Abundance in the information ecology of secondary school students

Assessment Item 8
Part A: Digital Essay

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Introduction

Secondary school students in the twenty first century have unprecedented access to an abundance of information. The emergence of Web 2.0 technologies has added complexity to information seeking and understanding. “There is no longer one definitive source of knowledge, no one expert. Learners need to develop strategies for finding and validating appropriate resources” (Conole, 2013, p 48). The vast amount of information and the variety of ways with which to connect to it has produced a network effect (Conole, 2013) with new knowledge flows. School libraries and teacher librarians must adapt and prepare students for the demands of an ever-changing information ecology by providing “reading and information options delivered by all manner of media and digital devices… [and] know how to find, filter, then mix and match what they see, hear and experience” (O’Connell, 2012. p 5). Information fluency is one approach that according to Rader “includes library literacy, media literacy, computer literacy, internet literacy, research literacy, and critical thinking skills” (Harris & Millet, 2006, p 526). School libraries can provide a bridge between available knowledge and knowledge gaps but they are competing with other channels in the digital information ecology (García‐Marco, 2011).

Digital information ecology

Ecosystems contain many populations that coexist and compete in a shared environment thus ecosystem “has become the paradigm to approach the complexity of the modern information world” (García‐Marco, 2011, p. 106) The digital ecosystem of computers, social media, mobile technologies and Web 2.0 tools is constantly evolving but it is the social and cultural processes rather than the technological processes that Nardi emphasizes (García‐Marco, 2011). This disruptive shift has consequences for education and libraries and careful thought to the pedagogy behind the technology and tools is essential.

Open, social and participatory technologies have emerged in the last ten years from a static Web 1.0 to a Web 2.0 environment. This has made the internet “a more active and distributed network with user-generated content and a much richer, interconnected network of communicative channels” (Conole, 2012, p. 51). Web 2.0 has led to an abundance of information where authority is more difficult to ascertain and information overload can result. As a consequence, “quick access to a wide range of information means that the user needs the ability to critically evaluate the validity and relative value of information accessed” (Starkey, 2011, p. 23). Starkey reiterates the importance of thinking critically by saying that students who can think critically are more likely to become participants, rather than merely consumers in a digital world.

Traditional providers of knowledge, such as teachers and textbooks, have been challenged by the changing information ecology. The NMC Horizon Report: 2014 K-12 contends that teachers need to foster curiosity so that students will delve deeper into subject matter because “teachers are no longer the primary source of information and knowledge for students when a quick web search is at their fingertips” (Johnson, Adams Becker, Estrada & Freeman, 2014, p. 6). Similarly, libraries were once considered the guardians of knowledge but are sometimes considered irrelevant and slow compared to Google, Amazon and Wikipedia. “Libraries should be seizing every opportunity to challenge these perceptions, and to push their genuinely valuable content, services and expertise out to places where people stand to benefit from them” (Miller, 2005, para 10). Teacher librarians are no longer gatekeepers to knowledge; they are capacity builders for students and teachers (Hay, 2009).

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Digital libraries, repositories and portals

“In ecosystems, organisms must adapt to their environment to survive and thrive; otherwise they become extinct” (Cheng, 2000, p. 24). The ubiquity of mobile devices has increased access to the digital world. Studies from the Pew Research Centre found 92% of teenagers go online daily (Lenhart, 2015) and 87% of Americans say the web helps them learn new things (Purcell & Rainie, 2014). Research can happen at anytime and anywhere and “Google is a metaphor for the instant gratification expected in information search and retrieval today” (Conway, 2015, p. 63). With this in mind many libraries and cultural institutions are going where their users are and extending the reach of their services using digital collections and social networking. The National Library of Australia is responding to the changing expectations of users by collaborating with Australian cultural institutions to aggregate digital content using Trove (Holley, 2010). Trove is a search engine to the treasure within Australia’s cultural heritage institutions. Participation and engagement with users is encouraged via social networking, forums and crowdsourcing. Sophisticated scanning and digitisation techniques have made previously unattainable content globally available.

