November 11, 2005

Search Literacy

John Battelle recently posted his response to a question from the MacArthur Foundation ("genius grants"). He said, in part:

In an age where the knowledge of mankind is increasingly at our fingertips through the services of Internet search, we must teach our children critical thinking. One can never have all the answers, but if prepared, one can always ask the right question, and from that creative act, learn to find his or her own answer.


Developing a framework in our schools for "search literacy" - how to use and think about using a search engine - might be just the kind of thing you could do with a modest investment....

On one hand, John is right. Teaching information literacy (a better term than "search literacy") to students is vital. But, I'm not sure I agree with his assessment that the next step is developing a framework. I think the frameworks are already there. First of all, the teaching of information literacy is the traditional role of the school librarian. Granted, not all school librarians understand this or are able to actually be effective in this approach. But, there are plenty of good ones out there who, as their school's CIO, make it a priority to teach these skills. Next, established frameworks like the Big 6 are available to help students and teachers navigate the information landscape. From the Big 6 website:

The Big6 is an information literacy model. Some people call it a metacognitive scaffold, or an information problem solving strategy. Developed by Mike Eisenberg and Bob Berkowitz, the Big6 is the most widely-known and widely-used approach to teaching information and technology skills in the world. When you apply the Big6 steps, you have an essential framework to approach any information-based question.

So, if the roles are in place, and the frameworks are there, what's the problem? Implementation is hard. It requires librarians and teachers to be properly trained, both at the college (and grad school) levels and in professional development activities. This doesn't always happen, despite some good schools (including my alma matter, the UW iSchool, where the aforementioned Mike Eisenberg is at). And information literacy needs to be a priority with educational leaders (as John points out, priorities are elsewhere oftentimes).

The good news is that more and more librarians do understand how to do information literacy well. I've seen many passionate librarians who know how to work with teachers to get these concepts across to students. I'm doing my best to provide them with good resources...

I'm glad John is bringing up these good points. I'm not entirely sure what the Macarthur folks can do about it. But it is worth further thought.