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THE PIPELINE: K-12 Information Literacy--Preparing for the Dark Side

By Stephen Abram - Posted Jul 1, 2007
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It is essential that we teach information literacy skills to our learners—and today, the younger the better. We are already getting good at teaching how to select great sources, directories, and indexes; full-text searching skills; advanced and introductory modes; and the evaluation of quality. We’re getting better at warning our learners about the bad guys—the four horsemen of gambling, sex, stalkers, and racists—plus other bad guys in black hats. What do we need to focus on next?

This column concerns some of the stuff we need to teach but are less comfortable with, mostly because it doesn’t involve information so much as manipulation. I’m talking about advertising literacy and media literacy in the Web environment. It can also be quite contradictory. After all, we accepted television advertising in return for free TV. Now we generally pay cable fees for access, and still there are ads. We pay access fees for the Internet, but we still see thousands of ads weekly. Are we ready for some of the more advanced advertising techniques coming down the wire? It’s changing so fast we have to prepare our students to be aware of the range of techniques already there. If we don’t, who will?

The Pew Internet & American Life Project discovered in its 2005 report that "some 38% of those who have used a search engine are aware that there are two different kinds of search results, some that are paid or sponsored and some that are not. The remaining 62% are not aware of this practice" ( People can’t always tell what is and what isn’t an ad on a search engine list. What do sponsors bring us? NPR, PBS, Hallmark Hall of Fame … Sponsors often bring us the higher-quality content! So who could blame search engine users for thinking that clicking on that sidebar link will bring them better content? I wonder how many apply their skills about judging bias and partisanship in ad links if they don’t even know it’s an ad.

Hands in Our Pockets

So, what would be the components of student learning to develop advertising and media literacy skills in the Web environment? I think I’ll call these alternative information literacy skills for now. I don’t suggest that this is anywhere near a complete top 10 list, but these are the 10 that I think are important to start with (I am sure you could add a dozen more!):

1. Advertising in General


This article is available in its entirety in a variety of formats — Preview (free), Full Text, Text+Graphics, and Page Image PDF — on a pay-per-view basis, courtesy of ITI's InfoCentral. CLICK HERE.

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