In today’s fast-paced, near-immediate digital environment, information is nearly ubiquitously accessible, but not all information is created equal. So, how do we prepare our kids and communities to weed through the chaos and find value? Some would argue that developing information literacy is the best way to move forward.
The democratization of information dissemination has paradoxically given rise to misinformation, data inundation, and the ethical complexities surrounding digital citizenship. These challenges are particularly salient for young individuals navigating digital landscapes and never-before-challenged social norms that are increasingly new to the parents, mentors, and educators who could typically support them through rocky waters.
It is within the context of “fake news,” “clickbait,” and subtly biased information that cultivating information literacy has an unquestionable significance.
For youth — encompassing children and teenagers — the development of information literacy skills ensures they have the requisite cognitive and technical skills to evaluate information critically. But what do those skills include? The snapshot of the sub-skills that culminate in information literacy include:
- Digital Literacy (The skillful navigation of digital platforms and understanding of digital tools)
- Critical Thinking (Assessing the integrity, credibility, and relevance of information)
- Ethical Use (Understanding intellectual property, copyright laws, and ethical considerations in information sharing)
- Data Interpretation (Ability to interpret and analyze quantitative and qualitative data)
In more academic contexts, information literacy paves the way for effective research, use of data, identification of valid sources, and more. While we move to push our youth past simple consumption and production, these skills support the analysis and evaluation skills that develop a level of workforce preparedness expected in an increasingly competitive and knowledge-based economy.
At the end of the day, we want all of our citizens to have a living framework for information consumption and sharing.
Our younger generations see firsthand the consequences of not having these key skills as they observe adults challenged to function and contribute in productive ways in digital environments. Now more than ever, we have to create pathways for individuals to become adept at discerning not just the credibility of information but also its ethical implications, including respect for intellectual property and understanding of data privacy norms.
In essence, we need to develop digital citizenship in ways that have not been previously necessary. Add that to the fact that we can’t go backward and put the genie back in the bottle, and we only have one choice.
As Lisa Kay Solomon and others have suggested, as we build for our future, we need to think about more than today’s experiences and yesterday’s challenges but focus heavily on tomorrow’s opportunities.
To develop resilience to well-developed bots and analytics-based messaging, we must develop foundational skills and understanding. And there is no time like the present to do just that.
But it is not our schools alone that must take action.
I remember sitting in my classroom at the end of a year, thinking about how I had to McGyver the skills of a nurse, firefighter, mediator, coach, and more to get through a day. Today, our teachers are faced with a litany of expectations. We have to find ways to merge the expectations of academics and the needed skills our children and teens must master to thrive in their future. I have argued before (because I have lived it in practice) that this happens through embedding those lessons in learning experiences that are project-based, real-world relevant, and collaborative.
But we can’t forget that our kids spend an estimated 14% of their waking hours between ages 5 and 18 at this place we call school.
That means we must leverage community-based organizations and other partners to help us double down on the skills and experiences that will develop information literacy in adults, teens, and children alike.
We need to explore how the act of collective learning — where parents and children co-navigate the digital space — creates a symbiotic relationship that brings agency to every family’s collective knowledge. Parents, who may not be digitally savvy (or engaged) but are often decision-makers, can gain the capabilities to make informed choices in areas that range from healthcare to education and consumer goods. Additionally, a family well-versed in information literacy is better positioned to foster constructive dialogues around societal issues.
Ignoring the need for information literacy is doing no one any favors.
Strategies that the field is seeing work include working with workplace learning programs for adults that focus on informed citizenship, consumer decision-making, and even parenting choices that support dialogic interaction with their kids (regardless of age). This could include:
- Human resource/Organizational learning offices develop media literacy modules that include the employee, community member, and parenting perspective.
- School libraries introduce reliable databases and search engines.
- Public libraries develop book clubs, community-based training, and even resources to help support information literacy.
Several years ago, we modeled an analytics program that could help communities, universities, and even schools actively capture trends in digital interactions (while respecting autonomy and privacy). This simple modeling proved that we could use data to help develop, fund, and sustain community programs that developed information literacy (and the sub-skills that support the practice of information literacy in everyday lives).
We do not have all the answers, but we have enough to foster dialogue and start implementing, evaluating, and planning for future efforts.
Without cultivated information literacy skills that extend beyond individual success, we risk engendering a generation continually impacted by a lack of cognitive capacity and ethical uncertainty. Our future communities must decipher the complexities of our increasingly data-driven world and the influences of misinformation and digital manipulation.
All signs point to the need to take positive action.
Inaction will compromise the ability to contribute meaningfully to civic discourse and professional environments. We can’t let our current and future communities down in such an aware and near-intentional way. We have an opportunity to fortify our families, bolster the overall health of our kids, and engage a community toward action.
The question is: Will we seize the opportunity, or will we watch this moment pass us by?
Jody is a thought leader, activist, and long-time contributor to developing educators and leaders to support Generation Alpha as they enter our schools and lead our communities. Keep up with her work at JodyBritten.com.