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Building Student Data Literacy: An Essential Critical-Thinking Skill for the 21st Century

By Glenda Gunter - Posted May 1, 2007
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Is the world truly flat as author Thomas L. Friedman suggests in his landmark book, The World Is Flat? How do we prepare our students for success in a connected society where the power to change the world has moved from major corporations and giant trade organizations to individuals?

As educators, we have spent at least 2 decades prior to the advent of the 21st century working on preparing students for success in the new millennium. Now that we are approaching the end of its first decade, we continue to discuss and struggle to implement new learning objectives and instructional strategies that focus on ensuring that our students graduate with the skills necessary to compete in our new global society.

Today's students have more information at their fingertips than ever before. With the click of a mouse or the tap of a key, the Internet puts massive amounts of information—much of it original source—in front of them instantaneously. Yet, while we provide them with the tools for accessing and consuming this information, we do not necessarily focus on providing them with the skills to be able to evaluate and analyze this information. Without these skills, the information does not empower them to be successful. Students need to learn critical-thinking skills so that they can "upload" information—to use Friedman's term. In other words, we need to ensure that students are information-literate.

Moving Toward an Expanded Definition of Literacy

Traditionally, we have defined literacy as the ability to read and write. However, 21st-century literacy has moved beyond that into the realm of possessing the critical-thinking skills necessary to delve into information or data and figure out what it really means. Students need the ability to synthesize and evaluate data and to create new information and knowledge after they have determined its quality.

In his article, "Information Literacy, Statistical Literacy and Data Literacy," Milo Schield (2005) concludes that information literacy requires both statistical and data literacy. According to Schield: "Students must be information literate: they must be able to think critically about concepts, claims and arguments: to read, interpret and evaluate information. Statistical literacy is an essential component of information literacy. Students must be statistically literate: they must be able to think critically about basic descriptive statistics. Analyzing, interpreting and evaluating statistics as evidence is a special skill. And students must be data literate: they must be able to access, assess, manipulate, summarize, and present data. Data literacy is an essential component of both information literacy and statistical literacy."

To prepare our students to be informed, successful citizens, we must teach them to see beyond numbers and simple functions. They must have the skills to evaluate and analyze the data put before them. In other words, they must also be data- literate.

Complete article is available now, or will be shortly, in a variety of formats — Preview (free), Full Text, Text+Graphics, and Page Image PDF — courtesy of ITI's InfoCentral. CLICK HERE and search “Multimedia & Internet@Schools” for the story by title.

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