Education

Why Information Literacy Matters

Raising critical thinkers is more important than ever

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Almost a decade ago, schools added “information literacy” to their curricula. In many schools, this topic, defined as “a set of abilities requiring individuals to recognize when information is needed and to have the ability to locate, evaluate and use effectively the needed information,” has fallen under the purview of the school librarian or media specialist.

If there is anything the most recent election cycle has taught us, it is that this topic is of the utmost importance. Whether reading a print source or an online article, watching television or YouTube, citizens must be able to analyze material, determining whether it is fact or fiction, news or satire, and from a reliable source.

Recently, researchers from Stanford University conducted a study of 7,804 middle school, high school and college students in 12 different states. They asked students to evaluate information from websites and social media, and they concluded that, “Overall, young people’s ability to reason about the information on the Internet can be summed up in one word: bleak.”

In the study, middle and high school students had trouble distinguishing advertisements from news articles as well as identifying trusted sources. Most college students did not recognize potential bias in tweets from activist groups. And these are “digital natives” – young people who have grown up with the internet, whom we assume to be technologically savvy.

Clearly, we need to explicitly teach our children to be critical consumers of information. This responsibility should be part of the curriculum in every classroom, not a peripheral topic rolled into “research skills” or relegated only to the library or media center. Information is ubiquitous in our society – we are bombarded by it day and night – and each of us must learn to filter out the garbage.

Even at a very young age, children can be taught the difference between fantasy and fiction. Preschoolers can tell when a story is silly, and parents can help them to develop understanding by asking questions like, “Could that really happen?” We can do this while reading books aloud or watching television shows or movies.

As kids get older, there should be more emphasis on critical thinking and personal responsibility. Parents and teachers can encourage children to ask a few key questions about what they’re reading or seeing:

  • Does this make sense? Is it backed up by reliable facts or proof? 
  • Who wrote/produced this? Does that person/organization have a bias or vested interest in the topic? 
  • Can I find any other articles from trusted sites/authors to verify this information? 

Many parents have told me that, while their children seem to have learned that Wikipedia is not a reliable source for research, they don’t always grasp how to identify good websites, journals or periodicals, and other research or news sources. This is a skill that needs to be explicitly taught; as the Stanford study demonstrated, our children have not learned it on their own.

Karen Seiler and Dan Stone, East Side residents and parents of three boys, have been having conversations about this topic with their kids. They’ve taught them that, if they see multiple articles online with the exact same words, it’s likely that the article might have been copied from just one source. They suggest that their boys try to corroborate any news by checking reputable news outlets, including sites from other states or countries.

This is good advice for all of us. As informed citizens, we have a responsibility to ensure that we are critical consumers of information. We can help our children to learn to be informed citizens, as well.

Smart News February 2017

Therapeutic Gaming Platform Developed in Providence
Timocco, an online skills development therapeutic gaming environment based in Ohio, worked with Hasbro Children’s Hospital, Brown University and Meeting Street to develop a web-based therapeutic game platform for children with physical challenges, including those in wheelchairs and with spastic cerebral palsy or other motor and cognitive disabilities. The new platform motivates the child to practice and develop supination and pronation (the rotation of the forearm around its longitudinal axis). These movements are critical for tasks like eating with utensils, performing personal hygiene and other real-life independent living skills. Visit Timocco.com for more information. 

Moses Brown Opens Woodman Family Community & Performance Center

The 36,000-square-foot Woodman Center is one of the largest projects in the school’s 232-year history, featuring a lobby café, new classrooms, art gallery spaces, costume and scene shops, and professional-grade sound and lighting. The building stands at the center of the Moses Brown campus and will replace Alumni Hall, which was built in 1867 and is slated for renovation as an engineering and design-maker space. “It is our hope that the Woodman Center will be utilized by a variety of community organizations once it opens,” says Head of School Matt Glendinning.  “We see this as part of our role as a member of the Providence community, to promote the intellectual, artistic and civic vitality that has always been a strength here.” 

Lincoln School Receives $2M Gift to Fund STEAM Hub for Girls
An anonymous donor has committed $2M to Lincoln’s new STEAM Hub for Girls, inspiring and increasing philanthropy within the school’s community. The school plans to begin construction on the $5M project this summer. STEAM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts/Architecture and Math, focuses on interdisciplinary learning, critical thinking and problem solving. Lincoln offers a robust STEAM curriculum, including electives in robotics and computer science, and maintains partnerships with Brown’s School of Engineering, RISD’s School of Architecture and The Steel Yard. For more details and a look at the façade of the proposed building on Blackstone Boulevard, visit LincolnSchool.org