Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Technology of Information Literacy

Over the years, technology has played an important role in the way information has been collected and disseminated. Since the advent of the internet, several new formats and applications have become available to information literacy instructors, and it is their job to find which resources will be the most beneficial for their users. As new technologies have been developed, the need to educate students and library users about the proper ways to access information has become essential. As T.P. Mackey and T.E. Jacobson acknowledge in their book Using Technology to Teach Information Literacy (2008), “while our students may use these technologies every day, they may not automatically examine the deeper academic issues related to these devices, such as copyright, intellectual property, online ethics, and peer review” (p.xvi). As information continues to be available through new mediums and in new formats, it is necessary for libraries to provide information literacy training based on the latest electronic resources, and to utilize the most current tools in their instruction methods. What follows is a brief overview of some of the most innovative technologies used in the field of information literacy, focusing particularly on digital learning materials and the evolving world of social software.

Course Management Resources

One of the most common technologies that has made its mark in the academic world, is the course management system (CMS). These web-based systems are a significant addition to traditional courses because they have the ability to “engage students in the learning process, to deepen the overall course experience, to assess student learning, and to provide a virtual space for librarians to expand their influence” (Mackey, 2008, p.83). Some well-known examples of CMSs are Blackboard and ANGEL. These systems allow professors to post valuable information literacy resources, as well as to manage class blogs, wikis, digital learning materials, or podcasts. While CMSs apply mainly to the academic realm and provide little support for public library information literacy campaigns, they are a vital resource for academic information literacy instruction.

The World of Digital Learning Materials (DLMs)

A digital learning material is described as “any interactive web-based digital resource that can be utilized for educational purposes” (Bell, 2008, p.223). These applications can be found in a variety of formats, such as HTML, Flash, MP3 or JPEG, and are offered in a multitude of formats, including tutorials, simulations, or games (Bell, 2008, p.223). In the last few years, college libraries have been trying to find ways to move into the digital world, through DLMs, in an attempt to connect with their tech-savvy students and create learning tools that will fit into their lives and hopefully, as a result, be well-used. Some particularly popular information literacy DLMs suggested by the “Instructional Technologies” chapter of the Information Literacy Instruction Handbook (2008) are the Texas Information Literacy Tutorial ( and the Plagiarism and Academic Integrity Simulation ( (p.224). TILT is an impressively comprehensive tutorial that was created by the University of Texas to introduce incoming students to the basics of academic-level research (Introduction, The program offers an introduction to the basics of information literacy, followed by three interactive modules, tailored to the individual’s personal interests. These modules walk the user through the core concepts necessary to successfully conduct online research. An educational and thoroughly worthwhile tutorial, TILT is unfortunately being taken off-line August 14, 2009 because it is no longer being used by the University of Texas and is experiencing difficulties with funding (

The Plagiarism and Academic Integrity Simulation is an audio-visual lesson in academic honesty. The simulation introduces three characters (two students and an older brother) and walks the viewer through different ethical scenarios the characters could face while conducting research. Throughout the exercise, a talking parrot asks the viewer to comment on what the characters should do and which options the viewer would choose. Short and to the point, this application offers a fairly rudimentary outline of appropriate and inappropriate academic behavior for incoming college students.

Another example is the Reflective Online Skills (ROSS) Environment developed and employed at the Queensland University of Technology in 2007 (Partridge, Edwards, Baker, McAllister, 2008). In their article regarding the ROSS Environment experiment, the application's creators state that the program "pushes the boundary of online information literacy programs by guiding learners to know, reflect, and practice information literacy concepts through the use of case studies or problem based learning" (Abstract). This information literacy tool focuses specifically on teaching online searching skills to incoming undergraduate students, who will need to be able to find, analyze, and utilize electronic information to be successful in their college careers. It works by walking students through a series of eight sections in which they have to use online searching skills to answer a question or solve a problem (Partridge, 2008, Introduction the ROSS Environment section). Each segment is interactive, so the user is challenged to engage with the online learning process and critically reflect on how online searching can be used to meet their information needs. The environment also offers a “Reflective Workspace” where students can apply the skills they have learned through the ROSS application (Partridge, 2008, Introduction the ROSS Environment section). Online workshops like the ROSS Environment could be a significant information literacy tool for other colleges as well as the public library system, because it allows users to learn online searching skills independently and at their own pace.

