February 19, 2006

The Generation Z Connection: Teaching Information Literacy to the Newest Net Generation

By Geck, Caroline

YOUTHS BORN IN OR AFTER 1990 ARE MEMBERS OF THE NEWEST NET GENERATION, DEFINED IN THIS ARTICLE AS GENERATION Z. THESE YOUNG PEOPLE ARE UNIQUE BECAUSE THEIR BIRTH COINCIDES WITH THE INTRODUCTION OF THE GRAPHICAL WEB THAT RESEMBLES THE INTERNET OF TODAY. THESE ADOLESCENTS ARE AMATEUR INTERNET SEARCHERS LACKING SKILLS IN EVALUATING WEB CONTENT AND USING RESOURCES OTHER THAN POPULAR INTERNET SEARCH TOOLS SUCH AS GOOGLE. THE INTERNET CAN BE THE PERFECT MEDIUM TO INTRODUCE AND DEVELOP INFORMATION LITERACY SKILLS BECAUSE THESE YOUNGSTERS WILL BE RECEPTIVE TO ANY SORT OF INSTRUCTION THAT MAKES THEM APPEAR WEB SAVVIER. IDEAS AND STRATEGIES ARE OFFERED HEREIN TO UPDATE BOTH INSTRUCTION AND LIBRARY SERVICE USING THE INTERNET AS AN INSTRUCTIONAL AID.

According the Encarta World English Dictionary, Generation Y is defined as people born in or after 1980. Although Generation Z is not yet defined in the dictionary, the term is sometimes used to describe the already-existing net generation of teenagers born in or after 1990 in technologically advanced countries. Today's Generation Z currently comprises 14-year-olds or those approaching their early teens; these youths were born into a totally different technological world than what their immediate predecessors were, Generation Y. In fact, the Generation Z birth years closely correspond to the conception and birth of the World Wide Web. Tim Berners-Lee created this system of hyperlinks in 1990 and officially introduced this new way of web browsing in 1991. A critical milestone in improved web browsing came in 1993 with the introduction of the Mosaic Web Browser, the first graphical web browser. Mosaic generated huge interest in the Internet because web users could visualize how they were traversing the Web. These initial digital events in the early 1990s triggered an entire technological revolution and are key factors in understanding how this generation's development to adolescence has been affected since birth.

WHY IS THIS GENERATION SPECIAL IN TODAY'S WORLD?

These youths are the first generation to be born into a digital world. What distinguishes these adolescents from those of every other generation is that they are the most electronically connected generation in history. From infancy, these teenagers grew up in an environment surrounded by and using

* graphical web browsers;

* laptops;

* cell phones;

* instant messenger services;

* broadband;

* wireless;

* video games.

These adolescents have been exposed to many high-tech influences, and today's high-speed digital devices enable them to always be connected to the Internet, their friends, and others. This connectivity permits teens to communicate and collaborate in real- time regardless of physical location; to access a wealth of diverse information, including vast digital collections; and to author or contribute content instantaneously to web sites and weblogs.

These teens will more likely than any previous generation evolve into electronic multitaskers. For example, they will seek information by simultaneously

* searching and using several Internet browser windows at the same computer;

* using several different software applications at the same computer;

* using two computers at the same time, such as computer workstations and laptops;

* instant messenging peers who are not physically located within conversation range;

* using cell phones to contact other peers who are not physically present or are not responding to instant messenging;

* using cell phones for activities other than talking.

These teens also use an arsenal of tools to manage, store, and protect informationincluding e-mail, peripheral devices such as flash drives and iPods, and file transfer protocol systems. Adolescents have successfully mastered technologies of e-mail to take full advantage of its gathering, organizing, and forwarding capabilities (Levin ft Arafeh, 2002, p. iii).

Because these young people know no other reality than their Internet-based world, they are likely to have heightened technical expectations, attitudes, and beliefs. For example, they expect libraries and research resources to be accessible remotely (from home), where they can multitask comfortably and snack and watch television.

ARE THESE TEENAGERS INTERNET EXPERTS OR NOVICES?

Even though these youths have had early experiences with digital technologies, they do not have a deep understanding of the inner workings of the Internet or how commercial search engines rank results. These youngsters are often just familiar with the tip of the Internet iceberg. For example, they are not familiar with information that is part of the invisible Web or deep Web, dynamically generated web pages. Such web databases are often hidden from search engine results and are difficult to find for even those who are considered web savvy. Furthermore, these teens are unfamiliar with electronic resources that are not free on the Internet, such as commercial subscription databases.

