Category Archives: Information Literacy

Obstacles to Information Literacy

Where do I begin with this one?  Obstacles that spring to mind (from past and very real experiences) are:

  • Unclear definition of Information Literacy (what exactly is it?) Does it mean the same for everyone – TLs, school executive, teachers, students?
  • How do you ‘teach’ Information Literacy?  People have many different views around this.
  • Most schools do not have a whole-school policy that includes Information Literacy
  • Schools mostly focus on skills for the student, within a subject, whilst at school.  ie. the ‘end product’ of an assessment task.  Schools don’t cater for IL to be ‘transferred’ beyond school in whatever the person does in the future.  This is what I call ‘lifelong learning’!
  • Subject teachers operate within their own department, believing that their students will gain the IL skills required to complete the outcomes within that subject.  It is assumed that other teachers are also reinforcing IL skills in their subjects.  Some teachers are ‘insulted’ when the TL suggests a focus on particular skills within their subject area. Perhaps they see it as a threat to their expertise within their subject area.
  • Some teachers believe IL skills should be taught by the English department and the TL – this is their job.  Others believe that because children of today have grown up with technology, that they are ‘experts’ in finding information.
  • School executives see the concept of IL as too ‘broad’, so therefore it is hard to pinpoint what is required across to introduce IL across the school curriculum and who in fact should teach it.
  • There is no ‘mandated’ document that states that IL MUST be taught explicitly across the school curriculum.  This means that it is easily ‘ignored’ for more pressing and mandatory requirements of the curriculum.
  • In many schools, there is no set IL model established that the whole school is encouraged to use.  Therefore, if teachers are teaching IL their way, it may be inconsistent and unclear to the students we ae trying to make Information Literate.
  • There is definitely a lack of collaboration around teaching IL between teachers, school executive and TLs.  Lack of time to plan, lack of flexible timetabling, too much subject content to cover so assessments are given as homework, dis-interest in having to teach IL at all, let alone with the TL.
  • Mixed ability and larger class sizes make teaching IL more difficult, with many students left to their own devices with information research.

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Information Literacy Models – which one??

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Information Literacy – Essential Skills – Eisenberg

The minute  I started reading Eisenberg’s article, ‘Information Literacy:  Essential skills for the Information Age’, I immediately thought ‘this is it’, I agree with everything he is saying, these have been my thoughts/beliefs/dreams around Information Literacy for a number of years.  I will probably use Eisenberg’s definition of IL (Information Liteacy) as my ‘preferred’ one!

“Information literacy (IL) is the set of skills and knowledge that allows us to find, evaluate, and use the information we need, as well as filter out the information we don’t need.  IL skills are the necessary tools that help us successfully navigate the present and future landscape of information.” (EISENBERG, 2008, p.39)

Eisenberg discusses IL as evolving – from solely using the textbook in the classroom, through to the explosion of information available to everyone via the Internet.

He identifies 3 essential contexts for successful IL learning and teaching:

1)  Information Process itself
2)  Technology in context
3)  Real needs – either work, educational, or personal.

For me, these 3 aspects make up the whole concept of Information Literacy.  I believe a number of the writers on this subject and certainly many teachers and executives in schools attempt to focus on just one of these aspects and ignore considering the 3 of them as a whole.  They believe that by addressing one context, for example, technology, will improve IL skills and prepare students for the future.   How this technology is embedded, used and taught within the curriculum is what is important and IL skills cannot be ignored.

I recently gave my Assistant Principal an article about this (LEE, 2004).  The article suggested that the people employed to manage the technology within a school, become the ‘power-brokers’ of the technology and information.  Technology decisions are often being made by the IT team, without the educational pedagogies of the school in mind.  School executives don’t have the technical knowledge to question what is being done, teachers are desperate for help to incorporate technology within their teaching areas, IL is not even considered and the IT department maintain that their role is solely to keep the technology ‘running’ efficiently.
Lee,M. (2004).  The school ‘Chief Information Officer’-their centrality & importance. In K. Bonanno & J. Bales (eds.), Constructing communities of learning and literacy:  ASLA online conference 2004 proceedings (pp. 66-69). Zillmere, Qld:  ASLA Inc.

We MUST look at technology from an information skills perspective.  Collaboration between teachers, Teacher Librarians, school executive and students is the key to the success of IL within the school..

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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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