Gifted Kids May Be Tech Savvy, But Are They Fluent?

by Susan Corwith & Carl Heine

From iPads and Android phones to Facebook, Twitter and Blogs, we are plugged into technology. Given the accessibility of information through our many technological devices, the assumption is that today’s children, being digital natives, are well equipped to find and use information appropriately.

But, how skilled are they really at locating, using and evaluating information on the Internet? Do they search thoughtfully and analyze critically? The answer may surprise you.

The capacity to use tools to locate digital information and the ability to find, evaluate and use digital information effectively, efficiently, and ethically is called information fluency (Information Fluency, 2012). Although many gifted students perceive themselves to be proficient with skills such as web searching, identifying author bias, and avoiding plagiarism (rating themselves as “good” to “advanced” at these skills on a recent survey through CTD), the reality is somewhat different. When we assessed the skills of middle and high school students in CTD programs, the average level of performance was 45% (poor to average competence).

Like any other skill, information fluency needs to be taught. But, high-level, problem-based web investigation and evaluation skills are not generally taught in school. In an attempt to address this need, Center for Talent Development, in cooperation with Carl Heine and Dennis O’Connor of 21st Century Information Fluency, set out to create a targeted information fluency program that provides students with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in their academic, personal, and professional lives.

The program is designed for students to complete independently using a series of interactive, online modules that involve instruction and application. Initial results are encouraging. In three years of piloting the web-based modules we have found that students make statistically significant gains with just a few hours work.

Students who completed the program improved their overall information fluency post-test scores by an average of 30%. Using a three-hour pretest, interactive tutorial, post-test approach, students identify critical strengths and weaknesses in their skills, receive targeted training and feedback using simulated and online search challenges, and finish with a post-test that documents individual accomplishments.

Information fluency involves a variety of skills, including determining what information is needed through deciding how to use the information ethically. The figure below illustrates the Digital Information Fluency Model developed by 21st Century Information Fluency. Shown in red are the topics/competencies addressed in the modules (Figure 1).

Digital Information Fluency Model

With the positive initial results students are demonstrating, we continue to refine the program and consider ways to incorporate information fluency into the courses we teach at Center for Talent Development. Currently, students involved in the Spectrum (grades 7 & 8) and Equinox (grades 9 – 12) Summer Program and the online Gifted LearningLinks program participate in the modules. Over the next few years we plan to collect more data about how students learn these skills and the best approaches to use in our ever-growing, ever-changing technology based world.

Heine, C. & O’Connor, D. “Digital Information Fluency: Our Model”. 21st Information Fluency, 20 March 2012. Web. 4 Apr. 2012. http://www.21cif.com.

Heine, C. & Gerry, J. CoolHub.IMSA, 2012. Web. 4 Apr. 2012. http://coolhub.imsa.edu/web/guest.

How savvy are your students when it comes to information fluency? Does your child’s school explicitly teach these skills?

Susan Corwith, Ph.D. is an associate director at Center for Talent Development at Northwestern University and oversees the Summer Program and Civic Education Project. Carl Heine, Ph.D. is currently Lead Innovation Architect for CoolHub, IMSA and TALENT at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy. Dr. Heine and Dennis O’Connor are also the principals for 21st Century Information Fluency.

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