Education involving information literacy starts with recognizing the need for information. In order to analyze and process information using technology, students should have grasped problem-solving and critical thinking skills, which are far more than
We assume that most students already know how to operate a tablet or smartphone at a very young age. They’re also grasping new developments faster than previous generations. In the 21st century, where most schools, institutions, and businesses are built upon, transformed by, or engaging with technology, being information literate is less of a competitive advantage and more of a requirement for success. Teaching students how to effectively use technology, both practically and ethically, will tip the scales in their favor.
In this paper, we discuss how educators and youth mentors can help develop information and digital literacy in their students through a focus on understanding the importance of technology use for communication and productivity, how to behave and operate ethically online, and how to best manage their digital online identity.
Teaching Students How to Understand and Use Technology
Youth today are hyper-communicators, multitaskers, and goal-oriented. They are using multiple tools to communicate, doing several things at once with ease, and pursuing multiple goals at the same time. Educators’ challenge in addressing and teaching these characteristics lies in the very environment that youth live and learn in. “These youths are the first generation to be born into a digital world. What distinguishes these adolescents from those of every other generation is that they are the most electronically connected generation in history. From infancy, these teenagers grew up in an environment surrounded by and using [technology],” (Geck, 2006, para. 3). As they experience an overabundance of easily accessible information, they are undoubtedly far more exposed to media information than their parents. However, neither this information nor the ease with which it may be accessed produces better educated and informed students or competent and efficient employees (Breivik, 2005, p. 22). “Information literacy is the critical location, evaluation, and use of information. Digital information literacy is in the application of information literacy in the digital environment” (Bruce, 2003, p. 3). Therein lies the problem. In order to address this, students must be taught how to understand and recognize the implications of the technology around them.
Understanding technology involves appropriately and efficiently accessing, using, evaluating, and managing information. Information literacy is, “the ability to access, evaluate, organise and use information in order to learn, problem-solve, make decisions - in formal and informal learning contexts, at work, at home and in educational settings” (Bruce, 2003, p.4). Students must know how to use technology to their benefit, starting with the basics “In many school subjects, searching the Internet and vetting web sources carefully are among the new basic skills for students” (Zucker, 2012, para. 10). However, when left to their own devices students are drawn to what is easy to access. “These adolescents are amateur internet searchers lacking skills in evaluating web content and using resources other than popular search tools such as Google” (Geck, 2006, para. 1). Concerningly, many students have never engaged in the practice of comparing advantages, disadvantages, strengths, and weaknesses, of the Web with other informational tools (Geck, 2006). Nearly three-quarters of college students interviewed shared that they use the Internet more than the library, leaving 9% who say they use the library for information searching (Jones, 2002, p. 3). We can only imagine how that percentage has lessened in the last decade. Because this is the means with which students are conducting research, instruct them on how to turn to Google Scholar, rather than a general Google search. Teach them to look to journal articles rather than a blog, magazine, or social media. Identifying information sources is key as students apply technology to education.
Additionally, students must know how to exploit technology concepts and explore emerging technologies. This may even come naturally as the current generation in high school and those following were ‘born into technology’. Though adaptation to emerging tech will come with more ease, youth still need guidance on how to navigate new technologies. Institutions such as California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, are implementing “Multimedia Practicum” courses so that their students are fluent in digital knowledge and creation. In courses like this one, students explore how to build curriculum and teach others through several different mediums.
Students who lack the knowledge on how to use digital tools to construct knowledge will be at a disadvantage in college and the workplace. Not only is it imperative that students know how to identify but also how to implement them. They must grasp the skills to learn, communicate, and teach the information they are given. Therefore, information literacy is not only knowledge of online skills, but knowledge about and intuition in encountering new social situations. Nearly every student uses the internet as much for social communication as for their education - without even realizing it they are gaining social skills and experiences (Jones, 2002, p. 3). In doing so, they are incredibly skilled at adapting and implementing new technology into their everyday lives. In understanding and utilizing the most appropriate media creation tools, characteristics, and conventions, students will thrive in today’s media-saturated world.
Teaching Student How to Operate Ethically Online
Other key aspects of developing technology-savvy students are the home environment and parental support. Research shows that youth, “can learn from joint media engagement with parents, grandparents” and “carefully monitored screen time experience with quality content can benefit [youth],” (Harvard Family Research Project, 2014, p. 2). Just as we teach our children right and wrong, morals and standards, we must instruct them on “netiquette” or etiquette on the net, and how to conduct themselves responsibly.
Recognizing inappropriate behavior and abstaining from it is the way toward good digital citizenship. What are digital citizenship and online identity? Digital citizenship is “the norms of appropriate, responsible technology use” (Ribble, 2017, para. 1). However, while self-monitored digital interaction addresses the individual user, it still doesn’t cover the content itself. International Society for Technology in Education offers an alternative definition: “The quality of habits, actions, and consumption patterns that impact the ecology of digital content and communities,” (ISTE, 2000; Heick, 2018). As digital information becomes a part of their daily lives, youth will adopt an “online identity”. One which mirrors their own, however, differs greatly because of the features of online communication.
Additionally, as in ‘the real world’ hacking, pirating, plagiarizing, and destroying other people’s digital data and work, is not only unethical but illegal - something every student should be highly aware of. This is why students need to be educated not only on how to appropriately use and cite data but on how to protect themselves, their work, their digital property, and especially their online identity. Students must also be aware of data-collection technologies that use personal data to exploit users. Try to caution students against posting personal information, especially that consisting of any monetary, legal, or identity information.
It may seem to be a daunting task, but equipping youth with the means to protect themselves online while remaining productive students and future leaders, is both possible and imperative.