Retrieved from: https://youtu.be/DDOY5gun1mY

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is making governments and institutions aware of the importance of preserving information for present and future generations. There are clear distinctions between digitization for preservation and digital preservation, “digitization for preservation creates valuable new digital product, whereas digital preservation protects the value of those products, regardless of whether the original source is a tangible artefact or data that were born and live digitally.” (Conway, 2015, p. 64). The conversion of books from analogue to digital is being done on a large scale by academic libraries, national libraries and Google Books. The desired outcome is for “improved search and retrieval of the digital content and advances in the delivery of content through the internet” (Conway, 2015, p. 68). Products born digitally are at risk of being rendered unusable through obsolescence of hardware and software. “While clay tablets can survive for several millennia, audiovisual documents will only last decades and digitally-born heritage may not exceed ten years” (“Information preservation”, n.d., para 3). While the initial aim of preservation is to protect, preservation projects often lead to the creation of new digital collections with added value for students, scholars and the general public (Conway, 2015).

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More recently there has been a global movement towards open content, open education resources (OER) and Creative Commons licenses.
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Digital repositories, digital libraries, galleries and museums collect and curate authentic resources that can be used for a variety of purposes without having to seek permission from the rights holder. The Getty Museum and Europeana are two outstanding examples. Physical boundaries are being reorganised by networks and information flows and education is not immune to the “power embedded in global networks of capital, goods, services, communication, information, science and technology” (Selwyn, 2012, p. 3). The dominance of Google is one example of a “multinational global digital information system” (García‐Marco, 2010, p. 115) that is shaping information access in multiple ways.

Retrieved from:https://youtu.be/LzMXbvBsALo

Students need guidance in finding and using these valuable cultural resources. Teacher librarians can curate resources and enable such discoveries. To avoid information overload students require additional skills and competencies.

Connected learning

Thomas and Brown (2011) contend a new culture of learning is required for a digital ecosystem that includes Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia and online games. The ubiquity of information, mobile technologies and Web 2.0 tools means learning is increasingly happening outside of the classroom in the network age. ‘This new culture of learning can augment learning in nearly every facet of education and every stage of life” (Thomas & Brown, 2011, p32) by focusing on the principles of play, questioning and imagination. In the video The Global One Room Schoolhouse, John Seely Brown says students need to be able to adapt to new ways, new resources and new things and become entrepreneurial learners. Entrepreneurial learners are makers and tinkerers who can adapt and apply strategies in a rapidly changing world. In a similar vein, Helen Haste says “competence lies in adaptive responses to the new technology’s options and particularly their impact on social practices” and these responses are vital for twenty-first century life. (Haste, 2009. p. 216). Being able to adapt, apply and transfer strategies to a new situation reduces anxiety and leads to a sense of agency.

Retrieved from: https://youtu.be/fiGabUBQEnM

School libraries have a vital role to play in cultivating the dispositions of curiosity, questing and connecting. Students need boundaries and support to effectively harness the affordances of technology with only “a minority creating, uploading or posting content or joining participatory communities” (Ito et al., 2013, p. 25). Connected learning “draws on sociocultural learning theory in valuing learning that is embedded within meaningful practices and supportive relationships, and that recognizes diverse pathways and forms of knowledge and expertise.” (Ito et al., 2013, p. 5) School libraries can provide these diverse pathways with a combination of physical and digital resources and tools. In addition to this, a school library can be a supportive and safe place for twenty first century learners to explore, play and fail.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Aspects of connected learning can be seen in the Australian Curriculum’s general capabilities. The Australian Curriculum has responded to the challenges of the twenty-first century and included critical and creative thinking and information and communication technology (ICT) general capabilities throughout the learning areas. Critical and creative thinking “capability is concerned with the encouragement of skills and learning dispositions or tendencies towards particular patterns of intellectual behaviour.” (Austalian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, 2013) The capability for information communication technology stresses the ability for students to transfer knowledge, skills and dispositions across environments and applications. Teacher librarians can work collaboratively with teachers to embed the capabilities into the learning areas and by providing resources for implementation (Toner, 2011). “Twenty-first century learning theories emphasise the importance of supporting authentic and ubiquitous (anywhere, anyhow) learning, and providing students with opportunities, resources and spaces to develop their creative and critical thinking skills” (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, 2013). School libraries should be equipped to do the same.