Many of these students have never engaged in formal exercises comparing advantages, disadvantages, strengths, and weaknesses of the Web with other informational tools such as books and print journals. Members of other generations are more likely to do this sort of mental comparison automatically, only because they have had more experience with the different types of research tools, especially print indexes and reference books. For example, returning adult college students will often ask, "What electronic index replaced or is similar to the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature?" Younger students have no knowledge of this resource.

Teens will devote large amounts of time out-of-school browsing the Web (Levin & Arafeh, 2002). They tend not to place time constraints on themselves. Their inability to use the Web most effectively causes them to spend exorbitant amounts of time browsing. Evidence suggests that these students will devote large amounts of time engaging in activities personally relevant to them.

These students often started using the Internet before having been given any sort of formal instruction on locating and evaluating web pages. However, they quickly figured out through trial and error that retrieved web results located at the top of a web page are usually more relevant than results found at the bottom of the page. In fact, they do not do any scrolling but will concentrate on results at the top of the screen. This strategy of using only the highest-ranked results on the first page of retrieved results and automatically disregarding the rest implies that these young searchers are not closely evaluating any results and are just viewing all top results as being equal and worthy.

These youngsters believe that the information they need to find a research answer or to complete a homework assignment is freely available on the Internet. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, a nonprofit organization that studies digital behavior, statistics concerning the use of the Internet to complete homework assignments among this approximate age group keep spiraling upward (Levin & Arafeh, 2002).

This group's preferred method of Internet searching is to start with a Google search, even if that may not be the most efficient or fastest means to the answer. This generation's overreliance on Google as its first choice to find answers indicates that they may not be aware of other information search strategies and resources, especially print materials that are better suited to answer certain types of questions. These youngsters use Google confidently because they find tens of thousands of results in a few seconds. Their interaction with Google makes them feel self-sufficient, smart, and powerful when retrieving many results. They often do not have the metacognitive skills to know when to stop using Google and other search tools and to try a different information search strategy. Further, these young searchers often use Google carelessly to determine or measure the significance of a topic or individual, thereby leading to faulty conclusions. For example, these students, like many older Google searchers, may type in a person's full name to check how many web pages can be retrieved. If these students do not find any results using Google, they may erroneously assume that the person is neither newsworthy nor historically important.

IS THIS NEW NET GENERATION INFORMATION LITERATE OR ILLITERATE?

According to the American Library Association's "information literacy standards for student learning" (1998), a student is only information literate if he or she "accesses information efficiently and effeclively,""evaluates information critically and competently," and "uses information accurately and creatively" (pp. 1-2). The previous discussion suggests that these teens are not information literate.

HOW CAN TEACHER-LIBRARIANS PROMOTE LIBRARY SERVICES AND THEMSELVES AND START HELPING STUDENTS BECOME INFORMATION LITERATE?

Teacher-librarians can begin by

* collaborating with classroom teachers to integrate Internet technologies into the curriculum;

* providing students and classroom teachers with quality information from traditional library sources and from Internet resources;

* showing these students and classroom teachers how to save time when searching;

* supp\lying students and classroom teachers with web page design technologies to deliver effective presentations;

* creating communities of learners or electronic learning modules by linking classmates' web pages to a central page or starting point.

HOW CAN TEACHER-LIBRARIANS EFFECTIVELY COLLABORATE WITH TEACHERS TO BEGIN INTEGRATING THE INTERNET INTO THE CURRICULUM?

Teacher-librarians will probably have to update their libraries' mission statements to begin integrating Internet technologies in their schools. The new missions may have to be formulated not only to support the curriculum but also to attract foot traffic to the brick-and-mortar library. Teacherlibrarians can persuade both classroom teachers and students to visit the library by advertising what is new and exciting. Examples include advertising the addition of new books or technical resources. The library homepage is a crucial element in attracting teachers as well as teens to the actual library. A well-designed web page that is information rich and interactive will capture both groups' attention and encourage them to visit the library. Additional steps include updating policies, signage, broadband connections, and workstations to support multitasking, collaborating abilities and to make visits enjoyable.

Teacher-librarians should take a lead role in establishing and designing online communities of learners. If classroom teachers do not yet see the potential of online learning delivery, teacher- librarians should try alternative approaches, such as creating handouts with visuals that classroom teachers can incorporate into their lesson activities. The handouts can advertise both key print and digital resources, including new web sites and web pages that can be quickly accessed via the school library web site.

