Defining Information Literacy
How do students handle the explosion of information resources in the multitude of formats available today? Newspapers, television, books, journals, computers and telephones give us news, articles, databases, government documents, experts, local agencies and opinions. We all are a part of this information society, and we all need to be "information literate."
Information literacy has become a popular term, yet it means different things to different people. In the Good Library we define it as
Information literacy is not just about learning facts but about learning to learn, a skill that lasts a lifetime. It is not simply library instruction; rather, it is preparing students to learn from a variety of resources. It comes through a mixture of lectures, hands-on assignments, written research projects using technical skills, and critical thinking abilities in the use of print, electronic, and oral information resources.
A solid understanding of information needs and uses results from a broad, continuing, and repetitive program throughout the college experience. Further, it requires sustained cooperation among all on campus if it is to become a part of the learning process across the curriculum. Because research indicates that the professor plays a large role in determining how students find and use information, any information literacy effort must actively involve faculty.
Library and Faculty Roles in Developing Information Literacy Skills
For many faculty members, using the library is second nature. However, you may have forgotten how intimidating and frustrating the information-seeking process can be to a first-year student. If you completed your studies before the explosion of electronic information, you also may not realize the enormity of information now available to students nor the increasing importance of determining the credibility of much of that information.
Faculty may be surprised how little students use the library - and how ineffective their use of information resources can be - if no specific requirements are made. Students' familiarity with the keyboard and general computer use leads them to falsely believe they know how to effectively use all resources accessible through this medium, and that this medium is the only one they need. Contrary to their perceptions, however, students need guidance in the research process. A professor's concern for how students go about doing their assignments, and acceptance of only quality work from students provides such guidance.
It is equally important that faculty work with librarians to coordinate instruction and information-based assignments. For instance, students are quick to interpret the absence of a professor at a librarian-led class session as an indication that the session need not be taken seriously. More importantly, the professor can contribute to the session by suggesting specialized sources, indicating those that should be emphasized to fit the assignment, and asking for clarification or further information when students are reluctant to do so.
A three-part library program lays the groundwork for teaching information literacy at Goshen College:
Additionally, professors can and often do incorporate information-seeking activities into class assignments. The level of information literacy skill required and/or taught in this context varies greatly, however. Students won't learn to be scholars (or even information literate) if they are simply handed a reading list. Such a situation can be further devalued if the professor has not consulted with a librarian to make sure the library has all the necessary materials before handing out such a list. Moreover, students need to be taught the strategies that scholars in particular disciplines use to find credible, relevant information sources when they have no ready-made reading list.
A Few Words About Plagiarism
The electronic format of much information available makes plagiarism easier than ever before. Here are a couple of suggestions to help discourage it:
Strategies for Designing Effective Information-Based Assignments
1) Avoid these commonly-assigned activities:
2) Set objectives and make them clear to the students. Be clear about your expectations regarding fulfilling the assignment. Encourage students to read, evaluate, and analyze research findings rather than simply retrieve something. Maintain high standards and inform students that you expect and require research to be of high quality.
3) Teach research strategies where appropriate. These may seem obvious to experienced researchers but are generally unknown to students. Discuss the information search process in class.
4) Encourage students to start at the library's home page when doing research.
5) Provide criteria for evaluating information, especially web sites. See Evaluating Web Sites.
6) Do not assume that student can effectively search for information, including searching the web.
7) Include a method for evaluating the thinking process behind information finding and use (e.g., keeping a research journal).
8) Make sure students have enough time to complete the assignment. It helps to have intermediate goals so those students cannot wait until the last minute to find information. This is a recipe for frantic web surfing and the use of questionable sources.
9) Encourage students to use scholarly web guides.
10) Give your liaison librarian a copy of the assignment beforehand and discuss resources you want students to use so that the library can be prepared. If appropriate, ask for class instruction on advanced search techniques, sources, and research methods.
Consider alternative designs for an assignment:
Additional Resources on Information Literacy
The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) has recently adopted information literacy competency standards for higher education. An information literate individual is able to perform the following:
The Information Literacy Competency Standards document describes information literacy in relation to information technology, higher education, pedagogy, and assessment. Also included are performance indicators and specific objectives. You may wish to consult this document as you think about your role in helping your students work toward becoming information literate people.