Ethical uses of technology: Information literacy

This is the third of a series of three posts on Internet safety and ethical uses of technology in schools in the 21st century.

I’m completing a M.Ed. program through Iowa State University and I have been creating a portfolio based on five competencies.  These competencies really sum up all the work we’ve done over the last three years and has given me time to think about some of the work I’ve done, both as part of the program and during my tenure as a technology director for a K12 school.  However, one of the competencies is based around ethical use of technology and it was this standard that challenged me to think of an artifact that would meet this truly important standard.  I have done a number of things over the last few years related to Internet Safety and ethical uses of technology in education, but nothing really stood out to me as being the best I could put forward to represent my thoughts on the topic.  Where I struggled was that most of what I’ve done hasn’t had much of a 21st century perspective.  As I searched the Internet looking for some guidance, I still came up short, therefore, I’ve decided to come up with my own ethical guidelines for technology use in schools for the 21st century.  These are purely my beliefs, but I think they are important enough to share with the rest of the world.

This week I have talked about empowering our students and making sure they understand the consequences of their actions online as a way to help them create and manage their online presence. Today I am going to finish up my thoughts on the ethical uses of technology in the 21st century by briefly talking about information literacy.  Looking forward to where I think the world is going, knowing how to find and synthesize reliable information is crucial.  When I was in school, books were the standard bearer for having a reliable source.  However, times have changed and so have our students.  No longer are books or other written text the only reliable information sources and I believe we need to reflect that in how we teach and prepare our students.

Information literacy and how to tell if a site is reliable

We live in the world of Wikipedia and any number of other sites that publish information, many with questionable intentions.  Not surprisingly, most of the information on these sites is questionable and in a world and marketplace where finding and disseminating information is key, teaching our students how to find reliable and valid information is key to their success.  I know I ‘ve seen a number of “research” papers from students that use Wikipedia as their primary source of information.  While I advocate for the use of Wikipedia for general knowledge, much like I would a paper-based encyclopedia, we need to help students take their searches deeper to reach experts and primary sources.  With many schools having access to EBSCO, SIRS and other online databases, it only makes sense to teach our students how to wield the power of these sites to find the best information possible to make an informed decision.

What’s more, the level of interconnectedness we have through the use of social networking sites allows us to contact subject matter experts.  Many subject matter experts will provide a portion of their time for free, allowing teachers the opportunity to bring in an authentic source for their students.  If you’re looking for a way to motivate your class about your content, or a student finds conflicting resources about a topic, find a person who is an expert in that field.  It could be an environmental biologist, an engineer, a politician, or any number of others that are willing to come and talk to your classes, if not face to face, over the Internet through technologies like Skype or even email.  We have become a society that seems afraid of asking for assistance or input from outside entities.  Knowing to ask for help is half the battle, so part of making student more information literate is helping them get to a point when they know they need to consult with another source.

My point here is that we need to create the opportunities for our students to interact with information and research.  Students have to learn how to make informed decisions and to an extent, they need to make a few mistakes before they can truly sift through all the information the world has to offer to find what they are really researching.  Teachers who fail to make use of the Internet, or do not allow the use of Internet resources in their assignments are truly doing a diservice to their students as this will be the medium for information dissemination in the future.  No longer are we able to allow our students to learn these important skills serendipitously, if at all.

There are a number of ways you can begin to increase your students’ information literacy.  Here are just a few.:

  • Find a way to use the Internet in your classrooms to bring in authentic sources of information.  Bring authenticity to your content.  Just because you think it is important doesn’t mean your students do.
  • Let your students become researchers so they have the opportunity to have hands-on experience trying to find authentic information about the content.  Don’t accept anything you deem less than acceptable.
  • Explain why certain sites are unreliable or questionable and have that discussion with your students throughout the course of the semester or year.
  • Show students how to find the organization of a Web site by taking a URL and deleting parts of the path until all that remains is the domain name.  You will sometimes be amazed with what you find.
  • Use sites like EBSCO, SIRS, etc., with your students and model what being information literate means.
  • Teach your students how to use boolean search techniques.  These techniques work for most databases and Internet search engines.
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