Informacy is the New Literacy

As anyone who uses a computer, tablet, smart phone, or VR (virtual reality) device knows, we live in an Information Age unprecedented in human history, in which the sum total of mankind’s knowledge is available with a finger’s touch or click of a mouse – or a question posed to Alexa, Siri, Cortana, et al. This has put tremendous power in the hands of the end user, but as noted by philosophers and statesmen, with great power comes great responsibility. While navigating through this vast and ever-growing trove of data we must be (but all too often aren’t) mindful of the pitfalls and obstacles that litter the virtual pathways and take the steps necessary to avoid them.

At a time when you can search billions of texts in milliseconds, scan over trillions of online images, and map virtually the entire planet’s surface, we need to rethink what it means to be literate and to be a learner. As the very definition of “literacy” is evolving thanks to technology, so too is the skillset required by the literate person. Merely knowing how to read is no longer enough; as our methods of teaching and learning increasingly move from traditional linear modes to the non-linear forms enabled by technology, we must learn anew how to frame questions, interpret results, quickly evaluate and organize masses of information, separate the authentic from the fabricated, and above all understand and nurture our “metacognition.”

Dan Russel, Google’s Űber Tech Lead for Search Quality and User Happiness at Google (yes, that’s his official title, but he describes himself as a “cyber-tribal-techno-cognitive-anthropologist”) uses, naturally enough, various Google services and apps as models of tools that may be applied in service of metacognition. Google Search and Google Maps have become ubiquitous, but there are other information weapons in Google’s arsenal. One often overlooked example is the metadata embedded in photographs. Among other parameters metadata can indicate date, time, and location (longitude and latitude) of origin; this data can, in turn, be analyzed to determine the authenticity of a photo, obviously a useful tool at a time when deliberate misinformation constitutes a significant portion of social media posts. Many Google users may also be unaware that Google maintains a Public Data archive, containing a wide array of charts, diagrams, statistics, scientific studies, and other information.

These resources and many (many) others available via Web or app can help the user to develop “informacy,” which Russell considers the updated version of literacy. At its most basic, informacy means a) knowing what the information is, b) knowing where to find it, c) knowing how to verify it, d) knowing how to interact with it, and e) knowing how to apply and/or share it. With expanded and virtual reality technologies developing rapidly, informacy and the skills it requires will become absolutely essential.

Watch Learning in the Age of Google – The Library Channel

VR! It’s happening!

8232While the idea of strapping on goggles to virtually visit Ancient Rome or go inside a molecule sounds like the stuff of science fiction, the technology to do just that is becoming more popular and available every day. Yes, there are plenty of obstacles — from cost to teacher training — but using virtual reality as an educational tool offers considerable
benefits. Not only can it boost visual and technology literacy, but it also improves students’ attention and engagement. Learn how this technology has the possibility to transform K-12 education from educators and engineers gathered by Sally Ride Science@UC San Diego.

Click here to watch Virtual Reality in the Classroom

Click here to view more programs from the STEAM Channel.

High Notes

8232In recent years the STEM educational initiative – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math – has gradually evolved into STEAM, as both educators and employers have gained a greater appreciation for the importance of arts education (the A in STEAM) in an innovation-driven economy. While it has long been held that early exposure to the arts, in particular music, contributes to the development of a well-rounded character, recent research and practical application both quantifies these benefits and identifies them as essential for developing marketable skills.

Since 1945 San Diego Youth Symphony and Conservatory (SDYS) has offered thousands of student musicians the opportunity to study and perform classical repertoire. SDYS’ programs include chamber music, soloist competitions, group lessons, theory classes, mentor programs, and more, and have grown from one advanced orchestra of 60 students to over 600 participating in 12 orchestral and wind ensembles at various levels of proficiency. While many participants have gone on to leading conservatories and professional careers in music, SDSY sees its mission in the larger context of broadening cultural horizons, embracing diversity, and enriching the community. To this end, the Youth Symphony had partnered with area schools to provide both in-class and supplemental music education. This initiative has yielded measurable results, including:

• Improved attendance
• Improved academic performance, particularly in language and reading skills
• Better performance on standardized tests
• Increased parental involvement in their student’s education

Additionally, students themselves report a greater sense of discipline, purpose, organization, belonging, and self-worth, all of which translates into a young person better equipped to tackle higher education and the marketplace.

SDYS also supports statistical research through a partnership with the Center for Human Development at UC San Diego and participation in the Center’s SIMPHONY study. The goal of SIMPHONY is to explore how musical training influences a child’s brain and the development of skills like language and concentration. The results may then be used to bolster the case for music education and to refine teaching methods, not just in San Diego but nationwide.

“High Notes: The Case for Music Education” provides an overview of a few of SDYS’ activities, including their Community Opus project, the SIMPHONY study, and their in-school activities using the Chula Vista Elementary School District as a representative sample.