Information Literacy in a data-driven world

Information Literacy is an issue that I’ve become very passionate about of late. However, I couldn’t put a “term” to it until attending the 2019 INAIR (Indiana Association for Institutional Research) conference this week. In short, Information Literacy “...involves recognizing when information is needed and being able to efficiently locate, accurately evaluate, effectively use, and clearly communicate information in various formats.

There is a push among United States universities to address the issue of Information Literacy. This issue also affects our society as a whole. To quote a co-worker, we are “information rich but data poor”. Growing up, I often heard that we were entering the information age. Today, information is all around us. Information is constantly coming at us from social media, YouTube, new services, friends, relatives, etc.

Information IL-literacy

You may be asking how we can be information illiterate in the data-driven world in which we live. You may also be thinking “numbers don’t lie”. As a professional “data person”, I can tell you that numbers can be made to lie depending on the questions being asked. Therefore it is extremely important to understand what questions are being asked and why. It is also imperative to that the answers be consistent over time. This is so much more important in our ever changing political climate and world.

We are constantly being bombarded by “news” and information to the point of it becoming propaganda. For me, the word propaganda shifts my mind immediately to WWII and most certainly to war and conflict. Let us for a moment to consider the parallels using Nazi Germany as an example.

Propaganda vs “news”

prop·a·gan·da/ˌpräpəˈɡandə/noun
noun: propaganda; noun: Propaganda
1. information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.

Google

I feel like I could stop right there, but I’ll discuss for a moment the word “biased“. Throughout human history, we have been surrounded by biased information, so this is nothing new. It may even be that it was once a bigger issue than it is now–but I speak only of my 42 years of experience. Before the advent of the Internet, fact checking was more difficult than it is now. If one wanted to verify information relayed to them, they had to go to the newspaper, library or other sources. With the Internet, it should be so much easier to find sources on both sides of an issue, but there is so much information, which is true or false, biased or unbiased, right or wrong?

Where it should be easier than the “good ole days” is in checking our sources. I understand that most of us aren’t going to spent hours upon hours doing this but we should at least spend a little time checking the trustworthiness of our sources. We should even rely less on one source and more on checking multiple sources. This does not mean that all sources lie, but human nature has proven that we all “have an angle” to quote Bing Crosby in White Christmas. No two of us will view an issue exactly the same because we’re all approaching it from a different perspective–based on our life and experiences.

Becoming information Literate

So how do we become information literate? Simply put, DIG. Dig into the background of your source–at least a little. Dig into the issue–look at multiple points of view. Dig into your own beliefs and experiences.

For example, before you make a stand on ANY political issue, do some research. For the person reporting it, where do they stand on other issues? What are their beliefs? Do they match yours? For the issue, look at another source on the opposite side and do the same. Now, go somewhere in the middle and again do the same. Chances are, the “facts” are going to lie somewhere in that middle area.

If your primary sources is strongly affiliated to a particular party, religion or socio-economic status, how may those affiliations “skew” their reporting of the issue? In today’s world, we should take not take anything at face value, because it’s easier than ever to spread information, disinformation or misinformation to large audiences in a short period of time. (hence going “viral”)

Research

In closing, I can only tell you that as I’ve grown older, I don’t take a stand unless I’ve done some research into an issue. Recently, I started studying World War I and II again. Information I’ve oncovered or had shared with me, has put into doubt some of the perspectives I had on this time of history. Mostly, I’ve learned that I didn’t know nearly what I thought I did. In large part, this is due to my personal history and demographics. I learned everything I know about history as an American–a member of the victors from these wars. 

While I’m learning more about the period, I have discovered that it’s not so much about mis-information but lack thereof. Events and actions taken by the victors that weren’t included in my revisionist history lessons. Moreover, the question of WHY looms larger the more I learn. 

So, I challenge you to question the issues. Answer for yourself the question WHY? Why do you believe what you do? Why do you or do you not agree with a perspective?

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