How do student and teacher perceptions about literacy impact their practices in and out of school?

One Teacher's Perception about Multiliteracies

Student Perceptions about the Internet

Internet use has increased among children and adults of all ages over the past several years. This increased use has brought forth mixed emotions about the Internet's overall advantages and disadvantages. In attempt to take a closer look at such advantages and disadvantages, Leino (November 2006) conducted a study with 4,864 Finnish 15-year-old students regarding their perceptions of the Internet. The students were given a questionnaire, which required written responses to the following questions: "What in your opinion are the advantages of the Internet? What are the biggest dangers or the worst problems of the Internet?" (Leino, 2006, p. 544). 3,112 of the 4,864 students completed the questionnaire in full, suggesting advantages related to profit, communication, information, entertainment, and other attributes, and disadvantages related to technical features, alienation, violations, information, ideologies, addiction, and physiological problems (Leino, 2006, pp. 545-552). The following offers a more extensive breakdown of the research findings:
  • Advantages of the Internet
    • Offers extensive information;
    • Allows for 24-hour access;
    • Allows users to upload their own information and to express their opinions;
    • Provides an avenue to connect with other individuals via e-mail, chats, and social networking;
    • Provides an avenue to entertainment; and
    • Opens the door to making purchases and on-line bill payments.
  • Disadvantages of the Internet
    • Difficulty in determining whether or not sources are reliable;
    • Opens access to inappropriate content;
    • Provides access to misinformation;
    • Opens the door to computer viruses;
    • Allows for false identities;
    • High cost of access; and
    • Leads to possible marginilization and physiological problems and addiction (Leino, 2006, pp. 545-552).

It goes without saying that a student's technical skills impact his or her ability to access the Internet, thus impacting what he or she views as the advantages and disadvantages of its use. Leino (2006) suggests that students would benefit from increased adult involvement when on the Internet and increased access to information literacy skills to enhance their ability to successfully maneuver the Internet. "Teachers and parents should pay special attention to guiding youngsters on ethical and moral reflection of Internet sites and quality of materials used in school tasks, especially to evaluation of semantic and content level, and pragmatic issues of text" (Leino, 2006, p. 554). Students and educators should be aware of the aforementioned advantages and disadvantages, as they continue to access the Internet.

Student Perceptions about Literacy Skills in the Media Center

It seems that students are expected to access information earlier and earlier in their educational careers. Is it fair to assume that all students come to school ready and well equipped to access information from a variety of sources? Grimble and Williams (2004) studied a group of approximately 800 high school students and their views of their personal information seeking skills as freshmen and then sophomores. During both their freshman and sophomore years, the 800 research participants completed pre-test surveys; participated in instructional units in the media center over the course of the study; took part in teacher-directed assignments; and completed post-test surveys. The five key areas covered on the pre- and post-test surveys included point access, information skills when researching a topic, databases, the Internet, and technology (Grimble & Williams, 2004). The key elements covered during the freshmen year instructional units included simple searches, and an introduction to on-line databases and their use. The key elements covered during the sophomore year instructional units included pre-search skills; use of multiple sources; quality of information found on the Internet; and a review of the board adopted information literacy skills. At the end of both school years, most students indicated their information literacy skills had increased since completing the pre-test surveys. Additionally, the majority of freshmen and sophomore level teachers saw an increase in their "students' use and evaluation of books and general encyclopedias" (Grimble & Williams, 2004, p. 28). Further, over half of the teachers saw an increase in the students' overall understanding of how to access and use the media center's Web page and how to reference databases and search engines.

The work of Grimble and Williams (2004) supports the notion of providing students with the tools and training they need to be successful in accessing information. It makes sense to gain an understanding of student skills, in order to make instructional decisions, which best meet the needs of the students. Educators cannot assume that all students come to school with what it takes to be successful in an information laden society. They must work with the students to foster and ensure this success.

Student Perceptions about Instant Messaging

For students and teachers alike, Instant Messaging is a common everyday communication practice that utilizes abbreviations and pays little attention to punctuation and correct spelling. It goes without saying that Instant Messaging has impacted the world of academic writing. Adams (2007), in his work, focused on student perceptions regarding the impact of Instant Messaging on their academic writing. He studied those students within a middle school who communicated via Instant Messaging at least 5 days per week. Some of the students identified Instant Messaging as having a positive impact on their academic writing, while others found it to have a negative impact. Instant Messaging led some students to write quickly and to include abbreviations in their pre-writing. This increased the amount of time students spent editing their work, rather than revising. While some students felt that Instant Messaging promoted the use of sentence fragments, others argued that it enhanced their use of voice. Many agreed that Instant Messaging hindered their use of conventions during pre-writing activities. Outside the world of academic writing, students felt that the use of abbreviations enhanced their overall ability to take notes in an efficient manner.

Adams (2007) suggests that educators take advantage of the increased use of Instant Messaging among students. He urges educators to link Instant Messaging to brainstorming sessions, and to utilize an on-line medium to solicit peer feedback. Further, by studying the impact of Instant Messaging on student academic writing, educators should be able to tailor their instruction to meet the changing needs of their students.

Adams, J. (June 2007) Student perceptions of the impact of instant messaging on academic writing. Literacy Learning: The Middle Years.

Grimble, B. J., & Williams, T. D. (January 2004). Students' perceptions of their information literacy skills in the media center. Library Media Connection.

Leino, K. (November 2006). Reading the web - students' perceptions about the internet. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 50(5), pp. 541-557.