Information Literacy

This past week a reference honoring Dr. King’s day on Edutopia-Google+ caught my attention. It quoted Dr. King stating: The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character-that is the goal of true education.

Given that, let’s examine a site dedicated to Dr. King: This site, which at first glance purports to honor Dr. King, is a deviously planned site designed to stray the novice and discredit Dr. King’s contributions to our society. One who promoted peaceful demonstrations and who wished for freedom and justice for all. After close examination one recognizes that this is a deceitful site that is intended to rewrite history, and plant the seeds of hate and doubt into the uninitiated’s mind. Who wrote this site? Who owns this site? How do we know? More about this later.

Young children lacking information literacy skills are vulnerable to such lures, unless they are trained with a keen eye and skilled in divergent thinking. Today, more than ever, educators need to, as Sir Ken Robinson puts it, focus on changing the education paradigms to thrive economically without loosing our cultural identity.

In the past we have had the luxury of accepting facts presented to us from reliable sources and field experts. However, today anyone is an instant publisher. One can readily form a collective or empathizers with a half-baked singular ideology, feeding and reinforcing their own thinking. Some research studies show that we are interested in just reconfirming our own beliefs and prejudices through our confirmation biases forming illusory correlations leading to polarization of ideologies and pluralistic ignorance.

Social networking, similar to any other disruptive force has the potential for positive as well as negative impact. The positive aspect of it is the abundance of data that would lead to clarity and transparency. However, synthesizing and analyzing the data to form information is the most critical stage of this process. Unless one has been trained to dissect ideas through mind mapping and brainstorming to gain insight and multiple perspectives on a given subject, we will remain vulnerable.

Steven Covey believes, seek first to understand, before you are understood. Using empathic listening to creating an atmosphere of caring, respect, and positive problem solving. Or as the saying goes, before walking in one’s shoes, you must first remove your own. Covey explains a great strategy to accomplish this through the Indian talking stick. Whereby, the speaker holds a token until he or she feels like they are understood, then passes the token.

Today we are on information overload. While there are systems in place that help categorize and tag the information, it is vital for students to have the tools and knowledge necessary to decipher this information. One of my favorites is Alan November’s site on information literacy, where he shares the following resources for 21st century learners:

With these tools, now let’ s go back and investigate the original questionable site:

  • Who wrote this site?
  • Who owns this site?
  • How do we know?

And what do you think was the intent?








According to, a wiki is a website that permits site visitors to become participants by creating and editing the website content without any special tools. Another powerful feature of a wiki is the democratization of the process whereby any authorized user can revert back the content to a previous level to modify input and historical versions. This is an essential component of wikis to help move content forward.

While searching for the term wiki, the first eighteen pages of a Google search are all related to Wikipedia. I am often puzzled when educators blindly disregard the validity and reliability of Wikipedia content, the mother of all wikis. The most common complaint seems to be about the legitimacy of the content, despite existing studies dating back to 2005, or articles encouraging the Wikipedia model for research studies publication in 2008, or a lawyer’s perspective on using and citing Wikipedia. Information literacy is an important part of the learning process. Therefore, no bodies of information should be taken for granted, regardless of the source.

I remember growing up and relying on a singular volume of encyclopedia at home, or at best, access to the voluminous copies of Encyclopedia of Britannica in the library. Granted, the content came from vetted expert perspectives, nevertheless, the content is still skewed from a singular cultural perspective. For example, in the West, Genghis Khan is considered a merciless ruler that ruthlessly dominated the world through destruction. Yet, rightly or not, in Mongolia he is still worshiped as a god like hero. His commandments are still followed to this day. Conversely, we view Alexander the Great as a hero and a conqueror in West, yet in parts of the East and central Asia he is considered a murderer who destroyed cultures and burnt libraries. It is a perspective that is not often explored in the West.

From my viewpoint, wikis permit the democratization of content. Perspectives from experts as well as novices help form a bigger picture.  Some authors believe Crowd sourcing is informative and often as reliable as a field expert’s perspective. If not, then at a minimum it can help shape the conversation. Beyond that, wikis can help form learning communities which would not have been imaginable otherwise. Overcoming distance and time permits common enthusiasts working together to share knowledge and contribute to a singular source.

Wikis can also facilitate democratization of conversation through the talk tab built into Wikipedia. This is an arena where experts, novice, enthusiasts, and even students can discuss various perspectives before forming consensus on knowledge construction. Granted, it is still not a perfect system, but I believe students should be trained to take part in these conversations to help develop research skills. They cannot only converse with field experts in a natural setting, but also contribute to the body of knowledge.

The availability of multiple languages can also help shape different perspectives. Topics in Wikipedia are not identical across different languages. Emphasis is made based on local interest and passion. For example, Abraham Lincoln in the English version of Wikipedia holds over two hundred references. However, in French or in Punjabi it holds only nine, but not the same nine resources. Nonetheless, these references may hold different sets of information that may still uncover facts about Lincoln that may have been lost in history from a different perspective unbeknown to us. Built-in web-browser translators such as Google Translate facilitate access to such treasures transparently with a click of a button.

Last but not least, a free encyclopedia that is available worldwide in multiple languages at no cost can bring knowledge to the far corners of our world. It is not just the richness of the resource in various languages, but also the portability of the knowledge. A classroom in a village in Afghanistan can instantly have access to volumes of information equivalent to the best libraries across the world. Knowledge at our finger tips, anytime, anywhere.

The perspective offered here does not just apply to Wikipedia. Any content developed on a classroom WikiSpaces has the same potential. Schools can form their own web presences using wikis. For example, teachers working together can create their own digital textbooks or class resources in multiple languages in an open source environment. This will free up precious resources for more needy purposes in education such as the purchase of digital devices to access such vast resources. After all, why would students want to limit themselves to a linear, sequential, non-searchable, singular heavy object that is a detriment to their posture called a textbook?