Thursday, 14 April 2011

Social Media: re-conceptualising information literacy

Notes from a seminar I attended on Monday...


I'm just on my way back from a seminar at London Met University by Professor Helen Partridge (Queensland University of Technology - visiting fellow at Oxford Internet Institute). The title was Social Media: re-conceptualising information literacy.

It was an interesting evening. As Helen is in the middle of her research it was more a discussion than reporting on any findings. Helen's research interests are in the way that technology affects peoples lives and how this can be used to enhance education and her background is from public libraries before she became an academic.

Helen started by outlining her interest in how technology in general (and specifically social media) changes people's information worlds.

Some introductory stats on social media usage certainly suggest that this is the case (e.g. 35 hours of video uploaded to youtube every minute). At this stage Helen asked us to think about our Personal Practical Knowledge... i.e. what was the background of people in the room. The majority were academic librarians (academic liaison). The majority of people used social media at least once a day and said they "couldn't live without it". Hold that thought.

I've listed some things I wrote down during the session at the end of this post (can't remember where I was going with some of them but must have found them interesting enough to type down at some point). I had no signal to tweet so these were my way of remembering.

One thing that stood out for me was some of the discussion in the seminar. Maybe I misinterpreted this but there seemed to be some quite negative comments about the use of social media in education relating to it either commercialising people's emotions or contributing to a dumbing down of learning.

My personal opinion on this is that, in itself, social media doesn't do either of these things. Yes, it has the potential to be used as a commercial marketing tool (but then so do all other forms of media). Likewise, people can use social media to find information in the same way they can use google or books - does that lead to a more surface approach to learning in and of itself?

The point that stood out most for me was an example (actually a cartoon) illustrating how social media can be used to find information. The example was that somebody who wanted to find out about a French word went on Twitter and asked. As well as getting a translation they also got information about usage and pronunciation from links sent to them.

This provoked quite a discussion on whether this was true learning or not. Some felt that finding this information via Twitter lacked depth and didn't really represent information literacy (that's how I interpreted the discussion anyway). I think I disagree with this on two levels. The first - one that I'm starting to realise in relation to my own practice - is that not everything is a learning opportunity. In fact, if you try and make everything into a lesson, you end up with teaching that is not authentic - in that it doesn't relate to the world of the learner. I guess an analogy is that we wouldn't teach our students how to use a card catalogue to find books. The world just doesn't use them any more and teaching this would be what Dylan refers to as "useless and pointless knowledge". And I think it's the same with social media. I think, objecting to using social media as a source of information on the basis that it's somehow "too easy" fails to acknowledge how people (in the world outside education) choose to find information. My second objection is that by dismissing social media as somehow shallow or surface we then lose the opportunity to teach students how to use social media effectively. How to view the results critically, to question authority and accuracy etc. - all those good things that information literacy essentially is...

Wikipedia was mentioned quite a bit - mostly with regards to using it as a source of information. I think what interests me more is the idea of contributing to Wikipedia being a powerful learning tool. The knee jerk reaction is to say "not all of the people who contribute are qualified authorities - therefore we should not use it as a source". But not everyone who writes a journal article is "qualified". What we should be teaching is for people to question the authority of the author - of any piece of work... Outside of this I don't quite understand academic objections to wikipedia when, at it's heart there lies the idea of peer review- why is there not more academic engagement with this tool?

On a more positive note, I thought that Helen's research is very learner-centred. She often spoke about finding out about the information world of our users - rather than applying our own assumptions to the question above. Which I think is a good approach. We can't assume that users will have the same view of social media as us - in fact it would be weird if they did as we are information professionals... But by finding out about their experience of social media we can address how this changes information literacy and how we support that.

Long day, so that's about all I can remember on any deep level - here are the point's I wrote down during the session...

Political change in middle east - what it the role of social media?

Social media in pro anorexia sites (bad uses). Also information can be decontextualised.

So much information out there but how does social media decontextualise this?

What is information? (is a FB status "information"?)

Information used by companies - technology used to portray information. FB status change - e.g. single status.

Josua Underwood miLexicon

When does asking a queston on Twittter become not learning?

Brian Lamb - wikipedia article as an assignment.

Authority in social media - concerns are around a lack of authority and "depth".

Change - how does social media change how we do IL?

Public vs' private - this is now an aspect of IL.

Richer and more dynamic discourse.

LIS professionals should be leading in this space.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post and I agree with your points about using social media. It's just a tool and therefore neither good nor bad in itself - the value is determined by how we use it (and how we teach our users to use and evaluate it).