Social Software and Information Literacy

In the last decade a number of social software applications have been introduced that can be harnessed by librarians to teach information literacy to library users. As is discussed in the book "Social Software in Libraries" (2008), technologies such as wikis, blogs, podcasts, and vodcasts offer several advantages to librarians as they try to teach their users how to find, analyze, and use information resources. Because these formats are available in real-time, are portable, and transcend the distances that separate creators and users, they make the distribution of information literacy materials easier and more accessible to patrons with busy schedules. Each of these social software inventions have unique advantages and are already being used across the country in innovative ways.


Though they have been in use since the early 1990s, the term “weblog” (now shortened to simply “blog”) was developed by Jorn Barger in 1997 (Farkas, 2008, p.14). While blogs were originally used by individuals to link their friends to a variety of other sites, and they are still popularly thought of as a type of e-journal, blogs are generally described as “unedited Web sites of varying complexity wherein individuals or groups can freely publish information” (Coulter, Draper, 2006, p.101). Sensing an inexpensive, easy, and contemporary way to connect with users in a 2.0 world, many libraries and colleges have looked to use blogs as a way to teach information literacy to their users, with mixed success. The librarians at Stephen F. Austin State University, for instance, tried to incorporate the use of blogs in their information literacy instruction to students as a way to encourage “reflective, collaborative learning” (Coulter, 2006, p.103-104). While this experiment could not be considered a success – with 46.2% of students surveyed saying it was “not helpful” and 61.5% reporting they had never used the blog – the researchers primarily blame the lackluster response on a lack of marketing, and still contend that blogs can be effective tools for teaching information literacy (Coulter, 2006, p.105-106). This group also distributed a survey through library listservs to gauge the use of blogs throughout the country (p.105). There were 254 respondents from university, school, public and special libraries, and of those who replied 67.9% felt that their blogs saw regular traffic, while 71.8% thought that blogs are an effective way to communicate with users (p.107). One significant observation that was consistently addressed in this experiment and the subsequent surveys was that in order for blogs to succeed as information literacy tools they must be well-marketed to the intended audience. A blog has little chance of being helpful if it is not highly visible and easily accessible.

In their chapter “Instructional Technologies,” (2008) authors Bell, Shank, and Szczyrbak also acknowledge the challenges to producing a successful blog. They suggest that while some librarians may be tempted to use the medium to simply post information literacy techniques or links to relevant resources, these uses are “passive” in their approach, and as a result it would be hard to judge if patrons were actually finding these posts and utilizing them (p.215). As a way to avoid this problem in an academic setting, the authors suggest that information literacy instructors not only run a class blog, but also encourage students to maintain their own blogs about class assignments and their individual research experiences (p.215-216). In a public library setting, information literacy blogs could address this challenge by providing links to the blog on main web pages or next to the links that offer help from on-call reference librarians.
For a partial list of academic, public, school, and other library related blogs, you can visit Blogwithoutalibrary’s wiki at:


“Wiki” is the term used for a website that “is a perpetual work in progress where anyone can add content, edit content, and create relationships between content through hyperlinks” (Farkas, 2008, p.68). One significant advantage of using a wiki for instructions purposes – over a blog or a tradition website – is that wikis promote interaction and participation on the part of their users. In the section of “Instructional Technologies” (2008) that is devoted to wikis, the authors explain that wikis can be more beneficial than blogs because they are “based on the concept of bringing together a community of learners to develop a single resource that benefits all members through the sharing of information” (p.217). Library users may get more use out of a wiki because they can interact with it and access information compiled by a variety of users, who are speaking from a variety of information literacy experiences. Wikis could be used to promote and teach information literacy by using linked pages to provide online resources to users or by having each segment of the wiki represent a different facet of information literacy (Bell, 2008, p.217). In an academic setting, a professor could create a class wiki in which each of the participants could share helpful information literacy resources, suggestions, and observations (Bell, 2008, p.218). The development of wikis as information literacy instructional tools is just beginning, but the potential offered by this application are substantial.

