The Information Jungle
Research for most of us who finished our formal education prior to 1995 operated in an Information Desert. Those five or ten sources required for a research paper were tough to find in our school and public libraries. The final product of our information quest was usually a written compilation of information, often verging on plagiarism to fulfill an assignment that neither requested nor encouraged the creation of new knowledge or innovative solutions to real problems.
Today’s student who has access to online sources of information operates in an Information Jungle. A quick search using an Internet search engine can yield thousands of possible sources of information. Savvy teachers today are asking students not just find and organize information, but to do so to answer genuine questions, offer original solutions to problems, and communicate their findings using a variety of media.
While technology can be enriching, the Information Jungle and projects that call for the demonstration of higher level thinking skills contain perils as well. The role of the teacher and library media specialist has rapidly changed from one of a desert guide (helping learners locate scarce resources) to one of jungle guide (helping learners evaluate and select resources of value). This change has been so rapid that many educators have not had time to learn the skills necessary for their new roles. But for those who do, the rewards for doing information problem solving in the Information Jungle can be tremendous. Survival Skills for the Information Jungle: Information Problem-Solving Activities Are More Important Than Ever Creative Classroom August 2001
One of the more interesting (and entertaining) activities that librarians conducted with students a few years ago (and perhaps still do), is exploring the need to critically evaluate the reliability of online information by looking at "spoof" websites. Some of these which were purposely created to alert novice Internet users to the perils of online information include:
- California’s Velcro Crop Under Challenge http://www.umbachconsulting.com/miscellany/velcro.html
- Feline Reactions to Bearded Men http://www.improb.com/airchives/classical/cat/cat.html
- Mankato MN Homepage http://city-mankato.us
- Dihydrogen Monoxide http://www.dhmo.org/
- Clones-R-Us http://clonesrus.weebly.com/
- Northwest Tree Octopus http://www.zapatopi.net/treeoctopus/
- First Male Pregnancy http://www.malepregnancy.com/
- National Motor Vehicle License Bureau http://www.license.shorturl.com/
Good discussion starters for those moving from an information environment of carefully vetted resources (libraries and print publication with journalistic integrity) to, well, the Internet.
It seems our lessons did not take. To our detriment and possibly to the deteriment of our nation. While the ability to spot "fake" news on the Internet has always seemed to be a rather academic skill, it has almost overnight become a critical skill needed by every citizen.
No longer friendly, humorous sites created to simply raise awareness in the naive information searcher, today's fake news and information is malicious, attempting to sway public opinion and to influence elections and public policy.
"Media literacy" can no longer be that subject taught when there is time. Or only by the librarian (if the school has one.) ISTE NETS for Students (2016) plainly state under the Knowledge Constructor section:
3b Students evaluate the accuracy, perspective, credibility and relevance of information, media, data or other resources.
Should we consider the ability evaluate information a skill that should fall under "Digital Citizenship" as well?
- Fake news is on the rise: can you tell the difference? Pioneer Press, November 16, 2016.
- Why students can't Google their way to the truth. Education Week, November 1, 2016