Tag Archives: information literacy

Seniors Quicken the Pace of “Digital Inclusion”

“We will not be silenced!” asserts my friend with clinched fist and a tone that echoes past protests familiar to many who have achieved senior citizen status.  Today she is denouncing the myth that seniors don’t – and theoretically can’t–  learn to use technology.    The pernicious myth, long debunked by reality, subtly relegates those of an age to the virtual shelf – as if they themselves were virtual.

My friend’s adamant rant continues – “We marched for peace, demanded equal pay, fought for civil and voting rights, created the tools that shaped the information age” (There’s more that’s better left unquoted here.)  ) Her vehemence recalls the immortal words of Twisted Sister, idol of a pre-digital age “We ain’t gonna take it anymore!”

Researcher Rod P. Githens of the University of Illinois Urbana introduces his study of “Older Adults and E-Learning” with two poignant caveats 1) We often attribute rigidity to age rather than personality, though Nichols (2001) points out rigidity ‘is less a factor of age than of personal history, pressure, and predisposition,” and 2) “attributing rigidity to age is just as damaging as attributing negative stereotypes to other groups.”

In the information age it’s all about statistics.  Another caveat:  Though statistics may not lie, they definitely lag.  There are numerous studies and a wide range of statistics on seniors’ use of technology.  Some samples:

  • A 2010 study by the AARP includes some basics facts, e.g.Two out of five (40%) age 50 and over consider themselves extremely (17%) or very (23%) comfortable using the Internet.
  • 37% of those surveyed use social media with Facebook being by far the most popular (23%)
  • Of the seniors who are connected 62% are connected with their children, 36% with their grandchildren, and 73% with other relatives

Aging Online,  a blog managed by Jamie Cannacher,  offers some fun stats re seniors and technology in an article irresistibly titled “Four cool boomer technology stats you don’t know.”

  • People age 55 and up pick passwords that are twice as secure as teenagers, according to research data pulled from 70 million Yahoo! Users.
  • Smartphone usage among Boomers (age 45 to 54) grew 16 percent last year – falling just behind young people (age 18-24) whose usage of smartphones grew 18 percent.
  • Social media usage by people age 65 and older grew 50 percent during the last two years, according to a report rom Experian.
  • 13 percent of people age 50 and older are Twitter users

 

Within the past hour I received a hot off the wireless a post from Aging Online, a quick piece with another irresistible title “Last week was big for new data on how seniors use the web.”

Briefly, Forrester Research, a privately operated research company,  just released updated statistics including these facts about the mores of seniors who are online. Though the full report is designed for Forrester clients and other paid customers, a few extrapolated stats suggest an upward trend worthy of note:

  • 91% of online seniors use email,
  • 71% go online daily
  • 59% have purchased products online in the past three months,
  • 46%  share photos by email,
  • 44% play solo games online, and
  • 24% sign up for coupons and freebies online

Though Aging Online is just one of several up-to-the-minute windows on the latest scoop on techno-savvy or digitally deprived seniors, it is a starting point to the vast possibilities.

Some thoughts on seniors and technology:

  • Americans are reaching the magic age of “senior” (however that may be defined) at a staggering rate.
  • The definition of senior all depends – It can be anything from 50+ to the age of retirement or another category that suggests “older elderly.” As always, statistical analysis varies with definition of the population surveyed.
  • A historic fact that intrigues me is that many senior retirees, e.g. military retirees, clerical workers, accountants, who have received training and used technology for decades may associate computers with workplace drudgery rather than the freedom of everyday living as a retiree.  They may leave the computer at the office because of cost, ready access or because they have had too much of a good thing.
  • Children and grandchildren are generally touted as the best tutors of older family members.  Though I have discovered no statistical confirmation, I would posit that they are not only proximate and patient, but that they are “on call” when Grandpa hits a digital roadblock.
  • Those with an interest in bridging the generation gap should check out Cyber-Seniors, producer of documentary films tell the stories of seniors and teens working in tandem.  The premise of Cyber-Seniors is this:  “A history book can only teach you so much.  Today’s kids and seniors have an opportunity to share so much more with each other by trading off history lessons for computer lessons.  The way technology is changing at a rapid pace today, with our devices becoming more intuitive and easier to use, this could be the last time we need a generation gap that’s so obvious.  We’re growing up with it and keeping pace.  Future studies about technology might not focus so much on age, but instead on access and economic status.”
  • More important, future studies about technology should focus on content, not to how to manipulate the tools but how to shape the issues, evaluate the sources, relate research to practice, make wise and informed decisions.  Access is an essential “baby step” on the long path to information literacy for all ages.

