourses in which to represent one's self are significantly advantaged.  Ensuring that information literacies are infused across all domains should be national, state, and local commitment. Our very democracy to continue, may well need it.  

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