Sometimes it's hard to even remember the days when easy, instant access to a world of information wasn't available to everyone. But the internet's greatest gift — its seemingly unlimited fount of democratized knowledge — also poses some of its steepest challenges for educators and students.
By the end of 2013, there were 14.3 trillion live webpages and 672 exabytes (672,000,000,000 gigabytes) of accessible information on the internet. For all its value, finding learning resources and reliable data in this sea of information is like taking a sip of water from a fire hydrant: If you aren't prepared, you can quickly get overwhelmed.
Because the accuracy of the internet's limitless information is unpoliced, educators often raise legitimate concerns about the credibility of some sources. Wikipedia is one popular online information warehouse that has incited much debate, as the website's collective authorship makes it hard to determine authenticity and accuracy — two important criteria for identifying a credible source. Since the crowdsourced encyclopedia first launched, the trend toward user-created content has continued to grow. Although Wikipedia and other websites have taken steps to improve their accuracy, an increasing amount of information out there still can't be trusted. That means educators and students need to use their critical thinking skills as they consider the credibility of each and every website they encounter.
Because this is such an important issue for all ages of students across all subject areas, it's something that any visionary leader should address head-on.
What is a visionary leader, you ask? A visionary leader is someone who can look at the big picture. A visionary leader would inspire and lead the development and implementation of a plan to promote a generation of critical source evaluators. A visionary leader would support positive transformation throughout his or her district in order to ensure that teachers integrate information literacy into classroom lessons and activities in ways that promote critical thinking and excellence. This type of leadership work is aligned to the ISTE Standards for Administrators (ISTE StandardsA) 1: Visionary Leadership, and it's aligned to the sixth, seventh and eighth grade Common Core State Standards in writing that require students to access digital resources and assess the credibility and accuracy of the information.
Demonstrating and implementing an effective information literacy initiative, however, is not an easy task. It calls on education leaders to make difficult decisions and choose from a range of possible approaches. Check out three examples and how they align to the ISTE StandardsA 1: Visionary Leadership in the table below.
Standard 1: Visionary Leadership Educational administrators inspire and lead development and implementation of a shared vision for comprehensive integration of technology to promote excellence and support transformation throughout the organization.
Approach 1: In response to concerns regarding the credibility and accuracy of information, this leader decides that students and teachers throughout the district should not use the internet for instructional purposes.
Approach 2: This leader implements a districtwide Critical Internet Evaluators initiative. This initiative allows students to use the internet as a source of information but provides guidelines to help them determine the credibility of digital information. The initiative and guidelines are periodically evaluated.
Approach 3: This leader implements a districtwide Critical Internet Evaluators initiative. This initiative encourages students to critically use the internet as a source of information and provides guidelines to help them determine the credibility of digital information. The initiative and guidelines are periodically evaluated and are shared at local, state and national conferences to showcase how to use the internet effectively in schools.
a. Inspire and facilitate among all stakeholders a shared vision of purposeful change that maximizes use of digital age resources to meet and exceed learning goals, support effective instructional practice and maximize performance of district and school leaders.
Absent: Denying access to the internet removes one of the most significant digital age resources, which prevents teachers and students from using it for learning goals or instructional practice.
Addressed: The Critical Internet Evaluators initiative encourages positive use of the internet for learning goals and instructional practice.
Addressed: The Critical Internet Evaluators initiative encourages positive use of the internet for learning goals and instructional practice. Teachers, parents, students and community leaders are involved in the practice of developing and implementing the guidelines.
b. Engage in an ongoing process to develop, implement and communicate technology-infused strategic plans aligned with a shared vision.
Absent: The decision to ban the internet was neither strategic nor made in collaboration with other stakeholders. This leader clearly was not working in alignment with a technology integration vision or plan.
Addressed: This teacher did not show leadership by sharing knowledge with others.
Addressed: This leader has planned and implemented a districtwide technology initiative. The guidelines for evaluating digital sources are evaluated periodically by a team of administrators, teachers, students, parents and community leaders. The district provides training for administrators, teachers and parents.
c. Advocate on local, state and national levels for policies, programs and funding to support implementation of a technology-infused vision and strategic plan.
Absent: This leader has banned technology instead of advocating for it.
Addressed: This leader has planned and implemented a districtwide technology initiative, and administration periodically evaluates the guidelines for assessing digital sources.
Addressed: This leader has implemented a tech initiative at the district level and is sharing this approach with others at local, state and national conferences. The leader is also pursuing grants to fund training and equipment.
While Approach 1 shows no evidence of meeting the indicators for visionary leadership, Approach 2 matches some of the indicators, and Approach 3 meets all four. To address concerns about the credibility and accuracy of some online sources, the leader in Approach 1 has decided to enact a full internet ban, perhaps to protect students from inaccurate or inappropriate information. However, this approach fails to provide a supervised environment for students to safely practice the process of evaluating sources while developing digital age information literacy skills. Although it may have arisen from good intentions, this approach has eliminated the opportunity for students to benefit from the many valuable learning resources and all the credible information that is on the internet.
The leader who chose Approach 2 has begun to lay the groundwork by implementing a districtwide Critical Internet Evaluators initiative. This initiative is designed to develop students' abilities to evaluate specific criteria for digital sources, such as currency, accuracy and authority. This leader is integrating the use of the internet in the classroom, where students and teachers work together to achieve learning goals. However, there is no evidence that the leader has advocated for policies, programs and funding beyond the confines of the district.
The administrator in Approach 3 shows clear signs of being a visionary leader. Through the implementation of the districtwide Critical Internet Evaluators initiative, this leader encourages students to recognize the internet as a source of information while becoming critical evaluators of that knowledge. This leader has developed and implemented guidelines to help students learn how to determine the credibility of digital sources. The leader also collaborates with other important stakeholders to periodically update the guidelines to keep them relevant in the ever advancing digital age. Finally, this visionary leader shares the initiative at local, state and national conferences to powerfully advocate for the integration of critical information literacy skills.
Kristen Gregory, faculty professional development manager at the Batten Center for Teaching Excellence at Tidewater Community College in Virginia, assisted in writing this article. She holds a master's in reading from Virginia Commonwealth University and is currently a doctoral student in curriculum and instruction literacy leadership at Old Dominion University, Virginia.
Helen Crompton is an assistant professor of instructional technology at Old Dominion University. She is a researcher and educator in the field of instructional technology, and she earned her Ph.D. in educational technology and mathematics education from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Ready to start planning a tech integration initiative in your district? Don't go it alone. Join the Lead & Transform movement for tips, resources and guidance from experts in the field.