Teaching Students How to Manage Digital and Personal Identity Online
Once youth have grasped the legal and ethical implications of online communication, they are encouraged to also be able to identify and negotiate the social ones. “While younger teenagers relish the opportunities to recreate continuously a highly-decorated, stylistically-elaborate identity, older teenagers favour a plain aesthetic that foregrounds their links to others, thus expressing a notion of identity lived through authentic relationships” (Livingstone, 2008, p. 1). Youth’s concept of “friends” within the construct of social networking sites, leads to the very means that shapes and undermines privacy.
Today, youth do not believe that information such as age, religion, politics, and sexual preference are private matters. This information is standard on social media networks. Many sites go to the extent of reminding you to fill out the information every time you log in (if you happen to have skipped those steps during the sign-up process). Teenagers perceive this element of output as a way to control the information they share, which does not reflect a violation of privacy (Christofides, Muise & Desmarais, 2012, p. 3). They are more concerned about being able to control the information with filters (who views what and when) than they are with the type of information being shared.
Despite this potential exposure and danger, online communication continues to grow. Not only are predators online, but there is a risk to disclosing information to friends, and acquaintances as well. Sharing current personal information may be seen by future employers and potentially used by stalkers and bullies. “While social network sites provide the opportunity to reunite with long-lost friends, they also allow people to make information public within their circle of friends and to make their list of friends itself open to public scrutiny. Anecdotal evidence from discussions with undergraduates points to a common perception that Facebook causes jealousy and negatively impacts [relationships]” (Muise, Christofides & Desmarais, 2009, p. 441). The computer screen of each online interaction allows for miscommunication, misinterpretation, and misunderstanding, often leading to the break-down of relationships. Furthermore, “bullying is the most common form of violence” (Hoover & Stenhjem, 2003, p. 3). And a device at everyone’s fingertips makes ridicule and harassment all the more easy to deliver.
How do we combat this? Organizations and individuals such as Dr. Dan Olweus, Professor of Psychology at the University of Bergen, Norway and author of Bullying at School, is thought to be the “Founding Father” and leading expert in the field on bullying and victimization. His intervention programs result in positive feedback from school settings. The program involves reducing or eliminating existing bully/victim problems in and out of school, as well as preventing the development of new issues (Hoover & Stenhjem, 2003, p. 3-4). Stay Safe Online, powered by the National Cyber Security Alliance, also offers thorough resources on how to prevent theft and fraud online. Gwenn Schurgin O'Keeffe, MD and Kathleen Clarke-Pearson, MD co-authors of “The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families”, found that families must educate themselves on the complexities of the digital world and the challenging social and health issues that youth experience online, by encouraging families to face the core issues of bullying, popularity and status, depression and social anxiety, risk-taking, and sexual development. Furthermore, mentors and educators may help by working with parents to understand that what occurs online is often an extension of personal issues. Youth mentors can best serve youth by understanding these core issues, and by having strategies to deal with them whether they take place online, offline, or, increasingly, in both environments (Okeeffe & Clarke-Pearson, 2011, p. 801). With guidance, youth will learn to understand how digital media messages can influence their beliefs and behaviors, and how to implement healthy online behavior.
Aimee and the Future
This generation and those to follow are profoundly different from previous generations in the way they think, accesses, absorb, interpret, process, and apply information. Furthermore, they are incredibly different in the way they view, interact, and communicate in a technology-rich and connected world. In combination, these skills lead to an information literate student - one who “determines the nature and extent of the information needed, accesses information effectively and efficiently, evaluates information and its sources critically and incorporates selected information into his or her knowledge base and value system” (Bruce, 2003, p. 10). Additionally, the information literate student understands the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information. Learning how to protect themselves and knowing what information to provide online, is crucial for the safety of their digital data and online identity.
With these skills, each student may use digital tools to advance their own goals. In creative classrooms where digital tools and media are not only part of instruction but also in practice and testing, we find students motivated to learn, excited about their experiences, and willing to explore further with these tools.
The direction now is towards using computer-based tools to learn, to create, and to solve problems. Equipped with digital tools, students are able to connect with learners from a variety of backgrounds in order to broaden mutual understanding. Aimee.Bio offers tools to ensure that students practice good digital citizenship while educating themselves and expanding their career and job prospects.
Most students already have a minimum of five social media accounts by age fifteen. We don’t need to teach students how to communicate, exactly. We need to teach them how to connect, correspond, collaborate and inform themselves (and others) appropriately. However, because of youth’s limited ability to self-regulate and susceptibility to peer pressure, adolescents are at risk as they navigate and experiment with social media. Many offline behaviors, such as bullying and clique-forming, can also occur online. Internet addiction and sleep deprivation too. Social media hasn’t changed human behavior - it has magnified it. As there are certainly some negative consequences that accompany social media influence, Aimee.bio offers an online community where students can safely, appropriately, and actively present themselves. Unlike social media platforms, Aimee.Bio offers students a means in which they can present themselves authentically, and maybe even “professionally” for the first time.
Aimee.Bio is here to be the sixth and most productive online community for students. An Aimee Bio encourages students to look in a different mirror - one that reflects just how capable and talented they are. This account is not dictated by peer validation (likes, follows, shares, etc.) but rather by the student’s professional drive as Aimee.Bio is designed to allow them to control their professional image while networking with schools, universities, and organizations that can support and validate the Bios in a way that is beneficial to the students. Both educational institutions and individual teachers can create Pages that facilitate mentorship and collaboration. More Aimee Bios means more eyes in both the students’ professional and social circles, thereby enabling mentors, educators, and advisors, to help them find and pursue their passions. Students have the drive - they just need the direction.
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