Teacher-librarians should clearly identify these handouts as products of their school library and may include brief requests at the bottom of handouts, both in print and e-mail format, to forward copies to colleagues who might be interested. Teacher-librarians should try e-mailing copies to classroom teachers so that they can electronically forward handouts deemed important or useful. The goal is to create a "viral marketing" effort in which key handouts and library advertisements are spread by physical and virtual word of mouth (Diorio, 2002, pp. 72-74).

Another collaborative strategy may be to visit different classrooms. Teacher-librarians can volunteer to do 50-minute sessions on a research topic or information literacy skill of the classroom teacher's choice. The key aim is for teacher-librarians to make themselves indispensable to classroom teachers both virtually and physically.

HOW CAN TEACHER-LIBRARIANS PROVIDE AND PROMOTE PRINT AND DIGITAL RESOURCES?

Because of their early exposure to large amounts of graphic and web content and their comfort level with new digital applications, teens will be receptive to new information incorporated with graphics or introduced using Webquests and other types of Internet- based lessons. Equally important, these youngsters will pay attention and will be motivated to learn material that makes them appear more web savvy or helps them to become more knowledgeable about the Internet.

Using the library homepage, teacher-librarians should offer curriculum-focused web bibliographies or lists of the best quality Internet sites to support the curriculum or grade coursework. Levin and Arafeh (2002) observed that 12- to 17-year-old students prefer to use web sites that are approved and accepted by their schools.

Teacher-librarians can also impress this youthful clientele by becoming the school experts on the invisible Web or even Google. Youths can be offered instructional sessions on how to recognize misinformation and bogus information on the Web, and teacher- librarians can show these students other skills important in evaluating the quality of web resources. To keep these youngsters' attention, teacher-librarians should provide instructional sessions about searching Google effectively, such as using Google Boolean searching and being aware of the Google PageRank system. Other ideas include discussing search engine optimization and how corporations employ webmasters to raise their Google rankings.

HOW DO YOU IMPRESS STUDENTS AND TEACHERS WITH TIMEMANAGEMENT SKILLS?

Teacher-librarians can reinforce that Google is not the best or first choice timewise in many situations. By showing students how print resources and electronic subscription databases can be used effectively to find answers, teacher-librarians can make students aware of the enormous amounts of time that may be wasted browsing and sorting through Google results. It is vital to communicate how answers can be found faster than by doing a Google search. Teacher- librarians can also reinforce these efforts by publishing success stories and anecdotes on the school library homepage.

HOW DO YOU IMPRESS STUDENTS AND TEACHERS WITH WEB PRESENTATION SKILLS?

Student research projects, including the presentation component, need to be revamped and reconsidered in the new digital environment. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, even though these young people are technologically savvy, only 17% of current 12- to 17-year-olds have created a web page for a school project (Lenhart, Simon, O Graziano, 2001).

Teacher-librarians can serve as experts in web page creation and then help teachers and students gather and organize information for their web pages. If classroom teachers are not initially receptive to having students design web pages as part of a project, teacher- librarians should not give up. Teacher-librarians can demonstrate how to present and use web pages effectively in the learning delivery process.

Many teachers tend to focus on the Internet as a source of content or information, but they need to be encouraged to design assignments that foster the Internet as a communication and teaching tool. In fact, the organization of key concepts themselves as presented on web sites may aid students in the formation or understanding of new knowledge representations-in other words, learning.

Web pages can be used as an important aid in teaching or facilitating the information search process. Instead of having students simply present orally, teachers can have them present using web pages in combination with presentations similar to those using PowerPoint. For example, students' individual web pages can be on their topics of interest, with links to their thesis statements, reports, key informational sites, and graphics. Web pages can serve as starting points for research and can continue as centralized gathering points for information and as a sort of virtual filing cabinet or storage system when students do research over extended periods. In this capacity, the web page can be used as a platform to generate new knowledge and facilitate new learning connections.

Topic-specific web pages will also facilitate students' developing personalized focuses. Central ideas and main links can be located on the main page whereas subtopics and less important information can be accessible from linked pages. Students will constantly need to evaluate and make decisions about what information they will present on their main web pages and what information they will link to other web pages because it is less important. According to Kuhlthau's study (1988) of the cognitive and affective aspects of the library search process, the collection, synthesizing, and organization of key concepts into finished web page products should provide students with increased confidence as well as feelings of satisfaction and achievement derived from completing the web pages before presenting.

HOW CAN TEACHER-LIBRARIANS IMPRESS AND MOTIVATE STUDENTS TO LEARN WITH ELECTRONIC LEARNING (E-LEARNING) MODULES?

It is fairly easy to create a virtual community of learners by linking web pages because the Internet is by definition a hypertext system of links. Linked web pages are a new form of instructional delivery to enhance knowledge acquisition and communicate key ideas. Teacher-librarians can facilitate the creation of these e-learning communities by establishing one centralized main page where students can go and access different class or peer web pages.

