September 27, 2005

Literacy? Fluency?

A friend asked

Libraries and librarians are quite taken with this whole Information Literacy jag, particularly since some universities seem to be rewriting mission statements to include some mention of a goal of producing students who are "Information Literate". I am therefore trying to use this fixation on information literacy training as a springboard to promoting the idea that libraries should be promoting "spatial information literacy" through a mix of direct instruction, online mapping services, and curricula development. I am curious as to where you would see spatial information literacy vis-a-vis information literacy - merely a subset, or perhaps almost a superset, since spatial information literacy seems to involve skills that go beyond the searching/evaluating/assessing that figure prominently in the descriptions of information literacy that I've read. Do you have any words of wisdom on this that you'd be willing to share?
So here's what I came up with (and I've opened up comments on this one, in case anybody wants to engage):

I guess the first thing I'd say is that "literacy" is a convenient label, but something of a misnomer and clichéed besides. "Fluency" seems a bit closer to the mark to me, the central idea being that people need to have/develop ease of movement among media, and around the continuum of data-information-knowledge. The objects that people manipulate and construct with are often digital, and more and more they seem to involve MULTImedia: images AND xyz spatial data AND texts AND sound files. It just takes a few examples, like Jon Udell's walking tour of Keene NH, or various Google Earth mashups, to make the light bulbs go on. The problem then is: HOW can people learn the bits of connective stuff to make it possible for them to do their own mashups? How do they learn to make use of the APIs that are proliferating?

I see this as Web 2.0 fluency, and as at least as important as the somewhat ho-hum ideas of "information literacy" that have more to do with how to use conventional media. I reflect that the term "mashup" was scarcely current a year ago (probably well understood in hiphop culture, but tyhat's a loooong way from library culture... alas...), but now it's clearly understood as a facet of fluency. Likewise podcasting: not even NAMED a year ago (or maybe just), but a truly revolutionary technology for creation and redistribution of materials. "Information literacy" is too stodgy and slow-moving to have room for either of these, but I'd argue that they're absolutely at the center of what's happening now, and where things are going in the realms of digital communication. In another year I'm sure the landscape will look different again, but the point is that we (those of us who really care about the evolution of infospace, more than ...erm... its Intelligent Design...) need to be thinking about the growing edges, the apical meristems of Information.

I'll have to confess that I dispair of getting the plodders to even look up, let alone to become enthused enough about the possibilities to start thinking about how to become active in their development. But that shouldn't dissuade US from building stuff, and from trying to get people to GET IT via examples and prototypes and such. At some point we fling up our hands and retire to Maine, hopefully in Low Dudgeon...

Looking back over my accumulated stuff, I find things I'd still say which are relevant to "fluency" under and and all over

So: superset? subset? I think neither. It's all one big something, and where there are data to be dealt with, it's often a visualization problem/task; where the data have been chewed and swallowed and digested into information, it's maybe more a management problem (how to find what you know/knew); and once the information is under control, and one heads toward the realms of knowledge, it's a matter of how to communicate what you've discerned/discovered/divined. I don't think anybody is putting this into course-based pedagogy, though there are plenty of materials out there that would be highly relevant --Tufte's books, Mapping Hacks from O'Reilly, the stuff in the maphacks corners of the blogosphere-- if one had the opportunity to mount a course or two to impart these ways of thinking about stuff.

Probably lots more to say about this, and I'd be interested in your comments and yes-buts.

ADDENDUM: A highly-relevant posting from today'sConnectivism Blog: "the real value of blogs and wikis is not the tool itself. It's what the tool enables"

Posted by oook at September 27, 2005 09:36 AM