Information Literacy – definition

So much is written about ‘Information Literacy’ and the importance of this concept for school students at school and beyond.  In the last 20 years every second article in TL journals addressed the concept of ‘Information Literacy’ in one way or another.  The original NSW Department of Education document, published in 1987 titled ‘Information Skills in the School’ was the first clear guide (in fact – a policy) I can remember on introducing information skills within a school.  This was updated 20 years later (very slow progress for such an essential skill!) online:

Langford (1998) outlines the difficulties people have with defining ‘Information Literacy’.  I can relate to so much of what she says in her article and it is easy to tell she has tried to address ‘Information literacy’ in her role as TL in the school context, with varying degrees of success.  Is Information Literacy a new literacy or can it be included within existing literacies?  Literacy is often associated with ‘English’.  This would include reading, writing, listening, speaking, viewing and representing skills. (NSW DEC Literacy K-12 Policy). These skills are needed to evolve within our changing world and extend into our lives outside the school environment. 

While the initial and major continuing development of literacy will be in the English programs all teachers in all learning areas must take responsibility for developing student capability in response to specific literacy demands of their learning area. (Shape of the Australian Curriculum: English, May 2009, National Curriculum Board, p. 15.)

This approach is still ‘English-orientated’ where the onus is placed on the English faculty to address these literacy skills, with other subject areas only teaching content, assuming the literacy skills are already covered!  Consequently, ‘Information Literacy’ is ‘something that is TL-orientated and not part of the general curriculum’. (LANGFORD, 1998)  Why then do TLs need to advocate for ‘whole school information literacy policies’ when ‘the concept of information literacy should be part of the natural discourse of teachers…’? (LANGFORD, 1998).

Teachers are unclear and may lack confidence when it comes to ‘teaching’ these skills in their KLA.  Most teachers would agree that ‘information literacy’ is important, but how is it best addressed?  I feel that teachers at my school believe they do ‘teach’ IL to a point, but not in an explicit way.  I also believe many teachers assume our students have IL skills, when many in fact don’t.  How can they when they are not taught these skills?  This is why many students struggle with research-based tasks.  Also, if the TL is responsible for these skills, how can they be taught separately to the subject area as many teachers advocate.  Teachers are ‘time-poor’, with an emphasis on covering content – there is no time to co-operatively plan with the TL to teach information skills and teaching these skills separately is not effective.


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