the difference between being deft and being literate

Once more, another survey points to a gap between being familiar with computers and the net and being knowledgeable about what to do with them. This one’s from The Chronicle: Daily news: 10/17/2006

Students Lack ‘Information Literacy,’ Testing Service’s Study Finds

College students and high-school students preparing to enter college are sorely lacking in the skills needed to retrieve, analyze, and communicate information that is available online, according to preliminary findings released on Monday by the Educational Testing Service.

A study by the nonprofit testing service looked at the scores of about 3,000 college students and 800 high-school students who earlier this year took a new ETS test designed to measure their information literacy and computer savvy. The test is called the ICT Literacy Assessment Core Level. “ICT” stands for “information and communication technology.”

According to the preliminary report, only 13 percent of the test-takers were information literate. ETS set what company officials described as a rough, unofficial information-literacy bar using information from a variety of sources, including the Association of College and Research Libraries.

Students at four-year colleges fared best on the test, followed by high-school seniors preparing to enter four-year colleges, and community-college students after them. High-school seniors preparing to enter community colleges had the lowest scores.

At the same time, students are pretty deft at communicating online with each other: witness Facebook, IM, MySpace, student blogs, gaming, and even Flickr and YouTube. So it’s not as simple as saying “They ain’t literate” because they seem to be pretty literate within their discourse communities. The survey seems to have measured not general literacy practices but academic and social literacy practices of retrieving and analyzing information. The scare quotes around “information literacy” say as much.

Being one of those oh-so-effing-stuffy-academics, I tend to privilege the literacy practices of retrieval and analysis. I like my blog reading to be more than, “Hey! Cool link!” I like to read considerations of issues/matters/sites/people rather than instant responses to them. I prefer the creative to the merely clever, the substantial to the merely presented. I prefer the crafted to the off-the-cuff, the challenging to the pandering, the predicated to the posturing. And as one of those killjoy-academic-writing types in the employ of an academic institution, I’m even obligated to practice and teach the literacy practices of The Academy. That’s what they pay me for, so it’s a good thing I like it. But the literacy practices of The Academy are pretty extensive. It ain’t just about writing “academic prose,” whatever the hell that is this week. It’s about inventing the university, practices that include pointing (“Hey! Cool link!”) but also gathering and analyzing… But that’s another blog posting.

So, in the typical fussy-academic-analyze-it-in-order-to-understand-it fashion, I’d like to see what literacy practices the survey looked at, and how they were measured (that is, by practices, by open-ended questions, by multiple-choice survey). Without that information, we can’t take the scare quotes off the claim.

‘Scuse me. Gotta do a semiotic analysis of a couple of student presentations now.