My friend is right to demand recognition of seniors’ technology acumen and receptivity to change.  She and her superannuated colleagues deftly couple decades of life experience with the need, will and tools to speak and be heard.  The rapidly expanding ranks of thoughtful people “of an age” will not – and should not – be silent in this information age.

Minneapolis Opens Discusion with Survey of the City’s Digital Inclusion Status

For the better part of an hour the 25-30 concerned Minneapolitans gathered at Northeast Library to learn the results of a recent survey of the City’s digital inclusion status.  This was the first of three public meetings to share and discuss the survey process and implications.  Otto Doll from the City IT department kicked off the discussion with an informative power point report on the recently released Community Technology Survey, a profile of Minneapolis residents’ access to the tools and skills of  “digital inclusion” for individuals and families, “digital justice” for the community

Doll explained the intent and principles of the study including a diagram showing stages of development from physical access to equipment, to technology literacy, to a public embrace of a digitally-inclusive community.  The presentation offered helpful graphics which included maps of the areas of the city depicted in terms of basic access to the Internet and practical uses of web technology as well as bar charts that illustrate the state of digital inclusion by gender, race and ethnicity, education and income.

The digital inclusion survey, conducted under contract with the City by the National Research Center, Inc. was mailed to 80,000 Minneapolis residents clustered into eleven communities.  The 30% response rate reflects 2,578 completed surveys with a margin of error at a plus or minus nine percent. Results were weighted to reflect the 2012 Census profile within each of the communities and with the City at large. Residents whose first language is Spanish, Somali or Hmong were able to request a survey in their preferred language.

Bottom line: The survey portrays a city in which digital inclusion matches with existing socio-economic realities.   While 82% of the City’s households have computer with internet access, only 57% of Phillips and 65% of Near North residents have access at home;  25% of African Americans reported they do not have Internet access in the home.

Across the board, most residents report that they are not aware of the City’s wifi network, a hot topic a decade ago when the City signed a major contract with U.S. Internet to build the wifi system.

When the presenter opened the floor for questions, hands waved, voices raised, and suggestions overtook questions as one speaker after another offered a range of ideas for creating a digitally inclusive city.  Though Doll tried with minimal success to explain that the survey was a measure of what is, not an action plan for what could and should be, the ideas flowed from attendees, the majority of whom brought to the table extensive life experience working to stem the digital divide .   Several indicated involved with the Technology Literacy Collaborative, a network of digital inclusion supporters.

A prevailing theme throughout the presentation and the discussion was the need for collaboration among agencies and organizations to assure that the Internet does not offer have not’s just one more resource to not have.

The statistics, graphics and conclusions of the survey are available online for interested individuals and organizations.  Print resources will also be shared at future public meetings which are scheduled as follows:

The City has provided the massive survey results, including the full data set, on the Minneapolis City website.  Questions or requests for additional information can be addressed to  Elise  Ebhardt at elise.ebhardt@minneapolismn.gov or 612 673 2026.

Consumers Shape the Chain – Whether it’s food or information

An op-ed piece in the February 2 Star Tribune caught my eye and kindled thoughts of an initiative with which I was much involved a couple of decades ago.  Clay Johnson, writing in the LA Times examines the unhealthy information diet that threatens the American public.  He compares junk news “largely provided by conglomerates focused on the bottom line” with junk food which most folks realize is neither nutritious nor slenderizing. (One wonders if the LA Times is numbered among those conglomerates.)

Johnson’s point, well stated, is the principle that librarians have stressed for decades, peaking  in the 1980’s with the launch of an energetic campaign to highlight “information literacy” as essential to the core curriculum from cradle through college.  For the outset branding of that worthy campaign was unfortunate – stuffy, pedantic, boring.  Though Clay Johnson’s food analogy is more catchy. the idea behind the information literacy brand is sound:  Just as the way to avoid obesity is to be a smart consumer of food, the way to avoid ignorance is to be a smart consumer of information.

Whether it’s food or information, the key player is the consumer.

Arguing that the media should “chase us” Johnson urges information consumers to “consume deliberately, consume locally, consume close to the original source, consume less and produce more.”  He also warns that given 21st technology, every click counts as it whets the appetite and informs the next move of the junk producer.

Today’s advocates for healthy diets stress the need for consumers to examine sources, processes, economic and political factors that influence the food chain.  Consumer education is imperative.

Similarly information literacy proponents stress the need to educate information consumers at an early age to grapple with the media and info deluge that technology has wrought.  They stress that information literate must be educated to analyze not just the information product but the information chain itself – the complex networks through which information is gathered, analyzed, organized, distributed, preserved, financed and more.

