12 November 2008

This Information Literacy Moment is brought to you by....?

Here is great example of the importance of EVALUATING information, even from the most trusted of sources. This coincides so well with the thinking I've been doing about the disintegration of truth and fact in the Wikipedia world. Perhaps I've just been reading to much Michael Lynch, or it's the questions I've been getting from students about the election, or the Mark Crispin Miller posts I've been reading about voting...no matter. While it might be easy to say that this is a "a gigantic compliment to The Times”, I think it touches on something far larger and deeper. I think it touches on the notion that people will believe whatever they want to believe, assuming they find someone to support it. This is the same premise that "True Enough" proposes: it's not about whether the information we find is factual, it's about whether it's true enough to serve our purposes.

In some respects, I think there is a lot to be said for Wikipedia's role in this shift. NOTE: I am not suggesting that wikipedia is BAD, EVIL, or USELESSS. But I am saying that there are repercussions to using a wiki-based, community constructed encyclopedia and I think we are just starting to see that play out. I cannot speak to what the talk of the town was in New York today as people got this free paper. Did they believe it? Did they question it immediately? Did they seek confirmation immediately? Perhaps Google Trends caught that and can say where the war in Iraq ended? (THAT'S SARCASM, by the way).

I can say what I see happening with students. And it's only somewhat encouraging. There are some students that talk of NOT using wikipedia because they question its validity, bias, or authority. I remind them that there is a lot of useful information in wikipedia and that it can often be a wonderful place to gather information with which to start a project as well as to witness the dialogue that makes up scholarship. Other students, as there always are, just take whatever they find and go with it. It's obviously this last batch that concerns me. And not only for their ability to do well in their classes. It's more for when we do encounter conflicting information in matters that are important everyday. Matters of national importance, as the Times example demonstrates. But also on smaller, more personal scales. Why is information literacy limited to just what you do in the library or school? Isn't SPAM about information literacy? Isn't the mortgage crisis? Am I alone in thinking that much of what troubles us today related to our lack of PURSUING information. It's clearly not a lack of availability but rather our willingness to dig deeper and validate, evaluate, or THINK about it.

And I'm not sure how to teach that. I'm not sure how to develop that in students other than to encourage it and model it. Do you?

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