Maggie Philbin (yes, THAT Maggie) recently published a report about digital literacy skills in the UK. I agreed with much of what she said, except that I thought she forgot to make a key point: that people need the ability to engage CRITICALLY with the information that’s out there, i.e. being able to discern what is useful, academic, trustworthy and what isn’t. We all need to learn how to separate the wheat from the chaff, online.
Maggie and I subsequently struck up a very good rapport during a productive meeting and I have since become involved with TeenTech, of which she is CEO. TeenTech run lively one-day events to help young teenagers see the wide range of career possibilities in Science, Engineering and Technology. They also have an annual competition where students work in teams on a project of their choice. Awards are given at an event at the Royal Society in June and the projects are judged in a range of categories. I will be a judge on a panel for one of these awards, a new one which recognises excellence in research and information literacy in 11-16 year olds. This award is sponsored by the CILIP Information Literacy Group, a professional group that I now Chair.
We know that university graduates need to have well-developed digital and information literacy skills, but all research shows that individuals need to start developing them before they start their degrees. As Maggie said: “Search engines like Google are powerful and really valuable tools but, like any tool, students need to understand the best ways to use them. They also need to see how they can use them in conjunction with other ways of finding information.” This new award supports exactly that: it will celebrate how young people can be truly information literate researchers – dispelling the ‘Google Generation myth – as they explore their ideas to make life better, simpler or easier.
I am quite excited about this – and not a little star-struck! – because my work revolves so much around embedding digital literacy skills in adults and time and again it becomes clear that these skills need to be fostered at an early age, to produce the innovative academics of the future we need. Schools or libraries can register their interest now for the awards for 2015/6, or can contact TeenTech for more details. I’m really looking forward to being involved.