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  • Law, Policy -- and IT?

    Tracy Mitrano explores the intersection where higher education, the Internet and the world meet (and sometimes collide).

Information Fluency, or a Rose by Any Other Name
March 15, 2011 - 5:36pm

Last week I attended the University of Central Florida’s Information Fluency Conference. How smart to host a conference on this dynamic topic! How important to develop programs devoted to this area! How appropriate that interested parties from around the country (and one might imagine, soon from around the world) get together to share ideas, techniques and camaraderie!

The conference was all of those things and I commend the organizers for having the vision to make it happen. As the co-director, but not charter founder, of the Institute for Computer Policy and Law, I have the sense of what it is like to be the part of something that you know has captured a moment in time just right. The University of Central Florida has the people and the spirit to take this program forward for the foreseeable future.

So what are the issues that animate Information Fluency? First, there is a healthy curiosity about its name. Off the top of my head, I can think of four names in currency. “Information Fluency,” “Information Literacy,” “Information Competency” and “Digital Literacy.” In the creation of a program on what I termed “Digital Literacy,” some years ago, and which is still in use and may be found here, I gravitated to that term because it seemed more restricted to discrete assets about the basic use of information technologies in academic research and writing. This beta version addressed five main topics: copyright, academic integrity, basic research methods, privacy and technological trends. Name and the limited scope of the subject matter still seem to match, but I welcome comments.

The lion’s share of confusion comes in sorting out the distinctions – if there are any – among the other three names. More or less, they seem interchangeable, with only some slight flare as variation. The “Literacy” one, perhaps because of its resonance with the “Digital,” has a more narrow scope to my mind than the other two, and “Fluency” is a more elegant turn of phrase than “Competency.” That might be the long way of saying that UCF has it just right!

Enough about names, what about the substance? Gardner Campbell got us all off on the right foot! His clarion call to breaking the paradigm of traditional teaching and learning models resonates strongly with me. Look to his work for details; I don’t want to “steal” or “appropriate,” or, more likely, misstate his thunder. But I do share his vision that information technology tools do, can, and should have profound affect on virtually all areas of inquiry and pedagogy.

For me, as it is probably for him (having struck up a friendship – and learned that we are both “English majors” -- I will ask him to comment here below), the impulse toward change in the name of gain for higher education preceded the tools and drives the process. Paraphrasing Hamlet (not for the first time), “Technology is neither good nor bad, only thinking makes it so …” It is the learning. It is the research. And it is the service to the larger society that consistently and persistently drives the process that is eternal in the sense of whatever it is in human nature that strives for information, knowledge, and if not wisdom, at least insight.

On a personal note, I understand why this area of “Information Fluency” resonates. It is the combination of the passion for learning that motivated me through two post graduate degrees plus the genuine love for the speed, facility and design of the tools that have become available in the course of my lifetime.

“Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita mi ritrovai per una selva oscura ché la diritta via era smarrita.” I aspired all my adult life to academic administration. Ten years ago at the end of this month will be the anniversary of my hiring into the position I now hold. At the time, the word “technology” could not be found among the “Catholic” this or “women’s history” that in my publications; a law degree, although it included intellectual property, hardly made more of an impression in that area (but for the fact that I had the great fortune to have gone to Cornell Law School and studied with the legendary Peter Martin, founder of the Legal Information Institute). Endlessly grateful for the opportunity, I celebrate the anniversary now with the declaration that Information Fluency (or a rose by any other name …) marries these two parts of me.

I think I get it. Or what I get is that I want more understanding, immersion, and involvement in this endeavor. My take-away from this wonderful conference, is that you may all want to, too!


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