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What happened to "information literacy"?


In A Reminder That "Fake News" is an Information Literacy Problem - Not a Technology Problem, author Leetaru writes in Forbes (July 7, 2019):

Societies must teach their children from a young age how to perform research, understand sourcing, triangulate information, triage contested narratives and recognize the importance of where information comes from, not just what it says.

In short, we must teach all of our citizens how to be researchers and scientists when it comes to consuming information.

Most importantly, we must emphasize verification and validation over virality and velocity.

He also opines:

In the early days of the Web societies taught their citizenry not to believe everything they read online, to treat every statement as suspect and not to act upon or share information without verifying it. Today those same societies place enormous pressure on their citizens to believe everything they see on the Web at face value and to share it as widely as they can as quickly as they can, rejecting any contradictory information they might stumble across in the process.

The old adage “Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet” has become “Believe everything on the Web and share it widely.”

Hello? How can it be that in 2019, over 20 years after many of us started getting information from online sources, are we still calling out the need for "information literacy"? Have we, in fact, regressed in its teaching as the quote above suggests? 

In 2001 I wrote in the article, Survival Skills for the Information Jungle. An excerpt:

Information jungle survival skill 3: Learn to tell the good berries from the bad berries.

Joey Rogers, Executive Director of the Urban Library Council, observes that libraries should have two large signs in them. The first hanging over the stacks that reads “Carefully selected by trained professionals” and the other hanging over the Internet terminals that reads “Whatever.”

Even very young students can and should be learning to tell the bad information berries from the good ones. Since junior high students often make websites that often look better than those of college professors, we teach students to look: 

  • For the same information from multiple sources.
  • At the age of the page.
  • At the credentials of the author.
  • For unstated bias by the page author or sponsor.

Check Kathy Schrock's extensive guide here:


As students use research to solve problems about controversial social and ethical issues, the ability to evaluate and defend one’s choice of information source becomes very important.

I suggested the following activity:

Your students have been researching current diseases and they come into the classroom with information from these sources. Could you help them determine which could be considered the most reliable? Might you as a teacher have a different opinion than some parents about the validity of information from some sources?

  • Center for Disease Control
  • Newsweek
  • The bestseller The Hot Zone
  • Flyers from an insurance company or HMO
  • Personal webpage
  • Chat room conversation
  • Rush Limbaugh’s radio talk showNational Public Radio’s “Science Friday” 
I am sure that over the past 20 years, there have been many, many teachers and librarians who have helped their students and patrons develop better information literacy skills. Kathy Schrock, Mike Eisenberg, Joyce Valenza, and other library leaders have tirelessly advocated for applying critical thinking to resource evaluation and use.
Perhaps we who support information literacy, suffer the same struggles as those who support good nutrition. Will people ever begin to choose brocolli over French fries? Reseach journals over the Twitter feed? 


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Reader Comments (5)

With so many unsupervised ideas expressed online, we are learning that early recommendations to evaluate content have been proven of limited value. I fear that much of the problem lies with the learner. It is not that we lack critical thinking skills. It is that we too easily look for and accept content that fits our biases and existing models of how the world works.

July 16, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterGrabe


I found your criteria for evaluating online sources useful and I think they have withstood the test of time. Nowadays, I think we would call it lateral reading.

To dig deeper into this topic, I highly recommend Jake Miller's recent interview with Dr. Alec Couros in Season 1 Episode 22 of the Educational Duct Tape podcast. Topics include information overload, confirmation bias, fake news, etc.


July 16, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMichael

Here are a couple of relevant citations:

Bulger, M. & Davison, P. (2018). The promises, challenges, and futures of media literacy. Data & Society Available online:

McGrew, S., Breakstone, J., Ortega, T., Smith, M., & Wineburg, S. (2018). Can students evaluate online sources? Learning from assessments of civic online reasoning. Theory & Research in Social Education, 46(2), 165-193.

Wineburg, S. & McGrew, S, (2017) Lateral Reading: Reading Less and Learning More When Evaluating Digital Information.. Stanford History Education Group Working Paper No. 2017-A1. Available at SSRN:

July 16, 2019 | Unregistered Commentermark grabe


I still continue to update and add to my critical evaluation guides. “Fake news” is a new term but a very old Internet problem. I hope teachers continue to have students question all they find on the Web. It takes time, but is worth it in the end!

July 17, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterKathy Schrock

Thanks, Mark. I appreciate the thoughts. Confirmation bias seems a basic part of human nature. I am not immune! Thanks also to the resource links. Good to know the fight continues.


Thanks for the comment and the link, Michael.


Hi Kathy,

Great to hear from you! Send me the link to your evaluation guides and I will happily add it to this post.

Hope all is well.


July 18, 2019 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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