Information and media literacy

Information and media literacy

Information and media literacy (IML) is as important as traditional reading and writing. Today’s students need to be information literate and media literate. Learning needs to be adapted to a “wired” society. The skills taught to students today will be irrelevant in a short period of time due to technological advancement. Marc Prensky (2001) uses the term "digital native" to describe students that have been brought up in a digital world.

In order to define IML, it is important to understand information literacy and media literacy as two separate terms. Prior to the 1990s, the primary focus of Information Literacy has been research skills. In parallel, Media Literacy traditionally focuses on analyzing the delivery of information. In today's context, the two terms now need to come together.

IML is a combination of information literacy and media literacy. The purpose of being information and media literate is to engage in a digital society; one needs to be able to use, understand, inquire, create, communicate and think critically. It is important to have capacity to effectively access, organize, analyze, evaluate, and create messages in a variety of forms. The transformative nature of IML includes creative works and creating new knowledge; to publish and collaborate responsibly requires ethical, cultural and social understanding.

Integration of technology

As technology use in society has grown, an important aspect of teaching has included technology integration. For a time, there were specific courses expected in BC relating to integrating technology. The BC Ministry of Education has de-listed the [ Information Technology K to 7 IRP (1996)] as a stand-alone course. It is still expected that all the prescribed learning outcomes (PLOs) continue to be integrated.

This integration of technology across the curriculum is a positive shift from computers being viewed as boxes to be learned to computers being used as technical communication tools. In addition, recent learning pedagogy recognizes the inclusion for students to be creators of knowledge through technology (November, 2006). Unfortunately, there has been no clear direction to implement IML.

The BC Ministry of Education published The [ Information and Communications Technology Integration Performance Standards, Grades 5 to 10 ICTI (2005)] . These standards provide performance standards expectations for Grade 5 to 10; however, they do not provide guidance for other grades and the expectation for a Grade 5 and Grade 10 student are the same.

Twenty-first century students

The IML learning capacities prepare students to be 21st Century literate. Jeff Wilhelm (2000) supports this in his article, [ Literacy by Design: Why is all This Technology so Important?] by stating, “Technology has everything to do with literacy. And being able to use the latest electronic technologies has everything to do with being literate.” He presents J. David Bolter’s argument “that if our students are not reading and composing with various electronic technologies, then they are illiterate. They are not just unprepared for the future; they are illiterate right now, in our current time and context.” (Wilhelm, 2000, p. 4)

Almost half of students surveyed between Grade 4 and Grade 11 (48%) say they use the Internet from home at least an hour every day, compared to 79% who say they watch television for an hour or more every day (YCWW, 2003, Para. 5).

In 2005, the Media Awareness Network conducted the Young Canadians in a Wired World Phase II (YCWW II) survey of over 5000 Grade 4 through Grade 11 students. This survey has key findings that support Wilhelm’s article. The YCWW II (2005a, 2005b) key findings show that:

Sixty-two per cent of Grade 4 students prefer the Internet, while 38 per cent choose the library. Ninety-one per cent of Grade 11 students prefer the Internet, with only nine per cent choosing the library (YCWW II, 2005a, para. 28).

[T] he Net is also now a pervasive element of young people’s home lives. Ninety-four percent of kids report that they have Internet access at home, and a significant majority of them (61 percent) enjoy a high-speed connection. By the time kids hit Grade 11, half of them (51 percent) have their own Internet-connected computer, separate and apart from the family computer (YCWW II, 2005b, p. 6).

A home computer remains the most common way young people connect to networked spaces. It is interesting to note that over half of this demographic group has cell phones in Canada and that they can use cell phones to surf the internet and to text message their friends.

Many students are better networked through the use of technology than most teachers and parents. Teachers and parents may not understand the abilities of technology. Students are no longer limited to the desktop computer. Students use mobile technologies to graph a mathematical problem, research a question for Social Studies, text message an expert for information as well as send homework to a drop box. Students are accessing information by using MSN, personal Web pages, Weblogs and social networking sites.

Young Canadians are now among the most wired in the world. But contrary to the earlier stereotype of the isolated and awkward computer nerd, today’s wired kid is a social kid (YCWW II, 2005b, p. 8).

Teaching and learning in the 21st century

Many teachers continue the tradition of teaching the way from the past 50 years. Traditionally teachers have been the experts downloading their knowledge to the open minds of children. Technology and the learning tools it provides access to forces us to change to being facilitators of learning. We have to change the stereotype of teacher as the expert who delivers information and students as consumers of information in order to meet the needs of digital students. Teachers not only need to learn to speak digital, but also to embrace the language of Digital Natives.

Wikipedia’s (2007, para. 1 [] ) definition of a language is “a system, used to communicate, comprised of a set of symbols and a set of rules (or grammar) by which the manipulation of these symbols is governed. These symbols can be combined productively to convey new information, distinguishing languages from other forms of communication.” Digital Natives can communicate fluently with digital devices and convey information in a way that was impossible without digital devices. People born prior to 1988 are generally referred to as Digital Immigrants. They speak with accents and experience difficulty programming simple devices like a VCR. Digital Immigrants do not start pushing buttons to make things work.

Learning a language is best done early in a child’s development.

