Information literacy skills we’re not teaching

I got to thinking recently that there are a whole lot of information literacy skills we’re really not teaching at the moment – many of which are actually quite useful (or potentially so.)

[edited to add: I did get a question about 'we' in the above, so it's probably worth noting here that when I write on this blog, I'm writing from the general perspective of a librarian with strong experience in the secondary school setting, and a general background in formal educational settings (high school, college). I certainly know individuals who are teaching some or all of the things I talk about below, but I know of very few where all of these things are clearly a part of the structured learning expectations, or taught/discussed in any sort of clear way (maybe beyond a few minutes of "Remember to back up your files" kinds of things.

Also, because I've had about three people go "I wish someone would talk about that" I'm going to make it a priority to write up some of how I do these things (and why I do them that way) in the near future.]

Tagging and other folksonomy issues:
Tagging is a lovely thing – being able to put labels on things, so you can find them again later. However, it’s also painfully easy for a tagging system to get unwieldy, especially after a year or two. What would happen if we talked about the process of creating a system (figuring out which tags are likely to be useful to you later), and also about maintaining a system (reviewing it every so often to make sure it’s still working well.) Plus, things like how they work on different systems: tagging someone on Facebook, for example, has different implications than tagging a particular book on LibraryThing.

File management:
I don’t know about you, but how I manage my files continues to change and grow. I’m still prone to organizing things in folders, and to creating quick links (via aliases, my dock, and other options) to the files I use most frequently. But at the same time, I also know that there’s some powerful search tools built into my computer these days (that weren’t there in the dawn of time, when I started using an Apple IIc, way back when.)

Searching is great, but like all searches, it involves some knowing what you’re looking for (for example, when the file was last edited, the name, a reasonably unique search term.) If I search on my computer for files containing the word ‘librarian’ or ‘book’ or ‘writing’ for example, I get hundreds, sometimes thousands of files, so I have to pick different terms. There’s also the question of maintaining different versions of files, and keeping them straight. And when we start sharing files – either by emailing an attachment, uploading to a central server (or something like GoogleDocs), it gets even more important to pick meaningful file names.

There are all sorts of techniques for these – but I know a lot of people don’t really know about them. We should change that, somehow.

Making thoughtful choices about time:
One of the real challenges of the online age is .. well, there’s so much to do. It’s so easy to get distracted by some interesting link, and lose track of time. I’ve been thinking a lot about how we can build the pattern of self-awareness into more of our online interactions, but I think talking about it is a good start. Where do we spend time online? Why?

Doing something because it’s fun is often fine, but sometimes we stay in online spaces that are no longer fun, because we’ve got the habit. What happens when we change that? All these questions – and many more – are conversations I very much want to see in broader conversation, not just with current students, but with everyone. (And it’s in my list of topics to blog more about here…)

Productivity tools:
One thing I kept pointing out in discussions about the 1:1 laptop initiative at the previous job was something that seems like a small change, but can be huge. What happens when every student in the class has reliable access to class resources? When a teacher could, say, create a calendar with deadlines and reminders, and have every student sync to it, so they’d know about deadlines or other details?

We’ve taught students about analog calendars for years – but what happens when students can tap into the wide range of productivity and task management tools out there, and use them to manage their assignments? Not only will they be better off now (and hopefully, a bit less stressed), but they’ll be learning great skills for the future. (Even though the tools will certainly change, the basic process of getting used to entering it somewhere, managing lists of tasks, etc. will probably still be there.)

(There will be a return of the links posts on Friday: over the holidays, I was getting many fewer links I really wanted to share, but I’ve got a nice collection again.)

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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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