What we’re not teaching

I’ve been thinking for the past few weeks, reading various of the ‘back to school’ blog posts, about how much we’re still not really teaching.

What would change if we built “How do we find the online experiences we want to have, and make them work better for us?” into what we teach, and what we learn? Not the fear-based online safety lectures, not the online privacy lectures – as important as that last one is. But the bigger question: how do we do the stuff with this information source that improves our lives?

What would it look like if our information literacy classes didn’t just focus on writing an academic paper, and instead included how to find and evaluate resources for regular life tasks. Which recipe sites are good – and how do you pick a good recipe from them? Whose DIY instructions are great, and whose leave out important safety tips? Where do we go for good financial advice for a particular goal? And oh, yes – where do we find good consumer health information? Evaluating news sources, too.

It’s not that learning to write an academic paper is a bad skill: it’s worth teaching, and worth experiencing, and there are lots of other good skills and experiences it ties in with really well.

But let’s be realistic here: out of a class of 20 kids, how many of them are going to go on and write academic papers for the rest of their lives (i.e. go into academia)? Maybe one, and chances are, that one would have figured it out pretty fast with a little guidance. And how many of them are going to going to cook dinner, buy a car, need to figure out their budget, make a medical decision, or need to find out what happened in the news? Pretty much all of them.

I wonder if something’s skewed in our perspectives and proportions, and what would happen if we focused more on general evaluation of information, and brought in the academia-specific bits when they apply, rather than the other way round.

And, on that note, how often do we teach how to avoid scams and phishing online? Probably not as often as we should.

My favorite quick quiz is SonicWALL’s (found at http://www.sonicwall.com/phishing/index.html) because it includes actual sample emails. But rummaging around for that link, I came across a US government site, http://www.onguardonline.gov . They’re a little uneven in terms of their audience (some things are clearly aimed at teens, others are clearly aimed at adults), but there’s some fun Flash games, some good short videos, and some other good information.

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3 comments to What we’re not teaching

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Hi, I’m Jen

Librarian, infovore, and general geek, likely to write comments about books, link collections, and other thoughts related to how we find, use, and take joy in information.

I'm the Information Technology Librarian at the University of Maine at Farmington, the small liberal arts college model campus in the University of Maine system.

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