Julie A. Cunningham

Academic Advisor

Meaty Information Literacy

Creative Commons License photo credit: ratterrell

One of my favorite, favorite things is teaching students about information literacy.  As a historian, I just dig the research, evaluation, synthesis and sharing of ideas. I think it goes back to the sophomore European History class I took in college.  I slaved over a paper on Kristallnacht… because I drew that topic and our professor was from POLAND and remembered it vividly. I spent hours and hours researching in the basement of the University of Houston library. Unfortunately, when he handed me my paper, it had a big, red “F” on the front.  I was flabbergasted. How could he possibly give me that grade?  It was good! Exceeded his requirements.  Used proper English conventions.

It also included my attempt to consolidate two very differing views on the topic that I encountered in my research. Not really understanding that there were two camps, I just included all of it. Bad decision.

Almost in tears, I followed him to his office. Sat down in front of his big oak desk. And answered his questions. Well. Coherently. Knowledgeably.  He then took out his pen, and changed my grade to an “A”, and explained the differing viewpoints to me. It was a pivotal point in my pursuit of a history degree.

I never read a source again where I did not first seek to understand the background and biases of the author. I’d like students to have the benefit of that experience…. without experiencing it.

These days, the vast majority of information is on the web… which brings a whole new dimension to information literacy. With my former elementary students, it was a fun, light experience.  I sent them to hoax sites without telling them it was a hoax, asked questions to help them start seeing new things on the pages, and then laughed with them when they realized they had been tricked! Like I said, fun. After being ‘taken in’ a few times,  they were suspicious of websites I sent them too from that day forward. Way to go, kiddos! Mission accomplished.

Now that I’m planning for high school students, the game has changed. They have been exposed to WAY more stuff online, and aren’t going to find hanging out at Dog Island or Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus to be interesting.  I also think they are past the point of being impacted by those types of sites.

They need meat, not milk.

Therein lies my dilemma.

In the context of this American History course, I’d like to use the Martin Luther King, Jr. site examples.  I’m not going to link them from here, but you can read about the controversy in this article. This is a prime example of the importance of knowing your sources and their biases. My compromise would be to read the aforementioned article.  What do you think the first thing those students will do when they get home? Go visit the site. Not sure I wanna be responsible for that.

So, tell me, what are your meaty examples to teach information literacy to high schoolers in a way that engages and impacts their future behavior?

Burger, anyone? 🙂


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