On the production side it takes human beings with time, skills and incentive to forge the information chain upon which the consumer depends and to which the end user contributes.  Whether it’s junk food or junk info, the responsibility rests solely with the consumer.

At the consumer end,  learners must experience, master, experience, practice and dissect the information chain in a learning environment that immerses each consumer in a rich information literacy curriculum.

 

Caveat discupulo — Caviat civitas popularis

School Librarians Convene – A Gawker’s Perspective

Lacking “press credentials” was summarily blocked from attending programs at the American Association of School Librarians meeting this weekend at the Convention Center in Minneapolis.  The program, which I did manage to filch, did look excellent – a robust agenda of authors and storytellers, the predictable abundance of sessions on technology, particularly social media and e-books, speakers and panels addressing ethics, standards, reading promotion initiatives, information literacy and much more.  Some little nuggets caught my eye – e.g. “One Book, One Conference, a comprehensive virtual conference with mobile app and tips for attendees on creating a Green Conference.

As a rejected non-attendee I had a great opportunity to observe the hundreds of school librarians and media professionals who filled the meeting rooms, the exhibits and the hallways.  What I observed was an energetic swarm of committed, inquisitive, learning professionals who are meeting the needs of young people in a desperately challenging time.

For example, in most cases, the librarian/media professional is the sole educator in a learning environment that serves an entire school with a rapidly changing mix of traditional and 21st Century tools – if the librarian is cut, there is no library program.  And library media are vulnerable not because they are inessential but because focus is on student/teacher ratio and desktop learning as opposed to development of independent skills such as information literacy and reading for enrichment.

At the same time, these professionals who are responsible for selecting appropriately materials face a proliferation of format options and, much more important, the imperative to select materials that are culturally appropriate to young learners who come to school from very different environments.

It was clear to me that the educators gathered in Minneapolis are ready to learn and, perhaps more, to share their experiences with colleagues who share the daily challenges each one is facing solo on the front lines.   As a left the conference, clutching my purloined program and my camera I snapped a few more photos that tell the story of the attendees if not so much about the scores of fine presentations I missed – and I was very pleased how my aborted visit to AASL had turned out in the end.

For students – the day of reckoning is at hand

This first week of the new year, a critical time when  millions of students wake to a harsh reality – the end of vacation is at hand and the assignments remain in a state of potency.  Whether the facts face a high school working on a History Day project, a PhD candidate with a dissertation that needs some touch up, a parent or spouse of a student who would rather play than probe, there is one happy thought – The first step is the hardest.

Matt Lee who publishes a rich newsletter for Minitex speaks to that very point, reminding us that “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, according to Confucious. (Or maybe Lao Tzu. A Google search cites both.  Anyone knows a college student who can verify this information?)   As verification of that adage Matt points the way to the report, “Truth be told: How college students use and evaluate information in the digital age” .  The survey of over 8300+ students at 25 institutions, conducted by Alison Head and Michael Eisenberg of the University of Washington Information School,  offers  a surprisingly good read.  Though focused on students navigating in a digital environment the findings are totally applicable to any time and most tasks.  Most fun of all is the great YouTube presentation of the results – you don’t even have to crack a book to get the gist of the 72-page report.

Gustavus Adolphus faculty member Barbara Fister, writing in the Library Journal, reports that 84% of the students surveyed reported that getting started – defining a topic, narrowing it down, and filtering through relevant results — proved to be the three major stumbling blocks to confident student research.  This in the day when everything is right there on the computer – or not.   Fister reflects on the good news that today’s students are “very conscious of the need to evaluate the sources they encounter.  They don’t take them at face value, but are choosy about finding sources that are current and authoritative.”

Fister’s mention of “unhealthy info-gluttony” suggests a concern of mine.  A quote from the report resonates, though I’m quick to note that there’s a generation gap: “A 32-year-old librarian relates what now seems like a quaint memory from a simpler time. Not that many years ago, while conducting a literature review for her own humanities dissertation, she was able to search and exhaust every information source her campus library had to offer. .But for many of todayʼs undergraduates, the idea of being able to conduct an exhaustive search is inconceivable. Information seems to be as limitless as the universe. And research is one of the most difficult challenges facing students in the digital age.”  Still we information enthusiasts need reminders that, in some cases,  more is more, not better.

