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      Literacy and Learning

      Dorothy Williams

      inchapter, Dorothy Williams explores important new understandings and ideas about information literacy and other literacies of relevance to learning in higher education. Arguing that the information process and the learning process are closely intertwined, she identifies information literacy as a meta-competency that in the networked environment encompasses other literacies such as media literacy, digital literacy and e-literacy. She notes the increasing emphasis, in emerging definitions of information literacy, not only on information sources and searching but also on higher-order capabilities relating to information use in knowledge creation and sharing, and she suggests that there are implications here for the design of information literacy programmes. At the same time she suggests a need to develop new pedagogical approaches — in particular, approaches that engage closely with learners' personal experiences and conceptions of information seeking and use in specific contexts, and encourage critical reflection on differing approaches and perspectives. This in turn suggests a redefinition of the librarian's role as information literacy educator, with a shift away from direct instruction towards a key role in facilitating the dialogical interactions between learner and tutor, and among learners, that are at the heart of constructivist and relational conceptions of learning and teaching.


      The ability to find, critically evaluate and use information meaningfully in response to need has long been recognized as central to learning and decision-making. The library and information profession has consistently argued for its significance in relation to a wide range of learning theorie: and educational concepts in the English-speaking world over many year: — independent learning, resource-based learning, problem-based learning and critical thinking, to name but a few. It is argued that schools, college: and universities need to ensure learners develop confidence ir information handling to equip them to make decisions and cope with change throughout life, as active critical citizens, life-long learners and evidence-based practitioners.

      By the last decade of the 20th century the term 'information literacy', initially coined in the 1970s (Carbo, 1997), had become widely used in the library and information profession to denote the ability to search for, evaluate and use information. Yet it could be said that there have been as many attempts to define the precise nature of information literacy as there have been learning theories. Indeed it is often difficult to distinguish between what might be seen as a description of the information process and as a description of the learning process. In recent years, not only have there been fresh attempts to examine the nature of information literacy, but we have also seen recognition of other literacies considered relevant to learning in a modern information age, with concepts such as media literacy, digital literacy and e-literacy.


      Ongoing attempts to define the nature of the knowledge and skills needed to learn effectively through information can be interpreted in a number of ways. It may be simply a sign of healthy questioning and debate to ensure that the concept of information literacy stays current and information literacy programmes remain relevant in the light of changing technologies. On the other hand it might be seen as a mark of uncertainty, confusion and possibly lack of confidence in the notion that there is a distinctive information literacy that can somehow be separated from other literacies or from the overall learning and decision-making processes. Do the traditional descriptions of information literacy remain relevant to modern learning environments? What do today's learners think about information literacy? What messages do research findings hold for those trying to provide effective support for learners?

      This chapter will examine the nature of information and other literacies in a changing educational environment; the growing critique of traditional conceptions of information literacy; and the implications of
      new perspectives for educational practice.

      Information and other literacies

      The evolution of information literacy from a library skills, user education or bibliographic instruction background has been well documented elsewhere (e.g. Eisenberg et al., 2004; Rader, 1999, 2000). In terms of its relevance to a modern and changing learning environment, it is interesting to reflect on this heritage, which may be seen as both a weakness and a strength. For example, information literacy inherits the criticism of being concerned, at least in part, with bibliographic processes which some might argue are not relevant to modern e-learning environments. However, it also means that information literacy has emerged from a tradition and debate which focuses on the process of finding and using information in any environment, rather than placing emphasis on the use of particular media.

      Thus information literacy is usually defined in relation to the active process of finding and using information in relation to need or purpose: 'To be information literate, a person needs to be able to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate and use effectively the needed information' (American Library Association, 1989). Doyle (1994) takes this definition further, expressing information literacy as a set of more specific attributes; an information-literate person:

      recognizes the need for information

      recognizes that accurate and complete information is the basis for intelligent decision making

      identifies potential sources of information

      develops successful search strategies

      accesses sources of information, including computer-based and other

      evaluates information

      organizes information for practical application


      integrates new information into an existing body of knowledge

      uses information in critical thinking and problem-solving.

      Models and standards developed over the years — such as the Big6 Skills Information problem-solving model (Eisenberg and Berkowitz, 2001), Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) Standards for Higher Education (ACRL, 2000), and the Australian and New Zealand Information Literacy Framework (Bundy, 2004) — all clearly signal that information literacy transcends any particular medium or format, and is equally applicable to print, electronic and people-based information sources. Information literacy programmes should, in theory, reflect the more transferable elements of information process and information content rather than the technology itself. Thus, modern descriptions of information literacy appear to be as relevant to learning in 21st-century networked online learning environments as to traditional print-based environments. Indeed, Shapiro and Hughes (1996) go further in arguing that information literacy is of such fundamental importance in a modern society that it should be conceived of more broadly, as

      a new liberal art that extends from knowing how to use computers and access information to critical reflection on the nature of information itself, its technical infrastructure, and its social, cultural and even philosophical context and impact — as essential to the mental framework of the educated information-age citizen as the trivium of basic liberal arts (grammar, logic and rhetoric) was to the educated person in medieval society.

      (Shapiro and Hughes, 1996)

      There have been many attempts to define and characterize information literacy over the years. Nevertheless, it should be of some reassurance to practitioners that there has been a remarkable consistency between the various frameworks that have emerged across different sectors. The elements of identifying and defining need, locating and selecting sources, selecting and extracting information, organizing and synthesizing inform­ation, presenting and communicating information, and evaluating the process and outcome, are reflected to a greater or lesser extent in models reflecting research in schools over the last 25 years — for example Marland's nine questions (1981), Irving's information skills model (1985), Kuhlthau's information seeking (1993), and the American Association of School Librarians' (AASL) information literacy standards for student learning (1998). Eisenberg et al. demonstrate this clearly in their comparative breakdown of the key elements of some of these models (Eisenberg et al., 2004, 40—1). The same information process elements are reflected in higher education (HE) models such as the ACRL's standards for the information-literate student (ACRL, 2000), the recently revised Australian and New Zealand Information Literacy Framework (Bundy, 2004), and the Seven Pillars Model (Society of College, National and University Libraries, 1999) which identifies the skills areas as: :, ,

      the ability to recognize a need for information

      the ability to distinguish ways in which the information 'gap' may be addressed

      the ability to construct strategies for locating information

      • the ability to locate and access information

      • the ability to compare and evaluate information obtained from different sources

      • the ability to organize, apply and communicate information to others in ways appropriate to the situation

      • the ability to synthesize and build upon existing information, contributing to the creation of new knowledge.

      While maintaining this element of consistency, the concept of information literacy has evolved to take account of the emerging social challenges and opportunities of ICT and, in particular, the internet. Thus the need for ethical and responsible use of information is enshrined in more recent definitions of information literacy such as that ofWebber and Johnston (2004): 'the adoption of appropriate information behaviour to obtain, through whatever channel or medium, information well fitted to information needs, together with critical awareness of the importance of

      •wise and ethical use of information in society'. One of the six standards in the new Australian and New Zealand information literacy framework




      mafrukhi  - Literacy and Learning     |2012-04-23 07:52:42
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      mafrukhi     |2012-04-23 07:54:14
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