Information literacy, digital literacy and information fluency

School librarians can work collaboratively with teachers to develop the skills and learning dispositions necessary for twenty-first century students using various information seeking models. “The proliferation of digital information makes it increasingly important for every citizen to possess competencies for managing, integrating, creating and communicating information, in addition to finding using, and evaluating it” (Sharkey, 2013, p. 37). Before the internet, information literacy programs focused on the skills required to find, locate, evaluate and use information. The concept of digital literacy followed with Gilster defining it “as an ability to understand and use information from a variety of digital sources” (Bawden, 2008, p. 18). According to Stripling (2007), information fluency is now a replacement term for information literacy, however there are some differences.
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Information fluency acknowledges that there are multiple pathways and users need strategies for the challenges of retrieval. “A fluent searcher knows how digital and print information differs, quickly learns specialized tools for finding digital information, and engages effectively in a digital information environment” (Heine & O’Connor, 2014, p. 4) Regardless of the terminology or the model used, the complex information flows of a networked world require students to interrogate all resources because information is available in many formats and delivered through various channels. Educators “must prepare students to become strategic, critical, divergent, and creative thinkers” (Bush, 2009, p. 446).

Conclusion

Australian students are engaging with digital technologies inside and outside of the classroom. Students have an abundance of information at their fingertips but they need help to develop skills, competencies and dispositions to use it effectively throughout their lives. Information is accessed, shared and communicated using multiple channels and school libraries can support learning in this dynamic landscape. In a twenty-first century world of digital convergence, adaptation is the key to thriving in the evolving digital information ecosystem.

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References

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Bawden, D. (2008). Origins and concepts of digital literacy. In Digital literacies: concepts, policies & practices. (pp. 17-32). Retrieved from http://ezproxy.csu.edu.au/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lih&AN=39774960&site=ehost-live

Bush, G. (2009). Thinking around the corner: The power of information literacy. Phi Delta Kappan, 90(6), 446-447. Retrieved from http://web.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=c793c61d-d0dc-4d04-a64a-a7fda28eb77c%40sessionmgr4005&vid=1&hid=4206Conole, G. (2013). Designing for Learning in an Open World. Retrieved from http://www.eblib.com

Conway, P. (2015). Preservation in the age of Google: Digitization, digital preservation, and dilemmas.The Library Quarterly, 80(1), 61-79. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/648463

International Society for Technology in Education [ISTE]. (2015). ISTE standards for students. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/iste-standards/standards-for-students

García‐Marco, F. J. (2011). Libraries in the digital ecology: reflections and trends. The Electronic Library, 29(1), 105-120. doi:10.1108/02640471111111460

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Haste, H. (2009). What is ‘competence’ and how should education incorporate new technology’s tools to generate ‘competent civic agents’. The Curriculum Journal, 20(3), 207-223. doi: 10.1080/09585170903195845

Hay, L., & Foley, C. (2009). School libraries building capacity for student learning in the 21C. Scan, 28(2), 17-26. Retrieved from http://search.informit.com.au.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/documentSummary;res=AEIPT;dn=182942

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Holley, R. (2010). Trove: Innovation in access to information in Australia. Ariadne(64). Retrieved from http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue64/holley

Ito, M., Gutierrez, K., Livingstone, S., Penuel, B., Rhodes, J., Salen, K., … Watkins, S. C. (2013). Connected learning: An agenda for research and design. Retrieved from http://clrn.dmlhub.net/

Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Estrada, V., & Freeman, A. (2014). NMC Horizon report: 2014 K-12 edition. Retrieved from http://www.nmc.org/publication/nmc-horizon-report-europe-2014-schools-edition-2/

Lenhart, A. (2015). Teens, social media & technology overview 2015. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/files/2015/04/PI_TeensandTech_Update2015_0409151.pdf

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O’Connell, J. (2012). Learning without frontiers: school libraries and meta-literacy in action. Access, 26(1), 4-7. Retrieved from http://search.informit.com.au.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/documentSummary;dn=038168567341804;res=IELAPA

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Stripling, B. (2007). Assessing information fluency: Gathering evidence of student learning. School Library Media Activities Monthly, 23(8), 25-29.

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