Happy New Year’s Resolution (beats dieting)  is to  research, think and write more about the world of digital resources in blogs-to-be.  The inescapable fact that “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” is inescapable.   Defining a topic, narrowing it down, and filtering through relevant and reliable results require time and active engagement with the topic.  The iPad and laptop are quick to fetch, not so good at figuring it all out.  Time, teachers and librarians are essential to the process.

Happy surfing and sifting to learners who can pretty well discard the old alibi that “the library didn’t have anything about…”

 

Access-More in the Breach than in the Observance

It is no surprise that virtually all of the talk to and about newly-elected officials focuses on the economy and jobs, jobs, jobs.  One undertone that is too often ignored is the ever-so-subtle issue of the public’s right to information by and about the government.  Two disparate situations bring the latest issue to the surface.  One is the approach to the electoral process evident in the openness of the recent vote count and in plans underway for a potential recount.  The Secretary of State, the election judges, the legacy and alternative press are all at the table, exposing the process and the results.  On the other hand, the doors have remained slammed on the press and public seeking information about the selection of a President for the People’s University.  It’s time to aim the spotlight at an issue too often relegated to the closet.

One basic reality is that open government enjoys a special place in history as a nonpartisan issue, articulated by the founding fathers (who disagreed about just about everything) as a fundamental tenets of the democracy.  Similarly, the State of Minnesota has a distinguished and nonpartisan history of nonpartisan support for open government and informed popular.  In spite of this proud heritage open government is currently more honored in the breach than in the observance.

To a great extent it’s change rather than malicious intent that poses the threat.

  • Because the President has positioned his administration as a vocal proponent of open access, the inclination on the part of the other party may be to turn a deaf ear.  In fact,
  • The first change is in the newness as much as the politics of newly-elected decision-makers.  Access to information is an extraordinarily complex political arena in which experience, institutional memory and practice balancing forces are not infused but shaped by time on task.  Elected officials, incoming administrators, fledgling staffers and others who forge the information chain are often new to the game, newer still to the nuances of public policy relating to information.  In the current information environment mastery of the tools far outstrips attention to policy implications of technology.
  • Second, the information chain itself is in flux bordering chaos.  The inexorable march of information and ideas from decision-maker to constituent, agency to consumer, candidate to the public is cast aside as information – and misinformation – pulsates through the “pipes”, favoring those who own and understand the tools, disenfranchising those for whom time, geography, skill, finances and other incidentals present insurmountable barriers.  Agencies live is solitary splendor while the floodgates open to horizontal flows that ignore and supercede traditional organizational structures.
  • Third, the decline of investigative journalism has had a devastating effect on an informed public.  The  journalists, print and electronic, who bore a heavy responsibility/  They served the public good by ferreting out the truth, researching the record, separating fact from fiction, poking and probing, digesting and deliberating  – then producing information that makes sense to the reader, listener or viewer .   As their ranks  twindle there is a scramble to fill the void and a desperate search for a viable replacement model able to enhance public understanding rather than drivel.
  • Fourth, though ignorance of the law may be no excuse, it nonetheless persists.  Those who need to know often do not know their rights.  Public and nonprofit agencies face critical challenges that cry out for immediate resource allocation.
  • Finally, though current laws need constant review and tweaking, the base is firm;  transparency is recognized as a basic right.  As technology presents both possibilities and pitfalls existing laws deserve review and revision.  More importantly, implementation of laws and policies requires specific attention to oversight by responsible agencies at every level.  Again, it’s one of those implicit tasks that is so basic it can be neglected in deference to issues that are more dire, more doable or more politically persuasive.

Though undeniable and non-controversial, the basics are implicit and thus overlooked:

ü      Every Minnesotan has a RIGHT TO INFORMATION  BY AND ABOUT THE GOVERNMENT.

ü      That right is stated with clarity in legislation and regulation.

ü      Responsibility for oversight is sometimes unclear, more often buried in or blurred the bureaucracy

ü      Organizations and agencies that provide services to the public have an urgent responsibility to affirm that right and to provide the tools, skills and attitudes essential to an informed citizenry.  I

ü      The priority is to affirm and internalize the fact that an understanding of access must join the roster of essentials for elected officials, bureaucracies, nonprofits, schools, communities and families.

ü      Information, alone among public goods, does not diminish but expands with use.

ü      Sound information policy, combined with attention to implementation of that policy, is not a cost but a long-term investment.

It is at our individual and political peril that we ignore the basics.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Open government enjoys a special place in history as a nonpartisan issue, articulated by the founding fathers as one of the fundamental tenets of the democracy.  In spite of this proud heritage open government is currently more honored in the breach than in the observance.  To a great extent it’s change rather than malicious intent that poses the threat.