Podcasts and Vodcasts

Podcasts and vodcasts (video podcasts) are an intriguing and revolutionary addition to the world of information literacy tools because they offer users resources in an entirely different medium, letting them learn with audio-visual materials rather than the standard text-based paper or electronic formats. The key concept with these new tools? Convenience. By utilizing these mediums, libraries are giving their users information that can be downloaded to an Ipod and taken on the go, then accessed while exercising, cooking dinner, or riding the bus. This high level of accessibility and ease of use could make all the difference for individuals with a busy lifestyle, who would find it troublesome or impossible to attend a tradition class or keep up with a blog or wiki.

The article “Innovation in a podshell: Bringing information literacy into the world of podcasting,” (2007) explores how podcasting was successfully utilized by the Curtin University Library. In this piece, it is emphasized that podcasts, after being downloaded, “can then be played and replayed, anywhere, anytime and as often as required. It is this liberation from the computer desk and tracking of personal programs that adds so much value to the podcast” (Berk, Olsen, Atkinson, Comerford, 2007, Introduction, para. 3). The authors also suggest that podcasts would be especially helpful for audio learners as well as the university’s ESL students, because of their ability to be replayed and viewed at a personal pace. This article suggests that podcasts are an important learning tool partially because Ipods and similar devices have become so popular in our society. The authors acknowledge that “essentially we recognized that podcasting could be incorporated into the lives of our students because this is a new trend and trends play an important role in the successful dissemination of knowledge” (Berk, 2007, Potential for podcasting at Curtin section, para. 8). Taking advantage of this new trend, the library created a series of 5-minute podcasts, intended to supplement their existing information literacy programs (Aims and methodology of library podcasting, para. 4-5). They simultaneously promoted the project by advertising it on the library blogs and holding contests, offering prizes to students who suggested good future podcast topics (Promotion section). The authors report that the podcasts were well-received in the first year they were offered, and that similar programs have been instituted at Arizona State University and at several Australian universities, and are being considered at Brown, Duke, and Stanford Universities (Conclusion section, Introduction section, para. 8-9). This medium holds an infinite number of possibilities as libraries, both academic and public, begin to utilize it in their information literacy programs.


In today’s technology-driven world it is imperative that libraries maintain their position as leaders in information literacy instruction. To remain relevant and ensure that their efforts reach as many users as possible, it is necessary for libraries to utilize the technologies that have been embraced by the public and are being used in popular culture. As Meredith Farkas (2008) adeptly points out: “As institutions rooted in our communities… we belong where our users can be found – and they are increasingly being found online, interacting in completely new ways” (xix). In order for libraries to successfully reach their audiences – for entertainment or for education – it is necessary that they brave the world of new technologies and take advantage of the digital tools that will connect them with patrons.

Reference List

Bell, S.J., Shank, J.D., & Szczyrbak, G. (2008). Instructional
technologies. In C.N. Cox & E.B. Lindsay (Eds.), Information literacy instructionhandbook (208-229). Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries.

Berk, J., Olsen, S., Atkinson, J., & Comerford, J. (2007).
Innovation in a podshell: Bringing information literacy into the world of podcasting. The Electronic Library, 25(4), 409.

Casey, M.E., & Savastinuk, L.C. (2007). Library 2.0: A guide to
participatory library service. New Jersey: Information Today, Inc.

Coulter, P., & Draper, L. (2006). Blogging it into them. Journal of
Library Administration, 45(1). 101-115.

Etches-Johnson, A. (2009).

Farkas, M.G. (2008). Social software in libraries. New Jersey:
Information Today, Inc.

Mackey, T.P., & Jacobson, T.E. (Eds.). (2008). Using technology to
teach information literacy. New York: Neal-Schumann Publishers, Inc.

Partridge, H., Edwards, S., Baker, A., & McAllister, L. (2008). The
Reflective Online Searching Skills (ROSS) Environment: Embedding information literacy into student learning through an online environment. IFLA Journal, 34(1), 55-71.

Plagiarism and Academic Integrity at Rutgers University. N.D.
Retrieved July 22, 2009 from

Secker, J., Boden, D., & Price, G. (Eds.). (2007). The information
literacy cookbook: Ingredients, recipes and tips for success. Oxford: Chandos Publishing.

