Information Literacy: The Core of a College Education

One of the outcomes of Grand View’s Core Curriculum is Information Literacy, a topic that’s been in the news quite a bit lately. First, there were revelations about how the proliferation of fake news stories on Facebook had an impact on the recent presidential election. Moreover, this surge of fake news most likely skews Google search results, which creates all sorts of complications when one considers how Google searches are the principal means for students to begin their digital research. Then, the Stanford History Education Group (SHEG) published a study examining college students’ ability to tell real news from fake in an online environment (including social media sites like Facebook). In the words of the study’s lead author, Sam Wineburg, the findings were “dismaying,” which is never a phrase educators want to hear about students’ information-literacy skills. You can find the study’s executive summary here, and I also recommend Bryan Alexander’s thoughtful analysis of the study and its conclusions.


Judging by the recent spate of articles, opinion pieces, and lamentations of a “post-truth” society, it seems clear that Information Literacy can now be seen as a more crucial component of a collegiate education than ever before. So in this sense, Grand View’s commitment to this outcome for our students is affirmed; we were wise to include it in our new Core. But with the proliferation of social media platforms, new digital tools, and the ever-growing reality that more and more people consume information digitally, an understanding of Information Literacy has to evolve to meet those new realities. For example, it’s still essential for students to understand the difference between “popular” and “scholarly” journals. But it’s also essential to be able to discern what’s “scholarly” in newer digital media like blogs, e-journals, and even social media spaces. Students can now find legitimate scholarly material on a professor’s personal blog as easily as in a journal they located on EBSCO. Some academics have even begun to experiment with threaded “Twitter essays”–a series of linked tweets that combine to make an argument and link scholarly materials to support it. Blogging platforms like WordPress (the platform this blog uses), Medium, and Tumblr are making it easier and easier for scholars to disseminate their work, regardless of institutional affiliation (or lack thereof).

Of course, the problem is that these spaces are also where tons and tons of non-scholarly material live, too. It’s one thing to show our students how to judge between a scholarly and popular print source, or to help them analyze a website to judge how reliable it may be. But it’s considerably more difficult to work with our students in analyzing specific items flowing through a particular site or social media feed: the article shared thousands of times on Facebook from a .org domain that turns out to be entirely fabricated. The professionally-designed website run by an organization claiming academic affiliation and credentials that perpetuates climate-science hoaxes. We live in a digital environment where misinformation, hoaxes, fake news–lies, they used to be called–metastasize at light speed.  Information Literacy involves even more than it did five years ago, when we embedded it in our Core Curriculum.

Fortunately, we have a wealth of campus resources to help us continue our work with our students around Information Literacy in all its facets. The GV Library staff is on the front lines of Information Literacy, and our librarians’ work with students in this area is top-notch. As we look toward the Spring semester, consider (especially if your course contains an IL outcome) how the Library staff can work with you and your students to help them successfully meet the Information Literacy outcomes of our Core (MyView: login required).  A good place to begin is this collection of resources (MyView) from workshops that were offered when we first inaugurated the new Core. You’ll find a nice overview of Information Literacy as a concept and some sample assignments here. Additionally, the Library maintains a site full of handy video tutorials that students find helpful; the collection covers a range of topics, such as using specific journal databases, citation practices, and even some assistance with Blackboard for students. CETL and the Library will also host some co-facilitated sessions on teaching Information Literacy that will focus on helping instructors zero in on discipline- and course-specific methods to develop students’ competencies in this area. Keep an eye out for further details, forthcoming at the beginning of the Spring semester.

On to this week’s links; more on Information Literacy, and other teaching and learning topics:

If you’re wondering what you can do if you see a fake news story crop up in your Facebook feed, here’s how to report it to Facebook’s administrators.

Melissa Zimdars, an Assistant Professor of Communication at Merrimack College, has curated a list of fake news sites, along with some really useful suggestions for analyzing online sources. Find those suggestions here, and a PDF of her list’s current incarnation here.

Daniel Sieradski has created a browser extension (an application that you download and then will run in the background while your web browser is open) called “B.S. Detector.” Using metadata and a crowdsourced list of dubious domains (which he makes available for all  to see), the extension pops up a warning when you visit a known purveyor of, well, B.S.

We’re pleased to announce that Sarah Rose Cavanagh, the author of The Spark of Learning: Energizing the College Classroom with the Science of Emotion, will be our featured speaker at our Summer Institute this May. Her latest column for Vitae is a consideration of how research into students’ emotions and their connections to learning can inform current debates about such fraught topics as “safe spaces.” (And more details on the Summer Institute soon–the tentative dates are May 23-24, 2017)

At the end of the semester, it’s often easy to lament the shortcomings of our students–You won’t believe what this kid wrote on his exam! Students these days can’t [fill in the blank]–but Maryellen Weimer offers us some thoughtful, cautionary advice about falling into the kids-these-days trap.

As the semester draws to a close, remember that CETL is here to support you and your students. If there’s anything you need, or any way CETL can be of service to you, please don’t hesitate to ask–call Kevin at 263-6102, send an email, or come by CETL to get a cup of coffee and help with what you need.

Individual consultations are a big part of CETL’s services to faculty. Feel free to set up an appointment, and we can talk about teaching, IDEA data, scholarship and scholarly interests–any area of your professional development. All consultations are confidential.

Kevin is also handling Blackboard issues or requests (course copies, mergers, troubleshooting) while we search for a new BB administrator; call, email, or drop into CETL with any Blackboard needs.

Finally, here’s Belvis the Bulldog showing off his amazing futbol skills:


One thought on “Information Literacy: The Core of a College Education”

  1. Having information/media/digital literacy in your core curriculum is an excellent idea. As we can see, it’s practical. It’s also future-oriented, as good solutions to these problems aren’t appearing.

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