Technological change has undermined two of the most important traditional filters: 1) control of what gets published by publishers, and 2) the cost of publishing and distribution. In the past, most written information was first filtered by publishers, who would review the content created by an author, decide whether or not to publish it, help to revise and improve it, and then distribute it to booksellers and libraries. Some authors did publish their work independently or else set up their own printing press to produce and distribute their work. This was expensive and limited the extent of distribution. The rise of the Internet has now disrupted this model, and almost anyone, anywhere can publishing and distribute their work online at virtually no cost. While this can be viewed as a triumph for democratizing the publishing process, it presents significant challenges to readers. Without the ability to always rely on publishers to filter what we can access, readers must make use of new filters.
Alternative filters include:
1. Using technological tools as filters
For example, in some countries filters are applied nationally, “protecting” citizens from harmful information. In some schools and libraries, filters are applied to computers, blocking “dangerous” content from readers.
Other tools that help to filter information include specialized databases such as Google Scholar, which attempt to filter out non-scholarly content from web searches. Subject-specific indexes, such as PubMed for medical research or ERIC for education research, are another attempt to filter information, separating out irrelevant information.
While all of these tools help solve the information overload problem and do indeed filter information, they rely on readers turning over a certain amount of control to others. In some cases, we may trust the filter, such as with academic indexes, which are operated by experts in the discipline. With Google Scholar, we are putting our trust in an algorithm that may or may not be effective for all searches and some very human decisions are being made as to what counts as “scholarly”. Filtering in schools and libraries has been controversial, with some appropriate searches (e.g., breast cancer) being blocked. In some cases, filtered terms expand from the potentially pornographic to the political (e.g., anarchism is a frequently blocked search term). The opportunities for censorship are a concern for many. The use of nation-wide filters are also of significant concern for civil rights proponents. Questions to be asked include: Who are we allowing to control our access to information? Who decides what to filter for whom?
2. Relying on the community as a filter
In the Dr. Rheingold’s video this week, he discusses the rise of personal trust networks within social media as a filter. If someone you trust tweets a link to a resource (e.g., an instructor), you are more likely to believe that resource is credible. As you make use of Twitter and other social media tools for this course, you will be developing your own personal trust network, and will be part of the trust network of others. As a result, you carry the responsibility of not re-tweeting or otherwise sharing information without doing some analysis of your own — or you will lose the trust of others and be dropped from the network.
3. Developing one’s own information literacy skills
To be an effect and trustworthy member of a network, you must also develop your own skills in what Dr. Rheingold calls “crap detection”, being a critical consumer of information. This is commonly referred to as information literacy and is a major focus of activity for school and academic librarians, who are responsible for developing these skills in their students. These skills are widely seen as a crucial component to future academic, workplace, and life success (Eisenberg, 2008). A key feature of information literacy is “critical thinking”, which can be defined as being able to distinguish between bias and fact, opinion and evidence, etc. However, some authors call for us to extend this criticality within information literacy further. In this week’s reading, Doherty and Ketchner (2005) ask us to reflect on the privileged position of the educator and the inequality that often occurs within the information literacy classroom. Singh (2008) raises the important issue of information imperialism and cultural hegemony and calls for us to explore those issues within the information literacy classroom. Kapitzke (2003) takes the critique another step, arguing that information literacy has largely failed to expose and challenge the dominant ideologies taken for granted in our schools and universities (and broader culture). Think about all of these issues as you watch this week’s videos and work through the readings. Dr. Kapitzke’s work in particular can be challenging (especially if you are new to poststructural analysis!), but provides a valuable alternative perspective on commonly held perspectives on this topic.
This article was publish at Stanford Online Course: changing the global course of learning.
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5 Components of Information Literacy
Information literacy can be divided into five different categories: Identify, Find, Evaluate, Apply, and Acknowledge. View academic and real world examples for each component to discover why information literacy is important to success in college or university and in life.
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