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K12 Schools Must Fill New Literacy Gaps

New report reveals that college students are not so media savvy when it comes to discriminating between credible sources online.

A weak economy paired with a national push to improve reading and math as well as other core subjects has left an important skill behind in K12 classrooms—digital media literacy.

A report released last July out of Northwestern University, "Trust Online: Young Adults' Evaluation of Web Content," reveals that college students are not so media savvy when it comes to discriminating between credible sources online. The study includes information from more than 1,000 first-year students in an urban public research university in 2007. Eszter Hargittai, a researcher in the study and an associate professor of communication studies at Northwestern, says the study results reveal "a lot of people, especially a lot of students, take for granted a lot of what they see online."

More than 25 percent of the students mentioned they chose a Web site because the search engine listed it as the first result, suggesting to the student there was considerable trust in the Web search via the search engine.

The skills that students used in the study are part of the new literacies, which include online reading comprehension and learning skills, also known as 21st-century skills, required by the Internet and other information and communication technologies (ICTs), including understanding content found on wikis, blogs, video sites, audio sites, and in e-mail.

The results of the report suggest that public school districts need to start training their teachers to teach digital media skills to K12 students, according to Hargittai and Don Knezek, chief executive officer of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). "In a case that an administrator says it's [knowing digital media skills] not important, that administrator is not looking at the world today and how youths do research," says Knezek, who calls the skills "new century literacies."

ISTE recently updated its NETS-S, or National Education Technology Standards for Students, specifically in the research and information fluency arm, which covers digital language, evaluation and use of information.

Some districts do see the importance of teaching digital media skills to students. In Murray Hill Middle School of Howard County (Md.) Schools, teacher-librarian and technology specialist Gwyneth Jones, also known as the Daring Librarian due to her in-depth knowledge and skill when it comes to using the Internet and its tools, started teaching digital literacy in 1995, naming Netscape as the only browser of that era. Now, she teaches how to evaluate sources and Web pages in their searches. She says "Wikipedia is not evil," but students can't just use it as the only source for an assignment.

"It's the job of every media specialist, to teach the lessons of evaluating sources," she says. "And every teacher in a school should bring that into every lesson as well. It takes a village to teach a digital citizen."