I cannot argue with David Lankes’ description of our information landscape in “Trusting the Internet: New Approaches to Credibility Tools.” If anything, the implications of what he wrote are more obvious in 2015. But his argument is radical—maybe even revolutionary—because his argument is and is not about technology. Lankes’ exposes the conceptual underpinnings, “the invisible effects of technology upon credibility,” and the implications of this paradigm shift on education, policy, and information system. Users don’t need a culture of greater openness and transparency, or the ability to participate in digital environments because these tools and technologies exist. But rather, these tools and technologies empower individuals to contribute and join in the conversation in a world where the decentralization of authority is obvious. Lankes’ anticipates and proposes a shift from a traditional authority to a reliability approach to credibility because the traditional approach doesn’t make sense in an open, networked information environment, nor does it leverage the potential of digital technology and participatory tools to improve education, policy, or information systems.
The vast majority of schools and libraries have already integrated digital tools and media into their toolkits. But I suspect many schools and libraries fail to grasp the broader implications of the new information paradigm Lankes describes. It is not about the technology per se. This inability to grasp the big picture can be illustrated through a quick google search on the Los Angeles Unified School District’s plan to provide iPads to all its students. The overemphasis on technology in and of itself also seems apparent in recent American Library Association (ALA, 2013) statistics revealing that the number of school librarians declined more than any other school staff between 2007-2011 with the exception of school coordinators and supervisors. These examples betray a static, oversimplified understanding of information. Lankes proposes something more dynamic, wherein credibility is not intrinsic to the information source itself, but determined through the participation of the individual receiving the information. If we construct knowledge through active participation in conversations (ironically, the constructivist bedrock of most school curriculums and standards), then the logical response of educators or school librarians should be to shift the focus from information sources to the community of users. In which case, the school librarian as facilitator becomes more important, not less.
As a LIS student, “Trusting the Internet: New Approaches to Credibility Tools” sparks a lot of questions. As a LIS student in the school library media program, the questions that spring immediately to mind are: what is the research on social media in education? How are school librarians and educators integrating social media into the classrooms? What are the barriers to integrating social media in the classroom? And how might the digital divide influence or affect participation online? On one hand, it seems logical that a lack of access and skills coupled with increasingly complex digital tools and applications might widen the digital divide. But on the other hand, the decentralization of authority might also give rise to a more inclusive digital and participatory culture potentially equalizing digital inequality—and by extension—social inequality.
Which leads me to the subject of my screencast: “From Differentiated Use to Differentiated Practices: Negotiating Legitimate Participation and the Production of Privileged Identities” by Christo Sims. Although this article does not specifically or directly address the use of social media in education, it does tackle the use of digital media and production tools more broadly. Sims conducted an in-depth ethnographic study at a progressive and ambitious public middle school in New York City explicitly designed not only to foster digital media uses, skills, and competencies that experts deemed beneficial, but also to ameliorate the effects of digital inequality. This begs the question: what are beneficial uses of digital media and technology and who gets to decide? What is legitimate participation? This is a question fraught with social, political, and cultural implications that extend beyond the use of technology. Interestingly, according to Sims, educators at this school did not value or consider student social media use educational. Here is my screencast:
American Library Association. (2013). School libraries. State of America’s libraries report 2013. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/news/state-americas-libraries-report-2013/school-libraries
Lankes, R. D. (2008). Trusting the internet: New approaches to credibility tools. in M. J. Metzger & A. J. Flanagin (Eds.) Digital media, youth, and credibility (pp. 101-122). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Sims, C. (2014). From differentiated use to differentiating practices: Negotiating legitimate participation and the production of privileged identities. Information, Communication & Society, 17(6), 670-682.