The dying art of information literacy

Shawn Callahan is bummed that his masters-level students are using sources (Google and Wikipedia) without evaluating their reliability.  Our information diets are killing us:

I have just finished marking a bunch of assignments. Not surprising the topic was narrative techniques in knowledge management. The students are masters level and I have to say I was depressed by what I received. The majority of the students were relying on Google and wikipedia to support their claims and arguments. The only journal articles referred to where the ones I made available in the shared online space.

This is an issue that comes up both in academics and in general business circles.  I suspect information overload has a reverse problem along these lines: the lack of desire to seek out high-quality information gets washed out in the too-much-information river.

Why is this important?  Individually, I want to be sure I have the best sources and information to answer a given question or problem.  The reason I might use the first answer I find on Google is that it seems to be "good enough" to the fit of my problem.  I evaluate any answers I find online (or in books and journals) with what I already know of a given topic, and whether the given information seems to fit with my mental model of the problem at hand.  I even look for insights that counter my intuition, just in case I have it wrong to begin with.  I note that this happens for me very quickly and naturally as I troll through found materials.  I tend to do more research on a given topic when I know something big is on the line. 

Collectively, information literacy is important because we have to rely on one another to search and collect and evaluate sources to develop high-quality solutions in business.

So, is the art of information literacy dying?  It is certainly changing as the sources and quantity of information changes.

8 Comment(s)

magia3e said:

Your post reminds me of when I was doing my Masters of Knowledge Management. I had researched a discussion point to post on our online forum and, ready to enjoy an accademic discussion, only found someone commenting "I don't think that's right". No logically constructed argument. No research. No nothing. I was aghast!

I never thought any of my high-school, undergraduate or post-graduate courses taught me how to think, form hypotheses, use deductive reasoning, research my arguments... I could go on, but you get the point.

Much of learning is social in nature - interaction, mentoring, watching, listening, and engaging. I'm not sure that our instant gratification world, our google-any-answer world, is at fault.

I would hypothesise that if my teachers engaged me in debate and intellectual persuits rather than wanting me to digest facts and spit them out I would be better at arguing and my first year psych marks would have been better. I also bet that those I met in my KM Masters would have produced a few more words in their posts.

I survived and taught myself how to think and learnt how to keep learning. I wish more people would spend more time learning how to think as well.


iain said:

Nothing new here. A Beeb report dated June, 2006 summarising research by Sally Brown (Leeds Metropolitan University) found that not only do most students think copying from the Internet is just fine but they just don't get the idea of plagiarism. According to Prof Brown: "They are post-modern, eclectic, Google-generationists, Wikipediasts, who don't necessarily recognise the concepts of authorships/ownerships."


Arjun Thomas said:

Nice article Jack, made for some interesting reading..

Arjun Thomas.

jackvinson Author Profile Page said:

A few others have been commenting on this topic and have linked to this post. Here are a pair of articles:

Jason the Content Librarian, Information Literacy Crisis?
Matt Hodgson, Information literacy: why the Oxford model works

David Montgomery said:

Jack, here is something I put together or rather rambled out in one fell swoop on reading the post above:

I say to you a plague on isms
Or should that be plagiarism
As searching on the Internet
I find my appetite it is whet

Just look at all these good ideas
Like honey to a swarm of bees
Surely all we find is free
All these thoughts they come from me

Secured by searchers' finders rights
From looking on the net at night
What's the point of cyberspace
If authors want to claim their place

So please do not start to moan
When I state source unknown
Since from my mind your name has gone
Thus my source becomes Anon

Not (nearly) in the same calibre as Burns or even Lear but I thought it was worth a punt anyway to make the point about those siphoning the ideas of least they'll never snaffle the tacit knowledge!!!


magia3e said:
According to Prof Brown: "They are post-modern, eclectic, Google-generationists, Wikipediasts, who don't necessarily recognise the concepts of authorships/ownerships."

@Ian: Really??? I think it's a good thing if no one 'owns' information. Certainly, as far as copyright is concerned, you can't own an idea, you can only own a 'work' in its entirety.

I know there are disadvantages with this world view of "Google-generationists" (as Ian puts it), but maybe more people should be thinking that we should let knowledge and information be free.


David Montgomery said:

"but maybe more people should be thinking that we should let knowledge and information be free."

I think many people do think like this until its their idea that gets snaffled......Budweiser from Czech Republic or born in the USA? Emotional Intelligence = Daniel Goleman or extrapolation from Howard Gardner?

Food for thought.


Brett Author Profile Page said:

Came across the CRAP test (Currency, Reliability, Authority, Purpose) a while back; a good start on helping people to understand the relative value of sources. (Of course, this assumes they give a crap... um, I mean care.)

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