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Syracuse University's new Center for Digital Literacy will promote information skills for 21st century society

Judy Holmes

The center is the result of a partnership among the School of Information Studies, the School of Education and the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications

Gutenberg's moveable type printing press is credited with sparking the Reformation in 15th century Europe by enabling information to move at what was then seen as lightning speeds. Today, 21st century technology can move millions of gigabytes of information around the world in a matter of minutes. Often, the result is information overload.

Syracuse University's new multidisciplinary Center for Digital Literacy aims to make better use of the information technologies that pervade every aspect of modern life, while educating children and adults on how to use the technology to more effectively access information.

The center is a partnership among the School of Information Studies, the School of Education and the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. Other University programs that have expressed an interest in participating in the center include the Writing Program in The College of Arts and Sciences, the Center for the Support of Teaching and Learning, the Syracuse University Library, Faculty Computing and Media Services, the Information Institute of Syracuse and SU Continuing Education/University College.

The explosion of information resources on the Internet and in other digital forms has made it increasingly difficult for people to find, evaluate and make use of information, says School of Information Studies Professor Ruth Small, director of the Center for Digital Literacy. The center will research and develop ways to help people acquire information, technology and media literacy skills.

School of Education Professor J. Michael Spector and Newhouse School Associate Professor Fiona Chew are the center's associate directors. The center will be administered through the School of Information Studies, located in Hinds Hall, and will include an advisory board of prominent leaders and innovators in digital literacy.

Among the center's research missions will be the exploration of the instructional methods used to promote digital literacy in schools and colleges, and in the workplace. People have tried a lot of different ideas, but there has been virtually no research to determine how effective the methods are in promoting digital literacy and in representing ideas, concepts and problems, Spector says.

When millions of information sources are available through the Internet at the click of our fingertips, there is a need to understand how various publics seek digital information and how they assess source credibility in relation to traditional mainstream mass media, added Chew.

The center has already embarked on two funded research projects. The first, S.O.S. for Information Literacy, funded by a three-year $483,507 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Studies, will develop a Web-based, multimedia teaching support system for instructors of K-12 information literacy skills. The award was one of 15 made through the institute's prestigious National Leadership Grants for Libraries.

The second is a grant from the Jon Ben Snow Foundation to evaluate the impact of the School of Information Studies' Preparing Librarians for Urban Schools program (PLUS) on the participants, the schools within which the librarians work and the surrounding communities.

Other proposed areas of research include:

· Identifying optimal sources of information for physicians that will enable them to quickly deliver important clinical information, update their knowledge and serve as information resources for patients,

· research on the effect of various technologies and combinations of technologies on the quality of distance teaching and learning and

· digital literacy skill instruction in high-risk urban schools.

The center is also planning to sponsor a distinguished lecture series and an international conference on digital literacy.

Everything we do at the center will be interdisciplinary, Small says. We believe that when people with different perspectives work together on a common problem, the resulting solution is richer and more robust than those that result from looking through a single lens.

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