Saturday, July 21, 2007

Digital natives, information literacy and a skills gap?

The New Media Consortium's 2007 Horizon Report is a very interesting read (at least hit the executive summary!). A couple claims they make about student skills and literacies resonated with me as I read (from different sections of the report):

1) There is a skills gap between understanding how to use tools for media creation and how to create meaningful content. Although new tools make it increasingly easy to produce multimedia works, students lack essential skills in composition, storytelling, and design. In addition, faculty need curricula that adapt to the pace of change and that teach the skills that will be needed—even though it is not clear what all those skills may be.

2) Information literacy increasingly should not be considered a given. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, the information literacy skills of new students are not improving as the post-1993 Internet boomlet enters college. At the same time, in a sea of user-created content, collaborative work, and instant access to information of varying quality, the skills of critical thinking, research, and evaluation are increasingly required to make sense of the world.
I've made an interesting observation with both my 12 and 14 year old daughters, my older nephews, and many of their friends with whom I have some Facebook or other social network contact. They all seem surprisingly computer illiterate...despite their amazing keyboard skills, and hours on computers--"Oh, there's a calculator on here?" or "how do I attach that file?" or "Dad, the computer's not working" (when only the wireless switch was turned off--as if the Internet IS the computer...OK, I'll give them that one).

Perhaps more to the point of the Horizon Report claim #1, I see them viewing, sharing, remixing, and even creating photos, videos, music with each other with either no aesthetic quality, or even less purpose, message or meaning. Sure, not everything has to be deep and poignant, but this stuff adds up to heaps of material posted to YouTube, Facebook, Flickr etc. that is really senseless material--outside of just wanting to publish/share something and get a reaction from friends (no sense watching more than 30 seconds of this example close to home).

Admittedly, I have undergraduate degrees in photography and film, spent years creating video and media professionally, and have been teaching media courses for the last 4 years. Yes, I probably have higher expectations than some (and wish my kids would have picked up a thing or two), but I as I have repeatedly seen in the classes I teach, for most people, access to technology and skills with the tools alone does not ensure the creation of meaningful content. (with some amazing exceptions to the rule out there--where young kids have created and shared some very beautiful and compelling work).

Is this akin to phenomena of days gone by?--have we seen this before with word processors, wysiwyg html editors, and handheld camcorders (and blogs) for example? Every Tom, Jane and Hari with new tools excitedly creates material and eventually either gives up, or hopefully learns and improves. The difference perhaps now is how easy it is for Tom, Jane and Hari to parade their drivel (or masterpieces!) in front of the world's eyes--which is where claim #2 on information literacy becomes critical. I don't think kids are learning enough info literacy in schools.
I think I'm part part of the solution in closing the gap of both claims (both as a parent and instructor). I'm currently significantly revising my online course (for educators) which will also be renamed from "Video and Hypermedia in the Classroom" to "Instructional Media in a Digital Age" pending approval. The title is maybe a bit tacky, but the revised course is going to be a creating, sharing, connecting , tagging (web 2.0) blast, focused on meaningful, purposeful content. I can't wait to teach my new version in January. We also spend time in class (but not enough) on information and media literacy--learning to evaluate and appreciate the media we encounter.

I wonder what others experiences are. Is "information literacy" a legacy term part of a dying system that says experts and expert viewpoints exist? Do we need to be teaching people how to create "meaningful content", or do we simply let "meaningful" be what either the creator and/or consumer make of it?
-Joel G.

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