In my last post I discussed the various definitions and models of information literacy (IL) that are applied in today’s educational environment (Bundy, 2004; Langford, 1999). I concluded that IL is part of the broadening of the term ‘literate’, which evolves with society. For instance, historically, being literate may have meant being able to make a mark to represent one’s name. Now, being literate encompasses much more than reading and writing. Since the 1990’s, the concept of ‘new literacies’ has proliferated educational literature (Honan, 2013, p. v) and a vital element of the changing concept of a literate person today, is the inclusion of IL, among the other ‘new literacies’.
Why is IL more than a skill? That depends on how you define skills. I am drawn to the archaic definition of skill that states it is “…to make a difference” (Merriam Webster Dictionary, n.d.) because IL requires learners to make a difference to their knowledge and their approaches to information seeking. However, the Merriam Webster Dictionary provides three additional definitions including “…the ability to use one’s knowledge effectively and readily in execution or performance; …dexterity or coordination especially in the execution of learned physical tasks; and …a learned power of doing something competently : a developed aptitude or ability …”. Whilst these latter definitions incorporate “making a difference” to students’ competency levels, I believe that they do not include the metacognitive elements of effective IL.
This debate is illuminated by perceptions and assumptions of teachers and students, who have varying degrees of understanding about the imperative of IL practices to transfer skills and knowledge from one environment to another. Herring’s (2011) research into assumptions about IL revealed that the majority of teachers view IL as isolated from the higher order thinking skills required to practice IL effectively, and that many saw IL as the ability to successfully use a search engine (Findings in relation to the Assumptions Section: Assumption 2). Earlier, Herring’s 2009 research indicated that IL was in fact a way of thinking, or a practice rather than a process to be followed (p. 3). In this evidence based research study of Year 8 students, various IL ‘skills’ were used (mind maps, concept maps, brainstorming, question formulation, and so on), but it was the re-frame of these skills as specific techniques to be used to make links between content, between fields and to predict potential future use that confirmed their status as ‘techniques’. These techniques were also used to progressively develop student confidence in their abilities and reflect on their performance as the beginning of a metacognitive understanding of the process of information seeking. He concluded that TLs and teachers should perhaps “…focus less on information literacy skills and more on information literacy techniques and more on the desired attributes of students rather than the skills they demonstrate (p. 11).
IL takes skill acquisition further than competency in defining, locating, selecting, organising, presenting and assessing. It is an extension of a set of attributes that enable learners to use IL techniques, with a knowledge of how they, as an individual uses these best, and apply them to new situations and different environments to successfully meet their needs now and in the future.
- Bundy, A. (ed.) (2004). Australian and New Zealand Information Literacy Framework: principles, standards and practice. 2nd ed. Adelaide: Australian and New Zealand Institute for Information Literacy (ANZIIL) and Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL).
- Herring, J. (2009). A Grounded Analysis of Year 8 Students’ Reflections on Information Literacy Skills and Techniques. School Libraries Worldwide Volume 15, (1), January 2009, pages 1-13.
- Herring, J. (2011). Assumptions, Information Literacy and Transfer in High Schools. Teacher Librarian, 38(3), 32-36. Retrieved from: http://ezproxy.csu.edu.au/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lih&AN=59242986&site=ehost-live
- Honan, E. (Ed.). (2013). Thinking through new literacies for primary and early years. Moorabin: Hawker Brownlow Education.
- Langford, L. (1999). Information literacy? Seeking clarification. . In J. Henri & K. Bonanno (Eds.), The information literate school community : best practice (pp. 43-54). Wagga Wagga, NSW : Centre for Information Studies, Charles Sturt University.
- Skill. (n.d). In Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online. Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/skill