The outer limits of information literacy.

Everybody knows that just being able to type a search term into Google and click on Enter doesn't mean that someone is information literate. After all, you also have to know how to click on one or two of the links that show up on the results page. Being able to distinguish between the advertisements and the actual results can't hurt either. Teachers who've actually had courses in this sort of thing will also instruct their pupils not to rely on only one search engine, and to use Advanced Search in order to more clearly whittle down the possible results to items that might actually be what they're looking for.

My experience usually shows me that that's about the extent of what's understood as information literacy. Actually, I often don't get as far as advanced search, and have even been known to claim that 95% of the time it's unnecessary. If a few minutes of my day are wasted as a result of my not having defined my search terms well enough, causing me to rifle through too many results, or to try my luck at some new terms, I can live with the loss. Information literacy isn't knowing how to run a search on something (though that's a good start). Among numerous other skills, it's being able to view the results of a particular search and make worthwhile decisions as to what's useful and worthwhile and might actually be connected to what we were looking for. It's being able to find different approaches to a problem that show up via our search, and being able to distinguish between them, perhaps even taking sides as a result. It's finding information that leads us off on unexpected tangents that help us redefine what it is we wanted to learn in the first place. But I'm well aware that I'm getting myself into a circular argument here. After all, the "needs" of most pupils and students is material they can quote in order to show that they've done at least a minimum of "research". And that being the case, more often than not it doesn't matter, neither to them, nor to the teacher, what they find.

Go to: Just who do you think you are?