In acquiring a [second language] , Hyltenstam (1992, as cited in Wikipedia, 2007) found that around the age of 6 and 7 seemed to be a cut-off point for bilinguals to achieve native-like proficiency. After that age, [second language] learners could get near-native-like-ness but their language would, while consisting of very few actual errors, have enough errors that would set them apart from the [first language] group (para. 4).

Kindergarten, Grade 1 and 2 are critical to student success as Digital Natives because not all students have “Digital” rich childhood. Students learning “Digital” before Grade 3 can become equivalently bilingual. “Language-minority students who cannot read and write proficiently in English cannot participate fully in American schools, workplaces, or society. They face limited job opportunities and earning power.” (August, 2006, p. 1) Speaking “Digital” is as important as being literate in order to participate fully in society and have full options to life’s opportunities within North America.

When teachers are aware of the IML capacities that are needed to grow in students, they are seeking to meet the diverse learning needs of students. Twenty-first Century classrooms could look like this: read an email from Flat Stanley*, look up the weather channel, synchronize calendar time with another class via webcam, practice math concepts at home with virtual manipulatives, and use digital microscopes to meet the Kindergarten science PLO to “describe properties of materials, including colour, shape, texture, size and weight.” (BC MoE, 2005a, p 27)

(*Flat Stanley is a character in an international literacy and communication activity whereby students can journalize about the character’s travels and experiences via mail and email. It is a primary and junior student activity.)

Another free resource for students, is the online story of Inanimate Alice. Alice grows up in this new age and the episodes combine music, images and text to stimulate the imagination and involve the learner in her digital world. []

Why are students not information and media literate

Individual beliefs about value of technology integrated into classrooms depend on the individual, the perspective and what is valued. If educators do not believe or accept IML there will be little change.

Performance standards, the foundation to support them, and tools to implement them are readily available. Success will come when there is full implementation and equitable access are established. Shared vision and goals that focus on strategic actions with measurable results are also necessary.

When [the staff] and community, working together, identify and clarify their values, beliefs, assumptions, and perceptions about what they want children to know and be able to do, an important next step will be to discover which of these values and expectations will be achieved (Lambert, 1998, p. 6). Using the capacity tools to assess IML will allow students, staff and the community to reflect on how well students are meeting learning needs as related to technology.

The IML Performance standards allow data collection and analysis to evidence that student-learning needs are being met. After assessing student IML, three questions can be asked:

#What does each student need to learn?
#How does one know whether students have met the capacities?
#How does one respond when students have difficulty in learning?

Teachers can use classroom assessment for learning to identify areas that might need increased focus and support. Students can use classroom assessment to set learning goals for themselves.

Barriers to information and media literacy

The barrier to learning to read is the lack of textbooks and novels while the barrier to learning IML is the lack of technology access. Highlighting the value of IML helps to identify existing barriers within the school infrastructure, the staff development, and the support systems. While there is a continued need to work on the foundations to provide a sustainable and equitable access, the biggest obstacle will be school climate.

Marc Prensky (2006, para. 25) identifies one barrier as teachers viewing digital devices as distractions by stating, “Let’s admit the real reason that we ban cell phones is that, given the opportunity to use them, students would vote with their attention, just as adults would ‘vote with their feet’ by leaving the room when a presentation is not compelling.”

The mindset of banning new technology, fearing all bad things that can and sometimes do happen can affect educational decisions. The decision to ban digital devices impacts students for the rest of their lives.

Any tool that is used poorly or incorrectly can be unsafe. Safety lessons are mandatory in Industrial Technology and Science. Yet safety or ethical lessons are not mandatory to use technology.

Not all decisions in schools are measured by common ground beliefs. One school district in Ontario banned digital devices from their schools. Local schools have been looking at doing the same. These kinds of reactions are often about immediate actions and not about teaching, learning or creating solutions. Many barriers to IML exist and we need to remove them.

NETS-S 2007

The Surrey School District IML learning capacity performance standards were created in the 2006/2007 school year. [ ISTE] 's [ NETS-S] was being refreshed at the same time. While developed independently, they are very similar in language and intent.


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DuFour, R., Burnette, B. (2002) Pull out negativity by its roots. [electronic version] Journal of Staff Development. 23 (2), para. 23. (1995). homepage. Retrieved March 30, 2007 from

International Society of Technology Educators. (2004). National Education Testing Standards – Students. Retrieved November 15, 2006 from

Lambert, L. (1998). Building Leadership Capacity. ASCD. Alexandria, VA. 6, 23.

Media Awareness Network. (2003). Young Canadians in a wired world; The Students’ View. Retrieved on May 11, 2007 from

Media Awareness Network. (2005a). Young Canadians in a wired world Phase II: Trends and Recommendations. Valerie Steeves. Retrieved on March 19, 2007 from

Media Awareness Network. (2005b). Young Canadians in a wired world phase ii. ERIN Research Inc. 6. Retrieved on March 19, 2007 from upload/YCWWII_trends_recomm.pdf.

November, A. (2006). Keynote speech from Computer Using Educators of BC Fall Conference. Coquitlam, BC.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. [electronic version] On the Horizon. 9 (5), 1.

Prensky, M. (2006). Listen to the Natives. [electronic version] Educational Leadership. 63 (4) 8 -13.

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