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Information Literacy in the Digital Age

Laura Catharine Smith prepares her students for the real world through multilingual discussion panels.


COVID-19. Easy access to social media. Politization of major global issues. Students in the 21st-century face massive problems in terms of navigating information literacy, especially in a digital world.

Concerned about how her students would navigate these challenges, Associate Professor Laura Catharine Smith (Theoretical Phonology) wondered how she as a German teacher could help her students. She offered her insights at the January 26 Humanities Center Colloquium in her presentation titled “Promoting Information Literacy and Critical Thinking in the Modern Humanities Classroom.”

Smith began with a question: Could language teachers incorporate media literacy into their instruction?

In the past, professors from the German & Russian Department held debates where students practiced using transition words, discussed more complex topics, and engaged in interpersonal communication. Smith realized that she could do something similar for her class by holding a current event discussion panel on climate change.

Over the next couple of weeks, the students formulated an introduction, compared different approaches and perspectives, defended their opinions, and hypothesized what might happen in the future—all in German. By doing this, students could practice separating fact from fiction while simultaneously increasing German skills.

Smith noted that many educators in the 21st-century believe their job is to train students in their area of specialty, not prepare them for the future. But the reality is that teachers do prepare students for their future in the real world, whether intentionally or not. “We are currently preparing students for jobs and technologies that don’t yet exist in order to solve problems that we don’t even know exist yet,” she said. Luckily, the humanities can help students learn a multitude of these skills like critical thinking, teamwork, social responsibility, global awareness, and yes—information literacy.

As students continue developing these skills, they become more competent employees for their future workplace, especially in an increasingly digital age.