information literacy

Developing 21st Century Skills: Information Literacy

The 21st century skill of information literacy is one that students must master to be able to seek, access, and apply facts from all sources to guide them in learning and making decisions.

Instead of struggling to find information, 21st century students are overwhelmed with it — websites, blogs, databases, magazines, books, documentaries, newspapers, television shows, organizations, advertisements, and agencies are all available at their fingertips. Teachers must guide their students through it all to achieve information literacy and become savvy consumers of information.

What’s Good Information?

information literacyEven pre-school children think they know how to get information — Google it! Teaching different approaches to do research is challenging, but information literacy is achieved by using tools to narrow an internet search and to verify media sources. Introduce your students to fact verification sites such as FactCheck.org or Snopes.com. Before tackling a research assignment, review different information sources and discuss with your students why the article or story was written, from what perspective was it written, whether it is factual or an opinion, and if the facts given were accurate. Finding information is only the first step — confirming and analyzing it teaches information literacy.

How to Present Information

Giving your students options to present the information they have gathered allows them to take another step toward information literacy. They become the information source and are responsible for giving accurate information through a video, narrative, or audio recording. Decisions must be made on the approach to take, visual effects, sounds, and how to capture the audience’s interest — in addition to the content.

Don’t Forget Security

Teaching information literacy must include a discussion about computer security and safety issues. Information for teachers can be found at elearningindustry.com, which provides a “Teacher Guide to Keeping Students Safe Online.” Kids need to know how to responsibly use the internet and how to protect their privacy. Involve parents so that you are aware of their concerns and can address them, too.

Be Aware

information literacyThere are often simple visual clues students can look for to determine whether a source is reliable and authentic, but they likely won’t know to look for them unless you tell them. When students click on an article, have them look at the URL in the address bar for things that are slightly off. For example, cnn.com is a legitimate news site, but cnn-trending.com is an imitation site that even uses the CNN logo to trick people into thinking they are on the real site. Other malicious sites will use the extension “.co” at the end of well-known URLs to trick viewers into believing they are on legitimate news sites (examples of this include ABCnews.com.co posing as ABCnews.com and NBCNews.com.co posing as NBCNews.com). Simply making students aware of the ways sites try to trick them can put the importance of information literacy into focus.

How to Cite Sources

Students see something on the internet and pass it along for others to see on shared social media sites. While the sharing of information directly is appropriate, it is important for students to understand that they cannot copy directly from a source and report it as their own. Teaching information literacy must include a discussion about how to use sources without plagiarizing. Proper use of quotations and the correct way to cite sources within a report should also be reviewed. A bibliography is important and students must learn how to create one for listing sources used in their research. Slate Citation Machine illustrates the proper format for listing all sources and students may use it free online as an information literacy tool.

Modern education relies on information from all sources available, and preparing students to learn responsibly from media and internet sources allows them to become confident in their ability to analyze and understand that information. Virtual Learning Commons reminds teachers that “the development of information literacy skills allows students to become not only astute information consumers, but ethical and thoughtful information creators as well.” That is a 21st century skill students can’t do without.

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Sue Hamilton

Sue is a Pennsylvania native and graduate of Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where she earned a B.S. degree in English. She worked as a radio newscaster and newspaper reporter before becoming a paralegal in a small civil law firm. Reading is her passion and Sue is an avid volunteer with her community library.

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