Texas Information Literacy Tutorial. (2004). Retrieved July 22,
2009 from


Unknown said...

Technology has radically changed how we manage and teach IL. I think that all of the tools you mentioned (blogs, wikis, etc.) are so extremely beneficial and helpful in providing IL features to patrons in a way that is more accessible to them. While technology isn't always the answer, I think in this case it has certainly positively benefited the area of IL.

Peter said...

It may seem natural to us as information students bound by new technology requirements that IL needs to be interactive, but it certainly is not the case at my local public library. Learning and teaching styles almost always benefit from interaction opposed to just listening or show-and-tell. Collaboration tools, web 2.0 technologies, blogs, wikis, should be standard tools for information professionals now. Even beyond these technologies are accessibility technologies like screen readers and interactive whiteboards. It's hard for any of us to keep up, but libraries need to stay on top of these technologies as you said, if that where their users are found.

Virginia Pierce said...

Nice blog! I particularly enjoyed your discussions on blogs in regards to academic settings and how it was mixed results. Perhaps if they marketed it better and let the students know it was out there, maybe it would helped information literary. I also enjoyed your presentation on Wikis, my husband used a gaming wiki to advance a quest line. Him and other players worldwide solved the puzzle by colloborating together on the Wiki. I think Wikis *can* be useful, especially for libraries and promoting information literary.

Chelsea said...

Virginia - Thanks! It was really fun researching how newer technologies are being used for IL (in ways I never would have imagined). It did sound like blogs we much better received when students were aware of the blog (surprise) and encouraged by their professors to actually comment and follow along. Without the promotion, blogs just won't be utilized as much. Your husband's experience with wikis sounds entertaining - researching that section was pretty eye-opening because I've never participated in one and hadn't thought about their instructional possibilities.

Kate Van Auken said...

Chelsea, really great information. I particularly liked the ROSS Environment. Online tutorials can be such wonderful tools. Online search skills can and should be used at every level...middle school, high school and beyond. Many of these technologies, especially online classes, should be taught at the high school level. With the way our public schools are facing such drastic cuts, utilization of these tools would be cost effective and help prepare students for the academic world they will soon enter. I wish at the schools my kids are attending they focused more on quality research for their projects. I fear it won't happen because of the instructor’s abilities, or lack thereof.

Jillyan said...

The problem I often run into with my students is that not all of them have computers at home. Therefore, it is impossible and almost unfair to require students to add to wikis or blogs. If it isn't a requirement, 13 year olds won't do it!
There is such a range of abilities in my students when it comes to technology. Some know more than I, where others cannot even type!

Andrea DeHart said...

Wow! This was an interesting topic. Technology always amazes me.
It's one of my favorite terms so I am going to use it again. The "microwave generation" should love the idea of podcasts. Although I have never used them, I would love to think that I multi task with this technology. My hour long commute in the morning would be so more convienient if I was able to listen to a podcast while driving, accomplishing more than one task in my busy day.
I love the idea that podcasts also appeal to the audio-visual learner as well.

Lisa Rickey said...

Wow, all of those books/articles sound just fascinating, especially the one about social software. For my book review I read "Library 2.0 and Beyond", edited by Nancy Courtney, and it had a lot of neat implementations of Web 2.0 technologies by libraries. If anyone is interested in that sort of thing, I recommend it.

Geetha Baddigam said...

Most of the Libraries are implementing technology to link people to their services and resources and to provide a place for people to gather besides home and work.

Gail said...

Great post, Chelsea! I would love to see more podcasts done in relation to online course lectures. It could almost seem like one is attending a course on campus. I wonder what a video conferencing format would be like.

Orien D said...

This is a beneficial topic to bring to the forefront! I find podcasts and vodcasts as being very useful educational tools. As you mentioned they are also portable and can be played back on multiple devices. I download podcasts to my IPod Shuffle all the time and then listen to them on my way to work or during my lunch break.

You also hit the nail on the head when discussing the importance of teaching proper information literacy on information retrieved from new technological formats. For example, I have some friends that did not even know they were violating copyright or intellectual property laws until I pointed it out to them. Though they had not intended on violating these laws, they had never received proper information literacy training.