This recent post on ACRLog, Authoritative Sources or Question Authority, gets to the heart of understanding the need for critical information and media literacy. Although critical literacy is never mentioned, this is obviously what is being discussed. We simply cannot tell people to use “authoritative” sources and leave it at that. If we don’t help people to ask questions about information and power, to help them look beyond the words on the page or the perceived authority of the author or publisher, they will always be passive receivers and distributors of information and never be involved in the construction of information.
If we can help people become critical users of information it can also open the doors to a much wider array of information resources than are currently being used in academic research. There is a huge body of valuable information available in alternative newsletters, magazines, and small independent presses that is simply not being used because we place such emphasis on the importance of peer-review and other “authoritative” sources. We do this because we don’t trust the students to recognize trustworthy and unbiased information on their own. The trouble is, if we don’t help them to make these decisions for themselves, we are treating them like children and keeping them in a position of weakness and dependency.
We need to empower students to participate in the world as active citizens capable of thinking critically and taking action based on their own understanding and not to be limited in their thinking and actions by the direction of what others have decided is authoritative.
Anyone with access to SpringerLink should read this new article by Douglas Kellner and Jeff Share, Critical Media Literacy is Not an Option for a very strong argument for the need for critical media literacy (which includes information literacy by their definition) in schools at all levels. I would also argue that it is particularly vital in adult education programs. We can also take a lot from Allan Luke and Peter Freebody’s work on the four resource model of literacy, described very well in, Further Notes on the Four Resources Model. This is a model of literacy that can be applied to multiple literacies and should not be ignored by proponents and developers of information literacy.
“Critical theory is, above all else, a way to ask questions about power. Who has it? How did they get it? How do they keep it? What are they doing with it? How do their actions affect the less powerful? How might things be otherwise? (Finding Freedom in the Classroom, p.17, by Patricia Hinchey)
We need to ask ourselves some very serious questions about power and information. I’d like to look at information production, distribution, collection, organization, preservation, access, control, assessment, and use. Here are a number of questions I have:
Who produces information? Does power affect your ability to produce information? What relation does power have to the volume of information produced? or the quality or type of information produced? What types of information are there? Why is information produced? Who is it produced for? What types of information reinforce or increase the power of some over others? What types of information loosen the power of some over others? How is a person’s culture/background/class reflected in the information s/he produces? What are the barriers to information production?
How is information distributed? What is the relation between power and distribution? What types of information are pushed, who are they pushed on, and why? How do the distribution systems work? What is the difference between types of distribution? Does everyone have equal access to all methods of distribution? What are the barriers to distribution?
How is information collected, organized, and preserved? Who is responsible? Is all information treated equally? Whose categories are used? How do we categorize information? Why is some information more available than other information? Is some information lost?
How is information accessed? How is information controlled? Does everyone have equal access to information? When and why do people choose to seek information? How do we attempt to find it? How do people know when, where, and how to seek information?
How do we choose what information to use or dismiss? Are some people better at analyzing information than others? If so, why? How do people decide which information is reliable/trustworthy and which is not?
If anyone would like to add to this or discuss any of the questions I put forward, I would be interested to hear your thoughts.
Now that exams are over, I will hopefully have time to start spending more time on this blog. I’ve been thinking a lot about critical information literacy the past few months, but I have spent most of my free time just trying to read as much as I can on critical education in general and related material. As usual when I start any new research, I get carried away and start reading very broadly and grab hold of every connection I stumble upon. My reading these past few months has included all of the articles I posted earlier as well as a collection of books on critical pedagogy, constructivism, enactivism and cognition, free education, and more, including the following titles:
Critical Constructivism Primer, by Joe Kincheloe
Finding Freedom in the Classroom, by Patricia Hinchey
Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paulo Freire
A Primer of Libertarian Education, by Joel Spring
Compulsory Mis-Education and The Community of Scholars, by Paul Goodman
The Embodied Mind, by Francisco Varela, et al.
Introduction to Critical Theory, by David Held
Critical Pedagogy: notes from the real world, by Joan Wink
Education and the Significance of Life, by J. Krishnamurti
Some of these I’ve finished and some I’m still digesting and others are waiting in the wings. These have all been very rewarding and thought-provoking, but what does it all have to do with information literacy? I’ve been trying to relate everything I’m reading to information literacy specifically and librarianship in general. I believe that there is a very strong connection, but how do I explain this connection to others and how do I encourage other librarians to explore these issues themselves?
As I see it, there are two major problems with talking about developing a critical information literacy or a critical practice of librarianship. The first problem is the language of critical theory and critical education. Just providing a simple explanation of what is meant by these terms poses a serious problem. I may attempt such an explanation in the near future, but I’m not about to do so now. I highly recommend Joe Kincheloe’s primers on critical constructivism and critical pedagogy, published by Peter Lang as a way into this area of academic writing. I think it is necessary to take these ideas out of the closed academic environments they now inhabit and make them more accessible to everyone. This is something I hope to work toward in this space.
The second problem is a political one. It is a problem because anyone who finds fault with the current system and works to change it or abolish it is considered to be taking a political position, whereas those who contribute to the continuation of the current system by doing nothing are considered apolitical. Of course, this isn’t the case. Choosing not to act is just as political as choosing to act, it is simply easier. If you choose to criticise the current system and take steps to change it or abolish it altogether, you will most certainly be seen as a radical, a subversive, or a troublemaker by many colleagues and certainly by those who benefit under the current system.
To counter these two problems it is necessary to be well armed with a clearly developed theory and the ability to express this theory to anyone who might question your actions. This theory should then directly affect your practice which will in turn inform and further develop your theory. As I develop my own understanding of this theory and my ability to express it, I will share my findings here and in the classroom. I am hoping to help develop a teaching module as an introduction to critical information literacy for elementary school teachers as part of a foundations of education course. I’ll include some notes here on how this develops. In the meantime, the reading continues. Any suggestions?
I am planning to update this blog much more regularly and I have a lot of things I want to add, I just haven’t been able to the past couple of weeks. I’m still getting caught up on things at work after 6 months of family leave (even though I’ve been back four months now!) and a 10 month old baby at home keeps me too busy to look at a computer when I get home.
I have been thinking a lot lately about the nature of my position as an academic librarian. What exactly is my role and do I have any larger mission or goals? Am I an educator, a curator, a guide, a service representative, a researcher, a scholar? Does my role as librarian extend beyond the campus? The role of the public librarian has always been much clearer I think.
If anyone has any ideas on this I would love to hear them. If you are not an academic librarian yourself, I would be very interested to know your impressions.
Ok. I’m having a bit of a hard time with Drupal. I’ve been exploring ways we might improve our library website by adding many new Web 2.0 features. Everything I’ve been reading has pointed to Drupal being the best option for us, but I wanted to get my hands on it and play around a little to see what could be done with it.
The setup wasn’t too difficult, but since then I’ve run into a few problems. I really like the administration options and am quite excited about what it might be possible to do with the system, but I find the content creation to be very confusing. I really don’t understand the system of blocks, nodules, menus, pages, blogs, and stories. It’s unlike anything else I’ve used before and I really haven’t found the forum or manuals to be very helpful. I’m sure I’ll figure it out, but for now I’m feeling very frustrated.
In an attempt to make the content creation a little easier, I tried to install a wysiwyg editor module (TinyMCE). This had the unintended consequence of shutting me out of my site administration and the only way to remedy the situation seemed to be to delete Drupal from the server and try it all over again. Well, I forgot to delete the database from the server before I tried to reinstall, so I had to do it all once again.
I’m sure I’ll get it all worked out eventually, but there is definitely a learning curve here.