Literacy? Which One?

I sat down with some of the PCCC library folks yesterday to talk about them supporting the fall 08 faculty teaching writing-intensive courses for the first time. One of the aspects of our redesign model is incorporating information literacy. In our discussion, other literacies kept coming up, and I started to think about how we might blur the lines between the literacies.

According to the American Library Association, "Information Literacy is being able to recognize when information is needed and to have the ability to locate, evaluate, and to use effectively the needed information."

I went to Google and did a search using the operator "define" (i.e. define:literacy) and found many definitions.

Media Literacy is defined by Partnership for 21st Century Skills as "the process of analyzing, accessing, managing, integrating, evaluation, and creating information in a variety of forms and media."

Digital Literacy can be defined as "using digital technology, communication tools, and networks appropriately to access, manage, integrate, evaluate, and create information in order to function in a knowledge economy.

There's even Network Literacy defined for online writers as "linking to what other people have written and inviting comments from others" or "understanding writing as a social, collaborative process."

On Monday, I spent the day at Montclair State University with K-20 educators discussing finding educational uses for Second Life and virtual worlds. Is that a new literacy, or is it a combination of several literacies like visual literacy, media literacy and computer literacy?

One thing we generally agreed upon in both of these discussions was that our students are very comfortable using computers and the Net, but really are not any more naturally adept (tech literacy?) at things like search strategies than students were 20 years ago. Several instructors using Second Life said that none of the students entering their classroom had ever used SL and most had never heard of it. Teachers more tech-conscious than NetGen students? Shocking!

I'm hoping our writing instructors aren't really as interested in defining assignments as exercises in information literacy as they are in just employing info lit in their assignments. Yes, they need to be conscious that they are using it, and need to make students aware (probably well into the exercise or as a conclusion) that they are using that skill. The student who is going out to buy a new laptop will do "research" whether it be online, newspaper ads, asking other users, eyeballing models in the store, asking "experts" for opinions, testing out models (constructivism?) or a combination of strategies. I doubt they will call that process "research" and I'm afraid most of them will see no connection to that five-page paper they were assigned in Intro to Computer Applications class either. That's a shame. Gotta change both that perception and the way they do research in class.

So, which one do you pick? If I was firced to choose, I'd have to go with Information Literacy as long as I could define in a way like this: A set of learning skills which allows you to effectively cope with large amounts of information, from a variety of media formats and construct new information.

More exploration of information literacy and schools at this Information Literacy blog,, Landmarks for Schools, and the Media Awareness Network.


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