Students will enjoy exploring and researching web pages created by their classmates. They will also take pride in having their own personalized web sites and in seeing concrete representations of their research. The students will be part of the elearning process by sharing this web information with their classmates and by having the opportunity to offer and receive realtime feedback. The other benefits of e-learning delivery systems include convenience, the ability to manage one's learning, and the opportunity to take advantage of learning opportunities any time of day and from any Internet access point.

WHAT WILL IMPLEMENTING THESE STRATEGIES ACCOMPLISH?

Implementing these strategies will not only help teacher- librarians minimize the generation gap between themselves and their students but will also enable them to effectively teach students and to collaborate with classroom teachers. These strategies should also prove beneficial in developing adolescents' technology and information literacy skills and in preparing them to be independent lifelong learners.

Feature articles in TL are blind refereed by members of the advisory board. This article was submitted August 2004 and updated and accepted September 2005.

Important Web Dates of the Early 1990s

November 13, 1990

* The first known web page is written.

February 26, 1991

* Tim Berners-Lee introduces the web browser.

April 22, 1993

* Release of version 1.0 of the Mosaic web browser.

Source: Wikipedia, www.wikipedia.com

REFERENCES

American Library Association. (1998). Information literacy standards for student learning. In Information power: Building partnerships fo\r learning (chap. 2). Retrieved November 13, 2005, from www.ala.org/ala/aasl/aaslproftools/ informationpower/ informationliteracy.htm

Diorio, S. G. (2002). Beyond "e": 12 ways technology is transforming sales and marketing strategy. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Kuhlthau, C. C. (1988). Developing a model of the library search process: Investigation of cognitive and affective aspects. Reference Quarterly, 28(2), 232-242.

Lenhart, A., Simon, M., ft Graziano, M. (2001, September 1). The Internet and education: Findings of the Pew Internet and American Life Project. Retrieved June 1, 2004, from www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/ PlP_Schools_Report.pdf

Levin, D., & Arafeh, S. (2002, August 14). The digital disconnect: The widening gap between Internet-savvy students and their schools. Retrieved June 1, 2004, from www.pewinternet.org/ pdfs/P1P_ Schools_lnternet_Report.pdf

RESOURCES

Goodman, L M. (2003, June 16). E-commerce (a special report). Consumer guide-writing tools: For students researching a paper, online libraries are increasingly the way to go; here's how they stack up. Wall Street Journal (Eastern ed.), R11. Retrieved April 12, 2004, from the EBSCOhost Academic Search Premier database.

Jones, S. (2002, September 15). The Internet goes to college: How students are living in the future with today's technology. Retrieved June 1, 2004, from www .pewinternet.org/pdfs/P1P_College_ Report.pdf

Kuhlthau, C. C. (1997). Learning in digital libraries: An information search process approach. Library Trends, 45(4), 708- 724.

Kuhlthau, C. C. (2003). Rethinking libraries for the information age school: Vital roles in inquiry learning. School Libraries in Canada, 22(4), 3-5. Retrieved June 1, 2004, from EBSCOhost MasterFlLE database.

Leibovich, L. (2000, August 10). Choosing quick hits over the card catalog: Many students prefer the chaos of the Web to the drudgery of the library. New York Times. Retrieved April 12, 2004, from www .nytimes.com/library/tech/00/08/circuits/ articles/ 10thin.html

Lenhart, A., Rainie, L, ft Lewis, O. (2001, June 21 ). Teenage life online: The rise of the instant-message generation and the Internet's impact on friendships and family relationships. Retrieved June 1, 2004, from www.pewintemet .org/pdfs/PlP_Teens_Report.pdf

Madden, M. (2003, December 22). America's online pursuits: The changing picture of who's online and what they do. Retrieved June 1, 2004, from www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PlP_ Online_Pursuits_Final.PDF

Oblinger, D. (2003). Boomers, gen-xers & millennial: Understanding the new students. EDUCAUSE Review, 38(4), 37-47. Retrieved June 1, 2004, from www.educause.edu/ ir/library/pdf/ erm0342.pdf

Caroline Geek is a bibliographic instruction librarian at Kean University Library, Union, NJ, who is interested in young people and how they seek information. She holds a master's degree in library services from the Rutgers University School of Communications, New Bruswick, NJ. Her ongoing research project is developing subject web bibliographies for faculty and student use at the library. She can be reached [email protected]

Copyright Ken Haycock & Associates Feb 2006